As a way to continue the conversations in The Biola Hour, we've invited Sam Gassaway to blog her thoughts after each episode. This is a response to Episode 33 on the term "Evangelicalism" in our current context, here. Feel free to interact with Sam's thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter (@sgkay47).
Evangelical. For many, the word is akin to white supremacy. For others, the word is near and dear to our hearts as the confession of a life spent in submission to the scriptures of the gospel of Jesus Christ—a lifestyle in stark contradiction to racial discrimination and hate speech.
An evangelical is someone who is bible centered, cross-oriented, and born again, having been drawn to activism at their inevitable change-of-heart conversion. Things in contradiction to this—for example—are American Christian fundamentalism, which is the most-often-confused equivalent for this term soaked in sacred tradition.
Sacred tradition, like the stories of the first-century Christian martyrs of Rome, or spirit-filled prophesying on the streets of Jerusalem. Thousands converted. Thousands killed for the offensiveness of their faith in the face of a society that demanded they worship only what their oppressors understood.
“Theology often comes about as a reaction against heresy,” said Allen Yeh, all-around brilliant professor, well-travelled Christian guru and Biola Hour guest March 9, 2018. “Heresy is the mother of theology.”
Christianity is different because it isn’t about rules and regulations, and we should start acting like it. If we do not love with our actions, those we are trying to spiritually help are not going to receive our words. We are allowing the world to define us, rather than defining the world with our Christianity. Our Christianity should be rooted in our sacred tradition, not what the world understands of us.
That’s what evangelical means to me.
And that’s what it means to a vast community of Christians all around the world. Outside the United States, “evangelicals” is a term for people who evangelize—meaning they spread the gospel through their acts of service and secondly through their words.
Evangelical is also rooted in the term evangelium, a latin transliteration of the greek εὐαγγέλιον. Gospel. Good news. Some people use it interchangeably with the Jesus story.
The gospel isn’t the Jesus story though. The good news is what the Jesus story means. It’s significance. The reason it continues to completely transform the lives of millions across the globe two thousand years after the events of the historical tale even happened.
The gospel—the actual news that is reported in the stories of the biblical writers—is that the kingdom of God is here, now, and you had better be ready. It’s that sense of urgency that drives Christ-oriented humans to evangelism: the process by which the evangelium is shared with others.
And the people who do the work of spreading the news of the significance of Jesus’ cameo in history?
Those are the evangelicals. And the world has seen nothing like them.
The good news is not that Jesus loves you, though that is a profound and beautiful theological truth. The good news is that he appeared in history to right the wrongs of humanity: denial and rejection of their creator’s goodness. Now, the price of that mistake has been paid by someone who never bought it. That’s the grace of Jesus. But that isn’t the gospel.
The gospel is, because of that sacrifice, the kingdom of God is approaching. It will arrive like a thief in the night, Jesus says—when we least expect it. So, yeah, evangelism is important to us. And because of the actions of those who have lost sight of the mission, “evangelical” now has more baggage than this, and requires this explanation to be understood in a modern context. The kingdom of God is imminent, Jesus is returning.
And we all had better be ready.