What is (or who is) an evangelical? The previous definitions and characterizations resonate with me in various ways, particularly David Koyzis’s confessional core contra pragmatism and especially the “essence” offered by the inimitable John Stott (as shared by Justin Taylor).
My own desperate clinging to the tattered label evangelical has less to do with any political or cultural uniformity as it does to these core convictions, or rather, the core conviction that the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners and a broken world is the mightiest power set loose in the history of the world. As a word it has likely lost its flavor, and clearly its clarity, but I love it and I gladly apply it to myself (and to others) because of what it can mean and what I hope it will mean again.
I have been accused of wishful thinking, fiddling while Rome burns (or the Titanic sinks, as it were), but I just don’t want to let evangelical go the way of fundamentalist (which is not a very good word anyway). For better or worse, I am not a “post-” anything.
So I define evangelical as “person of the gospel.” I know that in seeking to get back to this essence of the evangel, the Christian’s atomic structure, I probably only succeed in making the dividing lines more fuzzy (and letting all kinds of people inside the circle), but I’m cool with that. I’ll preach it and live it, draw somewhat tighter circles of systematic theology and doctrinal confession around the church I pastor, and just let the Holy Spirit sort out the rest. I am just young and naive enough still to think Lewis’s “mere Christianity” a viable option for unity.
The result is that I end up identifying strongly with the so-called “young, restless, and Reformed” and have joined the Gospel Coalition, etc., yet still have my Calvinist credentials questioned by those outside these groups (though strangely not any inside that I know of (yet?)) because I refuse to equate the gospel with a particular brand of Calvinism or cultural movement or what-have-you. (My book on Jesus, which was released this last summer, draws equally from John Piper and N.T. Wright, for instance.) The gospel has my loyalty and therefore so do all who love it. It is the power of salvation for all who believe, whether Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, Arminian or Calvinist, Baptist or Presbyterian, Methodist or Lutheran, high church or low church, mini or mega, traditional or emerging, iMonk or TeamPyro.
I do track quite closely with this newfangled push for “gospel-centrality,” and that is, I think, the hope for the future of evangelicalism and even the word evangelical. I know more than a few of those gospel-centered ambassadors spend more time blogging than they do helping people die, but that’ll work itself out in sanctification, good mentoring, and the tried-and-true antidote of just growing up. In the spirit of semper reformanda, I stick doggedly to the gospel — revel in it, gnaw on it, savor it, teach it and live it, find it versatile and resilient, highlight the many notes of its one song, bang it into my head continuously — and believe that Christ is building his church and that his church will be a people shaped by the gospel.
So yeah, that’s how I define evangelicals: a people who once were not a people (1 Peter 2:10) but who will be a people shaped by the gospel.