I want to wrap up my month-long harang at evangelicalism—the camp I have made my home for nearly 40 years now—by talking about what evangelicalism gets right. Yes, there are a few things we do manage to do in a good way, at least once in a while. For each of the following I could also list dozens of examples of how it has been and is being done wrong. (And I guarantee I can name more bad examples than you can.) But that’s not what I want to do here. And I ask that in your comments you restrict yourself to other examples of things being done right. (That will ensure our server is not deluged with comments, huh? I may be pitching a shutout here …)
It’s easy to make evangelicalism the punching bag for all that is wrong with Western Christianity. When I was growing up in the 70s it was Catholics who were the embodiment of religion gone wrong. Now it’s evangelicals. But we are not all bad. And even those who are far off-course are still our brothers and sisters, and we are called to carry their burdens for them. I’m the first to admit I’d rather have a latte with an honest atheist than a dishonest Christian. But the dishonest Christian is, after all, a Christian. And as we discussed this morning, Jesus commands us to love our brothers and sisters even as he has loved us. This is the sign to the world that we are his followers, and the world is allowed to judge whether or not we are his followers by how we love one another.
So in a spirit of wanting to help us all get along, let’s look at some things that evangelicals actually do well.
We are a people of the Good News. That is what “evangel” means: Good News. The word actually comes from the Greek euangelos, meaning “good news messenger.” Evangelicals are, at their core, a people who desire to share the Gospel. (Yes, we can all agree that some evangelicals have lost sight of what the Gospel truly is, but that is not the spirit of this post, remember?) Whether it is one-on-one witnessing or hosting a crusade under a tent or in a large stadium, the Good News is something we are really good at sharing. Billy Graham has preached the Gospel to more people than any other human in all of history, and he is the evangelicalist of all evangelicals. I’m glad he is on our team.
We take missions work seriously. Evangelical churches commission missionaries from their midst and send them forth, whether it be domestically or to other nations, with great fervor. These churches also rally behind the missionaries with financial support and much prayer. Then there are short-term missions trips, which allow those who cannot go to a missions field full time the opportunity to experience the missionary life, if even for just a few days. Pounding nails and laying bricks may not sound like a sexy way of sharing the Gospel, but when these short-termers leave behind a house for someone who had been living in a cardboard box, there remains a visible reminder of the love of Christ. And that is not a bad thing at all.
We give money. Ok, some of it is misspent on building bigger “clubhouses” and paying for a large staff to keep the clubhouse going. Some of it—a very small part, mind you—pays for lavish lifestyles for certain preachers. Yet the overwhelming majority of money given by evangelicals is put to very good use. Evangelical churches build “Dream Centers” to help the homeless. They sponsor regular medical clinics for those without insurance. They put on car care clinics for single moms. Evangelical organizations such as World Vision use donations to feed and clothe the hungry and naked around the world. And the giver gets a benefit as well, as he or she gets to participate in these Gospel acts with a sacrificial offering.
Evangelicals hold Scripture in high regard. Again, let’s not focus on those who try to make the Bible what it is not. Let’s look instead at those who teach the word in a right fashion. (The Word of God is Jesus. The word of God is the written word, what we know as the Bible. Thus I use a lowercase “w” when referring to Scripture.) I came to faith in a Baptist church in Centerville, Ohio, where we were taught from the word of God in every meeting. We read it, studied it, memorized it. There was not a lot of effort put into how to apply it. The pastor left that up to the Holy Spirit. But we knew what the Bible said, or at least where to look for it in Scripture. We knew not to add to or take away from what the Bible said. We learned how to read it for ourselves, even Lecto Divina style (though that would never have been mentioned in our services—way too Catholic). At my church, you might as well come to the service in your nothing-but as to arrive without your Bible. When the pastor said to turn to such-and-such a verse, the pages turning created a cool breeze in the sanctuary. This reverence for Scripture has never left me. And for that I’m thankful.
We are passionate in worship. Yes, you can substitute “emotional” for passionate if you like. But God made us emotional creatures, so why not use them to worship our creator? Evangelicals raise their hands and close their eyes while singing (hopefully not while driving, but then again …) as a way to focus on Jesus. We sing songs that are reflections of personal faith, which often helps to build that faith in the singer. We employ a variety of song styles and musical instruments to help the music “come alive.” This style is not for everyone, but for those who find their home in evangelicalism, it is a way to express their love for God in a passionate, emotionally-charged way that somehow leaves the worshipper feeling closer to the Lord and farther from the cares of this world, if even for just a few minutes.
We pray believing. Evangelicals will pray for anyone and for anything, and expect—really expect—God to hear us. I remember being at a Catholic monastery on a weekend retreat and asking the guest master, a wonderful man who had been a priest for more than 50 years, if he would pray for me. “Of course I will,” he said. So I sat there and waited. He sat there and waited as well. Finally he said, “Oh, did you mean now?” I just had to laugh. Evangelicals will pray for you right then and there. Our prayers are emotionally-charged like our worship, but they are coming from a heart that truly believes God loves to hear us ask him for things and then expect him to answer us. Are you sick? Get an evangelical to pray for you. In financial difficulty? Evangelicals can pray money down from heaven like no one’s business. Struggling with sin? Evangelicals will pray for God to come alongside you to give you the power to overcome that sin. You can take issue with the theology in our prayers if you want, but you can’t argue with the sincerity with which they are prayed.
Ok, there are a few of the things evangelicals get right. What more can you add?