What Evangelical Means [And Doesn’t Mean] To Me

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Since there has been some, um, discussion around the interwebs about whether I am an evangelical, I thought I’d issue something of a clarification. 

I usually identify simply as a Christian, but when pressed, I’m happy to identify as evangelical. I like to tell people that evangelicalism is like my religious mother tongue. I revert to it whenever I’m angry or excited or surrounded by other people who understand what I’m saying. 

But folks disagree on exactly what evangelical means, and often I don’t fit the stereotype. I vote for democrats sometimes. I haven't listened to contemporary Christian music since I was in high school.  I believe the earth is more than 6,000 years old. 

So, for those who think that all evangelicals look the same...or for those who think they should….here’s a clarification. 

What “evangelical” means to me:

It means, in the Greek, “gospel” or “good news” (evangelion). And so, as an evangelical, I am a follower of Jesus who is committed to proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. 

It means, traditionally, an impassioned personal response to the gospel and a commitment to the scriptures that point to it. And so, as an evangelical, I am deeply invested in my faith, at both a personal and communal level, and I believe that all scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, challenging, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that people faith are equipped to love God and their neighbors. 

What “evangelical” doesn’t mean to me:

It doesn’t mean allegiance to a single political party. 

It doesn’t mean restricting the roles of women in the home and church. 

It doesn’t mean interpreting an ancient Near Eastern creation account as science. 

It doesn’t mean an absence of liturgy, sacrament, and tradition. 

It doesn’t mean individualism. 

It doesn't mean certainty.

It doesn’t mean opposing gay rights. 

It doesn’t mean Southern Baptist. 

It doesn’t mean unilateral support for Israel. 

It doesn't mean lack of ecumenicism.

It doesn’t mean exclusivism. 

It doesn’t mean exclusion. 

Now, folks will disagree with what I’ve said here, but that just goes to show that evangelicalism is fluid and amorphous, its definition up for debate. 

Labels tend to divide and distract, so I don’t want to dwell here, but on the occasion that I identify as evangelical, this is what it means to me. 

Hope that clears some things up. 


So, what does evangelical mean to you? What does it not mean? 

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