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Archive for Saturday, December 31, 2005

Faith Forum

How do you define the word ‘evangelical’?

December 31, 2005

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Life stories, Bible are critically important

The Rev. George Wiley, ordained Episcopal priest and Baker University professor of religion:

According to Alister McGrath, author and professor of theology at Oxford University, you're an evangelical Christian if you emphasize the authority of the Bible, have an experience of conversion, feel the need to persuade others to become Christians, and believe in Christ's death as a saving event with no equivalent in other faiths. Other Christians often believe these things, too, but for evangelicals they are a defining set of beliefs.

Evangelical Christians may call themselves "born again." Their life stories often tell of a definite moment of change. The change may result from dissatisfaction with the pre-Christian part of their lives. Maybe an inner struggle gets resolved by a decision to leave the old life and embrace a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Other Christians, by contrast, may talk of a gradual movement to more mature faith.

The best-known evangelical is the Rev. Billy Graham, whose preaching crusades took him across the U.S. and the world between the 1930s and this year, when he announced his retirement. Typically, Graham urged his hearers to "make a decision for Jesus Christ, tonight."

McGrath says, and I agree, that evangelicals are not fundamentalists. He reminds us that Billy Graham broke with fundamentalist Christians in the 1940s.

There is tension between evangelicals and another group, called "liberal" or "mainline" or "ecumenical" Christians. The latter people, for instance, want to bring Christian beliefs into harmony with new knowledge, like scientific discoveries. Evangelicals don't reject new knowledge but aren't likely to depart from the four core beliefs mentioned above. The concern some evangelicals have about the authority of the Bible is one reason for the controversy about evolution.

- Send e-mail to George Wiley at george.wiley@bakeru.edu.

Understanding, embracing the good news

The Rev. Shaun LePage, pastor, Community Bible Church, 906 N. 1464 Road:

After the last election, Tom Brokaw did a report about evangelicals called "In God They Trust." National Public Radio came out with "The Jesus Factor," a program about "the growing influence of America's Evangelical Christians."

Obviously, evangelicals are getting noticed. My concern is that evangelicals will be thought of only as a politically powerful anti-gay marriage, anti-evolution and anti-abortion special interest group. These are important issues, but not the primary message evangelicals have for the world.

"Evangelical" comes from "evangelion," a Greek word meaning "good news" ("gospel" in Old English). I know it's hard to swallow for people who think of evangelicals as "bad news," but at its root, the word "evangelical" means "one with good news!"

In my mind, how one defines that "good news" determines whether one is an evangelical. What is this "good news" evangelicals have? Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15). Why is this good news? The Bible says God met our greatest need. If that need is not met, we will be eternally separated from God in hell.

Many reject that idea, and certainly everyone's entitled to an opinion about spiritual matters. But evangelicals base our opinions on a plain reading of the time-proven Scriptures: the Bible.

That Bible reports we need to be rescued from our sin-condition, and the "good news" is God intervened! Jesus' death and resurrection - according to the Bible - makes him the only available Savior. God offers eternal life - heaven - as a free gift to anyone who will trust Christ alone with his eternal destiny.

How do I define "evangelical?" One who believes this good news.

- Send e-mail to Shaun LePage at shaun@community-bible.org.

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