Thursday, May 22, 2008

Defining 'the Gospel' and 'Evangelical'

I have been pondering recently how different people define "the gospel" and "Evangelical" differently.

For a lot of people, "the gospel" is a short message of the kind given in gospel presentations. It covers sin, holiness, Jesus, atonement, salvation etc. It is essentially a bit of systematic theology rooted in a particular interpretation of Paul's writings which calls the hearer to some sort of response.

In particular it has been striking just how strong a contrast there is between this Pauline gospel and the "good news of the kingdom of God" that Jesus is depicted preaching in the gospels. A lot of Christians seem to assume that when Jesus preached the gospel he was in fact preaching what they think of as the gospel, without bothering to pay any attention to how the bible depicts Jesus' ministry.

Evangelical is one of those words where everybody seems to have a different definition. It also seems to be one of those words that comes with a built-in value judgment - it's implicitly a good thing to be "evangelical" as it has connotations of committed to God, and believing the gospel. I was browsing this Evangelical Manifesto and was quite surprised to find that throughout the document numerous different (and in my view, mutually exclusive) definitions of Evangelical were given.

One of the definitions suggested that Evangelicals were true to and preached that gospel that Jesus preached. I found that comment surprising, since in my observation, Evangelicals tend to far prefer a Pauline form of the gospel to Jesus' form of it.

Another interesting suggested definition is that Evangelical is the name for any and all Christians in history who are simple stock-standard committed lay Christians. What came as somewhat of a shock to me (as someone who has done of lot of research into the history of the development of doctrine) is that they followed this statement up with a short doctrinal list of allegedly what these average Christians throughout history have always believed... opps. They appear to have taken a list of what Evangelicals today hold to be their defining doctrinal views and arbitrarily assumed that throughout history average Christians also held those beliefs...

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