Let’s All Get Rid of the Word “Evangelical”

Sunday, August 21, Rachel Held Evans tweeted the following request:

"I'm curious: Who are some female evangelical leaders you admire? (Both past and present.)

Today on her blog she posted the partial list of tweets she received in response. In the introduction to the list she included the following sentence:

“I’d also like to get rid of the word “evangelical” since that seems to confuse a lot of people…(myself included).”

The sentence was to help expand the list to include women throughout the body of Christ who have been of great influence, but my immediate response as I read it was, “Amen, why can’t we just get rid of that word entirely?!”

Evangelical not Evangelicals

First, let me say that what I do not mean is that we need to get rid of evangelicals, as though they are a dangerous group of people who need to be silenced in order for everyone to move forward. This is a perspective of some, but it is not what I mean.

What I do mean is that the term evangelical seems to be entirely useless.

For one, its overuse has turned it into a word without meaning. I’ve read articles where people are redefining the term or speaking against others who they believe have bent the word to suit their purposes. “Evangelical” as a category then has virtually no meaning once people begin to apply whatever characteristics and attributes they wish to the term.

Secondly, it has become a word that lives primarily in the political realm and therefore carries all the baggage of the heated political rhetoric of today. Given the tendency to lump people into categories of red or blue, right or left, and to then shout across the divide about the innate sins of the other, it seems fruitless to continue to use a word that can be so volatile. Especially if as Christians we are told to, as much as it is possible, live at peace with other people (Rom. 12:18).

More to the point, the word evangelical has become a word of division. It distinguishes Christians, not from the world, but rather from one another. To say, “I am an evangelical,” is to say, “I am a true Christian whereas you have somehow missed the mark.” For this reason alone I wish the church would abandon the label all together. How greater our efforts for unity would be if we would follow Paul’s example in the opening of 1 Corinthians and say together, “We are Christians.” How far would that go to move us toward a more genuine unity in Christ, even amidst significant differences between denominations?

One in Christ Alone

This list of Christian women compiled at Rachel Held Evans’ blog proves the point. Once the title evangelical was lifted from the discussion the door was open for a greater number of people, of Christian women of influence, to be considered. It seems that for that reason alone the Christian community as a whole ought to seriously consider hanging up the title “Evangelical,” and perhaps for that matter a great number of other adjectives that only serve to divide the body and mock the name by which we were all baptized.


One Reply to “Let’s All Get Rid of the Word “Evangelical””

  1. In a sense, all Christians should be evangelical, in the sense that all are called to “go and make disciples of all nations…”

    I agree, the term “evangelical” is too difficult to define appropriately (and not politically). But the media has a tight grip on the term; it’s our job to abandon it, not theirs.

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