The Radical Life of an Evangelical

February 11, 2013 | 59 comments

Hi, my name is Jennifer Dukes Lee, and I am an evangelical.

That’s not a shy confession, but a radical profession.

Yes, I know what that word has come to mean for some people. You might think a woman who self-identifies as an “evangelical” would belong to a certain voting bloc, talk in a secret lingo, worship only with a certain kind of music, adhere to a particular denomination (or non-denomination). You might, then, be surprised how people don’t fit neatly into pre-assigned boxes.

I get the hesitation over the word; I do. I understand what the word has come to mean. And I’m sad for all the ways that one beautiful word — “evangelical” — has become a dirty word, even among us as Christians. Some will blame the news media for making the word dirty, labeling and lumping us with a political party instead of a Person. Others will blame the evangelicals themselves. Critics will say that we evangelicals made a mess of things on our very own, by not really living out the teachings of our Savior, that we profess from the pulpit.

I cannot say that I disagree entirely. For I’ve looked in the mirror. I’ve seen the sinner staring back, wearing a righteousness not her own.

And because I know Who saved me, I know — for sure — that evangelical is not a dirty word, and I want to take it back.

The word doesn’t belong to the critics and the mockers; it belongs to the Good News People.

spike in hands

WHAT EVANGELICAL IS … AND IS NOT

I’m an evangelical, which means I am a believer of the “ευαγγελιον,” or eu-angelion, in Greek. Emeans “good” and angelion means “message.” So in its Biblical form, to be an evangelical would mean to be a believer of the Good Message, the Gospel, which is the message of Jesus Christ.

Evangelicalism is not a worship style, a denomination, a non-denomination, an ethnic group, a political party, a certain set of traditions, a liturgical calendar, a lectionary,  a fashion, a non-denomination, a multi-media presentation every Sunday, hands up or hands down, the color on the altar, the pastor’s khaki pants or his formal white collar. It is not a country club, a closed door, a happy little feeling for an hour on Sunday.

It is not a way to try harder or earn your way to Heaven.

“Evangelical” really is all about Jesus. And it’s positively dangerous — not because someone might criticize you for taking the label of evangelical. No, it’s dangerous, because we are owning the name associated with a holy God and His Only Son. And if we are really going to live like evangelicals, this road is not a safe one.

THE REAL MEANING OF EVANGELICAL

Evangelical is this:

It is pick up your cross and follow,
and spend yourself in behalf of the hungry,
and act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
It is The Way of the contrite and broken.
It is not my will, but Thine be done.
It is blessed are the poor in spirit,
and a rejoicing in our own suffering.

It is salt and light and fruit of the Spirit.

It’s a cup and broken bread.

It is a belief that Christ is our only hope, that heaven is our future home, and that we get to do His work right here, today, before we go there, someday.

Evangelical is not a word for an outdated cultural movement, but a way to wrap your whole life around a cup and a cross. It’s not an empty promise for prosperity, but investing our very lives in each other because of an empty tomb.

evangelical, cup

Evangelical is, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and it commands this: “Go and make disciples.”

Evangelical is a walk on water, hyssop on the lips and a belief that Christ is the central figure of the most radical story to hit planet Earth.

A true evangelical knows that the biggest problems of this word can only be unraveled with three nails.

nailed to cross

She believes that an enemy prowls, but that a King wins – that the battle isn’t over, but the war is already won.

I won’t deny it: Evangelicals believe in crazy things. We believe that God’s Son descended from Heaven to Earth in order to die a horrific death and carry people’s sins away. And we believe that Jesus rose from a tomb, against all scientific odds, leaving it empty, save for that linen cloth folded up by itself. We believe that the Holy Spirit empowers weak and ordinary people to do even greater things. We believe in miracles, and we talk throughout the day to a Person we’ve never seen with our own eyes.

These are the foolish ways of the evangelical. And so, then, I am a fool among them.

Evangelicals believe that we will always need forgiveness, always need the Good News, always need the grace of God the Father Almighty, until the last light of our lives fade. We know we can’t work our way into God’s presence or our eternal home.

And evangelicals believe — I believe — that Jesus Christ is coming again.

And it would seem criminal to keep the secret to myself.

GO THEREFORE

In 2 Kings 7, four men with leprosy show up at the city gate hungry, rejected and certain they would die. But then, the miracle: They discovered a deserted camp and entered the tents to find a feast. They ate and drank and carried away great riches, planning to hoard what they’d found. I imagine the happiest tears that they may have cried, over this miraculous, life-saving discovery.

But right then, they froze in their steps, with their bellies and arms still full. They remembered that so many others were still starving in the city. They looked at each other and said, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.”

We – the evangelicals — are the lepers, the beggars, the hungry who found the miracle — the eu-angelion, of Christ Jesus.

And I — sinner and saint and evangelical — have a mind to be radical enough to tell you about the feast I found and the One who led me there.

by | February 11, 2013 | 59 comments

59 Comments

  1. Leanne

    You could say the same things about the word “Christian”. It’s been tarred almost as much as “evangelical”. In fact, I think it’s got more of a bad rep in secular circles more than in Christian circles, who can identify the denomination of those who don’t seem to be acting with love. And so we are tarred, and we tar. This is a nice reminder not to. Thank you!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Leanne,

      Yes, I agree. I thought the same as I wrote up this post. I’m glad you mentioned it here. How can we “win” these words back? Or does it even matter? I’d love to know what you think.

      Reply
  2. Lynn Morrissey

    Oh…..there are no words. You’ve said it all! May He increase….may I decrease. Glory be to God for the gift of His Won!
    with love,
    Your Evangelical friends, Lynn

    Reply
  3. Lynn Morrissey

    Well, Jennifer, I have done it again! Typed faster than I think. But maybe God intended be to type Won instead of Son! Surely, the whole point is that the Son, alone, has WON the victory over sin and death for us! That’s about as evangelical and radical as it gets! We can do nothing on our own, but accept His great gift and tell the world about it, as you are doing now. Keep writing, keep speaking, keep telling that Good News, Good-News Girl!
    Lynn

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      (Sorry if that the commenting box is still giving you fits, Lynn.)

      Won or Son. Either is good and quite appropriate, Lynn.

      Thanks for being here. I sort of held my breath when I hit PUBLISH POST on this one.

      Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Karen. It means a lot that you’ve come by to read this. I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you’re willing to share, on the word “evangelical.” PM me on Facebook if you want. Love you.

      Reply
  4. ro elliott

    Wow…amen….preach it sister! I have steered away from these “titles”too…but what you described here…I will sign up for that…wrapping my whole life around the cup and the cross. Amen. Thanks for this God inspired post.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Titles are sticky things. I appreciate the specificity that words bring, but the meanings are always evolving, and what works in 1950 doesn’t always work in 2013. Usually, I can let these things go. But this word? I’d like to save this word. I don’t want to give this one up. Maybe I’m being a bit stubborn about it, but I love what it means, and what the origin is … and I’m a little honked off that it’s gotten bent to mean something else.

      Thanks for being here, Ro.

      Reply
  5. Dave Vander Laan

    Jennifer, your words honor the Father and they bless the Son. May the Spirit use them to build the Kingdom until all hear.

    Thank you for using your gift of words to make God famous.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      To Him be the glory! Thanks, Dave, for dropping by in the comment box, and for your help in sorting out the word’s meaning.

      Reply
  6. Linda ww

    There you go. Thst’s exactly what I attempted to say. You so often write my heart sweet girl.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Any time that I’m thinking like you’re thinking, well, then, I KNOW I’m in good company. 😉

      Love you so.

      Reply
  7. Colleen

    Yes!! This part especially do I love
    “It is pick up your cross and follow,
    and spend yourself in behalf of the hungry,
    and act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thanks, Colleen… I want to live those words. I really do.

      Reply
  8. Carol

    You’ve said it well, Jennifer. The labels we apply are too often misrepresented, misunderstood and misused, and seem to change regularly anyway. We are all one… all relatives… in the family of God. I prefer to be known only as a child of God worshipping in a Presbyterian branch of the family and sharing the food I’ve found with anyone who’s hungry.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Carol, You’ve really captured the essence of what I was trying to say — taking a handful of words here in the comment box to say what took me nearly 1,000 words to say. 🙂 Always a joy to have your wisdom here, Carol. I grew up in a Methodist church, and now attend a Lutheran “branch of the family.” (I love that … “branch of the family.”)

      Reply
  9. boomama

    Absolutely beautiful, Jennifer. Thanks for this.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Sophie … Really glad to see your smile in the comment box. It means so much. It’s nice to have fine folks like you to link arms with — to say to each other, “We’re in this together.”

      Grateful for you. (And absolutely looking forward to your book!)

      Reply
  10. Margaret Feinberg

    Jennifer, so powerful! Love the images of the nails!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Calvary? The wonder beyond all wonders, eh? #wonderstruck

      Reply
  11. Lynn Morrissey

    Oh, you are so humble….but no, no breath-holding necessary. A timely and needed post! Thanks so much for writing it!! As for the box ! =], no it has no sliding bar and doesn’t show all that’s been typed if it’s a wordy post (to *whom* does that apply?!), but I just realized that if I use the arrow key, I can easily access anything I’ve typed. Now, you’d think that would help me to proof! Ha! Who cares, right?! Bless all your work for Him, Jennifer!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Lynn! I’m so pleased that you’ve found a way. I still wish it were easier for you — that the box would expand. Maybe at the Retreat in April we can see what’s happening? Are you bringing your laptop?

      Reply
  12. Sandra Heska King

    Girl, you’ve nailed it. A way to wrap your whole life around a cup and a cross. And though I don’t like what I see in my reflection much of the time and deserve those nails myself, I have to remember… Tetelestai. It. Is. Finished. It’d be criminal to wrap that news up to myself.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Tetelestai! So cool, Sandy. And thank you for that reminder. I love you, girl.

      Reply
    • dukeslee

      David, I look forward to your response.

      Reply
  13. S. Etole

    Extremely well said … thank you.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Always love seeing your beautiful face here, Susan.

      Reply
  14. Renee

    Wow! All this time I thought I was Methodist, as it turns out I’m Evangelical!!!
    Thanks for the awesome post!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Smiling over this comment, Renee. Ear-to-ear smile. I was born and raised a Methodist, by the way, in Marathon, Iowa. Where are you?

      Reply
  15. Dea

    Thank you for thinking this through…all the way through, and not knee-jerking at the word “evangelical.” “Thinking through” doesn’t seem to be that popular anymore. Thanks for putting on the old “thinking cap.” I am ready to take the word back so the Word can go forth into all the world.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thanks, Dea. I had some help from some friends. I’ve been processing this one a while. I really appreciate your words.

      Reply
  16. Sharon O

    Love this writing. It is real and authentic and explains it is a simple yet powerful way.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      ((Sharon)) … I’m glad it meant something to you. Thanks for coming by today.

      Reply
  17. jennifer

    Let me be a fool too!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I’m with you! Fools Unite! 🙂

      Reply
  18. Robin Roewe

    Jennifer, as always, you have a way of writing that compels me to think and seek. We do need to take the word back. Far too often it is easier to throw out the baby with the bathwater and start again with a clean slate. Easier, but perhaps not the most prudent course of action. In this case, you so eloquently define what evangelical really means…not just what the “buzz” meaning is, that I can scarce help but agree that it should be a mandate that we, as evangelicals embrace this “title” and live it to the fullest extent possible. God is glorified in your writings and I am thankful for you and for your gift!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Robin,

      I very much appreciated your thoughtful response last night in the Facebook comments. Your words helped me to really process this one. Grateful that you’ve come by today, too.

      Reply
  19. Simply Darlene

    In regard to this piece and a bit in the comment boxes, I reckon we can take back the words (Evangelical & Christian) by walkin’ the talk.

    Love is a verb, an action word.

    Blessings.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      True enough. Way to preach it, Darlene. 🙂

      Reply
  20. Carol Hulin (@CarolHulin)

    Wow!!!This. Is. Awesome. Well said. Well put. All I can add is: YES!!! and send a {{HUG}} your way for being so brave 🙂

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hugs right back to you, Carol. Thank you for dropping by. I don’t feel brave. I feel all shaky on the inside about the whole thing. It’s such a charged word…

      Reply
  21. Jillie

    Jennifer! This. is. so. good!!! I too, am a ‘fool’ for the cause of Christ…..and an ‘evangelical’. I am just one beggar telling another beggar where to find Bread.
    This one is another keeper!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I’ll be a fool with you, Jillie. 🙂

      Reply
  22. Jennifer Bush Dorhauer

    We are definitely a crazy lot, but a varied one from such different backgrounds. That’s the beauty of Christ.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Indeed, Jennifer. I love the variety.

      Reply
  23. Kris Camealy (@KrisCamealy)

    I read this last night in my inbox and “whooped” aloud when I read it. You said it so beautifully, and rightly. I am an evangelical, and there’s nothing else I’d rather be. He makes me something worthy because of Hs worth and so I cling to Him

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Sweet one … I can’t tell you what an honor it is to kneel, shoulder to shoulder, with you — right there at the foot of the cross. It really is all … about … Jesus. (Praying for you today, and especially for your readers, that your book will draw them closer to God in the coming weeks.)

      Reply
      • Kris Camealy (@KrisCamealy)

        Amen, praying again and again today, for all who are looking for Him this Lent. May they find Him waiting with arms wide-spread, engraved on the palms of His hands!! Love you.

        Reply
  24. emily p freeman (@emilypfreeman)

    I made it about half way through your post when the tears came up from nowhere – Now I’m going to need to spend some time considering where they came from. All that to say, Jennifer, beautiful writing. Thank you for putting that into words.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Emily, Thank you for coming by, and for investing some of your tears here in a few words that were spent for His glory. And thank you, Emily Freeman, for all the ways you point to the things of God in your writing … and with your very life. You mentor me with your words. I’m so glad God made you.

      Reply
  25. Kristin Taylor

    This is so beautiful and true. I appreciate you boldness and transparency. I’m looking forward to reading more here.

    Reply
  26. Denise J. Hughes

    So I was sitting in the hallway outside of my daughter’s ballet class and reading your post on my cell phone, and I realized that my head kept nodding (and I might have even verbalized a “yep” and “amen”). 🙂

    Thank you for this articulate representation of the word “evangelical.” So beautiful. And so true.

    Reply
  27. Megan Willome

    The day I realized I plead guilty to the term “evangelical” was in 2002, when I realized I had no interest in writing for the Christian market. I wanted to write for the world at large without losing my Christianity. I would’ve never guessed the avenue for that was a monthly lifestyle (secular) magazine.

    Reply
  28. Gary Ellis

    Good article. Another word that needs redeeming is, Church.

    Reply
  29. Harriett

    And can I hear an Amen?

    Reply
  30. Jacque Watkins

    Jennifer…so nice to meet you here in this lovely new space, aren’t Ted & Annie wonderful?…and I am standing with you, a fool among them, also knowing and agreeing “we will always need forgiveness, always need the Good News, always need the grace of God”…thank you for these beautiful words, a reminder of who we really are because of Him and Him alone. Blessings to you. xoxo

    Reply

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