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.
WHAT EVANGELICAL IS … AND IS NOT
I’m an evangelical, which means I am a believer of the “ευαγγελιον,” or eu-angelion, in Greek. Eu means “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 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.
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.
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.