Whatever Happened to Evangelical Christianity?

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Introduction – What Does It Mean To Be Evangelical?

Evangelical – of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels. (Webster)

In a 2007 survey by the Barna Group (a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture), 38% of the respondents self-identified as evangelical, suggesting
a large segment of the U.S. fit this designation. However, of those respondents adhering to Barna’s nine-point criteria for being an evangelical, only 9% of the respondents could be considered to meet the definition of evangelical. These nine points are:

1. They have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their lives today.
2. They believe they will go to heaven when they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.
3. Their faith is very important in their life today.
4. They believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians.
5. They believe that Satan exists.
6. They believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works.
7. They believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth.
8. They assert that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches.
9. They describe God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.

The first two criteria identifies the respondent as being “born-again.” The remaining seven criteria goes on to describe the respondent as being evangelical.

https://www.barna.com/research/survey-explores-who-qualifies-as-an-evangelical/ January 18, 2007. The survey is based on a random sample of 4,014 adults conducted in January, April, August and October of 2006.

Is There really A Difference?

Compared to the “9-point” evangelicals, those who self-identify as evangelicals are:
• 60% less likely to believe that Satan is real,
• 53% less likely to believe that salvation is based on grace, not works,
• 46% less likely to say they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others,
• 42% less likely to list their faith in God as the top priority in their life,
• 38% less likely to believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth,
• 27% less likely to contend that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings,
• 23% less likely to say that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith.
https://www.barna.com/research/survey-explores-who-qualifies-as-an-evangelical/ January 18, 2007

The study found that 86 percent of the “9-point” evangelicals also call themselves evangelicals while only 19 percent of self-proclaimed evangelicals meets Barna’s “9-point” criteria. On another note, the study found that 27 percent of those who say they are evangelicals are not born again, based upon their beliefs (the first wo points). Finally they are less committed to their beliefs, being less likely to read their Bible or attend church during a typical week.

https://www.christianpost.com/news/study-most-evangelicals-do-not-meet-criteria-25224/ January 17, 2007.

On various religious matters, nine-point evangelicals are the most likely to be of one mind as a group. They are consistently more likely to define a variety of questionable activities as sinful, while self-identified evangelicals have the most permissive attitudes of the three groups.

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*These statements help define “evangelical” so all nine-point evangelicals would agree strongly or disagree strongly with them (as appropriate), by definition.

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While not defining a person as evangelical, using the “9-point” criteria, respondents’ attitudes regarding various other issues also varied.

http://greymatterresearch.com/index_files/Grey_Matter_Report_Defining_Evangelicals_in_Research.pdf 2008

Evolving Cultural Perceptions – As Seen On the Internet

For irreligious evangelicals, Christianity is about politics—not God.

Under Trump, America’s religious right is rewriting its code of ethics.

The Religious Right Moves to Cement Political Power Under President Trump.

Are evangelicals inventing a new kind of Christianity that’s all about sex?

Pope Francis’ associates compare right-wing US Christians with jihadists.

Are Right-Wing Evangelicals True Christians or Just Another White Identity Cult?

Is Evangelicalism Now Just Right-Wing Politics in Religious Garb?

“Pharaseeism” – Lessons From The Past

Pharisaical – marked by hypocritical censorious self-righteousness.

Hypocrisy – behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.
Censure – a judgment involving condemnation.
Self-Righteous – convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others: narrow-mindedly moralistic

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27, 28, NIV 1984)

The Pharisees were members of a Jewish party that exercised strict piety according to Mosaic law. They were a sect within early Judaism, that became active around 150 BC and endured as a distinct party until being subsumed into the Rabbinic movement around AD 135.

Johnson, B. T. (2016). Pharisees. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Their name is obscure. It may mean “separate ones” in Hebrew, referring to their observance of ritual purity and tithing, or less probably “the interpreters,” referring to their unique interpretations of biblical law.

Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., p. 782). San Francisco: Harper & Row.

It is not possible to give a completely accurate characterization of the Pharisees, since scholars disagree sharply concerning their fundamental distinctiveness.

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Pharisees. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1671). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Yet we do know that the Pharisees developed a tradition of strict interpretation of the Mosaic law, developing an extensive set of oral extensions of the law designed to maintain religious identity and purity.

Johnson, B. T. (2016). Pharisees. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Their propensity to set their oral traditions on equal footing with God’s laws, along with their legalistic imposition of these on others without themselves conforming to the character of God brought them into direct conflict with Christ and severe criticism from Him.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:1-3, NIV 1984)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So, you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for men to see. (Matthew 23:1-5, NIV 1984)

True evangelical Christians today need to heed the lessons of the 1st century Pharisees, lest they become 21st century Pharisees.

Application – Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water

While there are indeed many lessons that evangelical Christians can learn from Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees and rogue religious leaders of His time on earth, caution is also warranted lest we end up compromising moral absolutes in the name of political correctness.

Just because evangelical Christians are being increasingly lambasted in the media and by our pluralistic society at-large, does not necessarily mean that we are off course on all things. On the one hand, many of the criticisms that are leveled against evangelical Christians in general, are due to the actions and beliefs of fringe groups that do not necessarily adhere to the “9-point” criteria used by the Barna Group. On the other hand, some of the criticisms that are being leveled are on moral issues for which we must stand firm. We must not compromise to “whatever” in the name of political expediency or because it has become predominantly socially acceptable in our increasingly pluralistic and post-Christian culture. But we must speak the truth in love (they are not mutually exclusive) and not lose sight of our “prime directive” to go evangelize and make disciples.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”. (Matthew 23:23,24, NIV 1984)

It is unfortunate indeed, that the term Christian needs to be prefaced with any kind of adjective like “born-again” or evangelical.  The word Christian should be able to stand on its own merit.  In my mind the phrases “born-again” Christian and evangelical Christian are redundant.  But sadly, the term Christian and Christianity have come to mean different things to different people and the qualifiers have become almost a necessity.

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