Before I get into the meat of this post, I’ll define my terms for any readers who don’t know exactly what Evangelical Protestant refers to. “Protestant” encompasses all churches descended from the Reformation, when Martin Luther and others concluded there was rampant intuitional and doctrinal corruption in the Catholic Church. They tried to reform it, but wound up breaking off into their own churches. Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and most other non-Catholic churches fall under this label. While there’s a lot of diversity among Protestants, we all agree that the Roman Catholic Church is not the one true church, and that their Pope, Magisterium, and Tradition do not have special/infallible teaching authority.
The other part of this label—”Evangelical”—is harder to give a simple definition for, but really applies to churches which, after the fundamentalist/liberal wars of the 20th century, carried on most of the fundamentalist theology with an emphasis on evangelism and Bible. Baptists and Pentecostals make up most of the Evangelical demographic, along with non-denominational churches, and smaller portions from the Lutheran, Reformed, and even Catholic traditions.
Most of you, my readers, are probably Evangelical Protestants, too (though I know I have a few filthy Papists reading!). If you’re Baptist, I guarantee you are one of us. If there’s any further confusion, what I’m going to say in a moment will clear it up more.
So why am I writing this? For two reasons. For one, in the wider world of Christendom, Evangelicalism gets a bad name. We’re viewed as immature, shallow, and ignorant. But while there are several valid critiques by people both inside and outside Evangelicalism, I think much of the disdain is also undeserved or at very least exaggerated. We have strengths which offset and I daresay outweigh our weaknesses, and they deserve a fair hearing. The second reason for this post is to reassure you all that I really am still an Evangelical at heart. I frequently criticize the Evangelical world, and I often also defend other traditions, but I want to clarify that I only do this because Evangelicals are my own flesh and blood. Evangelicalism is still my home, and as such I’m more aware of its flaws than those of any other group. Who do you criticize more than your own family? But as family, however critical I may be, I’ll defend my Evangelical brethren to the death.
So, without further ado, here are the things that I think Evangelical Protestantism gets right, the things which keep me from leaving home.
- We Evangelicals have a unique respect for the authority of Scripture. Radical fundamentalists treat Scripture like the Pharisees with their actually unbiblical rules and regulations. Liberal Protestants treat the Bible as an inferior thing to their modern and postmodern values, eschatologies, and science. Catholics give their own so-called “Sacred Tradition”equal weight to Scripture and give their leaders the ability to set interpretations in stone. As far as I’ve seen, only Evangelicals consistently try to live under the Bible, taking it at its word as best as we understand. Even when we let other stuff mess up our understanding of Scripture, there’s always a willingness to simply follow what it says.
- However much the term “personal relationship with Jesus” is overused and abused, there remains a very legitimate concept that each of us must have intimate fellowship with the Father through the Son through the Spirit. We emphasize the personal: you do not inherit union with Jesus from your parents or culture but must embrace Him yourself. We pound hard on the relationship: Jesus is personally invested in us with a great love and seeks for us to reciprocate. Prayer, Scripture, and all Christian acts bring us to know our Savior.
- Nothing says “passion” like a big gathering of Evangelicals, especially teenagers. Sure, some of its hormones and shenanigans, but there’s real stuff, too, because in Evangelicalism we teach people to own their faith and let it drive their lives. Challenges and energy define our events and movements. While passion alone can be misplaced or fizzle out, when used properly it is a valuable asset for Christianity, moving people to really carry forth the love of Christ in the Gospel in a visible and impactful way.
- Cultural Engagement
- I’m not a fan of full-blown efforts to be/become “relevant,” but if there’s one place Evangelicals stand out most obviously it is in attempts to contextualize the truth and use popular culture and media to spread the Gospel. Sure, it’s usually done awkwardly and sometimes even embarrassingly, but that’s precisely why we need to keep people in Evangelicalism: so that theologians, data experts, and other people with necessary skills can round out the group in such attempts.
- Last, but far from least, Evangelicals practically have a monopoly of the namesake, evangelism. As far as I know, no other tradition comes close to matching Evangelicals on the priority of taking the Good News about Jesus to those who haven’t heard. The Southern Baptists practically rule the missionary world. We’re not the only ones who believe in Hell, but we probably take it the most seriously. Plus, while most of the other traditions are talking about the importance of social justice, meeting needs, and solving problems in society (usually over the importance of evangelism), we Evangelicals are often out incorporating those very things into our mission work, spreading the Gospel while improving the world. And this, I believe, is of the utmost importance. After all, what was is the martyrs who Catholics so revere died doing? To what cause did Peter, supposedly their first Pope, devote his life?
I could probably extend this list a bit, but I think what I’ve mentioned so far, especially the first and last points, is enough to make my point. Despite all my theological musings, perplexities, and wanderings, these qualities of Evangelical Protestantism have kept me here. I honestly believe this is the best tradition for these reasons, even if I offer plenty of criticism, too. I only complain because I want to see us become the best and most Christian we can really be. And again, it’s these first and last points that really hold me in. I cannot conceive of doing Christianity that it’s robustly and ministerially Biblical, and emphatically evangelistic (even if in my personal life I don’t always live these out). So I plan on sticking around. And unless God decides to seriously throw me off, I expect that’s just what I’ll do.
(P. S. The Frances Chan featured image is because I think he’s one of the best we Evangelical Protestants have to offer.)