Who and What Is An "Evangelical"?: Evangelicals and Politics (Part 1)

I have thought much about how Evangelical, both the term and the person so identified, is understood these days. It is inevitable that during election years, the term is used primarily as an important way to understand and influence a voting bloc, more of a sociological understanding of Evangelical. However, that comes way short of what Evangelicalism means. 

Even for those who claim to be Evangelical, there is a significant difference between those who merely identify as an Evangelical and those who actually are actively living out their faith, evidenced in attending church (even though we know that does not guarantee one is truly an Evangelical either). Even though there is support with the former group, those in the latter category do not generally support Trump. You can read of this here: Donald Trump's poll numbers show a big divide between Christians and churchgoing Christians

In another piece, one writes that “most Evangelicals Don’t Vote Trump,” in that “the numbers tell a different story than the headlines.” The conclusion: “Evangelicalism as a religious and cultural phenomenon is difficult to define and measure accurately, so the media should show a bit more caution before lumping all evangelicals together in a massive pro-Trump herd, especially when a super-majority of that supposed herd do not actively support Donald J. Trump.”

Russell Moore writes “The word “evangelical” has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He has also tweeted, “The word "evangelical" no longer has any meaning. Just call me a gospel Christian.” Although he writes this, he strongly affirms the truth of Evangelicalism, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wants to make clear the distinction between cultural Evangelicalism and evangel, i.e. gospel-centered, Evangelicalism.

Michael Horton writes a good piece in Christianity Today about this under the title The Theology of Donald Trump. He gets at what sort of Christianity Trump imbibes, which is akin to Norman Vincent Peale and Joel Osteen.

Recently this issue has been raised again: Trump, Clinton, or Neither: How Evangelicals Are Expected to Vote. Since it appears Trump and Clinton will be the respective candidates, how will Evangelicals respond? For whom will they vote? Will they vote a third party candidate? Will they vote at all? This is the question raised in this article: Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?

Russell Moore wrote about this again recently in the NYT, A White Church No More Although there are Evangelicals who support Trump, see Donald Trump’s Feud With Evangelical Leader Reveals Fault Lines, and although Moore does not speak on behalf of Evangelicals, Trump, as he typically does when questioned, took to Twitter to address (attack) Moore : “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!”

Interestingly, because of Moore’s understanding of and commitment to live by the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is much with which he would probably agree. In fact, he would likely be able to add more. That perspective is the result of a life transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:16-17).

Many, both inside and outside Evangelicalism, continue to ponder and process this phenomenon during this election year. The political landscape has changed. The moral landscape is in a free fall from any God-given standard. Many Evangelicals continue to think through how to live in this cultural context, such that Christianity and culture are not overlapping realities. Although they never had been one and the same, there was significant overlap and influence between them. There is decreasing overlap and a widening gap between the two, with an increasing opposition to the Christian truth and Christians who affirm that truth.

This is not a time for Christians to disengage, or to cloister themselves, or to accommodate, or to capitulate. Neither is a time to pine after an earlier day, nor whine about being misunderstood or mistreated. That certainly does not mean we roll over and play dead, but if this is how our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was treated, why would we expect less (Jn. 15:20)?

How do you process this from a biblical perspective? How do you counsel people who ask you about it?

In the second part of this brief look at Evangelicals and Politics, we will look at some distinctives and convictions that explain/define who and what an Evangelical is.

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