The State of Evangelicalism Today
(based upon our April 14, 2011 webcast)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Many churches and individuals identify themselves as being “Evangelical”. This is a good term that has an important historical meaning. In time, good words are often used in ways that become detached from their original meanings. What does being an Evangelical mean today?
The word “evangelical” is an adjective from the word “evangel.” It comes from the Greek root word euangelion (ευαγγελιον). It is a compound word which combines ευ, a prefix meaning “good”, with angelia (αγγελια), a word meaning “message”. The related word for “messenger” is angelos (αγγελος). In the language of that time any messenger, both military and civilian, was called “angelos”, an “angel”. The same word was used for those spirit beings who were the messengers of God.
This compound word, “evangel” means “good message”. It is the message that God and lost sinners are reconciled by grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The message is “good” because it restores the lost to God’s eternal blessing and fellowship.
God’s good message of redeeming grace.
Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
The word “gospel” in that verse is the word “evangel” (ευαγγελιον).
There is an historical and theological meaning for the word Evangelical.
The Christian churches which believe that the lost need redemption are divided into two camps. The Sacerdotalists believe that God works mediately through the church which administers salvation through the sacraments. In contrast, the Evangelicals believe that God works immediately upon the individual to forgive and to restore him through the proclaiming of the gospel.
The historical dedication of Evangelicals to biblical principles has eroded.
1. Many now play down the importance of biblical doctrine
There is a tragic lack of concern about what the Bible actually says in many churches claiming to be “Evangelical.”
In a series of articles about the state of 21st Century Evangelicalism, Dr. Paul Elliott of Teaching the Word Ministries quoted from a survey reported in Christianity Today. The survey was based upon work done by Barna Research. Dr. Elliott’s article points out the following responses from young people in Evangelical churches:
- 80% could not place Moses, Adam, David, Solomon, and Abraham in chronological order.
- 85% could not place the major events of the earthly life of Jesus in chronological order.
- 80% did not know to look in the book of Acts for the account of Paul’s missionary journeys.
- 40% did not know where to find the Ten Commandments.
- 67% did not know where to find the Sermon on the Mount.
In a similar survey of adults who call themselves Bible-believing Christians in America today, less than one adult in six said that he reads the Bible regularly. 35% of the adults surveyed said they never read the Bible at all.
Dr. Elliott said, “The church unplugged becomes the church uncertain about Biblical truth. And the church uncertain becomes the church that doesn’t really care how its people live.”
He then quoted from a Barna Research survey conducted in 2001 to show the following statistics:
- 37% of adults in Evangelical churches do not believe the Bible is totally accurate.
- 45% do not believe Jesus Christ was sinless.
- 52% do not believe Satan is real.
- 57% do not believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life.
- 57% believe that good works play a part in gaining eternal life.
- A similar number of Evangelical adults believe that other religions are “valid ways to God.”
2. Many in these churches show a lack of biblical morals.
In another Barna survey, less than 10% of adults in Evangelical churches cite the Bible as the primary basis of their worldview and behavior. Dr. Elliott reported that according to a 2008 survey by Pew Forum, 19% of those who are living with a partner outside of marriage identify themselves as Evangelical Christians.
Dr. Elliott referenced the book Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church (the Purpose-Driven Church). It said that although 91% of its people stated that their highest value in life is having a deep personal relationship with God, 25% of the church’s singles, 38% of its single parents, and 41% of its divorced members “admitted to having illicit sexual relationships in the last 6 months.”
Dr. Elliott then concluded, “… systematic, expository Bible preaching has given way to motivational lectures where the Bible is rarely mentioned, much less really studied. The singing of Bible-based, doctrinally-rich, instructive hymns has given way to the use of repetitious, cliché-filled songs and choruses.” … “Many of these churches base their programs and policies on the latest fad how-to books rather than on the Bible. They model their services on the practices of television mega-churches rather than on the principles given by the Holy God who is the only legitimate object of worship, in His Word.”
Restoring the Good News to Evangelicalism:
Though the state of 21st Century Evangelicalism is clearly unhealthy, there is great hope. God’s word is powerful because of it’s source. God promises to transform the hearts of his people when they learn his word, pray for his direction, worship him as they ought, and encourage one another as a spiritual family.
There are things we can do to turn the tide of an eroding understanding of the gospel.
1. We need to restore the focus of the gospel to reconciliation with God and restoration to godliness, rather than just proclaiming a rescue from perdition.
2. We can also encourage our pastors and teachers to restore worship sermons to themes derived from the exposition of Scripture, rather than from popular motivational topics.
Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ ”
Dr. Elliott’s helpful articles were found on the web at the following locations:
Part 1, The Greatest Story Never Read? By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Part 2, What Do 21st Century Evangelicals Believe? By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The surveys come from:
Barna Research (http://www.barna.org/)
Bible Literacy Center (http://www.centerforbibleengagement.org/)
The Pew Forum (http://religions.pewforum.org/)