What is an evangelical? I believe the definition has morphed a bit over some decades now. Evangelicals stress a born-again experience, have a high regard for biblical authority and stress the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When I finally became “churched” at age 14, it was in a Bible-believing, fundamental church that was committed to the gospel, to missions, to Bible memorization and to the abstinence from some worldly pleasures. Several decades later, I remain an evangelical – but I fear that evangelicalism may have left the train station without me.
Right from the get-go I knew I was not a part of the “social justice” agenda. I did not look down on those folks; I just knew that we looked at biblical issues differently and even looked at the Bible with different glasses. Christians should care about the poor, but to me, poverty, climate change, war, immigration and women’s rights were not primary evangelical issues.
Or were they? The times began a-changin’ in the 1970s, and by the 1980s, some were concerned that evangelicalism could get hijacked. By the 1990s, the term was being redefined. And in the last 10 years, I fear some of the founders of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), who first met in 1942 to counter the liberal Federal Council of Churches of Christ (which would become the National Council of Churches), were pretty grieved! The 21st century brought a shift to the left. Let me clarify.
In 2006, evangelicals jumped on the global-warming bandwagon. The Evangelical Climate Initiative was formed. Eighty-six evangelical Christian leaders decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying, “Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.” Many in the evangelical community still see climate change as junk science and see it getting our eyes off of the prize; that is, sharing the gospel while there is still time.
In 2010 and 2011, immigration became the new evangelical cause. OK, what had I missed? How had this slipped in under the radar screen and become headline news to Bill Hybels, Richard Land, Mathew Staver, leaders at the National Association of Evangelicals and others? Wasn’t this owned by the religious left? Or maybe the right had just moved left. I was starting to connect the dots.
Then came the “Circle of Protection” in the spring and summer of 2011. This was a push from both evangelicals and leftists to see that Congress not cut the federal budget for the poor. The National Association of Evangelicals and religious left icon Jim Wallis yoked together, and suddenly the “What Would Jesus Cut?” effort appeared in headlines. Hundreds of outfits – mainly left-of-center – signed on.
But on Nov. 8 the stunner came along and has millions scratching our heads. This time the founders of the NAE back in 1942 just had to feel betrayed! The National Association of Evangelicals came out calling for nuclear disarmament. I can’t make stuff like this up! I wish it had happened on April 1 and it was a joke. Say it ain’t so! Their position statement falls just short of urging total nuclear disarmament while surmising that reliance on nukes might be idolatrous. Was this position acceptable to all of the 45,000 local churches that make up the NAE? Is this statement (and the other issues I’ve raised) representing them? None of these edicts represents me!
Here’s the answer to that question. Religious left watchdog Mark Tooley writes, “Although most of the NAE’s about 100 board members likely remain conservatives, few have openly dissented from the NAE’s recent stances on the environment, enhanced interrogation, immigration, budget policy, and nukes.” This isn’t your grandma’s evangelicalism. Change happened incrementally, but what I believed had left the building!
In October, NAE officials met with President Obama. They released a statement saying, “A growing body of Christian thought calls into question the acceptability of nuclear weapons as part of a just nation defense, given that the just war theory categorically admonished against indiscriminate violence and requires proportionality and limited collateral damage. Scripture shows that national military might too often takes the place of trust in God.” I am having trouble connecting the scriptural dots here.
NAE board member Joel Hunter stated, “We are looking to the Lord for security. Stockpiling weapons for our security may be a form of idolatry.” Other NAE spokesmen talked about loving our enemies. Are they delusional that Iran and North Korea want to love America?
We have a fallen world! A world without violence would be welcomed, but on this sin-stained planet, it won’t happen until much later. We have to address such issues realistically and not idealistically. The enemies of freedom are rogue regimes that won’t disarm just because America does.
Tooley, of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, writes, “Christians, including evangelicals, understanding humanity’s fallen nature, should shun utopian dreams and prudentially advocate policies that hopefully contain evil while knowing that no human actions can eliminate evil.”
Eric Barger of Take a Stand! Ministry says in conjunction with my report, “Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglican/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ, and many other churches and groups had been the ‘evangelicals’ of their day 80-150 years ago, until liberals gained control. Gradually, Bible schools and seminaries filled with unscrupulous – and unsaved – individuals denigrated the Scriptures, mocked the supernatural, and attempted to instill doubt and not faith in all who dared enter their classrooms. The creeds, which the Apostles and countless believers throughout the church age had given their lives for, were unceremoniously ridiculed. As the Bible was denounced, denial became the norm and heresy replaced truth as liberalism appealed to the flesh and corrupted all who embraced it. Within a relatively short period of time ideals, science, and human reasoning systematically replaced the Bible and began to poison the minds of future ministers, teachers, and countless lay people. All of this took place but not without a formidable fight.”
Is anyone fighting today? All I see is capitulation.
Once again we see a vain “fix the earth” mentality. The wrongs of this world cannot be made right until Christ’s return. Since that just might be soon, could we please go back to the fundamentals of soul winning, the calling card of evangelicals for decades? We can’t fix anything on this planet because the devil is in charge right now. One of the things our government is assigned to do, and rightly so, is to protect its citizens. One of the things evangelicals are to do is to share the gospel. Nuclear disarmament is not a church issue. Somebody do a reality check.
Liberal theologians, even if they call themselves “evangelicals,” don’t speak for me nor do they represent me.
Jan Markell is founder and president of Olive Tree Ministries. She hosts a nationally syndicated Christian radio program, “Understanding the Times,” now heard on 416 radio outlets. Her ministry reaches out to many via website, national conferences, radio, and print and e-newsletter. Jan has written eight books and has produced numerous DVDs. She is considered a pioneer in the Messianic Jewish movement.