Gazing Into The Evangelical Mind
Gazing Into the Evangelical Mind
Does the word “Evangelical” bother you? For a long time, I was uncomfortable associating myself with that word. Mainly, I was embarrassed by how some “Evangelical Leaders” became too closely aligned with political agendas. As a knee jerk reaction, I began to disassociate myself from these groups. However, as I have continued to “work out my faith,” I have now realized just how “Evangelical” my thinking really is. If this describes you, then read on below.
The National Association of Evangelicals defines the term in the following way: “The term ‘evangelical’ comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning ‘the good news’ or the ‘gospel.’ Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the ‘good news’ of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.”1 Further, an Evangelical holds to a common set of beliefs found throughout many different Protestant denominations. However, according to an article on the website of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, the term has a far deeper meaning. Dr. Molly Worthen, Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, notes there are other ways in which to look at an Evangelical. She posits three questions that Evangelicals generally seek answers to:
- “How does one reconcile faith and reason?”
- “How does one be sure of salvation?”
- “How do Christians reconcile their personal faith with a society that is increasingly pluralistic and secular?”
These questions are based upon the single most important belief of Christendom: the testimony of the Bible to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Notice the emphasis of these questions. Number one and three pivot on the need for “reconciliation” of a person’s inward faith and outward experiences. Number two pivots on a person’s “certainty” of that faith. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word reconcile in several ways: restore friendly relations, show compatibility, make someone accept, or make one account consistent with another. Reconciliation is based upon the felt need that something doesn’t quite fit or one belief is inconsistent with another. Psychologist call this feeling cognitive dissonance and very often results in heighten levels of anxiety.
The Evangelical Dilemma
When an Evangelical experiences the God of the Bible at work in his heart, something changes on the inside. A new reality is experienced. Evangelicals commonly refer to this as being “born again” or the “new birth.” This new awareness is existential in nature, meaning, incredibly personal but nonetheless real. A new identity emerges within their person and manifests in a variety of ways. From this existential experience flows out a new awareness of God’s Holy Spirit at work in a person’s life.
However, when something changes on the inside of a person, the person is now faced with a dilemma. The Evangelical must now wrestle through the implications of that change. Very often, this results in cognitive dissonance. They must now strive to reconcile their personal beliefs, attitudes, and emotions within a world that does not share those same values. So there is a “felt need” to reconcile and recognize their inward faith with the external world. As a consequence of our pluralistic society, the Evangelical must also learn how to square their beliefs with the contradictory beliefs of others. There is the “God” versus “there is no god”. Evangelicals, however, are not content with merely holding certain beliefs in tension with society, but actively seek ways to reconcile this tension by the way they think, believe, and relate to others. The process is sometimes arduous but necessary.
So being an evangelical,
- Is a mindset centered upon the belief of the “certainty” or the “truthfulness” of Jesus Christ;
- Is the awareness of a personal connection to Jesus Christ that is alive deep down within the recesses of one’s heart and soul; and
- Is the attempt to be faithful to Jesus Christ in a world that seems so contrary to his kingdom.
An Evangelical Relationship with Jesus
In summary, an Evangelical person is preoccupied with an intense need to develop and enjoy his or her “relationship” with the God of the Bible. Far from being shallow and flighty, when an Evangelical commits to the real work of true faithfulness to Jesus and his teaching, a lifetime of careful thought, deep reflection, and personal spiritual development is required. If this is an Evangelical mindset, then I am proud to include myself in this category of Christians known as Evangelical.
2. See Joel Cooper, Cognitive Dissonance: Fifty Years of Classic Theory. New York: Sage Publications, 2007.