Recovering the Evangelism in Evangelical
“What does evangelicalism mean?” Amy Black, Ph.D., author and professor of political science at Wheaton College, addressed the audience gathered at Azusa Pacific’s Los Angeles Pacific College Board Room with this question as she opened her recent lecture, “Evangelicals and American Politics: Obstacles and Opportunities,” hosted by APU’s Honors College as part of the Koch Lecture Series. Black’s lecture stressed that evangelical identity needs to be rooted in Christ. “Evangelicalism has recognized social and political implications, but we need to refocus on our theological center,” she said.
In order to reclaim the evangelical label, Black re-visited the four evangelical distinctives. She delineated these four characteristics, coined by historian David Bebbington, as deciding to follow Christ (conversionism), actively demonstrating the gospel (activism), highly regarding Scripture as authoritative (Biblicism), and emphasizing Jesus’ sacrificial crucifixion (crucicentrism). Black sees the importance of centering on these theological truths rather than political opinion.
Black believes the first obstacle to this goal is the widespread misunderstanding of what evangelicalism means. “Most seculars think of evangelicals as closedminded fundamentalists, which hurts our gospel witness and prohibits evangelization,” she said. The second hurdle she identifies is the disharmony between the political views of evangelicals today. Black separates the group called “The Old Guard,” who actively engage in politics, from “The New Guard,” who prefer not to endorse particular political candidates or parties.
To overcome these obstacles, Black pointed to opportunities for evangelicals to educate, inform, and ask questions so that non-evangelicals may understand the label more clearly. “Ask what others think of evangelicals and why, and then share what evangelicalism means to you.”
Black stressed that evangelicals should “turn from our idols” and approach politics by issue rather than party. “We need to avoid fear-based politics, which present disagreement as a zero-sum game,” she said. “Jesus is eternally king, so we don’t have to fall to fear.” Black argues that for this reason evangelicalism should be allied to Christ alone. “Biblical principles need to guide our party politics, not vice versa,” she said. “We need to reframe our political discourse by leading with what we are for, not what we are against.”
Black, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, draws upon her research on American politics and how different institutions interact with our government. She authored Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason. Most recently, Black co-edited Five Views on the Church and Politics, which aims through multiple contributors to introduce the political thinking of different Christian traditions. Black encourages Christians to adopt a humble and reasonable political approach during this time of divisive discourse. Her writing equips readers to develop their own thoughtful, faith-informed perspective on politics.
“Let’s recover the evangelism in evangelical,” Black said. She concluded that our ultimate goal is to have faith in the promises of God and to share that faith with others, remembering amidst trying times that evangelization is not a complicated debate to be won, but good news to be shared.
Posted: February 15, 2017