Am I Evangelical? (1)
[Essay originally written in 2002 for the Scottish Baptist College]
Before I begin to answer that question for myself, let me ask some questions that have been raised by a number of different people in varied situations and at varied times:
• Is Evangelicalism the hope for the future of Christianity in Scotland?
• Is evangelism as we currently know it and practise it the right way to reach out to other people for Christ?
• Is preaching the highest and best practice of evangelicalism?
• What can we learn from the history of Evangelicalism in the United Kingdom in general and in Scotland in particular?
• Where does the future of Scottish Christianity lie?
• How has Evangelicalism shaped us as Christians?
• Have we blindly accepted what Evangelicalism has told us just because everyone else seemed to accept it?
It is certainly true that the Christian that I am today has been shaped by many things and by many people in the past. That is true for all of us, and that is part of the variety that is to be found in the church, both at a local and worldwide level. Yet even that is an assumption that is subject to being questioned.
How much of what I am as a Christian today is the result of my own exploration and discovery?
How much of what I am today is the result of me simply believing and practising as I think I should do, because I have allowed myself to be spoon fed down through the years?
How much have I believed about the ‘right’ way for me to do things just because someone in leadership has said so?
Do we describe ourselves as evangelical because that is what someone says we are?
Perhaps we do not actually know what Evangelical means. Perhaps we assume that the Evangelical Alliance must be a good starting point for our own belief and practice. After all, it is the Evangelical Alliance, so surely it must be good. Our thoughts and ideas about evangelism have been shaped and indeed perhaps hardened by something and someone. Surely the Evangelical Alliance must be correct in the way that it believes that evangelism should be practised? After all, so many people, churches and organisations belong to it, and they can’t all be wrong, can they?
As Christians, it is easy for our present to be based on someone else’s past, rather than on our own past. Our beliefs may simply be the beliefs that have been handed down to us. Our practices may simply be the practices that have been handed down to us. Our thinking may simply be the thinking that has been handed down to us. In short, we may be dressed in someone else’s clothes, speaking someone else’s words, doing someone else’s practices, and even being someone else. Or trying to do these things. Let us explore together the word “evangelicalism” and see where it takes us.