Editor's note: This column appeared in Christianity Today's April issue before Chuck Colson died. CT has also published an obituary, and a reflection on Colson's life and legacy by his biographer, Jonathan Aitken.
Just what is an evangelical, anyway? The picture painted by the media—especially now that it's election time again—is confused and often unflattering. From the infamous "poor, uneducated, and easy to command" label hung on us by The Washington Post years ago, to the perception that we are gay-hating political maniacs in the hip pocket of the Republican Party today, it's not hard to understand that we have an image problem—and that we've let others define us.
Of course, we ourselves are part of the problem. Like those well-intentioned activists who met at a Texas ranch to anoint one of the presidential candidates in the Republican primaries. Or the pair of evangelical professors who wrote an article in The New York Times, criticizing evangelical leaders for their "rejection of knowledge" and for embracing "discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas"—such as believing that homosexual behavior is sinful and that Darwin was wrong.
Perhaps it is time to step back and ask once again what an evangelical is.
It may seem that the word evangelical has been defined nearly to death, but a few answers bear repeating. First is Scottish historian David Bebbington's oft-quoted quadrilateral. Evangelicals, he says, can be recognized by these four traits: they are biblical Christians who proclaim the centrality of the Cross, emphasize the necessity of personal conversion, and do all of this with zealous activism.
Then there was Carl F. H. Henry's helpful use of the term "the evangelical church," by which ...