Rob Bell Defines "Evangelical"
**UPDATED...see below.

While on his "Drops Like Stars" tour, Rob Bell spoke with Michael Paulson from the Boston Globe. (Read the full interview.) The conversation turned to the meaning of the word evangelical. Bell provides an interesting, and likely contestable, definition. The excerpt is below.

But the interview raises an important question–has the word evangelical been corrupted? Is it still useful? And do you still embrace the category or have you abandoned it for another label?

From The Boston Globe:

Q. What does it mean to you to be an evangelical?

A. I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context.

Q. OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?

A. I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That's a beautiful sort of thing.

Read the full interview here.

**UPDATE** Rob Bell has responded to the Globe interview on his Twitter account. He says that most of what he said was left out of the interview, and calls it "maddening." He also goes on to clarify the historical roots of the word "evangelical." Read more on Bell's Twitter page.

September 29, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 44 comments

Chris James

May 31, 2010  9:19am

I am a born and bred evangelical. I was born in an evangelical Christian family, attended private evangelical Christian schools in elementary, middle and high school, graduated undergrad from the ‘Harvard of evangelicalism,' Wheaton College, got an M.Div from the largest evangelical seminary, Fuller Theological, and have worked in two evangelical mega-churches. So, I guess I'd have to say, "I'm an evangelical." I consider it quite a daring move on my part to come out as an evangelical, given some recent polls, published in UnChristian. These indicate that among young people who aren't church-goers, 49% think ‘evangelical' is a dirty word...and only 3% think good thoughts when the word is mentioned. In other words, there is an 16:1 ratio of bad connotations to good. So unless you're a church-insider, odds are good you think less of me now than you did before I opened my mouth. So why would I admit the label? Simply because evangelicals are my people. The truth is, though, that I'm beginning to wonder if "my people" really want me anymore. You can read my evangelical lament at www.jesusdust.com

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marc

October 05, 2009  7:49pm

so the good news, the basis of being an evangelical is what again? at this point i'm confused. perhaps the good news is that all types of churches get something right and not one of us has the full, complete picture. perhaps the good news is that Jesus still works through it all and covers all of our mess. perhaps the good news is that at the end of the day we can all link arms and still call each other brothers and sisters. (those who are willing, at least.) because words do matter. but if you are not living the good news, sharing the good news, being the good news, i cannot consider you an evangelical (hat-tip to jim wallis). just a couple of thoughts. and for the record, i love the discussion. i love the exchange of comments on here. but i'm just sayin'.

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nathan

October 04, 2009  9:02am

@james i hear what you are saying. and you are right. i've just seen a lot of people trying to simply be faithul in their context, talk about what that looks like, and because it's "different" they get told they are "attacking" people, or denigrating the "institution", etc. etc.

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James

October 03, 2009  4:45pm

@Nathan and sheerahkahn Frankly, my issue is hardly with the so-called "liberal" Christians. I know that God uses Christian churches of all types (Gasp, even evangelical churches! Gasp, even emergent churches!), and I don't feel compelled to defend my sensibilities as a believer. What I don't like is this attitude that permeates all sectors of the church, where we feel compelled to tell everyone who doesn't do church our way, "The way you do church is outdated/harmful to people/emergent/fuddy duddy/liberal/fundamentalist and adds nothing of value to the Church." Both sides are just as snarky and spiteful, this just happened to be the topic that got me going on it. Does the Church do things wrong? You bet. All of us, you and me included. We make amends the best we can, and then keep trying to do what God has called us to do–preach the gospel and make disciples. The great thing is that God uses your methods and my methods and a lot of other methods to get that done. I only wish we all were as passionate about that as we were at navel-gazing, self-flagellation, and friendly fire.

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sheerahkahn

October 02, 2009  11:15am

"it's time to hang up the evangelical victim mentality, own our crap, and own how that crap does stink worse than other people because it's all done in the name of Jesus." Nathan, Often times when I read sentiments like James I get this video mental image of the movie, "Mars Attacks!" I see little green men called Evangelicals wearing little plastic dome helmets running around zapping everyone into dust that they find abhorrent, screaming, "We're victims, boo-hoo, someone help us, oh noes, they're all ganging up on us! ACK! A LIBERAL!"{{{{ZAAAAPPPP!}}}}} I know, bizarre, and yet the image arises unsummon everytime I read or hear an Evangelical rant about the evils that "the liberals, the reprobates, the unrepentant sinners that infest this great nation of ours have side-tracked our grand plan of bringing about a holy nation under our god!" And yes...I purposefully used the small "g" because there are times when I really question what "god" some of the Evangelicals call upon in their...passion for divine intervention.

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nathan

October 01, 2009  2:42pm

and once again we see the standard refuge...the myth of the "embattled, downtrodden evangelical". it's the inability of a community to simply say... "You're right. We've really messed things up." that perpetuates the accurate assessment that there is an allergy to honesty in the evangelical world. Instead of crying victim, people should lean in to the criticism and seek to understand how they've hurt and damaged people. instead of freaking out at people's ire and angst, humility requires an ownership of the failures that have generated that ire and angst. i'm so tired of being part of community of people that roll their eyes at the embarrassing fringe/gatekeepers/etc. etc., but won't do anything to distance themselves or to publicly offer a vigorous alternative. it's time to hang up the evangelical victim mentality, own our crap, and own how that crap does stink worse than other people because it's all done in the name of Jesus.

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James

October 01, 2009  2:30pm

And once again, it's time for the evangelicals to be the punching bag. If all of you are going to expend that much energy bashing the public perception of evangelicals, then you should spend at least as much time talking about what they do right (if you even think they do anything right). The practice of "our movement is right, and everything about yours is old, antiquated, and wrong" does nothing to advance the cause of Christ in the world today, and probably has more to do with the "old school" church's perception of the "post-modern" or "emergent" church than any differences (perceived or actual) between the two movements. It makes you look elitist, even worse because you're doing it to your brothers and sisters.

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sheerahkahn

October 01, 2009  10:57am

"But hang on. In the rest of the world and for the past several centuries it's meant something more than just Republican politics" Wayne, I see your point, however, here in the microcosm of this world called the United States the term "Evangelist" has been redefined to mean a Republican Right Wing Conservative Christian. This new creature has elevated Patriotism to the same level as service to G-d, has deemed any disagreement with their world view as Heresy, and has hardened their hearts so that compassion for their fellow human being is considered "Liberal." There are many flaws in the church, however the largest of them all is the unchristlike behaviour of the self-proclaimed Evangelists who have subverted the command "love thy neighbor as theyself" to "Conform or be cast out." And this, Wayne, is the new gospel message the Evangelists are telling the rest of the Church, and to the unchurched: Conform to their way of thinking and live a quiet life, or they'll make life very, very difficult for you. Evangelists in the United States are interested in everything worldly that has nothing to do with G-d. I'm sure there are a few "evangelistic" people out there who remain untainted by the politics of the Evangelical Church, but they are the minority in the overall generality. "we're family - and a global one at that." Yes, every family has that one "very special" member they hope never shows up for the holidays...it would seem the U.S. Church is that person.

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Basil

October 01, 2009  10:13am

Rob Bell: A. I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That's a beautiful sort of thing. Basil: But Rob even though the idea of striving for a better world is 'good news' it is not the 'Gospel' itself. I don't the ism in E word any more than you do. But you are stating to sound like Humpty Dumpty from Alice in Wonderland.

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nathan

October 01, 2009  8:26am

@Wayne well then your family has big problems that need to get fixed before it keeps going around poking people in the eye. it may be healthy elsewhere, but it ain't here in the good 'ol USofA. it's fascinating to me how evangelicals get a chip on their shoulder, but won't fix or address the very things that shoot their credibility.

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