Sometimes culture absconds with a perfectly good word and dilutes or disfigures it. In other words, common misuse creates misinformation. If you call a dog a cat long enough, people will begin to assume that's what the word “cat” means.
One word that the world has consistently misued (and, thus, unfairly appropriated) is "evangelism." It’s a great word, a biblical word, and a theological word of noble value. The world has run away with that word, contorting its meaning, so that now we inaccurately believe “evangelism” is a synonym for “fundamentalism.” It’s not. Every TV preacher who waves a Bible at the camera, enthusiastically denouncing various types of people and just as enthusiastically announcing that those people are worthy to be hated and are obviously on the express train for hell, is called “evangelical.” They are not. Sometimes those preachers are fundamentalists (people with a specific and rigid set of doctrinal requirements that all people must believe to make the team). Sometimes they are not even fundamentalists, they are simply religious charlatans. But never are they evangelicals.
The word “evangelism” is taken from the word “evangel.” In the biblical language that simply meant “one who bears good news.” It’s not an angry word. It’s not a narrow word. It’s not a judgmental word. It’s a loving, hope-filled word. In the true sense of the word, I proudly consider myself an “evangelical.” In the true sense of the word, my two immediate predecessors as senior minister of Marble Church were also evangelicals. Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking (based upon the power of Christ in a person’s life) was good news. Arthur Caliandro’s conception of church as a place where broken people could come to find healing and wholeness was good news. My consistent proclamation that God is with us and, therefore we are not alone, is good news.
The good news of Faith is at some point simply the awareness that hope exists for all of us. We do not have to stay where we are. We do not have to remain as we are. There can be more. There can be better. And we have discovered the Source of that. In the life, teachings, and example (model) of Jesus Christ, we can find life with meaning, depth, and joy. Every time we share that good news with anyone in any way, we are evangelicals.
So, I think all of us should become more evangelical in the new year. That simply means that we become more willing to share the good news of faith and hope with people who need to hear it. Lord knows, people are inundated with bad news every time they get out of bed in the morning. Turn on the TV or pick up the paper, and you suddenly begin to feel like a kindred spirit with Eeyore. You and I, as followers of Christ, are aware of a greater power and promise than that. Jesus said (in a corporate way): “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.” And He said to us (in a very personal way): “I have come that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” That’s good news … both for the world and for each person who lives within it. If we believe it, then why would we not share it with those who stumble and stagger in darkness, searching for light? As the old Anne Murray song put it, “I Sure Could Use A Little Good News Today.”
For those who counter, “But, I feel awkward talking about Faith,” then here are three easy solutions:
- Use God language in a natural way. The simple phrase, “I was so blessed to be able to …,” indicates faith. The use of other, also simple phrases like “Thank God,” “God willing,” or “Don’t give up – God can turn lemons into lemonades” interjects Faith into a conversation in soft ways that are not off-putting. And every time you sow seeds.
- When a person shares with you a challenge or disappointment in his/her life, as one expression of your support or sympathy, say, “I’ll have you in my prayers.” It’s not pushy or intrusive. It is caring and supportive. And, again, in a way that is not at all off-putting, it brings Faith to the table.
- Or simply, tell people about your church. If something has happened there that you enjoyed or if something is upcoming that you think is important, mention it to others. You would do the same for events at your civic club or alma mater. To invite someone to church is not to beat them over the head with dogma. It is instead to include them in your life, and that is always a compliment.
I think a new year is a great time to take back the word “evangelism” and maker it a proud part of our lexicon. In truth, any person of Faith who shares good news of hope is an evangelical.