Friday, January 13, 2006

What Are Evangelicals?

It’s true, Pat Robertson and his PTL (Praise the Lord) 700 Club and Jerry Falwell make all Evangelicals look bad. The idea that Robertson and/or his ilk would be allowed to construct a so-called Christian theme park in Israel makes my flesh crawl. BTW, if you’re wondering where the “700” came from, it goes back to a fundraiser in 1962. Robertson hosted a telethon to keep a Christian TV channel that was about to go belly up on the air. He said he needed 700 members to contribute $10 a month to support the channel. He got the money, the channel stayed in business and the name stuck. But what are Evangelicals? One thing is certain, for every religious group that claims to be “evangelical” there is a separate and distinct definition of the word advocated by that group. And the definition typically is long and composed of many parts. But in the interest of brevity, some things are true of all Evangelicals. The word comes from the Greek word for 'Gospel' or 'good news': evangelion (good angel/good message). An evangelical is devoted to spreading the good news message of the New Testament. Evangelizing entails preaching the gospel of the New Testament and converting non-Christians to Christianity. Although details may differ, the core beliefs of Evangelicals are: 1. The Bible is inerrant. That claim has caused dispute among some evangelical sects, but all have a belief in the authority of the Bible. 2. Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus and not good works. 3. Individuals (above the age of accountability—roughly,13) must personally trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. 4. All Christians are commissioned to evangelize. So the point is, Evangelicalism is about Christ and the New Testament. Christ could not have been the entity he was had he not been a Jew with a comprehensive knowledge of Jewish law and teachings. That is why all Evangelicals say they have an abiding respect for Judaism. But let’s get down to the nits and grits. Many Evangelicals believe as many Jews believe that Jews are God's chosen people. They support Israel believing that God gave the land to his people. Evangelicals believe that Christ will return to earth when the Jews have reclaimed Israel and then the final battle at Armageddon will begin. According to the Evangelical interpretation of Zechariah 13:7-9, all the Jews in the world will emigrate to Israel, two-thirds of them will die at Armageddon and one third will convert to Christianity and accept Jesus when he returns. That will start Christ's thousand-year rule. Evangelicals don’t hold out a particularly rosy prospect for Jews: Die or convert. And Evangelicals are not in the God-business to promote union between religions. They are not in the God-business to attest that Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen Buddhism and Muslim faiths are on an equal footing with Christianity. A Mission Statement of an Evangelical group may say that one of its reasons for being is to work for Unity. But that means Unity within the Christian faith. Evangelicals are in the God-business to bring everyone in the world to Christ and to preach that the Christian faith is the only way to salvation. What is salvation? Going to heaven and eternally abiding with God. As opposed to? Well now, that’s something of a semantic problem. What do modern Evangelicals say about hell? It’s for sure you will go there if you are not saved, but do the eternal burning fires of hell still ravage the unsaved soul forever and ever? Pat Robertson would say yes. But other Evangelicals would say that being without God for all eternity would be worse than being burned in hell forever. Whatever. The promise of the Evangelical faith is that only Christians will eternally abide with God and Jews will die or convert. It’s simple as that. Evangelicals say they love, honor and respect Jews. I guess you’d call it tough love.

1 comment:

Barry Schwartz said...

A master might say he loves his slaves, and a tyrant might claim to love the subjects.