WASHINGTON – Evangelicals have a serious image problem and need to reform their ways by getting back to the historic meaning of their identity, declared prominent leaders of the movement on Wednesday.
In a call to action, representatives of "An Evangelical Manifesto" complained that the term "evangelical" has become too political, watered-down, or distorted in other ways. They urged those who identify themselves as evangelical to support the grassroots effort to restore the original meaning of the term.
"When you have best-selling authors that appear on public television with feel-good gospel who have to apologize to their own churches that they diluted the faith when they get home, something is profoundly wrong," said Os Guinness, a highly respected evangelical scholar and a drafter of the document.
"When you have evangelical leaders who make predictions in the name of God which by biblical standards are openly false prophesies, something is badly wrong," he continued. "When scholars and writers can look at the evangelical political movement and describe them as theocrats, or worse as fascists, something is badly wrong."
Fellow drafter the Rev. Dr. John Huffman, pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church – a megachurch in Pasadena, Calif. – confirmed to The Christian Post that the controversy surrounding prosperity gospel preachers was one of many concerns for the manifesto's drafters. Huffman pointed to the life of Jesus Christ, who he said went to the cross and died for mankind's sin, as the Gospel.
God does promise blessings to his followers, but it is different than "consumerism material blessing," Huffman stated.
Representatives of the manifesto said they started working on the statement three years ago after several members expressed frustration with the confusion in and outside of the church about who an evangelical is.
Several panel members on Wednesday said people they talked to were embarrassed to describe themselves as an evangelical because of the negative stereotypes associated with the term.
Polls, they say, show evangelicals as hypocrites, legalistic, judgmental, anti-intellectual, and out to impose their views on others, among other negative perceptions.
But the root meaning of the term evangelical came from the Greek word evangelion or good news.
Thus, supporters of "An Evangelical Manifesto" maintain that the original and true definition of evangelicals is Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the good news of Jesus of Nazareth.
Evangelicals should unswervingly affirm their conviction in Jesus Christ and His teachings and engage in the public square, but do so with gentleness and civility, they stressed.
David Neff, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today magazine, further called on secular media to understand where evangelicals are coming from when they advocate for a certain policy.
"If we advocate for the earth, it is because God loves the earth," Neff said. "If we advocate for refugees it is because Jesus himself was a refugee. If we advocate for children it is because Jesus welcomes children, and so on."
More than 70 theologians, pastors and others have signed the Evangelical Manifesto, including Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Joel C. Hunter of Northland – A Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla.; Dr. Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College; and Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.
"I know I speak for our many colleagues outside of the U.S. and say we are deeply grateful for this 'gift' to the global church," said the Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director/CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, referring to the manifesto, to The Christian Post.
"As we are all acutely aware, so often global evangelicalism has been defined by a narrow segment of U.S. evangelicalism through the eyes of CNN," he said. "This manifesto will be a great help in breaking down this stereotype. I will make sure this is communicated to all of our members around the world," he vowed.