Evangelicals Challenged to Present Christ Credibly

"Far from evangelicals being an embarrassment, we should think of ourselves as integral to God's great news for our community, and tell ourselves again with a certain humility and confidence that we have a vital role to play as active Christians and active citizens in the public square."

Such were the words of the general director of the Evangelical Alliance, Joel Edwards, at the launch of his new book An Agenda for Change on Thursday.

The book, published by Zondervan, is Edwards' contribution to an ongoing discussion among evangelicals worldwide on how to present Christ credibly and "rehabilitate" the term "evangelical" to mean "good news" again.

Earlier on Thursday, Edwards announced that he will step down as general director of the Evangelical Alliance, after 11 years as the organization's head.

In a forward-looking address, he said the heart of the matter was not about advancing evangelicalism as a political or Christian system, but was instead about "how we help people understand that God is ultimately the God of Good News and is interested in people's wellbeing."

Turning to some of the challenges facing evangelicals, he pointed to the commonplace view that evangelicals are a U.S. export more interested in homosexuality than poverty, and a mascot for the Republican Party.

"Evangelicalism has a serious PR problem and it's not hard to grasp why," he said.

Referring to some of the recent angry protests from evangelical circles over "Jerry Springer: The Opera" musical and the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, Edwards said that Evangelicals had gained a reputation as the "angry brigade."

This week, the House of Lords in Britain rejected an appeal by an evangelical lobbying organization – Christian Voice – which sought to prosecute the BBC for blasphemy for broadcasting the Jerry Springer musical. The group argued that the satirical musical contained images that "vilify God and the Bible."

The show had recently been staged at New York's Carnegie Hall, with actor Harvey Keitel in the title role.

"We are known more for our anger than our anguish," Edwards noted.

The evangelical head said that the responsibility to reverse evangelicalism's bad reputation lays with evangelicals themselves.

"If people are going to think differently about evangelicals, the only people who can change their minds are evangelicals," he stressed.