Farewell “Evangelical,” Hello #CommonGoodChristian

Following the election, I wrote an open letter bidding farewell to the label “evangelical.” Some readers misinterpreted it as a rejection of my evangelical sisters and brothers, or my repudiation of historic evangelical theology. My letter was neither. Instead, it was my mournful acceptance that the word evangelical has become a political identity rather than a theological one.

Apparently I am not alone. RNS posted an article this week listing other Christian leaders who have also given up the “evangelical” label, and I’ve received many messages similar to this one from my friend, Dan. He wrote: “My wife and I decided the day after the election that we could not in fact use the term Evangelical to describe ourselves ever again. Your email was confirmation and help us articulate the ‘why’ more precisely.”

I agree with friends like Mark Labberton and Ed Stetzer that evangelical is a word rich in history and biblical etymology, but I’m convinced its practical value has been spent. I connect with non-Christians frequently. Identifying myself as an “evangelical” is a barrier and not a bridge. Some say that’s why we ought to redeem the word and correct our culture’s perception of it. Maybe you feel that call, but I do not. I would rather invest my energies into restoring our culture’s perception of the actual evangel (literally, the “gospel”) than the mere label evangelical.

While many are no longer using the evangelical identity, some of my readers say they haven’t found a useful alternative. “Christ follower” has become popular nomenclature on social media despite its clunkiness, but I feel it further isolates already individualistic American believers from the historic and global community of “Christians” to which we properly belong. So, here’s my suggestion for an identity that better communicates the faith and practice of the growing number of post-evangelicals who remain committed to orthodoxy and a desire to engage our pluralist, global culture from a posture of love rather than fear:

I am a #CommonGoodChristian

What is a Common Good Christian? Here’s an incomplete articulation of what I mean by the term.

Common Good Christians are committed to the GOOD NEWS

I believe the gospel proclaimed by Jesus Christ and the faith of his Church as articulated by the Apostles’ Creed. 

I believe the Church is a community of children, women, and men redeemed by Christ and filled with his Spirit, not a 501c3 organization with buildings and programs.

I believe in the authority of scripture. It is primarily a window through which we see a ravishing vision of God rather than a manual through which we try to control the world.

I believe the fullness of the Christian life can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, and that no one is defined by their past or present circumstances.

I believe no party or organization can contain the scope of God’s righteousness. That should make us humble with our politics and hospitable toward those we disagree with.

I believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is communal and not merely individual; that we are to be reconciled to one another as we are together reconciled to God. The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, but that the second commandment cannot be separated from it—to love one another.

I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will thrive where all people are free to choose, believe, practice, and change their religion without fear or intimidation. That means defending the rights of those I disagree with not merely my own.

I believe any “good news” that is not good for the poor, victimized, and forgotten is not the good news of Jesus Christ.

Common Good Christians are committed to GOOD LIVES

I believe that I am what is wrong with the world, and that God’s mission to redeem all things begins as the transforming power of his resurrection changes me.

I believe that whether a person is my neighbor or my enemy, my call to love him remains the same.

I believe that Christians should not seek to depart nor dominate the public square, but to elevate it from a battleground to a sacred ground where all are welcomed and valued.

I believe all people—no matter their age, race, religion, gender, nationality, sexual identity, legal status, usefulness, intellect, or appearance—are created in the image of God and are inherently worthy of dignity, respect, and love.

I believe that fear only engenders fear and never gives birth to love, and leaders employing fear and anger are not empowered by the Spirit of Christ.

I believe the only radical Christian life is the one rooted in unceasing prayer; that the transformation of lives and communities happens in surrendered communion with Jesus.

I believe that to live is Christ, and that we are to generously give ourselves away by seeking what is best for others rather than ourselves.

I believe what is “good” is defined by God and not by the culture, therefore the “good lives” of Christians may be ridiculed and rejected by very people we seek to love and serve.

Common Good Christians are committed to GOOD WORK

I believe God cares about every particle of his cosmos. He did not create the universe and then retire into full-time ministry.

I believe that we were not created to serve God but to represent him by serving others. When we reject this calling it leads to injustice and oppression. When we embrace it flourishing is brought to all people and all of creation.

I believe every Christian has a calling from God and a contribution to make to this world. Therefore, every vocation should be celebrated and held in honor by the Church.

I believe a person’s work should be valued not because of the magnitude of its impact, but because of the One who has called her to it.

I believe that God’s kingdom has broken into the world and is transforming chaos into order, ugliness into beauty, and scarcity into abundance, and that we are called to join him in this renewal of all things.

I believe that being a “citizen of heaven” does not mean we are divine tourists merely passing through this world, but that we are divine colonists responsible for doing God’s will here on earth as it is in heaven.

I believe that Christians should joyfully partner with people of all faiths and persuasions in pursuit of the common good, and that the pluralism of our society should be embraced as an opportunity for the church and its work rather than a threat to it.

I believe that despair over the state of the world is never an option for those who celebrate the empty tomb. We are to be people of enduring hope and lights amid the darkness.


This is certainly not an exhaustive list. In fact, I compiled it from notes I’ve scribbled in recent months on the back of church bulletins and restaurant receipts. It was not a systematic or disciplined process.

Now it’s your turn. What would you add to the list? What do you think it means to be a Common Good Christian? Share your “I believe…” statements with me via Twitter using the hashtag #CommonGoodChristian.




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25 Comments

  • March 16, 2012

    dan

    Maybe I’m just feeling extra cynical today, but i think it’s too late for a majority middle ground. It seems most christians are so enslaved by idolatry (Politics being the most powerful false god) that they wouldn’t know how to move into a faith that does not require them to ‘take sides’. I feel like the culture-war mentality has been too deeply intertwined with expressions of faith that no middle-ground can survive. Maybe there are middle-ground christians out there, but a “majority of church leaders and members?” Maybe in a generation or two? As for me: I do practice this ‘common good’ faith you describe; I just call myself a christian.

  • March 17, 2012

    Jim

    Dan, I believe there are more of the middle ground out there than one can imagine. I think they know what they have rejected, but not defined what they would be willing to accept. This is predominately a western culture issue. Those followers of Christ who do so at their own peril do not concern themselves with such petty trivia.

  • March 17, 2012

    Dixie

    While I agree with the common-ground Christian statements made in the blog post (Good News/Works/Lives), I believe that you would also find agreement with these principles at both polar ends of Christian beliefs. This unfortunately does not unify those polar ends, because each is so insistent on converting everyone to their own way of thinking. Even the extremely fundamental disagree on what, exactly, constitutes fundamental doctrine. Many of these “fundamental” churches could easily be defined as cults, taking bits of scripture to substantiate some ideology or another.

    @Jim – Americans, in particular, don’t — or can’t — define what they would be willing to accept, because most have not experienced any sort of actual peril due to their beliefs. The freedom to worship as Christians (or whatever faith we choose) without governmental interference or persecution makes it difficult to draw the line. For most, the worst ‘peril’ experienced has been someone disagreeing with a particular belief.

    Interesting discussion.

  • March 17, 2012

    Benjer McVeigh

    Knowing when to affirm common ground for common good, and when to press a disagreement because it matters.

  • March 17, 2012

    Glenn

    Thank you for some sane and reasonable words…(come, let us reason together…)

    Because so many of us in the middle have been hurt by the fundamentalists who have a tendency to reject those who might disagree with them, even in the smallest matters, I think that we have a reflexive tendency to be quiet to avoid that rejection. The hijacking of the word “evangelical” by the political right cause me to silence myself even further.

    I’d appreciate a label that was clearly understood… is it possible to find one? I find myself always looking for words that will have some creative whimsy that can describe my Christian experience to those who do not believe.

  • March 21, 2012

    Jenny Joy

    Hi …Just want to say I’m enjoying your book “With” It certainly breaks down and helps you see, how I and many others have lived for years amongst the distorted views of God, taught in the different Denominations across the board…There’s a lot of water thats gone under the bridge as far as “Man made Religion” is concerned, a lot of disillusioned ,hurt people that have been controlled and manipulated by people pushing their own agendas, as they teach untruths as if they were Biblical..
    I don’t blame anyone for leaving the Institutional church, especially when there is a “Church” outside the church alive and Free! ….I myself left 8 years ago, after over 20 years of Religiosity, and have been on a Freedom journey, unlearning a lot of crap and finding out Who God really is and just how much He loves me…What an adventure I’m on…His Grace is Huge…And I now Live Loved 24/7, by an Incredible Father ,no more fear based theology rammed down my throat, no more not feeling good enough, no more performing to please… and if I have to be named , I guess I like the “Free Believer” tag…or Follower of Jesus… 🙂

  • […] I’m not sure this is a silver bullet, but Skye Jethani is certainly headed in a positive direction with his reflections identifying himself as a “Common Good Christian.” […]

  • November 18, 2016

    Jeff

    Not to be mean, Skye, but marketing is clearly not your strength. “Common Good Christian” is horrible. 🙂

    I’ve personally encountered more and more people simply identifying themselves as a “Christ follower”. I’ve started using it myself.

    But most of the people I meet simply don’t know what evangelical means nor do they usually draw a correlation to the Republican Party. And if they do – honestly, so what. It’s always been an opportunity for me to simply engage a conversation.

    • November 18, 2016

      Deb

      Love the idea behind the post, but gotta agree with Jeff on the proposed terminology. Christ-follower is far less clunky than “Common Good Christian.” The term Skye proposes raises so many questions! I can imagine my non-believing co-workers asking “What does that mean? Are you FOR the Common Good? Isn’t everyone? Or, do you think you and other Christians are so common that you need to remind people? Is being common a good thing? Did you all get together and decide you are Good People? Or Good Christians? Or both?” Christ-follower is clear and to the point.

    • November 18, 2016

      Nathan

      Agreed. I anticipate the most natural response to people hearing “I’m a common good Christian” is saying, “Yeah! I’m a common good atheist.” Or “I’m a common good Muslim. We’re all working for the common good.” Just thinking of some people I know. If you want to get the uniqueness of Christ in there, it’s going to need a lot of explaining, which defeats the usefulness of a term. If there’s time for a conversation, why not just explain what we mean by Christian? If there’s not, this is not a clear label.
      I also have to disagree strongly with your stated belief that “we were not created to serve God.” In fact, I believe scripture indicates this to be very much the point (Matt 4:10; Rom 1:9, 25; Heb 9:14; Rev 1:6; 22:3; etc.). Yes, of course loving God necessarily involves loving others. I appreciate the reaction to fundamentalism. But we’re on shaky ground when we start to say God has redeemed us to serve others instead of himself.

  • November 18, 2016

    Jen C.

    I’m curious if the word “Evangelical” has been corrupted in the English-speaking world outside of the US. As a Canadian, I don’t feel it has. But since the rest of the world is so enamoured with American culture and politics, perhaps we are all being painted with the same brush.

  • November 18, 2016

    Hutch

    The saddest part about all of this for me is that we are at a place where we feel it is necessary to define what “type” of Christians we are. I have been disillusioned by many things that go on and are taught in churches today that are purely man-made and pharisaical in nature, but so far I have been unwilling to abandon the church. Instead I have determined to stay and serve and pay attention to my own path striving to be an authentic follower of Christ. Thanks Skye. I continue to be encouraged by your insights.

  • November 18, 2016

    Drew Boa

    I’d add this: “I believe no party or organization [or church denomination] can contain the scope of God’s righteousness. That should make us humble with our politics [and our theology] and hospitable toward those we disagree with.”

    This posture of humility and hospitality should lead us not only to listen to those we disagree with, but to actively look for what we can learn from them, since “all truth is God’s truth.”

  • November 18, 2016

    Jeremy

    All the stated goals are admirable, but I have to ask: why not just “Christian”?

    • November 18, 2016

      Skye Jethani

      I would love to simply be a “Christian,” but that identity is claimed by everyone from the KKK to Mother Teresa. There are a million kinds of Christians and not all are committed to the message of Christ. -Skye

      • November 19, 2016

        Reader

        If you don’t act like KKK or Mother Teresa, you won’t be confused. Just sell them a book, and they will know what kind of chri$tian you are.

        “Mr. Jethani, can you please come speak to my group, sadly we have no money to pay your speaking fee. Mr. Jethani? Mr. Jethani? Hello?”

    • November 18, 2016

      James

      Christian has worked for 2,000 years. I’ll just stick with that and not be thrown into crisis mode every time somebody I disagree with uses the same word to discribe themselves.

  • November 18, 2016

    Brian Wells

    For those of in my neck of the woods, we could call ourselves the brothers and sisters of Christ in Chicago and refuse all other titles. And eventually if we stuck at it people would refer to us as the brethren from Chicago, and eventually we’d be known as the Chicago Brethren, which is precisely how a certain group of Christians (from Plymouth) became known as the Plymouth Brethren.

    On a more serious note, I abandoned the title Evangelical on a date I can still trace to a day noted in my journals. It was January 27th, 2010, and I bailed on the word after reading in the Chicago Tribune regarding the massive and tragic earthquake in Haiti that (and I quote) “Evangelical Christians blame Voodoo for bringing on this ruin.” It was the last straw. So my divorce from the name (but not the historical meaning) has been in place for a number of years.

    As regards new titles, since Chicago Brethren is not working for me, when the question arises, I simply say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ, neither Protestant nor Catholic, and for heaven’s sake not an Evangelical.

  • November 18, 2016

    Brian Wells

    “Is Skye, too, numbered among the prophets?” Gotta ask this question, because Skye is surrounded by a bunch of folks who replied to his November 18th post easily four years before he posted it. Jenny Joy’s response, for example, is dated MARCH 21, 2012. And she’s not alone!

  • November 18, 2016

    Bruce

    I get what you’re saying and why, but I’m not so sure about your solution. In my view, this is nothing new (Ecclesiastes1:9). Words mean different things to different people and meanings change over time.

    Protestant ‘church people’ understand ‘evangelical’ as a set of religious beliefs, somewhere between ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘liberal’, but reporters and people with other backgrounds will have a different understanding. We shouldn’t expect anything different, any more than we would understand the difference between a Jesuit and a Franciscan.

    Instead of coming up with a new label, we just have to explain what we mean when we’re talking with someone. We all use different terminology in our small group then we would when talking with our neighbor.

    If ‘Common Good Christian’ becomes the new label for us and I really like your explanation, in a few years the same thing will happen and you’ll have to go back to your drawing board and come up with something else.

  • November 19, 2016

    Michelle Martini

    I love everything about this except the word “colonists.” If we are rejecting the word Evangelical because of historical baggage, the same must be said about colonization, even in the “heavenly” sense.

  • November 19, 2016

    Ken

    Why is a tag needed? I was disappointed in “evangelical” leaders endorsing a candidate but we already left off speaking “evangelicalese” in our church. I am curious, is your disappointment over the fact that Trump won or Hillary lost?
    Christians, Christ-followers and common good Christians all enjoy the freedom to vote for the candidate who most reflects their political values. Better stated political world view.
    Hopefully I am reading too much into your article but because you made this decision the day after the election instead of 18 months before it leads me to conclude your candidate lost. I’m not sure how the values of the left reflect biblical, God -honoring values any more.

  • November 20, 2016

    Tim

    I found that I did not leave the Evangelical movement, Skye. The movement left me: Evangelical: the label that left me behind.

  • November 21, 2016

    Tom Severson

    Unfortunately, I fear the premise Skye is working on is not accurate polling data.

    https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/no-the-majority-of-american-evangelicals-did-not-vote-for-trump

  • November 30, 2016

    Mark

    Hi Skye!

    I agree with your statement of faith, but I do think #commongoodchristian is too open to very quickly enveloping the same spectrum of Christianity that ‘evangelical’ does, perhaps without the political tie, but still ambiguous.

    E.g.,
    Your point here is very important:
    “I believe what is “good” is defined by God and not by the culture, therefore the “good lives” of Christians may be ridiculed and rejected by very people we seek to love and serve.”

    However, the common good term leaves it unclear as to what is commonly good. Is our highest goal to want everyone to feel at ease with their life and well cared for? Much of Christianity works very hard to do this, but we loose the gospel that we’re all in desperate need, even at the point the world is eventually well fed and clothed. Common good might only get us that far in the common perception and application.

    Like you, I think we don’t want to take anyone’s rights away, nor do I want mine taken away, but I also don’t want to help people feel good and affirmed about any life decision that means they walk away from the God who loves them. That’s going to make people upset for sure, and I’m going to hold my position without taking away their right to choose or flag waving, because I disagreeing is often the way to truly love someone.

    So, let’s jettison evangelical, but maybe go with something like #KindConservativeChristian , or let’s keep thinking. 🙂