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.