Call to rescue 'evangelical' from misunderstanding

Apr 12, 2008 06:06 AM EDT

Evangelicals must act now if the term ‘evangelical’ is to not to go the same way as ‘fundamentalist’, says the Christian social reform organisation, Jubilee Centre.

"Whatever the words ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘evangelical’ may once have meant, their current use in public discourse is largely negative, save notable references to ‘evangelical social action’," the centre said as it announced this week the release of its latest quarterly research paper.

The Cambridge Paper, entitled By any other name?, is authored by Christopher Watkin, Junior Research Fellow in contemporary Continental thought at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

In it, Watkins argues that the heritage of British evangelicalism is too rich and positive to contemplate dropping the word, and the term itself is too institutionally entrenched to make any such disengagement desirable or feasible.

Instead, he says that an adequate response must include a recognition of the different historical provenances of the terms 'evangelical' and 'fundamentalist' and an understanding of their current public usage.

Evangelical believers who wish to save the term are urged to reinforce the public understanding of their positive contribution to society.

Watkins praises the great social reformers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, as well as modern charities like Tearfund and the Shaftesbury Society for their commitment to serious, large scale, long-term social reform for the good of all people which he says has regularly been at the historical heart of British evangelicalism.

Evangelicals must also, he adds, re-articulate flexibly their beliefs in ways that communicate effectively in the public sphere.

"This will involve all Christians with evangelical beliefs - especially opinion formers in academia, business or the professions and those with access to the media - to self-identify as evangelicals, helping save the term from misunderstanding and abuse," said the Jubilee Centre in a statement to announce the paper's release.