When is an Evangelical Christian a Christian? – terms matter!

2 Mar

Define your terms

I’ve been stymied at the increasing reports of those ‘Evangelical Christians‘ who support Donald Trump.  How can that be?  Trump doesn’t represent anything Christian, whether beliefs or actions. How can I say that? Here’s one reason:  from what I’ve READ (I don’t watch TV so I am assuming the accuracy of the reports), Donald Trump has claimed never to have asked God to forgive him.  CNN article  He explains that when he has done something wrong, he has sought to make it right.

Being right with God is a different matter.  There is objective guilt against God when we sin.  Someone has to pay, either Donald Trump or Jesus.  Christians are those who (for one thing) have turned to Jesus and accepted him as the atoning sacrifice for their sins against God.  If Donald Trump has yet to do that, then he is not a Christian by definition.

Yesterday, Al Mohler, brought up and offered a fascinating reason that had a lot of explanatory power when it comes to describing Evangelical Christians.  He shared an important distinction within the broad category of Americans who either label themselves or are called ‘Evangelical Christian’ by pollsters, media and other institutions.

If we don’t begin by clarifying the explicit meaning of a concept (a term) then confusion ensues.  No need to proceed with a discussion if there is not a ‘coming to terms’ with what something means!

So here goes:

According to Mohler’s analysis, the pure sense of the term ‘Evangelical Christian’ revolves around:

  • doctrines (beliefs) held about the Bible  (evangelical has to do with the ‘eu-angelos’ which is Greek for ‘good message’. What is the good news?  the message that Jesus has borne FOR US our deserved punishment for crimes against God AND lived a perfect life, compliant with God’s Law).
  • values held and lived out
  • participation in a church community

Evangelical Christians are those who accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, who hold pro-life views and are active members of a body of Christian believers.

Those outside of those boundary lines but  who have been labeled or call themselves Evangelical seem to be loosely affiliated with a church that is:

  • NEITHER Catholic NOR mainline liberal
  • are culturally Christian, but not regularly practicing
  • self-identify as believing in God

Essentially, this finer distinction falls between authentic Christians and nominal Christians, those in name only.

When Mohler described these two groups, I understand better why Trump had so many supporters among this much larger group –  those labeled ‘Evangelical Christians’, but are so in name only.

What puzzles me, now, are those who truly ARE Evangelical Christians and yet still support Donald Trump, like Jerry Falwell, Jr – president of Liberty University.  What accounts for his choice? Any thoughts?




5 Responses to “When is an Evangelical Christian a Christian? – terms matter!”

  1. rentafriend2000 March 12, 2016 at 10:40 pm #

    Hey friend. I think before we can answer the question you pose, you need to clarify one of your statements. “Trump doesn’t represent anything Christian, whether beliefs or actions.” While certainly no one would mistake his work for that of Billy Graham, you seem to imply that it is somehow internally inconsistent to support Trump and also be an Evangelical Christian (as I would say about being a pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage Christian). Yet you offer no reasons for thinking so when it comes to Trump. We are left to fill in that gap with our own thoughts or guess at yours. So, let me pose it to you as a question: What is there about supporting Trump which runs contrary to being a consistent Evangelical Christian? What makes you say he doesn’t represent anything Christian?
    Thanks! I always enjoy your posts.

  2. Maria March 14, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

    Dear Rentafriend – I really appreciate your clarifying questions! I fell into the trap of not seeing that I was skipping over what was in my head! Iron sharpens iron

    • Maria March 14, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

      Dear Rentafriend Part 2 – glance over how I’ve amended the post. Does that help?

      • rentafriend2000 March 19, 2016 at 7:34 am #

        It begins to, but not to the point where I feel your final questions are answerable. Its seems you’ve made the point, “Trump is not truly a Christian,” (I don’t know either, but I suspect you are right) then defined what “Evangelical Christian means,” then conclude by wondering why true evangelical Christians support Trump, implying that there is some incongruity in doing so.

        But again, you’ve not made clear WHY you wonder how Christians can support him. That they would choose him as president does not mean they disagree with you about Trump being not truly Christian. It means only that they feel themselves to be in agreement with his positions on policies of economy, border defense, etc. I would suspect that this accounts for the support from Jerry Faldwell Jr.

        I can’t help but feeling that you have an unspoken assumption, such as, “True Christians must choose only other true Christians for president, and thus to choose Trump is a way of indicating that we believe him to be a true Christian.” But again, since you have not said why, I don’t know. What remains unclear is the connection to the topic of the post, and your being puzzled about “those who truly ARE Evangelical Christians and yet still support Donald Trump.” I suppose I am puzzled as to why you would think they would not support Trump.

        One need look no further than the patriarchs of the Duck Dynasty to see the divide I suspect this represents. Phil says, “To me it was very simple. I ask, which man is the Godliest.” And thus, on that criterion, he chose Cruz. Willie decided he wanted someone with business experience who isn’t part of the political system professionally, and so he chose Trump. (If you haven’t already seen it, the conversation they have with Hannity is great: https://youtu.be/HPB5G8M44Ps )

        On a few unrelated personal notes, I personally have supported Cruz for the same reasons Phil does. Also, while you are welcome to call me Rent-A-Friend, my actual name is Bryan, and I’m now found at http://abitoforange.com/
        And as always, thanks for what you do.

      • Maria March 19, 2016 at 11:39 am #

        Bryan – I see what you mean by asking me to go deeper into what lays behind my questioning how ‘Evang Christians’ can support Trump.
        Since I wrote the post, I’ve listened to Al Mohler (do you know his Mon-Fri 21 minute podcast called The Briefing?) explain how to interpret the label ‘evang christian’
        So I would imagine that 95 % (a swag I’m pulling out of the sky) of those pollsters label as ECers or those supporters who self-label that way are NOT Jesus treasuring Christians. I would now modify my question, thanks to you pointing out the divide between the 2 Duck Dynasty brothers. I’ll watch that tonight!
        Thanks you for spending the time pressing me to be more clear! I”m growing.

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