I’m an evangelical Christian. Evangelicals aren’t always well received, but I don’t apologize for being one, even though some may want me to. We’re seen as narrow-minded, Bible-thumping simpletons who push the Bible as the only source of religious and moral guidance. We are labeled as right-wing conservatives with a political agenda, intolerance of anyone who disagrees with us, and a strong need to impose our belief system on everyone’s life.
There might be some truth in that description, but if we remove the stereotypes and the baggage that comes with being evangelical, there are four doctrinal points at the core of what I, as an evangelical, believe.
- The Bible is the only authority for what I believe. It is infallible, error-free, and my moral guidebook.
- It’s important to encourage non-Christians to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. The consequences of not doing that are eternal.
- Jesus’ death on the cross is the only sacrifice that removes the penalty of my sin.
- Only those who trust in him as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
I can’t say it any differently. Those four values are at the heart of what makes me an evangelical. However, one of the problems I’ve had in life is that my evangelical roots didn’t stop with those four core values. As a kid, in my house and at my church, we had additional rules. We didn’t dance, play cards, go to movies, smoke, or drink anything alcoholic. We were a white, politically conservative family who was rigid in what we believed and judgmental of those who didn’t do Jesus the exact same way we did. If you were different from us, we avoided you and kept our distance. This became my “rules-based” belief system, and it was shared with a broad range of people, including my own family. There was no room for anyone to ask questions. I decided what was important and what others needed to believe. They ended up in the box I created. I had the key and had no intention of letting them out.
As a result, there are people in my life, some very important to me, who reject everything “evangelical,” including me. My four core values still apply, but so much of the other stuff has gotten in the way. In the end, I just want my family and friends to be saved because if they aren’t, I’m afraid they will be separated from God and me for eternity. They will miss the love that only Jesus can offer and the salvation that he makes available to everyone. That’s the only thing that matters. Our beliefs about race, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, and which church to attend are important components of who we are and what we value, but they won’t get us into heaven.
To those I’ve hurt, I’m so sorry that my rigid, unbending attitudes have caused so much pain in your lives. Please forgive me.