Evangelical: A Brief Definition
Visitor: I am after a brief biblical definition of the "Evangelical Christian" that would not be confusing to the average born again person.
Response: That is a great question and of late has been somewhat controversial. How do we define "Evangelical Christian" -- I will assume you are after the meaning of this in a traditional, rather than contemporary sense. Also the terms meaning in a positive rather than negative light. If so, then it has historically meant someone who believes and heralds the Gospel of Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Scripture and that there is no hope for them in the world save in being united to HIm in his life, death and resurrection. In the past this was the unifying factor for persons from a vast array of church traditions, but now the word has, unfortunately, come to mean many things.
The contemporary use of the word "Evangelical" often refers to an amorphous mass of people with different convictions, confessions and beliefs about the Gospel. Sometimes this even includes persons who do not believe in the authority of the Bible and, like liberal theology of old, believe in a theology based on consensus, modern psychology or worldly politics.
A Brief Definition:
To the reformers it was related to gospel recovery, that is, one who adhered to the Reformation's tenets, which means that historically, Evangelicals confessed a belief in the truth of the five solas:
Sola gratia, Sola fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. In short, they confessed that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Person and work of Christ alone as revealed in the Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. For further exploration of this subject I highly recommend that everyone study the short online document called The Cambridge Declaration. It is really quite helpful. But let's now move into some particulars:
In an essay a few years back, Michael Horton said that "After 1520 an evangelical was a person who was committed to the sufficiency of scripture, the priesthood of all believers, the total lostness of humans, the sole mediation of Christ, the gracious efficacy and finality of God's redemptive work in Christ through election, propitiation, calling and keeping. The linchpin for all of this was the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. Thus, the believer, declared righteous by virtue of God's satisfaction with Christ's holiness imputed (credited) to us through faith alone, is simul iustus et peccator--"simultaneously justified and sinful." Michael Horton
And is it too much to ask that the definition of a true evangelical also includes Paul's Definition of a Christian? (Phil 3:3): i.e. those "who worship in the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh." No confidence means none, zero... that apart from the Holy Spirit we are spiritually bankrupt. It speaks of those who have been stripped of all hope from self (and the human will), and instead depend on the mercy of Christ alone. It includes those who believe the will of the fallen man (prior to grace) is broken to such an extent that it will not and cannot lift a finger toward its own salvation. Total depravity, to a true Evangelical, does not simply mean that the unregenerate have sinful tendencies, but that we are broken and must despair of all hope from our own resources. Jesus Christ alone can save. He does not believe the natural will can just as easily believe or not believe in Christ, but affirms, with the Gospel, that the will is depraved and broken, just as are his other faculties. That which is flesh is flesh... It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail." (John 6:65) To glory in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh, means to affirm the truth that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and earth. He reigns supreme over all things and that He alone can save whom He will (Matt 11:27; Rom 9:15). "it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom 9:16) That the fallow ground of the natural man's heart must be plowed up by the Spirit of Christ or he will never despair of self, because he is by nature, hardened to Christ, hostile to God, and is not naturally inclined at all to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel. It requires a supernatural work in his heart to break up the hardness, disarm the natural hostility and place a new heart in Him which loves Christ. So when one confesses that they believe in 'grace alone' they are confessing that the natural will of man is not up to the task of turning to Christ simply using his own resources, but he needs the Holy Spirit. There is nothing that we naturally resist more than to believe this: that Christ alone saves.
Again, C.H. Spurgeon once said that those who affirm that the natural will of man has the moral capacity to believe the gospel, want to "arouse man's activity: [but] what we want to do is to kill it once for all---to show him that he is lost and ruined, and that his activities are not now at all equal to the work of conversion; that he must look upward. They seek to make the man stand up: we seek to bring him down, and make him feel that there he lies in the hand of God, and that his business is to submit himself to God, and cry aloud, 'Lord, save, or we perish.' We hold that man is never so near grace as when he begins to feel he can do nothing at all. When he says, "I can pray, I can believe, I can do this, and I can do the other," marks of self-sufficiency and arrogance are on his brow.
I want to recommend a very fine book that deals with the five solas in a way I have seen in no other book, and Pastor Samson, who uses this book, I believe, would heartily concur:
Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace:
Recovering the Doctrines That Shook the World'
by James Montgomery Boice