I finally watched a program I had recorded Easter weekend from CNN entitled “What Would Jesus Really Do?” The host, Roland Martin, is a commentary contributor to CNN. This program was advertised as a discussion of how Jesus would respond to a series of contemporary issues in our society. The guest list was brief, Rick Warren, author of the best-selling A Purpose Driven Life; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; Frederick Douglas Haynes, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX; Bishop T.D. Jakes and preacher Paula White (whom I had not heard of before). All four of these very different different individuals were presented as representative of evangelical Christianity, and Mr. Martin himself claims this moniker, introducing himself on the program as being married to an ordained Southern Baptist minister…yes, you Southern Baptists read that correctly.
As the program played out, the only one of the five guests that gave anything close to what I understand as a biblically founded answer to the main question was Rick Warren, who talked most about the decision he and his wife have made to be reverse tithers (90% given/10% to live on), but in the end the main question was left unanswered. There was lots of conversation around prosperity gospel in the love fest between White and Jakes. Falwell talked more about politics than Christianity. Haynes brought in a dose of liberation theology, describing Jesus’ clearing of the temple as a political action. In the end, however, the viewer, at least this one, was left with a picture of incoherence in the message of evangelical Christianity.
Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of the state of the modern church. The term evangelical Christianity is tossed about as if there was clarity as to the range of groups and individuals to whom this term applies. This program is only one more illustration that the term evangelical Christianity has lost any meaning. It is no longer a reliable label either for a coherent group of people or for a set of beliefs, and has become more disparaging than defining in its usage, used as profanity by opponents of the gospel (You evangelical Christian!).
What words should we use to define who we are these days when even the term Christian has become unclear? How are we to help people understand what biblical Christianity really means when the necessary words in our language have been co-opted by our great enemy? I don’t know the answer to this, but it seems to me that our prayer, sadly, has to be that God will cleanse and purify his church in our day. We seem to be in need of a great reformer, on the scale of a Luther or Calvin. Pray that God is preparing such a man for such a time as this.