“Evangelical”. The word can prompt a gut reaction – evoking a pushy Christian forcing their beliefs on to others in public. Or, perhaps, a Bible-believing churchgoer busily exercising their faith in the community.
Could both be true?
Perhaps contrary to our expectations, the typical modern-day evangelical is a woman in her early 30s, with one or more children, in Sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America.
She serves her community – rather than denouncing it like a street preacher hurling condemnation from the sidewalk. She is both vocal in the life of her church and responsive to the need around her.
It’s this activist energy that explains the busy-body spirit of evangelicals, Stackhouse said. “Evangelicals are generally impatient. We don’t take the status quo… as good enough”. There is a sense of constant striving towards a better world. Stagnation is rebuked – it’s simply unproductive.
Stackhouse gives the example of Mary Slessor, a Scottish missionary from the 1800s. Mission work led Slessor to serve the practical and spiritual needs of an African tribe. While living in that community, Slessor learnt that the birth of twins was believed to be a curse – and that exposing the babies was believed to be the only way to ward off evil.
Slessor began rounding up abandoned twins and placing them into orphanages, while sharing her Christian beliefs in the value of all human life.
Unfortunately, not every evangelical is a Mary Slessor. Evangelicals have a reputation for being especially zealous. They’ve also imposed their beliefs and waged culture war to further their cause.
As a result, modern-day evangelicals can be apprehensive at owning the label.
To ‘closeted’ or fearful Evangelicals, Stackhouse assures that the movement “has been fairly out of step with most elite cultures from the beginning… that’s nothing Evangelicals should worry about too much”. Even if this is easier said than done, being different from a surrounding culture has often been the experience of people of faith.
Evangelicals are destined be counter-cultural, Stackhouse said. There’s no way around it. But The Evangelical need not be a loud, pushy presence in the public square. Rather, they can adopt an attitude of service in the community.
“A woman holding her baby and her Bible, singing in church – that’s what Evangelicalism looks like,” Stackhouse said, “and I’m proud to be part of that”.