What Does It Truly Mean To Be Evangelical?

Photo courtesy of Crossway

Like many words in the English language, the word “evangelical” along with its lingual cousin “born-again” has lost its meaning. In American culture over the past several decades, the word evangelical has come to defined as a mostly white, “Christian” conservative voting block of the Republican political party. Many who are placed within this definition either by society or by self identity would not be truly evangelical by the original definition of the word. This leaves many to wonder if the term should be dropped and fall out of use. In his new book Gospel People: A Call for Evangelical Integrity (Crossway, 2022), Dr. Michael Reeves argues for true evangelicals to reclaim the term by living true to its original meaning.

Reeves begins by resetting the definition to make sure that the reader fully understands the orthodox meaning of the term evangelical. In order to do this, Reeves argues that we must not understand the term socially, but theologically. The term evangelical has deep roots in Christian theology. It comes from the Greek word euangelion meaning “good news”. In short, an evangelical is someone whose life has been changed by and one who lives to proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ. Reeves spends the remainder of the book unpacking a biblical theology of the gospel. He then ends the book with a call to gospel integrity.

What is the good news? Reeves unpacks this questions threefold, or more theologically accurate he provides a trinitarian theology of the gospel. First, the gospel is revealed by God the Father through his word, the Bible. Having a biblical understanding of the gospel is crucial. We cannot know the gospel if it were not revealed to us in scripture. The gospel is not something of man’s creative imagination. It comes to us by the word of God. Second, the gospel is the redemption of sinner through God the Son. This is the heart of the good news. That Jesus died in our place and rose again on the third day. This is what the Apostle Paul referred to as of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). Without the work of Christ, there is no gospel. Third, the gospel regenerates us through the power of God the Spirit. Before Christ, all of us were dead in our sins. We could not understand and respond to the gospel without first being made alive. This is crucial to our understanding of the gospel, because it is not something a person can respond to under their own volition. When a person responds to the gospel, that is evidence of the work of the Spirit in them drawing them to repentance and faith. An evangelical then, is a person who not only believes the aspects of the above discussion, but actively desires to share this good news with others.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8

After laying out the biblical trinitarian definition of what it means to be evangelical, Reeves then ends the book with a call to gospel integrity. To live with integrity we must know what we believe and stand firmly in those beliefs. There are many in western culture, particularly in America, who call themselves evangelicals who are not trinitarian and cannot articulate the gospel. Yet not only should we stand firm in the gospel, we must do so in humility. This point is crucial, for there are many who would call themselves evangelical who are not about building the kingdom of God, but their own. Jesus modeled humility as the Apostle Paul eloquently articulated in Philippians 2:4-11. Standing firm in the faith with humility are the hallmarks of gospel integrity. This is what we need more of in evangelicalism today.

Gospel People is an intriguing, encouraging, and timely book. Michael Reeves makes a compelling case for keeping the term evangelical within our vocabulary. One point I would make regarding this topic is the fact that once a word is redefined or begins to lose its meaning it can be very difficult to bring back to its original meaning. But that does not mean that we cannot attempt to reclaim this term. Reeves would argue, however, that the term is only secondary. While words and terms do matter, because they help us understand culture—what matters most is our conduct. If we act like Christ, it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves or what the culture calls us. What matters is we are living as Christ has called his people to live.


Zach Kendrick is the editor of Reading For The Glory.


Editor’s note: This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Like the content you see on Reading for the Glory? We invite you to subscribe to the reviews by providing your email at the bottom on this page. You can also follow us on Twitter @reading4glory and Instagram @readingfortheglory