Am I Still An Evangelical?



I am a granddad, an unaffiliated voter, a half-Swede, half-Alabama hillbilly, and a scooter rider. My spiritual/religious identity used to be just as clear.

I began my spiritual life as a fully committed fundamentalist. I proudly belonged to the elite Christian sect that was defending the faith from a liberal invasion from Princeton Seminary and places like it.

That for sure does not describe me now, but I don’t know what does. I have been told that I am “an Emergent,” “a Progressive,” and “a liberal.” But I am not sure I know what those label mean either. I thought I was “an evangelical,” but I am not certain of that anymore.

Writer Anne Lammott has said “I am too Jesus-y for my liberal friends, and too liberal for my Jesus-y friends.” I feel the same way.

Here is what I think I believe today:

The Bible

  • I believe the Bible is true. I believe it is supernatural. I do not have the intelligence or interest to prove that point.
  • I believe it ultimately asks me to do what I do not want to do, but is for my own good and the good of the world.
  • I am not convinced of its veracity because the archeology fits, the numbers match, or that every story makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I believe it is true because I am amazed at how every story makes think, “Wow, that is so true!” I am compelled to consider, think and even change. Often I avoid it because it haunts me with its insight into the depths of my being. And sometimes it draws me close and comforts me like no other words can.
  • I believe it is true because it is the only book that tells me about Jesus, and He is amazing. I do not think you could make that stuff up.
  • I think the Bible is the starting place for decision-making and arbitration, not a secondary source. I think that an early church practice was to gather together to listen to the letters read for encouragement and training.


  • I think people need to be saved and I think Jesus does that. I think people are saved for today as much as for eternity. I think “believing” and “following” are the same thing.


  • Jesus used this word. When He used it, He seemed to be warning somebody about something. Is it forever? Is it literal? I don’t know.


  • I do not think church is primarily for God, but for us. I think it is a place to practice loving each other and ourselves. I think church is where we escape to experience what it means to be important, valued and loved, and to be sacrificial, humble and generous. It may include other things like preaching and worship, but those things must serve the greater purpose.


  • I am not gay, but I will let those that need to figure this out do so with my encouragement and love. I have friends who make good cases for both celibacy and monogamy in the context of homosexuality.


  • I am an egalitarian. I believe the apparent restrictions on women in leadership in the New Testament are rare exceptions not the rule. I believe where they occur they were for only in effect for a season and were necessary to further the gospel in a specific cultural context.
  • Consider a parallel contemporary example: If my wife and I felt called to minister in a Muslim country, she would have to make some adjustments in her public mannerisms and dress, and I would have to stop having conversations in public with female acquaintances.

I am sure I haven’t covered every important identifying topic, but I would love your input. Do you think I am an evangelical?








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23 Responses to Am I Still An Evangelical?

  1. Gloria says:

    What about Evangelizing people? That’s what I think about when I hear “Evangelical”. When I look at all of those headings, The only thing I can know for sure is that Jesus Loves us. All. I love almost all of your thoughts on this. I hope you don’t get attacked by onslaughts of bible verses telling you how the bible says this or that. Sometimes I wonder if God let these struggles exist in the bible on purpose so we’d have to wrestle with each and have our faith continuously challenge us and help us grow. Strength, love and peace to you, my friend!

    • karlw says:

      thanks gloria, evangelism is a great addition. i no longer think of it as a transaction, but an invitation with a walk alongside.
      peace to you also

  2. Brian Newman says:

    I certainly don’t know if you are an evangelical or not, Karl. Some folks in your tribe at The Refuge would have a sense I would guess.
    I have just one comment, besides the fact that I love the way you reflect on your beliefs. Great! It’s a little annoying to me when we (Jesus followers) say that we dont know what the labels of “liberal” or “emergent” or “progressive” mean. As soon as we say that we invite the conversation to be over. it’s like we all throw up our hands and say, “Aw shucks, we ain’t got a clue about these big words so let’s just drop the subject.”
    Let’s agree on some brief definitions of these terms and say, “Yes, I am one of those,” or “Na, that’s not me.”
    You get the idea.

    • karlw says:

      i like that Brian, but i dont think for me it is a dismissal of the labels, as much as i have not had enough interaction or education to what those titles mean. i have not found a home like the one i used to have and therefore i am not up to speed with the conversations. some of this has been my own doing, putting my head in the sand, but in more ways than one i am trying to pull my head out.

  3. I would say you are still evangelical in a narrow sense. I think evangelicalism has become a civil religion that is sociopolitical in nature. It isn’t just about Jesus anymore. It includes an affiliation to the Republican party, a carte blanche support of Israel, a view of Muslims as the enemy, a support of pre-emptive war in the Middle East, a view of homosexuality as a choice rather than biological, etc. Generally, it is also patriarchal, but not always. Your view of the Bible and Jesus are still quite evangelical I would say, but not your view of hell.

    Labels are conventional, but we would all probably benefit from transcending above them. I’m certainly not there, but it is a goal.

    • karlw says:

      thanks Liz, i guess the true test may be how a strong evangelical group might respond to me. I feel like i have come through some of my anger and i am now looking for how i can re-engage in the conversation.

  4. Phil Bair says:

    Karl, I’ve known you a loooong time. Long enough to know that I don’t have to tell you what the original meaning of an evangelical is. But for those reading this who don’t know, it means someone who gives credence to the teachings of the 1st Century evangelists.

    What were their teachings? Among other things, that Jesus was and is the only begotten and incarnate Son of God, that he died as a ransom for us to save us from the consequences of our moral guilt, and that he is the only hope for mortal man to obtain immortality.

    He gave the evangelists a certain amount of credibility, by telling them that if people reject their teaching, it’s as good as rejecting his. And that if people accepted their teaching, they are accepting the teaching of Christ himself. (You can look that up.) In other words, if the evangelists (apostles) said it, Christ said it. They are reliable as if they came from the same source.

    So whatever the evangelists said about how to love your husband or wife, or marriage, or homosexuality, you can sleep like a baby knowing that Jesus agrees.

    In our day, the word “evangelical” has been distorted beyond recognition and all sorts of modern excess baggage has been piled on top of it. So if you want to know if you’re an evangelical, you have to make sure you clarify that what you mean is what the original connotation of the word is, rather than the modern distortion of it after having ripped it to shreds.

    Karl, you’re right. No one would have been able to make this stuff up. I know you well enough to know that in the original sense of the word, you’re an evangelical. You’re just one of the strangest ones I’ve ever met.

    • karlw says:

      i did not know the origin of the word! i assumed it came from a 20th century shift in how evangelism was done. that is really interesting. i have often heard the writings of the apostles and paul dismissed. i have operated with the assumption that they were attempting to help us grasp what the ideas of Jesus look like when you put them into practice.
      good insight, thanks

  5. Since the label “evangelical” came out of a movement, there is an immediate problem — movements … well … move! And that’s a term that has moved all over creation, so to speak. Currently it seems to land somewhere near the terms “judgmental” and “institution.” But if, by “evangelical,” you mean all of the things you clearly stated, with a focus on Jesus — as seen in the Bible and in the lives of his followers, then I’m glad that you are, still, an evangelical and I’ll stand with you, Karl. I know that Jesus still saves. These days, I’m just a little confused about the details on that, though.

    • karlw says:

      love it, “i am just a little confused on the details” is brilliant. funny, in my 20’s i had zero ambiguity, and tons of opinions on the smallest minutia and now i tend to only grasp the big concepts. Are you still in alaska?

  6. Judy Larkins says:

    Karl – you are on a journey. So am I and many others who are now questioning everything as it relates to judgment (leaning towards grace instead), hell (what if the first time we really see an accurate Christ is in the afterlife? Did we have a choice if all we are presented with is a distortion?) and the significance and contributions of every living person. I applaud you. I’m on the same path, and there are many in the same introspective position. Bottom line is that Jesus is faithful to complete the work that he starts in all of us. We may not trust our own reasoning / questioning, but we can trust that he takes care of his own and can be relied upon to teach us all (that may include the entire world, in the end!) “If I be lifted up, I will draw ALL men/women unto myself!”

    • karlw says:

      that is a sweet encouragement and reminder that He will draw all to himself. I am reminded that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess…
      i resonate with the journey imagery, just wish i liked traveling more.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Yes, Karl, you are! You are a real, authentic core evangelical! You honor Jesus for who He is. You honor the Bible for what it proves to be a living, breathing, life-giving dialogue with God. Love, mercy, compassion flow out of the beliefs you listed. They flow out of you. This is the hope for this world. Evangelical is not a four letter word. I totally understand your desire to be relevant to the community of a liberal perspective. I have no doubt that you treat them with dignity and respect. Because you acknowledge Jesus in some form should not make you unacceptable to them. Because you do walk in love, this really is their problem. This is not about shame or blame, but about your freedom to be yourself with whomever, and not having to apologize for honoring Jesus. You are a great blessing. Your humor and ability to communicate profound truths is amazing to me. The Father is proud of you. You are His son. You are deeply loved. May a deep well of joy rise up from the inside out of you. Freeing you. Blessing you. Your friend, Kay Broadbent

    • karlw says:

      thanks for all the love and encouragement. If i understand my Liberal and Conservative friends correctly, there is little disagreement on the person of Jesus, but a wide difference on what the next step might be. blessings to you!

  8. I think you are a Christ-follower, my brother and one of my spiritual parents. I think you have described an Evangelical for the most part which to understand someone who judges the message of Jesus as “good news” for the world around them and intentionally thinks of creative ways to participate with Jesus in his work of healing and renewing that world (which means the healing and renewing of us.) They actually have the audacity to refuse the facts of this world and attempt to change the world. Most of their efforts are misguided (Hell, who’s efforts aren’t misguided?) but they believe they are the agents of change in the world.
    The only piece of your credo that I would push back on is The Church. She’s a piece of work isn’t she? A paradox. I don’t believe she was created to be an escape for anyone who runs to her to find escape for they only realize that they have traded the frying pan for the fire. A fire that may save their life. Community is such a fire. It can warm us, save us and burn us if we let it. But it is holy and must do all three. That is it’s nature. So maybe even a church can be a refuge and a tank. A scalpel and a bandage. I don’t think a church is preaching and worship any more than I am “eating” an “drinking”… The Church is a whore and she is my mother. I am a whore and I am a mother.

    • karlw says:

      great point, in our attempt to quantify and understand we can quickly lose the idea of paradox. that is a good reminder to what i know has shifted in me, the ability to embrace paradox. i love the idea of paradox (the practice can be taxing and trying) because it gives me permission to be honest about what i only have a hunch about without having to have all my facts straight.
      love you bro!

  9. Dave Reierson says:

    I don’t know what you are Karl, but whatever it is, I’m one too!

  10. Steve Tonkin says:

    I appreciate your question. It has been on my mind the past couple days. Your question should prompt all of us who share your “fundamental” background to examine ourselves, especially in the light of the day we live in.
    In my own journey, I started with the greatest command. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV). Our motives must reflect this command to even begin to consider ourselves Christ-followers, let alone evangelicals.
    We live in an era of selfish consumerism, political activism, institutional enhancement, and syncretistic spirituality. I think we need to focus more on who God has called us to be and to reflect His glory. This involves right living and participating in His redemptive work. Redemptive work is far more than a transaction, but a lifestyle as you rightly point out.
    As Jesus followers, we should be far more focused on what God is doing, rather than on what we are doing. We need to join Him on His redemptive mission. I agree with Liz, evangelicals spend far too much time focused on a cultural war rather than the “Kingdom” war.
    Karl, since I first met you during your “fundamental” days, I can see you remain a merciful leader with a sprinkling of prophet: Merciful because you care deeply about people; leader because you are not satisfied with modern evangelicalism as it appears to have drifted from biblical imperatives; prophet because you see injustice and seek to speak out. Keep up the good work.
    My journey is reflected in a project I label “The Integrated Life.” You can review it at: I’m excited to see how God uses this project to challenge the current thinking of “evangelicalism”.

    • karlw says:

      i so appreciate the encouragement. i am anxious to go see the integrated life, sounds like i would resonate with it.
      I like the reminder to once again focus on what He is doing, not what we are doing.

      • Steve Tonkin says:

        I wasn’t trying to be cheesy about plugging my project. I simply thought it helpful to share how God working in my own journey. I’m excited to see what God will do with it in the coming season.

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