A wise preacher once said that it is good to get downwind of yourself whenever you can. Sometimes we don’t smell our own B.O. when everyone around us wishes that we would.
It’s an odiferous metaphor for the way our lives sometimes unfold. Sometimes our self-perceptions do not match the perceptions that others have of us. And even if other people’s perceptions are wrong, we do well to understand what their perceptions are. Sometimes they are right.
I thought about that as I read the Texas Monthly profile of Jen Hatmaker. If anything, the article helps evangelicals to get downwind of themselves—to see where self-perception may not match the perception of the world around us. Those differing perceptions offer insight into what the definition of “evangelical” even might be.
The article has some sage observations from Ray Ortlund to that end. Here is an excerpt:
But after the 2016 presidential election, evangelicalism is once again facing a crisis of faith. Similar to the fundamentalist movement, evangelicalism has taken on a political tone, sometimes being used in the same sentence as “alt-right.” But are people who identify as evangelicals truly guilty of being what mainstream culture deems as racist, sexist, homophobic—or has the term been hijacked?
“The word evangelical can be stolen and taken unfair advantage of,” said Ray C. Ortlund Jr. in a speech on the history of the movement at a conference hosted by The Gospel Coalition. Partly, the label is easy to misconstrue because of the relative freedom of the word. Descriptively, its definition can point to its history, its stereotypes, its perception in this culture. The prescriptive piece is what is often missed. Because to be evangelical is not to be white, or a Republican, or conservative, or to even wear the label of Christian. The label cuts to the very core of a person’s beliefs, the heart of their personal theology.
There are so many of us who wish evangelical could remain a description of the theological convictions of conservative Protestants. But that is not how the term is perceived by the watching world. And those of us who wish to retrieve the theological heritage of the term would do well to remember that.