Do you consider yourself an Evangelical? Do you know what the term means? For some, Evangelical has come to represent all that is wrong with religion, especially its intersection with politics and power. For others, the word depicts the centuries-old tradition that holds in high esteem the best attributes of the Christian faith across a wide spectrum of denominations and movements. As a result, one never quite knows what response to expect when a conversation about evangelicals is started.

Darrell Bock, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, recently wrote an editorial for the Dallas Morning News to try and help outsiders better understand what evangelicals believe and hope to accomplish. Drawing from the recently published document An Evangelical Manifesto, Bock emphasized the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ, the desire for a civil public square that recognizes and protects religious freedom and tolerance, and a call for evangelicals to engage in serious self-examination and repentance. Evangelicals are united by their theology and the central role that the Bible plays in forming it. That doesn’t mean that we agree on every aspect of doctrine, but we share the good news of salvation in Christ that the Bible teaches. In fact, the label evangelical comes from a Greek word for the good news or gospel that is found in the New Testament.

The newspaper quickly printed a few responses to Dr. Bock’s piece that show just how difficult it can be to change people’s perceptions. One reader wrote that evangelicals are defined by total opposition to abortion and rejection of homosexuals and their agenda. And although Dr. Bock specifically mentioned that evangelicals do not want to create a government ruled by God or by religious leaders, she added that evangelicals would be happy with a theocracy. It seems odd when a person says, “Here is what I believe,” and someone else replies, “No you don’t; you really believe this.”

Another reader wrote that when evangelicals accept anothers faith as equally valid as their own, progress will have been made.{1} This criticism reflects America’s difficulty with the highly valued virtue of tolerance. The assumption is that if one resides in a pluralistic society. then all views must carry equal weight in the culture and that none can claim to have a privileged perspective on truth. It is assumed that in a tolerant society everyone would agree on all ethical issues and would accept all religions as equally valid. The first comment seems to be saying that if you are like Christ, you will condemn nothing. The second portrays the idea that tolerance requires the acceptance of all religious ideas, even if they contradict one another.

How does a Christian who values the virtue of tolerance respond to these accusations? As An Evangelical Manifesto describes, we are not arguing for a sacred public square, a society in which only one set of religious ideas or solutions are considered. But neither do we believe that a secular public square is in our nation’s best interests. Our hope is to have a civil public square, one in which true tolerance is practiced. When understood correctly, tolerance allows for a civil dialogue between competing and even contradictory positions on important topics in order that the best solution eventually finds favor.

Traditionally, tolerance has meant that one puts up with an act or idea that he or she disagrees with for the sake of a greater good. In fact, it quickly becomes obvious that unless there is a disagreement, tolerance cannot even occur. We can only tolerate, or bear with something, when we first disagree with it. In a tolerant society people will bear with those they disagree with hoping to make a case for their view that will influence future policies and actions. Abortion and homosexuality are issues that divide our nation deeply. However, a tolerant response to the conflict is not to force everyone to agree with one viewpoint but rather to put up, or bear with, the opposition while making a case for your view. The greater good is a civil public square and the opportunity to change hearts and minds concerning what is healthiest for America’s future, and what we consider to be a morally superior view based on God’s Word.

Christians need to practice tolerance towards one another as well for the greater good of unity and showing the world an example of Christian love. An Evangelical Manifesto has been criticized by some within the church because it has been favorably commented on by people of other faiths. The assumption is that if a Hindu finds something good about this document, those who wrote it must not be Christian enough. This guilt by association fails to deal with the ideas in the document fairly. It also ignores the times in scripture that we are told to bear with one another (Romans 15:1, Colossians 3:13).

An Evangelical Manifesto may not be a perfect document, but it is a helpful step in explaining to the watching world what we Christians are about. It brings the focus back to the Gospel of Christ and an emphasis on living a Christlike life. It reminds us that we have a message of grace and forgiveness to share, not one of law and legalism.


1. Dallas Morning News, May 13, 2008

© 2008 Probe Ministries



Don Closson served as Director of Administration and a research associate with Probe for 26 years, until taking a position with the same title at the Centers of Church Based Training ( in 2013. He received the B.S. in education from Southern Illinois University, the M.S. in educational administration from Illinois State University, and the M.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has served as a public school teacher and administrator before joining Probe and then the CCBT. He is the general editor of Kids, Classrooms, and Contemporary Education.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at

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