Friday, August 28, 2009


I don't know if anyone has been following the Guardian's Comment is Free - Belief series where Adam Rutherford (an editor of Nature journal) has been attending an Alpha course and writing up his reflections. Adam is a convinced atheist, but he has a fairly good understanding of Christianity, and he gives a fascinating and fair appraisal of the course, whilst remaining utterly unpersuaded.

Anyhoo, this week, instead of going on the Holy Spirit away day, he goes and interviews Nicky Gumbel. The whole thing is interesting, but one bit that jumped out at me was where Nicky says the following -

'This may sound pernickety but I wouldn't describe myself as an evangelical. These are labels, which I don't think are helpful. If I was going to use any label it would be Christian, and if you push me any further I'd say I'm an Anglican - that's the family of the Church that I belong to. There's nothing wrong with any of the other labels, but if you have any of them I want them all. If you're going to say, 'I'm Catholic, liberal, evangelical…' let's have them all. But I wouldn't want to isolate one of those. Personally I think labels are terribly unhelpful because they enable you to dismiss things.'

So there you have it. Nicky Gumbel, perhaps one of the most influential people in 'the evangelical' world, says he wouldn't describe himself as an evangelical.

This is pretty much where I am. Labels such as 'evangelical' have become unhelpful, if not completely meaningless. To those outside the church, 'evangelical' either mean nothing, or it means 'fundamentalist'. To those inside, again, it either means 'fundamentalist' (to those on the liberal/progressive/radical wing) or it leads to endless and tedious discussions of 'what sort of evangelical' you are (open or conservative, charismatic or not) etc, etc. Typically, this search for increasing definition is, as Nicky says, either so you can be dismissed, or so you can be proved to be not evangelical enough or the wrong stripe of evangelical.

So I am a Christian. I realise this 'label' has its own baggage, but it's good enough for me. If pushed further I would say I am a stumbling, faultering, trying to be follower of Jesus. Somewhere down the line, I am an Anglican. I am glad to see I am in the company of such a wonderful and humble Christian man as Nicky Gumbel.

See the full transcript of the interview here