Posted: February 20th, 2021
You are a student at Colorado Christian University. What do you think “Christian” means in our school’s title?
That word, “Christian,” has been used extensively, and in some cases strangely, for over 2000 years. Historically, it was born in the ancient city of Antioch. There, according to Acts 11:26, “the disciples were first called Christians” (English Standard Version). Since that first-century usage, “Christian” has defined religious groups & sects, armies, athletic endeavors, political parties, and a host of entities and ideas which probably would make those original disciples shake their heads in disbelief. “The Christian Vegetarian Association? Wouldn’t have dreamt it,” Peter could have told Paul, if they both spoke English.
A subset within all the uses of “Christian” is the group of churches and people which identify with orthodox Christianity. Generally speaking, orthodox Christians are linked together through their common belief in the ideas expressed in the Nicene Creed. This nearly seventeen-hundred-year-old confession of faith highlights the essentials of orthodox Christianity: God is Triune (one God existing in three persons: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit); Jesus is God incarnate, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and saves people from sin; He will oversee an ultimate resurrection & judgment of all humanity; and there exists one Church and one baptism.
As you can imagine and have probably experienced, orthodox Christians can be further subdivided into denominations. There exist literally thousands of Christian denominations or sub-denominations throughout the world and within orthodoxy: Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, even non-denominational denominations, just to mention a very few.
Before you despair of this head-spinning reality of sets, subsets, and sub-divisions within Christianity, here is one more term you need to know: evangelical. It is the final Christian identifier you need to know here because it answers our question of what “Christian” means in the Colorado Christian University title.
CCU is evangelical in its Christian orientation.
Evangelical is unique as a Christian identifier in that it describes a movement within orthodox Christianity which transcends denominational and even confessional boundaries. Evangelicals exist among Anglicans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Lutherans, Mennonites – lots of denominations!
Though several people have attempted to define this movement, the most broadly accepted definition was crafted by British historian David Bebbington. In his book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain (1989) he noted four distinctives, or characterizations, about evangelicals which have well-described the movement all along its 400-plus-year history and throughout all the denominations and global regions where it is found: “conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible and what may be called crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross” (Bebbington, 1989, p. 3). Please note that “powerful Republican voting bloc in the U.S.” is not one of the distinctives. “Evangelical” is first and foremost a historically theological, Christian orientation.
Now you know several things: 1) “evangelical” is a sub-group of orthodox Christianity (which is a subset of “Christian”), 2) CCU is evangelical, and 3) “evangelical” can be defined well by four concepts. We’ll examine all four throughout the remainder of this course, primarily to help you understand better the evangelical nature of Colorado Christian University.
Bebbington, D. W. (1989). Evangelicalism in modern Britain: A history from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Unwin Hyman Ltd.
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