t was nearly thirty years ago. I was completing my first year of Bible college and was attending one of the sessions of the week-long conference which preceded commencement each year. The speaker was an evangelist from Lynchburg, Virginia, whose name I cannot recall. Other details, however, are as fresh and vivid as though they had happened only yesterday.
The text for the sermon that morning was Proverbs 22:1, "A good name is to be more desired than great riches." At one point in his message the preacher paused as his eyes surveyed the faces before him, one by one, row upon row. Suddenly he stopped. He was looking directly at me. I briefly considered how I might slide under the row of chairs in front of me, then decided my only option was to sit there stoically and endure whatever humiliation he had in mind for me.
"Young man," he bellowed (I'm sure he didn't bellow, but that is how I recall the incident). "How would you like to have the name Judas?"
"I... I... wouldn't," I stammered.
"And why not?" he asked.
"B... B... Because," I responded. And then I heard myself say, "because it has a bad connotation." I didn't realize I even knew the meaning of that word. I'm sure I had never used it in a sentence before. Wherever it came from, it must have been exactly the response the preacher sought, since a satisfied smile settled over his previously stern countenance. His point had been made. Some perfectly good names, through no fault of their own, pick up such "baggage" along the way that they are no longer useful or desirable.
Some would say that is precisely the case with the term evangelical. Through no fault of its own it has become laden with connotations that render it, at times, imprecise and confusing. The EAF board is well aware of the problem. They realize that, for many, the term evangelical implies identification with the social and political agenda of the so-called "Religious Right." Others associate the term with the glitz and glamor of those "seeker-sensitive" mega-churches whose campuses resemble shopping malls more than traditional houses of worship.