Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bought the T-Shirt

Written by: on October 2, 2023

I distinctly remember when Ted Haggard had his very public “fall” from the evangelical heights, especially having served as president of the National Association of Evangelicals(NAE) from 2003 until November 2006. Haggard resigned from that role as well as his senior pastorate after making headlines for engaging in sex with a male prostitute and buying and using crystal meth. My point in digging this up is not to heap shame upon a brother in the Lord (there by the grace of God we all go…and that includes ME), but rather to highlight my reaction.

I didn’t want anyone to know I was a pastor, let alone an evangelical one. 

That wasn’t the only time, mind you. The “Days of the Jimmy” (Swaggart and Baker) was also a season in which I pulled my pastoral cap lower over my head. It wasn’t a pretty time to be an evangelical.

We’re in another such season. I find myself disavowing myself of the title of “evangelical,” because it seems to be tarnished and co-opted. If I may be crass, it’s been bastardized; it’s a version that is lower in quality or value than the original form, typically as a result of the addition of new elements. Enter: the Republican Party.

Many today equate evangelicalism with the Republican Party, in that 81% of American “evangelicals” voted for Donald Trump in 2016. However, Michael S. Hamilton claims “the political definition of ‘evangelical’ has resulted in many white Americans being counted as evangelicals who are not truly evangelical by religious measures” [1]. Hamilton goes on to quote Thomas Kid, a widely read historian of evangelicalism in saying, “I suspect that large numbers of these people who identify as ‘evangelicals’ are really just whites who watch Fox News and who consider themselves religious” [2].

Having been a senior pastor during the last few presidential elections this is of great importance to me. I want to know that I and our team are discipling followers of Jesus the King, not of a political party or powerful figure. I also want to preserve our witness within the community that is looking closely to us as an “evangelical church.” I want to be proud of US as evangelicals (and, admittedly, as a registered Republican)…I don’t want to keep pulling my hat down low out of shame or embarrassment. I have so invested much into this, having made Jesus my Lord and Savior, as well as maturing in my faith during the charismatic moment of the 70’s, specifically the renewal that swept through the Catholic Church during that time. After my conversion, my family attended an evangelical church (and continue to). I listened to the music. Subscribed to the magazines. Attended the camps and conferences. Enrolled in the Bible colleges and seminaries.

I’ve been there, done that…bought the t-shirt. Literally, I bought and proudly wore dozens of evangelical Jesus-y t-shirts! In the appendix of Dr. Clarks dissertation on Evangelicalism and Capitalism is a picture of me wearing a “Lord’s Gym • His Pain…Your Gain” t-shirt, from my local Christian retail bookstore (remember those?). I’m kidding, by the way. Don’t actually search Dr. Clarks dissertation appendix.

Bottom line: I am not a rock-throwing bystander. I’m invested. I want us to be better. I have been reading (not inspectionally, actually reading!) a stack of books on evangelicalism, in an effort to find real solutions [3].

Perhaps David Bebbington can help us. Once again, the British are coming, armed with fish and chips and deep theology! Bebbington, in his now famous quadrilateral of evangelicalism, has determined there are four qualities that mark evangelicalism: 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. To Bebbington’s four-fold definition I would submit one addition that is gaining support, including that of Brian C. Stiller, the Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, and that is, “trusting in the empowering work of the Holy Spirit” [4]. Timothy Larson in “Defining and Locating Evangelicalism” in The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology (pg. 1) also asserts a defining attribute of the “work of the Holy Spirit to convert, restore, empower, and compel into mission.” Bebbington, however, does not believe any elements should be added or subtracted [5]. Come on Sir.

Regardless, these four and/or five qualities sound like truly evangelical concepts, and determinedly different from what we have been seeing come out of the political camps that have (sadly) co-opted the term “evangelical” for power and political gain. What if these quadrilateral definitions became the litmus test, a shibboleth of sorts, for who is or who isn’t a real evangelical?

Because I am so invested in this, perhaps I need to create, market and sell t-shirts that clearly lay out the Evangelical Quadrilateral. For $24.99 we will finally know who is and who isn’t in our camp!

I accept PayPal, ApplePay, and Venmo.











[1.] Michael S. Hamilton, “A Strange Love? Or: How White Evangelicals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Donald” (pg. 218) in “Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be” edited by Mark A. Roll, David W. Bebbington, and George M. Marsden.

[2]. Thomas S. Kidd, “Roy Moore and the Confused Identity of Today’s ‘Evangelical’ Voter,” Vox, December 13, 2017, https://www.vox.com/first-person/2017/11/22/16686614/roy-moore-evangelical-voter.

[3]. Examples of books that I have been digging into as of late are: Jesus v. Evangelicals: A Biblical Critique of a Wayward Movement by Constantine R. Campell, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation by Jon Ward, Raised to Stay by Natalie Runion and Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be by Noll, Bebbington, and Marsden.

[4]. Brian C. Stiller, “To Be or Not to Be Evangelical” (pg. 274) in “Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be” edited by Mark A. Roll, David W. Bebbington, and George M. Marsden.

[5]. “Re-examining David Bebbington’s Quadrilateral, Roundtable” in “Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be” edited by Mark A. Roll, David W. Bebbington, and George M. Marsden (pg. 187).


About the Author


John Fehlen

John Fehlen is currently the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. Prior to that he served at churches in Washington and California. A graduate of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA in Pastoral Ministry, and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA with a Masters in Leadership and Spirituality. He and his wife Denise have four grown children and four grandchildren. John is the author of “Intentional Impressions," a book for fathers and their sons, "Don't Give Up: Encouragement for Weary Souls in Challenging Times," a book for pastoral leaders, and "The Way I See You," a children's book. You can connect with John on Instagram (@johnfehlen) as well as on his blog (johnfehlen.com).

18 responses to “Bought the T-Shirt”

  1. Travis Vaughn says:

    I would agree that the work of the Holy Spirit is another aspect of Evangelicalism that Bebbington could have added, even if he had to get creative in adding it to one or more of the marks in his quadrilateral. I do think that the emphasis on the Spirit’s work/role in the life of the believer gained momentum in the latter part of the twentieth century, particularly during the Jesus movement. That era certainly shaped much of my family’s background. Oddly, I moved toward a more denominational camp in the latter part of my life and away from the non-denominational tradition (or lack thereof) I had experienced growing up. Even more oddly is the lack of emphasis on the Holy Spirit — apart from a mostly theological construct — in the tradition I drifted toward. Perhaps that will change. Perhaps it will gain more support in time.

    I wonder what other changes are on the horizon, some being helpful and some being far less than helpful, as Evangelicalism continues to morph.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Just this week I led a breakout workshop at our regional denominational gathering. The workshop was entitled “Pentecostal Ethos.” It tried to answer the question: “How do we teach and lead our church in balanced Pentecostal theology, experience and practice – the life and ministry of the Holy Spirit – in a sane, winsome way without freaking people out in the process?

      The Foursquare tribe, birthed in the Pentecostal revival in the early 1900’s, is having to reframe and refocus on the work the work of the Spirit.

      We’re wrestling with the reality that we are a Pentecostal Church by historical definition and DNA. But how did our founder intend for that to look, and how does that impact how it can look today, so we can reach people in this late
      modern time?

      If Foursquare is only 100 years old (this year), how much more ought “evangelicalism” need to reevaluate it’s foundational DNA, and outworking in this late modern time, in order to continue to communicate (evangel) the timeless Gospel of Jesus Christ?

  2. Jennifer Vernam says:

    John, I am glad that you added the social component of how Evangelicals are seen in society today, and the difficulty of mis-appropriated labels. I can relate as a pew-warmer; I am sure the discomfort grows exponentially as you move towards the pulpit. This is even more acute, as we head into a new election season.

    The addition of the work of the Holy Spirit to the model intrigues me, and I wonder about Bebbington’s resistance to the idea. On a non-academic note, as a teacher and consultant, my mind goes to ‘practical’ matters:

    – What would the new fifth -ism be?
    – What do you call a Quadrilateral that now has 5?
    – Would your new t-shirt design now look like a pentagram, which may not play well in evangelical circles?

    Just a few thoughts.

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Jen. You have officially cracked me up. I laughed out loud, in a quiet waiting room while my wife is getting a massage in the other room – not the place for erratic outbursts!

      On a serious note, I would love for the collective US to work through some of these evangelicalism misappropriations prior to to the upcoming election. Doubtful, I know. But golly, imagine what it would be like if news outlets didn’t throw that term around as much and attach it to the outcomes. Here’s what I could visualize (work with me…): let’s say Trump gets elected again. Liberal news outlets are reporting this news with distain. Yet, unlike last time, instead of evangelicals being the [quote] reason [unquote] for this travesty, they referenced “Christian Nationalists” as the voting block that got him in again. Imagining that? I’d feel better about that scenario. You?

      • mm Russell Chun says:

        As I follow these threads, I now see how the “evangelical” is right up there with bitch and bastard.

        I seemed to have missed fall of the term (I will blame living for 30 years in an overseas bubble) . Christian Nationals….that has a rather ominous ring to it. But it sounds about right.

        As I live here longer in the states, I too am aware of the labels. My new neighbor warned me that most of the neighbors were Christian, Republican, gun owners- Beware.

        Me mentally, “Oops Guilty….”


  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    We all know the real shibboleth is the number of WWJD t-shirts you own. I bet you’ve still got a couple of them lying around, don’t you?

    Joking aside, I’m intrigued by your idea to add a fifth core evangelical concept. I hope even Bebbington would agree that the core of the gospel is our inability to reconcile ourselves to God and sanctify ourselves, and so by consequence we need the help of the Holy Spirit.

    I’m curious how you nuance the term evangelical if you’re talking to people outside the church? Do you distinguish “political” evangelicals from…I don’t even know what term to use…gospel believing evangelicals?

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Interestingly, WWJD bracelets have made a significant comeback. Our youth group, and I consider them to be pretty trendy and current, are all wearing them again.

      Hello 1980’s.

      So, also interestingly, in this book “Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be” edited by Mark A. Roll, David W. Bebbington, and George M. Marsden, they went DEEP into WHO actually voted Trump in last time, and WHO actually makes up what is commonly referred to (and often with derision) “evangelicals.” I won’t do their study justice on the fly right now, but it’s captivating to know that the term has definitely been co-opted. For the most part, that group is NOT like, and I say this humbly…US. The term evangelical is, to THEM, politically and national.

  4. mm Tim Clark says:

    Sign me up for the first round of t-shirts. Already apple-paid you.

    I so resonated with the statement “I didn’t want anyone to know I was a pastor, let alone an evangelical one.”

    I mean, as someone who likes to pick a fight sometimes I don’t mind pushing buttons… but as someone who also cares about people finding Jesus, I don’t find it’s always helpful to shut down the conversation with “I’m an evangelical pastor”.

    I’m with you personally on the “trusting in the empowering work of the Holy Spirit” but I wonder if:

    1. that is integrated into the ‘conversion’ part (we can’t be regenerated without the Holy Spirit)?

    2. If the addition would open up a can of theological worms to need to keep adding more (what about the trinity? what about sanctification? what about…?) and,

    3. If the language might create sharp divisions and distractions? (Ex: what does empowering by the Holy Spirit mean? Is it a charismatic thing?).

    At the end of the day I might agree with Bebbington that keeping the list to 4 essential things allows there to be clarity that adding more could lose.

    And besides as a foursquare guy I’m pretty happy with the symmetry. 🙂

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      For the record, you have NOT paid me. I’ve checked, my phone is on. I await your ApplePay.

      And also for the record…I agree with you regarding the nuance of the Holy Spirit embedded within the current quadrilateral. I don’t see a need for its addition to the existing four points, even though I was “sparring” with Bebbington in my post. I think it would muddle it up.

      I know that first hand…here comes a story…

      Just this week I led a workshop at our denominational leadership gathering. I taught on our “Pentecostal Ethos.” Because you (Tim) and I are in Foursquare, you will understand this more than most…even in THAT gathering of leaders there was confusion, misappropriation, and even a sense of “Hmm. OK. Whatever” in the crowd.

      How hard it is to find consensus within our very small tribe of churches, let alone the larger “evangelical” body of Christ!!!

      But here’s to trying!

  5. Jenny Dooley says:

    Thank you for your post. You have just described my confusion in returning to the US. It does seem that evangelical is defined rather narrowly and not accurately at all, and that Christians in general are all being lumped into one, not particularly flattering, category. Bebbington’s quadrilateral has been very helpful to me. I love the 5th component you mentioned, “trusting in the empowering work of the Holy Spirit.” Why isn’t it on your T-shirt? 🙂 The quadrilateral has given me a way of understanding my evangelical bent and tools for explaining what evangelicalism is and is not. It reminds me of the season in which we were pastoring an international church and for a number of years we were the only option for folks in town. My husband would often be questioned about our denominational background (being non-denominational was not always understood) and would be honest about our charismatic background…with the following caveat, “If charismatic is a good thing to you, that is what I mean. If it is a bad thing to you, that is not what I mean!”
    Explaining ourselves does get a little exhausting…I am wondering if our next book, Identity…by Francis Fukuyama has something to say about all of this.

    • mm Russell Chun says:

      I hope your prep for the designer workshop goes well.

      Thanks for the reminder, I need to look at Fukuyama.

      Living overseas for 30 years (not all of them Christian), seemed to have missed the embarrassment that US pastors had to the term “evangelical.”

      Truly pastors (and missionaries) have to wear Kevlar armor plating if they want to be in the “Army of God.”

      Small pawns like me have to take their hits too but I never grasped the impact of spiritual labels until these series of threads. Wow.

      Shalom…safe travels.

  6. Hey John! Brilliant sir! I love your choice of words that evangelicalsm has been tarnished and bastardized from its original form. WOW, I thought it was very bold that you wrote it was because of the Republican Party. Man, that really makes me think and wonder. I’ll have to buy 2 cases of beer tonight and ponder your insight as I drink every drop. Thinks for getting my mind going!😊

  7. mm Russell Chun says:


    I feel like I am in the deep end of the pool! Your thoughts are provoking and I feel “schooled.” Unlike the other swimmers in our cohort, I never had a leadership position in a church. And since I lived overseas for 30 years, I seemed to have missed the rise and fall of the evangelical term.

    As some background, my first chaplain is in prison for having sex with his adopted underaged Korean daughter.

    This taught me (As a new Christian, age 33) that pastors were sinners too. So I latched onto the verse, “For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” I then learned about spiritual warfare and it made sense to me that Satan would take out leaders in God’s Army. If pastors aren’t warned about the darts, then I put it up to poor training.

    Being a man cut from a simpler cloth I tacked on my hallmark scriptures to the Quadrilateral and counted it as good.

    • Crucicentrism (or Christocentrism) – Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” & Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” & Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
    • Conversionism – Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” & Romans 10:13: “For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”
    • Biblicism – 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
    • Activism – Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

    Bebbington Quad gives something to hang my hat on (I do like hats).

    Adam Harris mentioned the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and Rohrs (tricycle – although he is a unitarian kind of guy.

    Lots to dwell upon…..

    I am adding this as an after thought. Thoughts on the new Israeli war? Had the Jews killed those God told them to would we be in this current situation?

    Time to revisit Walker’s Holy Violence?


  8. Adam Harris says:

    Ha, Yes! those shirts are amazing! I love this posts. I think it resonates with a lot of us who also do not want to be associated with what we feel is counter to the heart of our faith. Bebbington and Oxford has honestly been refreshing to know that the four characteristics of Evangelicalism has and can be expressed differently. Like you, I feel I can push my cap a littler higher.

  9. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    What a complicated t-shirt:). you could really take Bebbington further and charge $100 and make sure only those with power can buy it:). True consumerism:)

    Lowering your pastoral hat I can relate with. I have to do that almost automatically as a “chaplain” entering a room because I’m never sure who I represent to them based off of my job title. I’m interested in hearing a bit more about the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit but I’ve also seen it used so manipulatively. How can the church move forward embracing this as #5? I know your church tradition has embraced the Holy Spirit a lot, how do you keep it honest and pure? Just curious:). No judgement. I know my voice sounds critical at times, but I mean it as a way to speak back into the church but want you to know it’s out of love. When I don’t bother anymore is when I’ve given up:)

    • mm John Fehlen says:

      Great question…btw…I never receive judgement from you Jana. And you’ve expressed a really important thing, that I resonate with: “when I don’t bother anymore is when I’ve given up.” It’s been said that the opposite of love is NOT hate, it is indifference.

      So, Holy Spirit….big subject…but quickly…I wouldn’t add a #5 to the list…I would allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to undergird/support the other four. That allows each group/faith tradition/etc to not get bogged down on the particulars (ie: arguments) regarding the Spirit.

      Remind me at some point to send you my notes on a workshop I just led denominationally on “Pentecostal Ethos” – it may be helpful for you to see how we see ourselves (Foursquare) within the larger scope of pentecostalism.

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