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A progressive friend of mine asked me recently what it means to me that I’m labeled as a conservative evangelical. With slight tongue-in-cheek, he especially wanted to know how I could stand being associated with the conservatives he has met over the years.

To answer that question, let me briefly retrace how God has worked in my life. My Reformed roots have taught me, of course, that the Lord was at work long before I ever knew anything about it, but I became most fully conscious of God’s presence and power when Jesus came into my heart at summer camp on June 19, 1970. I was 14. 

I struggled at first with self-doubt because I didn’t feel any different after that camp, so I wondered if I got “saved” in the right way. But after confiding in an adult leader about this, he read Revelation 3:20 to me, which spoke directly to my heart and forever settled the matter. I learned two things at once: God’s Word is alive and active in speaking to me, and faith is more about Jesus’ faithfulness than about the quality or quantity of my belief at any given moment.

I soon got involved in a Christian coffeehouse run by a Pentecostal church, which was all caught up in the Jesus movement in the early 70s. This was not a coffeehouse with a laid-back atmosphere. Every night was devoted to different faith-building activities — prayer meetings, guitar-driven praise songs, street witnessing, Bible study, apologetics classes, and fellowship. This carried over into my high school too, where we had a student-led prayer meeting every morning in the library. Through this hippified movement of God, my faith in Jesus was growing rapidly. 

If you had asked me whether I was a conservative or a liberal Christian back then, I would have been puzzled. In my mind, conservatives were those church-goers who acted like the Jesus-rejecting Pharisees, playing the game of appearing moral, but missing out on what God was doing. There was nothing counter-cultural about those folks. And I viewed liberal believers as even worse, for although they pretended to be Christians, they didn’t even believe the Bible. Harsh, sweeping judgments, I know, but I was only a 16-year-old. I wasn’t interested in being a conservative Christian or a liberal one. Rather, I aimed to live up to the label applied to us by our fellow-students: a Jesus freak. It was given to us as an insult, but we wore it as a badge of honor. 

Looking back I realize that my Jesus freak faith was shaped by Scripture, but viewed through two different lens. On the one hand, it was shaped by what I learned to call evangelicalism, mixed in with a good dose of the charismatic movement. We talked about being born again, asking Jesus into our heart, having a personal relationship with Christ, testimonies, the inerrant Bible, the baptism of the Spirit, miracles of healing, speaking in tongues, the rapture and reaching the world for Jesus. 

On the other hand, my perspectives on biblical interpretation were also shaped by the countercultural movement of the time. Perhaps the hippies were well-known for recreational drug usage and free love, but those weren’t the characteristics which Jesus freaks adopted. Instead, we saw other aspects of the counter-culture corresponding to the biblical way of Jesus: love and justice for all races, a push for peace instead of war, caring for the environment, a preference for spontaneity over traditional religious rituals, support for the equality of women, simple living instead of materialism, a distaste for patriotic jingoism which had so often been used to persecute Christians, a focus on freedom over legalism, a concern for the hungry, the homeless and refugees — and, of course, worship music that could rock and roll. Secular hippies were notoriously unable to live up to these ideals, but I believed these ideals were to be characteristic of the disciples of Jesus. That’s why I subscribed to Jesus freak periodicals like Right On and Post-American (which later became Sojourners). 

I’m aware that many Christians rebel against their earlier versions of faith. Pentecostals learn to appreciate ritual. Rationalists become emotional charismatics. Liberals join the neo-conservative movement. Legalists transform into progressives. I didn’t experience an about-face. Although I’ve learned to nuance most of what I learned as a young believer, I still regard myself as a Jesus freak (even in my retirement years). I ended up becoming a pastor in my home denomination and worked extra hard to avoid having my faith institutionalized by the institutional church.

I’m probably regarded as a conservative evangelical for four basic reasons: (1) I have a born-again testimony; (2) due to my experience of God’s Word transforming me and the teaching of the Bible itself, I hold to a very high view of Scripture; (3) the language of evangelicalism is my heart language; and (4) I agree with conservatives on the two hottest social and political issues of the last 40 years (abortion and same-sex behavior).

But if someone needs to call me conservative at all, I prefer to be thought of as a Jesus-freak conservative. I don’t fit well with many other brands of conservative, such as the dogmatic Reformational conservative, the liturgical conservative, the traditionalist conservative, the law-and-order conservative, the economic conservative, or the Republican conservative. 

Some might even think my social and political leanings sound like woke-ism. All I can say is that as a Jesus freak, I’m always eager to hear God say, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). I hold to my social and political leanings not “in spite of” my conservative evangelical convictions, but precisely “because of” my conservative evangelical convictions. From my perspective, they are based on the living, active Word of God and shape the way I debate, vote, handle money, and recycle.

I am baffled by my conservative friends who are skeptical of the human impact on the world’s climate, want to keep out refugees, don’t want students learning about the role of Blacks in American history, or are enamored by the trumpery of our previous president — to name a few hot topics. 

But even though my politics often are not in line with my conservative evangelical friends, I still hang with them because we love each other, we are like-minded on so many matters of faith, and we speak the same “native tongue.” I have learned other dialects of the Christian faith, but evangelicalism remains my heart language.

I wonder sometimes, however, whether my Jesus-freak dialect is disappearing. In some circles the evangelical vocabulary is increasingly dominated by terms borrowed from the corporate world of casting visions and setting goals. Other evangelicals have been drawn to more psycho-babble versions of the faith. And for an increasingly large number of evangelicals, I fear their worldview is being shaped by Fox News more than Jesus. 

So if you must operate by labels, count me in with the evangelical conservatives, but my own prayer is not that God would raise up more conservatives, but that he would raise up a new generation of counter-cultural Jesus freaks—and resurrect the old ones.

David Landegent

David Landegent is a retired pastor in the Reformed Church in America, now living with his wife Ruth in Oregon. He spends his time carting grandkids and writing books on biblical studies (Colossians, 1 Peter, and Christmas) and renewed lyrics for classic rock songs. For the past 39 years he has been a weekly contributor of discussion questions to The Sunday School Guide, and its editor for the past 21 years.


  • Thank you. Your writing is most interesting. I struggle with such labels as “Conservative” or “Liberal.” One group of my friends have me labeled as a Conservative and another has me pegged as a Liberal. What am I? I guess I’m just a Christian.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Thank you for sharing your faith journey, David.
    Was it you or a relative that was on the staff at Willow many years ago?
    Being a follower of the biblical Jesus is truly hard to define. “Abide in me as I abide in you; and bear much fruit.”

    • David Landegent says:

      It was my brother Dale. I don’t know what prompted you to talk about abiding in Jesus and fruit-bearing from John 15, but that’s been a focal point for me my whole life.

      • John Kleinheksel says:

        Thank you Dave,
        I knew he had a brother in the ministry.
        His was not a happy time there.
        I was working in “Community Care” until it was discerned that I was not a good fit. I’m a “connectional” guy (RCA) and Bill and his gang were “do it yourself,” no need for ecumenicity.
        Is Dale doing OK? Give him my greetings.
        You and I share a similar background and perspective. It’s not easy being an “evangelical” these days. “Orange” is no longer the color of the Dutch. There is an interloper sneaking into the garden. Peace to you, John

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    Sounds like you would like the movie “Jesus Revolution” starring Kelsey Gramer as Pastor Chuch Smith of Calvary Chapel. It was a good version of the Jesus Freak movement although it left out some of the later controversy. I too joined the church in the early 70s in California (Berkeley) so I could relate to some of it. I would not describe myself as evangelical today but I can relate to those who remain in that camp or tent.

  • Steve Wykstra says:

    Dude, thanks! Right on!
    In ’67, I thumbed from Martin Michigan to East Village New York to seek God (= This is IT” = “Atman and Brahman are One” = I and the Father are One” etc etc) with those at the League for Spiritual Discovery. .
    Didn’t find IT. (Disappointed,) Didn’t find any free love either. (Ditto)
    Hitchhiking back, a jock gave me a short ride around Constantine Michigan, and gave me his testimony,
    It was night., I knelt by the road, prayed for real (Didn’t just meditate.)
    “God, if you’re real, I’ve gone a wrong direction. I’ve hurt myself, hurt my brain.
    Please take me back, help me. Show me who Jesus really was.”

    On that late night road north of Constantine, a guy pulled over.
    I got in. I knew him. Leroy. Leroy Peak.
    He’d been in class in junior high at Martin Public.
    A first step of help, on that long road home.

    Thanks again.

  • Lena says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure it resonated with many folks like it did for me. I’m glad to see that there are still conservative Evangelicals in the RCA. Evangelicals get a bad rap in secular media as well as from liberal Christians. No matter their faults, Evangelical Christians still teach/preach from their pulpits that Jesus died on the cross the death we deserve to save us from our sin. The heart of Christisnity is preserved. Liberal Christians tend to elevate other things (like creation care, inequality) above the main thing. Our forefathers in the Reformed traditions would be considered Conservative Evangelical Christians who taught us well about Christian faith for which I am grateful. What emphasis will the Reformed denominations follow today?

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