When is an evangelical not an evangelical? When he’s an evanjellyfish or an evanjellybean! In all honesty, it’s not the nicest thing you can call someone, but it’s still Christianese and so it’s going into the Dictionary. These terms such as evanjelly, evanjellyfish, evanjellybean, and their many subtle variations don’t show up in printed books very frequently. Partly it’s because they’re somewhat recent Christianese terms with most of them less than a decade old. Partly it’s because these are somewhat derogatory terms and book authors are usually pretty good about being polite when they know that their words are going to be mass-produced and shipped to bookstores all over the country.
Somehow, however, I was able to find lots of people using these derogatory terms on the Internet… I guess people forget that once something is on the Internet then it’s basically there forever!
I did manage to find some citations in printed books (one citation is from 1967!), but for the most part I cited quotations of actual usage of these terms on blogs and in message forums. These quotations from the World Wide Web reveal that these terms are used by Christians to refer to evangelicals generally or to certain kinds of evangelicals that are felt to be too wishy-washy in their theology or too eager to compromise and conform with the world.
With this in mind, we’re able to pinpoint the main users of the evanjelly, evanjellyfish, and evanjellybean terms: mainline Christians and the various elements of the “reformed” community. Folks in these denominations have longer ecclesiastical traditions, with many of these denominations tracing their theology and doctrines and practices back to important historical synods and creeds and even back to Martin Luther himself. By comparison, the evangelical movement (at least in the United States) started picking up steam only as recently as the 1940s and 1950s. So it’s not hard to see how some of the older Protestant groups might still think of evangelicalism as a little wobbly on its feet and struggling to find its place among the more established Protestant denominations and movements.
So that’s the history side of things. On the linguistic and etymology side, these terms are truly fascinating. What all these expressions have in common is a pun on the word evangelical and a wordplay with jelly, jellyfish, or jellybean. It’s not hard to see the appeal of these punning wordplays. The middle syllable of evangelical sounds like “gel” or “jelly,” and if you happen to be of the opinion that evangelicals are not very stable or solid in their theology and that they too easily conform to the world around them, then this pun on jellies and gels is too good to pass up (even if the pun has a bit of a sharp edge to it).
So bear in mind that most evangelicals will not take kindly to being referred to by any of these terms. (No surprise there!)
Jesus prayed that the church would be a unified whole, and for the most part Christians do agree on the big things, like the fact that Jesus is God and that there’s a Trinity. When different Christian groups discuss the areas where they differ, then sometimes derogatory terms get thrown out, like the ones we’re looking at today, and other somewhat humorous ones, such as charisma-tick, which is an unflattering nickname for a “charismatic” Christian.
Perhaps by shining a light on these terms through this Dictionary, we’ll come to realize the areas that we as a church can grow in using our words to be constructive and destructive. Well, we can hope!
Do you know any other “jelly” expressions for evangelicals? I think I’ve found them all, but there might be one from your part of the world that I haven’t heard of yet. Please post in the comments if you have suggestions for additional “jelly” terms to include in the Dictionary.
And if you think that these terms are interesting, you might want to check out these equally interesting blended denomination names (such as fundagelical for “fundamentalist evangelicals” and bapticostal for “baptist Pentecostals”)!
¹evanjelly adj. [Pun on evangelical and jelly, since jelly lacks firmness and takes the shape of whatever container it happens to be in] A derogatory term that is meant to imply that the person or thing being described lacks theological firmness or soundness and has been severely influenced by worldly ideas such as humanism, relativism, and postmodernism.
See additional information at *evanjellyfish.
• 2004 puritanboard.com (31 Dec.) : Sometimes we just have to read Evanjelly fluff. That way when we rightly ridicule [Rick] Warren and Co., we can counter the objection that we haven’t read him. 2009 bbc.co.uk/blogs (5 Oct.) : It’s the evanjelly sub-culture in its entirety which is doing my head in. And let’s get this straight, Ikon and the like, whatever anyone says, are evangelical. 2010 blogs.courant.com (7 Sep.) : [The] Emergent Church [is] associated with [Brian] McLaren’s views. I suppose McLaren is the Father of what some cynics call the “evanjelly” movement which tries to convert people to Jesus rather than convert to a religion and looks for common points rather than pushing any single theological Truth beside Jesus.
²evanjelly n. Also evangelly. [Pun on evangelical and jelly; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *evanjellyfish.
• 2004 democraticunderground.com (11 Dec.) : The Church of England may be having a hard time filling the pews, but there are plenty of other Christian churches in England. So the Church of England is worried about being disestablished? Not having official government backing sure hasn’t hurt the churches in the US, or the evangellies in Britain, for that matter. 2005 melethiel.blogspot.com (31 Aug.) : If the evanjellies are being persecuted, they deserve it. 2006 kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com (9 Oct.) : Let us read deeply from the very best works of the truly great and most thoughtful of Christian scholars—as these authors did (Lewis and Schaeffer), and still do (Packer and Piper)—and steep ourselves all the more deeply in Holy Scripture. Let the evanjellies keep their top-50, profit-driven, “Christian Booksellers Association” bestseller lists! 2009 reclaimingthemind.org (29 Oct.) : Not that some people on this blog argue for it, but because there is a significant subset of evangelicals and fundamentalists (evanjellies and fundies?) who do. 2011 dialogueireland.wordpress.com (13 Dec.) : What we have now are not Evangelicals but Evangellies.
evanjellyfish n. Also evangellyfish. [Pun on evangelical and jellyfish, because jellyfish are invertebrates and by extension evanjellyfish are alleged to be spiritually “spineless” and “without backbone”] A derogatory term for an evangelical who is alleged to be lacking theological firmness or soundness and whose faith or theology has been severely influenced by worldly ideas such as humanism, relativism, and postmodernism.
Ken Hutcherson, a pastor in Washington State, frequently uses the term evangelly-fish in his books, sermons, and interviews (see citations for 1998, 2005a, 2005b), but the term’s appearance in print as early as 1967 (when Hutcherson was 15 years old) suggests that Hutcherson did not coin the term.
There are several puns on evangelical and evangelicalism that employ allusions to jelly, jelly beans, or jellyfish: *evanjelly; *evanjellybean; *evanjellybeanical; *evanjellybeanicalism; *evanjellybeanism; *evanjellycal; *evanjellycalism; *evanjellyfish; *evanjellyfishism; *evanjelly goo. (By way of comparison, the term *gellie seems to be simply an abbreviation of evangelical without any figurative allusion to “jelly” or “jellyfish.”)
See also *jelly-fish Christianity; *marshmallow Christian; *spongey Baptist.
• 1967 The Reformation Rev. vols. 15–16 169 : We call them “evan-jellyfish” because they have no backbone to stand for God. 1988 Thomas Saving Life of Christ 25 : This is the gospel! To preach anything less than this must inevitably produce “Evan-jellyfish”—folk with no spiritual vertebrae, whose faith does not “behave”! 1988 Tillapaugh Unleashing Your Potential: Discovering Your God-Given Opportunities for Ministry 121 : I once heard a speaker refer to evangelicals as “evan-jellyfish.” His point being, we often don’t have the courage to risk because we’re too afraid of what we might lose. 1998 Hutcherson Here Comes the Bride: The Church 102 : The world has had enough and more than enough of wishy-washy, namby-pamby, hand-wringing Christianity. Those days are over! Are we evangelicals or evanjellyfish, with no spiritual vertebrae? 2003 daveblackonline.com (15 Dec.) : Many people believe that Evanjellyfish Christianity is rapidly displacing what has been popularly called evangelical Christianity in the United States and Britain…. For the evanjellyfish Christian, acceptance and respectability are more important than truth. 2004 predestinarian.net (23 Jan.) : He is showing a level of discerning truth that has little or no respect in the evanjellyfish mentality of today. Churchianity has strayed so far from the Reformation that it has no idea of what the issues of soteriology even are. 2004 puritanboard.com (31 Dec.) : Often evangelly fish don’t know a lot about the authors their pastors supposedly endorse. 2005 seattlepi.com (1 May) : Hutcherson said Christians who disagreed with him were “evangelly-fish” because they lacked a “spiritual backbone.” When people find out what the Bible really says, he said, “they start a new denomination because (they) want God to fit them, instead of them fitting God.” 2005 Grevstad Red State, Blue State: Defending the Liberal Jesus and Blue State Morality from Red State Religion and Hypocrisy 125 : He [=Hutcherson] continues by calling people who say they are Christians but do not agree with him “evangelly-fish” because they lack a “spiritual backbone.” This is a brilliant, evangelical metaphor. Get it … jellyfish don’t have any bones. 2006 Lee Adventures with God 111 : Most in the audience were appreciative Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian Reformed, Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia…. Yet Anglicans and Uniting Church Members as well as Evanjellyfish and “Charismatics” and Pentecostalists too were all very conspicuous—by their very absence! 2006 urbandictionary.com (6 Nov.) : [The word] Evangelical describes Christians who try to uphold the tenets of the Protestant Reformation, but without all that courage, conviction, and critical-thinking baggage that got their 16th and 17th century forefathers burned at the stake. Also known as “Evan-jelly-fish” due to apparent lack of brain and spine. 2007 graceinthetriad.blogspot.com (5 Jun.) : Put simply, our evangellyfish church culture has no taste for verse-by-verse teaching anymore because it’s used to ear-tickling entertainment and post-modern, relativistic conceptions of truth that have numbed it to the life-changing propositional truths contained in Scripture. 2008 dailypaul.com (29 Jan.) : As long as you buy into the mushy, evangellyfish form of Christianity, you are considered passive and are left alone. Their doctrine however, is just glorified humanism. 2008 puritanbelief.blogspot.com/ (7 Aug.) : The Evangellyfish is known to be a fish with no backbone. He stands for nothing and falls for everything. The Evangellyfish is sort of a jellyfish or a cross between a fish and a mammal. 2009 beliefnet.com (21 Oct.) : As for “fundagelical,” is that the opposite of “evangellyfish”? 2010 Christiansen The Way of Wisdom 134 : When it comes to answering fools with sharp rods, as a result of their folly, I believe the average evanjellyfish is spineless. It seems we have become more concerned with being politically correct than with being biblically correct. 2010 firstthings.com (25 Mar.) : You might consider me an evan-jelly-fish. I grew up in a charismatic Lutheran mega-church. Think multi-campus buildings that house over 5,000 members where Vineyard revivalism meets ELCA liturgy. 2011 “Why I Am No Longer an Evanjellyfish” (blog post) paddlingupcreek.wordpress.com (11 May) 2012 Wilson Evangellyfish [title]
evangellyfish n. See *evanjellyfish.
evanjellyfishism n. [Pun on evangelicalism and jellyfish; see *¹evanjelly] A derogatory nickname for evangelicalism, alleging that evangelicals lack theological firmness or soundness and that by and large their faith and theology have been severely influenced by worldly ideas such as humanism, relativism, and postmodernism.
See additional information at *evanjellyfish.
• 2003 predestinarian.net (31 Aug.) : Evanjellyfishism will deny this interpretation and go to great lengths to try and prove that “eternal sin” is not eternal sin and that only a few commit it. 2003 daveblackonline.com (15 Dec.) : There appear to be five important principles or theological points common to modern evanjellyfishism…. The politically correct environment of the college campus has become a significant training ground for enforcing the unthinking conformity absolutely essential to evanjellyfishism. 2004 groups.yahoo.com (11 Nov.) : Modern “Protestantism”—via Lutheranism and Evanjellyfishism—is slipping back toward Romanism. 2006 sermonaudio.com (19 Nov.) : Evanjellyfishism says that Christians are to tread water and wait for Jesus to come back and rescue them. The Bible commands Christians to subdue the earth for Christ the King, and promises victory in human history! 2007 micah.typepad.com (8 Dec.) : I take no comfort in the god of open theism or wishy-washy American evanjellyfishism who sits around observing the events of our daily lives and just really hoping that we get it right. 2009 fishersofmen.forumotion.com (10 Mar.) : The responsibility lies squarely in the lap of the American Church, which has forsaken the gospel for evanjellyfishism and “churchianity.” 2012 beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com (21 Jun.) : I wonder what kind of missionary, and for how long and what church he was a part of; and what mission field he was on. With the state of “Evan-jelly-fish-ism” today, that may not be much; but it is still distressing. 2012 souljournaler.blogspot.com (25 Aug.) : Frankly, I am tired of the evanjellyfishism and seeker-sensitive approach to ministry. It’s literally killing the Church from the inside-out. Instead of being fortified by the Word we are becoming devoid of substance.
evanjellybean n. Also evangellybean. [Pun on evangelical and jelly bean; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *evanjellyfish.
• 2005 phillipjohnson.blogspot.com (8 Sep.) : This wouldn’t be a problem if evanjellybeans had any grounding in their own theology and doctrine. 2005 englishmusings.blogspot.com (22 Sep.) : I couldn’t think of a better illustration of the shallow, trite, cheap, unsatisfying version of The Faith offered by the post-modern, emergent, purpose-driven church…. And so, the Evanjellybean was born. 2007 bibchr.blogspot.com (15 May) : Evangelical now means whatever I want it to mean. How very postmodern. Evanjellybean works much better. 2008 dynamiccalvinist.blogspot.com (19 Jul.) : I’d been wondering for a while where the amusing but incisive titles “evanjellyfish,” “evanjellycal” and “evanjellybean” came from. Heard the terms? If not, this blog post may enlighten you as to the meaning of “evanjellybean” at least, though I tend to assume that the other titles mean basically the same thing. The emphasis, I think, is on the jelly bit—soft, sweet and wobbly! 2008 teampyro.blogspot.com (9 Sep.) : “I feel led of God to…” is evangellybean speak. It is properly translated into English as “I want to… ,” “I’d like to… ,” “I’ve decided to… ,” or “I’m going to…” 2008 sermonindex.net (27 Dec.) : It is people like James White who earnestly contend for the faith once for all handed down that protect the thread of Biblical Truths which the superficial evangellybean culture casts aside in exchange for light and fluffy cotton candy doctrine. 2010 theo-geek.blogspot.com (19 Feb.) : Many of us truly desire to live for Christ, and while we may be quite sweet, there’s no denying that we’ve gotten soft. Hence the term “Evan-jellybean”—and no; I did not make that up. 2011 Phillips The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight 288 : Evanjellybeans tacitly accept the world’s value hierarchy. Without saying so, they agree that the “best life” consists of such things as the world seeks.
evangellybean n. See *evanjellybean.
¹evanjellybeanical adj. [Pun on evangelical and jelly bean; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *¹evanjelly.
• 2008 teampyro.blogspot.com (11 Mar.) : Wouldn’t conventional, seeker-sensitive evanjellybeanical sentiment dictate that we meet him right where he is, unconditionally, if it is in our power to do so? 2009 brandonacox.com (18 May) : The point of ministries such as this one is to assist people with their empty hearts as well as their empty stomachs. The evan-jellybean-ical church loves to exalt community outreach and missional ministry, but without a clear and consistent Gospel message, they are (as you say) paving the road to Hell with full stomachs. 2009 teampyro.blogspot.com (19 May) : It seems to me there is another evanjellybeanical way of dealing with men which is the hyper-masculine, go out in the woods and beat a drum sillyness. This is the way I read Wild at Heart.
²evanjellybeanical n. [Pun on evangelical and jelly bean; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *evanjellyfish.
• 2009 teampyro.blogspot.com (19 May) : At the other edge are those evanjellybeanicals who are working hard to turn men into women.
evanjellybeanicalism n. [Pun on evangelicalism and jelly bean; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *evanjellyfishism.
• 2008 bibchr.blogspot.com (13 Oct.) : Regular readers know that my own thoughts on forgiveness don’t mirror lockstep evanjellybeanicalism. 2013 teampyro.blogspot.com (22 Jan.) : A ministry of denunciation is no less unbalanced than a ministry of marshmallow evanjellybeanicalism. Both fail God and God’s people.
evanjellybeanism n. [Pun on evangelicalism and jelly bean; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *evanjellyfishism.
• 2006 englishmusings.blogspot.com (26 Feb.) : The UK really is a bastion of all that is hand-wringing, desperate and wimpy about modern evanjellybeanism. 2008 herewestand.wordpress.com (12 Aug.) : There is a level of accountability and by all appearances, those men present a united front within evangelicalism (though lately evanjellybeanism would be the more appropriate term). 2009 astudent.wordpress.com (24 Apr.) : The conclusions about soteriology which Calvin and the reformers came to was arrived at through exegesis and harmonization of the Bible as a whole rather than the selective citing and out of context superficial humanistic interpretation that is so prevelant in evanjellybeanism today. 2012 joytothewhirled.blogspot.com (11 Feb.) : Much is made, in modern evanjellybeanism, of how special we each are, how God has a special plan for your life, the L’Or ©al gospel—because you’re worth it. Now I don’t mean to do make light of the fact that Christians are chosen by an awesome God, but it’s all so very me centred instead of Christ-centred.
¹evanjellycal adj. [Pun on evangelical; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *¹evanjelly.
• 2005 theologyweb.com (30 Jan.) : I’m not 100% convinced that Arminianism is works based. At least the more popular confused evan-jelly-cal variety. 2005 vantiltool.blogspot.com (10 Oct.) : The book’s topic is a timely one because the nice-guy syndrome has proliferated to such an extent and to such a degree that the virile robustness once associated with evangelical manhood has now been vitiated into a bland spinelessness which could be aptly designated as evanjellycal, which is more appropriate than Francis Nigel Lee’s term “evanjellyfish”, because at least the jellyfish has a sting! 2006 how2fish.blogspot.com (5 Sep.) : You have to wonder why. Could it be that functionally speaking, most Evanjellycal Protestants are Roman Catholic? Could it be that the man-centered preaching and teaching has been taking its toll? 2007 washingtonmonthly.com (9 Nov.) : I used to be a big supporter of NPR, but I stopped giving when my local station started broadcasting the evangellycal homophobic anti-immigrant program “Weekend America” instead of Cartalk. 2008 missioninaction.org.au (20 Feb.) : He told me of two churches in a small UK town. One was a conservative evangelical church replete with a good teaching ministry, while the other was what is often called “evan-jelly-cal” bordering on what many would call liberal. 2012 Urick Christian Discipleship and the Local Church 229 : Is it any wonder the modern evanjellycal church is impotent against the growing homosexual movement in America?
²evanjellycal n. [Pun on evangelical; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *evanjellyfish.
• 2001 the-highway.com (23 Jan.) : Today’s “evan-jelly-cals” have so distorted the truth, depth and affect of God’s love that it has become nothing more than a weak emotional expression of the Deity that in the end accomplishes nothing. 2006 boards.ie (11 Apr.) : I’ve often had strong intimations of corruption and slime about many of the major evangellycals and charismatic leaders. 2008 moriah.com.au (24 Dec.) : evan-jelly-cal: noun, A spineless and jelly-like practitioner of evan-jelly-calism; one who lacks the intestinal and spiritual fortitude to separate himself or herself from the world and its godless traditions; one who delights in worldly accolades, praises and favour. 2010 endrtimes.blogspot.com (28 Jun.) : Why not join one of those alphabet soup, once called Protestant churches, now-called “evan-jelly-cals”? They shape-shift with the passing of time. 2012 chiefoftheleast.com (9 Feb.) : I’m not sure I understand you when you say Protestants are more embarassed about Christ than Catholics. Maybe some modern evan-“jelly”-cals are (Osteen, Warren), but the Protestant voices I actually read and listen to are as bold about the person and work of Christ as anyone I know. 2012 godshammer.wordpress.com (17 May) : I think modern “evangelicals” are best called “evanjellycals”. An evanjellycal is devolved from Evangelicalism and like a jellyfish floats whichever way the next wind of doctrine blows him.
evanjellycalism adj. [Pun on evangelicalism; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *evanjellyfishism.
• 2008 moriah.com.au (24 Dec.) : evan-jelly-calism: noun, Pertaining to jelly; taking any form, melting under heat, impossible to nail down, embracing anything, great for potlucks, always leaving a fruity aftertaste, user friendly and very popular. 2009 Giles If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going 177 : Parents, if metrosexual pop culture, feminized public schools, and the effeminate branches of “evanjellycalism” lay their sissy hands on him, you can kiss your son’s masculinity good-bye. 2012 zionica.com (23 Sep.) : Effects are visible here and all over the place in the land of evan-jelly-calism.
¹evanjelly goo adj. Also evan-jelly-goo. [Pun on evangelical and goo, since goo lacks firmness and takes the shape of whatever container it happens to be in; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *¹evanjelly.
• 1996 Chalcedon Report iss. 366–377 13 : Why not have good composers write music using good texts, to serve noble ends? Where are the men and women writing music that is full-bodied, has compositional merit, is orthodox in its use of Scriptural texts, and could be used as a foil to wean most evangelicals, and Roman Catholics, off the dregs that glut the “evanjelly-goo” music market? 2007 midwestoutreach.org (23 Aug.) : You castigate patriarchy, and then assume modern evan-jelly-goo culture is normative? Please, spare me your myopia!
²evanjelly goo n. Also evan-jelly-goo. [Pun on evangelical and goo, since goo lacks firmness; see *¹evanjelly] Syn *evanjellyfish.
• 2006 spiritwaterblood.com (21 Aug.) : Be truthful to the Historical Church of the Apostles, and not “playing church” like most of the Evan-jelly-goos I meet: who say they “follow Christ.”