Multiple Approaches to Understanding Evangelical Christianity

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In America today, there seems to be so much uncertainty about Evangelical Christianity. Who are Evangelical Christians exactly, and what do they believe in? How are these beliefs changing?

What better place to start than the most fundamental of these questions – what is Evangelical Christianity? There is, in reality, not one definite answer to this, although it is related to some essential characteristics.

A historical point of view would present four major qualities an Evangelical Christian would possess:

> Biblicism (asserts that all spiritual truths are found in the Bible);

> Crucicentrism (centers on the atoning work of Christ on the cross);

> Conversionism (emphasizes the requirement for humans to be converted); and

> Activism (avers that the gospel should be conveyed through effort).

From a sociological perspective, Evangelical Christianity may be described as Evangelical denominations that have sought to be more separated from the greater culture, focused on missionary activity yet individual conversion, and showed strict adherence to certain religious principles.

As generally used, Evangelical Christianity refers purely to Protestants, even as there is no reason for the overall definition of Evangelicalism not to hold for Catholics too.

We come to the tricky part: how is Evangelical Christianity to be measured? That is, how do we separate Evangelical Christians from those who aren’t?

The most widely used technique is looking at religious affiliation and defining Evangelical Christianity from a denominational viewpoint. Therefore, anyone who belongs to an “Evangelical” Protestant denomination is an Evangelical himself. But there are various ways to do this.

One affiliation-based approach splits Protestants into three groups according to tradition: Evangelical, Mainline, and Historically Black. Evangelicals are theologically as well as socially purist, Mainlines are more permissive both theologically and socially, while Historically Blacks are a crossbreed – theologically purist but socially permissive.

Another common approach based on affiliation, however, pertains to “conservative” Protestants and segregates them from “moderate” and “liberal” Protestants. Conservative Protestants are then split into various groups, such as the evangelicals, charismatics and fundamentalists.

To make things even more confusing, journalists and other persons engaged in public discourse (including scholars) replace the term, evangelical/conservative Protestant, with other terms as though they were synonyms – for example, “born-again,” “religious right,” and “fundamentalist.” Others, however, provide a more specific meaning for each of these terms.

A second overall approach by some scholars revolves around identity. For them, an Evangelical Christian is anyone who says he is. But as mentioned earlier, a lot of people who are involved in Evangelical churches associate themselves with other labels, like “non-denominational Christian” or “born-again Christian.”

Lastly, a third general approach for identifying Evangelical Christians using theological questions, was created by a popular marketing firm. The process begins with two, which will be used to identify born-again Christians. Then, for born-again Christians, seven more theology questions will be asked to distinguish who are Evangelical Christians.

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