I have been hanging around Internet Monk for about thirteen years now, and writing for it for almost as long.
This has been a journey for me, and part of the at journey has been a movement away from Evangelicalism. Like many of our readers, it has been a journey into a “Post-Evangelical Wilderness.”
There is, I realize, a difference between being evangelical (the witness) and being Evangelical (the movement), and it is the latter that I want to discuss.
In a future post I would like to detail how in some senses I am no longer an Evangelical, but in other ways I still am. What I would like to discuss today, is how do we define the term Evangelical? Most of the definitions I have read are wholly unsatisfactory.
What are the traits of an Evangelical? How is it differentiated from the term Christian? If you were drawing a series of Venn diagrams, what intersection would you see? What beliefs would put you outside Evangelicalism but still leave you inside Christianity? Are there certain beliefs that maybe don’t define Evangelical, but if you are outside on enough of them you won’t feel comfortable inside an Evangelical church? Are there practices that most or all Evangelicals have in common?
Give me as much as you can. Think as widely as you can. Challenge or affirm each other’s statements as much as you can. I really want to flesh out the term Evangelical here.
There are some guidelines that I want to put into place.
1. No bashing of Evangelicals or their beliefs or practices. This is to be a learning exercise for me and for anyone else reading this.
2. No snark or sarcasm. If you have a point to make, make it clearly and plainly.
3. Avoid going down political rabbit holes. Again, if you think there is a political connection you can make it, but keep to the topic please.
I will be following up in another post by coalescing your comments and discussing how I fit or no longer fit the mold.
I am very much looking forward to your comments.
185 thoughts on “What is an Evangelical?”
Dozens. Maybe hundreds.
‘evangelical’ brings to mind a group that is at least 80% infected with trumpism – so the term has been co-opted in service to trump
we Christians were saved oh about two thousand years ago 🙂
I’ve thought about this, and I don’t think the word ‘inerrant’ was originally brought forth for the best of reasons. I recall a time when in the SBC, there was a revolt against ‘liberals’ and a ‘takeover’ by fundamentalists and when the takeover was completed, the Baptist Faith & Message document was changed so that Christ was no longer ‘the lens’ through which people were to interpret the bible . . . . and boy, howdy did we get some strange stuff showing up after that happened, including the adaptation of ‘inerrantism’ . . . .
If my comment sounded ‘out of line’, perhaps I should have gone into the ‘details’ of why I prefer ‘sacred’ to ‘inerrant’,
but the details are far worse than what I did offer, which was praise of WHY people should be happy that so many tried to see that the sacred Scriptures were passed down and carefully copied in those long centuries before there was a printing press.
The ‘other’? The bad stuff? I didn’t post that as it is a very grim story but if you would like, I can refer you to articles about ‘the hostile takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention’ by Pressler and Patterson long ago. And I can refer you to how the BF&Message was changed as a result.
Not a pretty story, no. Much pitiful treatment of women ensued and it came to a time when Patterson was put out of power for misogyny that was ‘too obvious’.
It might have been better to let Jesus Christ be the ‘lens’ through which the sacred Scriptures were to be interpreted because the SBC didn’t do so well after that was changed.
Inerrant? Perhaps I only speak of how the term has been mis-used. But it is now associated with that mis-use in my mind. Feel free to disagree with me. But the term did NOT serve the evangelical community in good stead in Patterson’s day, no.
Mike, here is a thought I’ve recently had (like in the last 24 hours). I am not sure evangelicalism is built to last long, primarily because it is based so much on the contemporary, on the now. We all know Michael’s “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” that made the circles. I don’t know if I would say evangelicalism will fully collapse – and I still recognize myself as evangelical, in that I believe in the evangel and want to proclaim the evangel. But I just don’t think evangelicalism as a movement is build to last long.
Like so much modern-day architecture (IKEA furniture as well?). It’s all pretty, modern, sleek, creative-looking, etc. But it seems to be more of a veneer. And I suspect many of these modern-day built homes and edifices will be in shambles in 50-70 years time – because they were built for now, rather than for the long term.
Will the evangelical church truly be in shambles at some point? It’s on its way.
The PLAIN READING and PLAIN MEANING of SCRIPTURE(TM).
One guy who worked Army Intel in Iraq spoke of the Islamic version of the same phenomenon. How no matter how educated and “westernized” the locals would seem, there was a point beyond which you could not go. If you did, “The wall in their minds would slam down” and there would only be :”IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!”
The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.
Mike, is there an equivalent to the Tea Party in Canada among evangelicals–a significant evangelical population that would vote for things “conservative” like anti-immigration, anti-socialism, etc? And is anti-abortion big among evangelicals? I realize that you don’t have Roe vs Wade, but any equivalent evangelical furor there?
Yeah, Mike, but Darby had to come to America to make it stick.
> The non-demons
Non-denoms, not non-demons; that was not intentional.
> perhaps define the borderlands and Evangelicalism and Non-Evangelicalism
perhaps define the borderlands BETWEEN Evangelicalism and Non-Evangelicalism
In Latin America all non-Catholic Christians are referred to as “evangelicos,” even the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The term “Protestant” is not used because there was no Protestant Reformation in Spain/Portugal nor, consequently, in Latin America. It was probably 99% Catholic until recent decades.
Today’s evangelicos came out of a delayed missionary movement to Latin America, largely from the U.S., starting about 1960. It’s hard to count, but effectively I wouldn’t be surprised if 25 to 50% are now evangelico in some countries. And if you count individuals at a worship service on any given Sunday (counting all the storefront churches and pastors’ back yards) the Catholics may now be in a practical minority, although they still have far more political influence. Evangelicos are splintered with so many independent churches.
Evangelicos in Latin America tend to be baptist (or) pentecostal, and they do resemble U.S. evangelicals in their worship services, songs, sermons. Except they tend to have a more evangelical fervor than we do, at least here in New England.
That was probably true in 89, but if you read Barna, it’s not so true in 2020
No, you don’t see them; you think you do. That’s the problem. You’ve set up strawmen.
I expected EXACTLY what it is. I know my “loving” religious progressives.” With anger and wrath they rail against the perceived anger and wrath of Evangelicals.
Prune juice is pretty majikal, at least when it comes to constipation. My father taught me to fill a glass with the disgusting stuff, warm it in the microwave (which makes it even more repulsive to the taste than it already is!), and gulp it down quickly. If it doesn’t make you throw up, then it will surely relieve your distress at the other end.
Typically when someone talks to me about a progressive pastor, or I read about progressive pastors, they are talking about their theology, not their politics.
Today there was a reliable rumor about another case of COVID in my department at work. This will be the second one in less than a month in my department of about 30 people. I worked not twenty feet away from the person in question on Friday for most of the day. Once again, no word has been said to anyone in the department by management except for the supervisor and lead. We have to rely on the intra-departmental grapevine for any and all info. Prayers would be appreciated.
Sorry, Seneca, but we calls them likes we sees them.
Bebbington is widely known for his definition of evangelicalism, referred to as the Bebbington quadrilateral, which was first provided in his 1989 classic study Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. Bebbington identifies four main qualities which are to be used in defining evangelical convictions and attitudes:
Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
Crucicentrism: a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
Conversionism: the belief that human beings need to be converted
Activism: the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort
Well, this IS the post-Evangelical wilderness. Not sure what YOU were expecting. Dryly. And with a wink.
I agree and so we support things like “Operation Christmas Child” but I will not attend his rallies. When he starts a “Pray for 46” initiative maybe I’ll start taking him a bit more seriously.
I’ve told me “think like me” Christian friends that that song should be included in a periodic worship rotation.
Maybe not so much a “cult of happiness” but an overemphasis on the theology of glory at the expense of the theology of the cross. Evidenced by nary a crucifix in sight.
The suffering Christ (and by extension the suffering Christian) is an obstacle and stumbling block on the road towards eternal grace-laden bliss.
Just say the words and presto-changeo, we get to skip over all the bad parts.
Indeed, that would be an even better band name.
I can’t say that there is absolutely no validity to your statement. I personally left evangelicalism in 1985 and now have only an outsider’s view. I do run into people who are evangelical and have conversations with them so I’m not completely in the dark. I read the newspapers and I see the evangelicals that are surrounding Trump. We have a big named one right here in Dallas named Robert Jeffress. Some of the absurdities that I see from them are just beyond the pale but I think any number of IMonkers here are in the same boat as I in that they have not been part and parcel of the evangelical experience for quite some time and wouldn’t be able to describe changes that have occurred very precisely.
The Barna research you linked to is from Jan 2007. There has been tremendous change in the American churches in the intervening thirteen years. Trumpism for one; QAnon for another.
“I would be surprised if a truly progressive black pastor would affirm all seven.”
Why? Do those theological points necessitate sociopolitical conservatism?
Yet when I first mentioned that I would be posting on this topic, a couple weeks back, you were the first to post a definition.
So was your definition a strawman definition?
Where did I mention war in the post?
I am not at war with Evangelicals.
I am just seeking to understand myself.
Mike Bell, I appreciate your desire that this not be an Evangelical bashing day. However, reading the comments I think you failed – dryly.
In fact, the Barna research also noted that one out of every four adults (27%) who say they are evangelicals is not even born again, based upon their beliefs.
THIS is why I say the term “Evangelical” no longer means what it used to mean. I-monkers appear to be fighting the war over the Evangelicalism of 1970–1985.
If NOW 25% of Evangelicals don’t appear to be “born again” you’re fighting the strawman war in your attacks on Evangelicals.
He has become too political, but his organization does a great deal of good in this world, and for that I have to give him credit
No doubt. It seems to be taking root. That clip that Clay posted is definitely worth a listen.
That fake happy at church just wore me out.
I would say you will very likely be a Republican in Southern Baptist quarters. You can probably be ok being a Democrat if you do not tell anyone.
Evangelicalism is like the concept of time: I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see/experience it.
The technical term is “Punctilier Regeneration” which would be an even greater name for a neo-Punk band.
Another great name waiting for a band to claim it!
In case you’ve never seen this video or heard this song, it’s EXCELLENT!
Paramore, “Fake Happy.”
My dad recently asked me why I didn’t like Franklin Graham. I replied that: 1) he is nothing like his father; 2) he has gone way too political; and 3) I’m not sure he promotes Jesus Christ any more, having put Christ in the backseat while he continues down the path in #2.
Kind of like the Kynge Jaymes Only types out here.
(Except I don’t think the King Jimmy is in Afrikaans…)
–> “…based on groupthink that only they have the knowledge and no other knowledge can counter it.”
Sounds a bit like Scientology.
“Hell has no torment worse then Constant Forced Cheerfulness.”
— “Three Tools of Death” (Father Brown Mystery)
When I was in-country, “that quaint American doctrine” was Universal.
If not word-for-word from the lips of God Himself.
Until I went over the Berlin Wall to the West, I HEARD NOTHING ELSE.
Not just big, it’s the ONLY way to be Saved(TM).
And must be recited Word-for-Word.
After which you must remember the exact Year/Month/Day/Hour/Minute/Second you said it or you were NEVER a Christian.
Evangelicals are YEC.
“GOD SAID IT,
I BELIEVE IT,
THAT SETTLES IT!!!!!“
A lot of Evangelicals ARE looking for a fight.
How else can they Count Coup?
A Grimoire of single-Verse verbal-component spells.
If you encounter Korean American Presbyterians, who almost all qualify as evangelical I would think, you definitely get a different vibe from how they do things. They’re pretty serious about Bible study, prayer, etc. in a way that you seldom encounter in typical evangelical churches. Now, whether the next generation continues along that path, I don’t know: intermarriage rates outside of Korean culture are pretty high and it’s just easier for such couples to go elsewhere, as is generally common in many such ethnic congregations. But they do serve as a barometer for the larger American evangelical weather.
if only the evangelistic ‘sinners’ prayer’ was:
‘Jesus Christ, Son, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
but it isn’t, sadly
I think you have answered my question for me. Thanks
> In twenty years as an evangelical, I never heard a sermon pushing YEC or
> castigating evolution
At least half a dozen in my roster. Making fun of people, from the pulpit, who’d believe in such a thing as Evolution was completely acceptable.
> you argued for Evolution you would be at least quietly taken aside and told you
> were upsetting too many people
If being required to remaining silent about something is not a hallmark of an essential belief I’m not sure what is.
I’ve never been YEC. And I spent most of my time in Evangelicalism with it not being an issue, I was careful to avoid the topic. Overall this didn’t bother me that much; I mean, whatever? It’s such a weird thing to be hot about. An accumulation of watching and hearing people being “quietly taken aside” changed my mind; the Other-Side was never taken aside.
I’ve also never accepted any version of the end-times baloney. Same approach, I ignored the conversation to the extent possible. Again, it’s such a weird thing to be hot about. And . . . in general people cared less about my dissension related to end-times than that I believed YEC was clearly nonsense.
Assenting to YEC or not, Privileging the YEC perspective is a clear and essential aspect of Evangelicalism.
I do not perceive a distinction.
The Baptists and the non-denoms[*1] in the area are all dunkers, AFAIK. But no doubt Evangelical.
As certainly Evangelical, the LCMS and the Free Methodists are spritzers. Non-LCMS Lutheran churches perhaps define the borderlands and Evangelicalism and Non-Evangelicalism.
Not certain what the Nazarenes do currently.
[*1] The non-demons here staff largely from Baptist seminaries.
I don’t think anybody would deny that the old Southern Presbyterians, now PCA, are Evangelicals, and they are paedobaptist to a man. I think that Methodists also baptize their children and there may still be numerous Evangelicals in that communion. You’d have to be pretty uncharitable to refuse them the Evangelical label, or the Christian Reformed, or conservative Episcopalians/Anglicans
But yeah, the stereotype of the Evangelical is an Anabaptist.
Modes of Baptism anyone?
As long as you treated the Biblical narratives as trustworthy, my experience was that you will got little pushback from even the most doctrinaire Evangelical, unless they were looking for a fight. In twenty years as an evangelical, I never heard a sermon pushing YEC or castigating evolution.
Most of the thoughtful people I ran into were like me in that they had a flexible epistemology. The unthoughtful people never let the issue darken their firmaments
Nice link Dana and a good reminder. The Lausanne Movement is still ongoing too. My cousin was a delegate at the last conference.
Of all the hallmarks you have listed number 6. “A cult of happiness” I find the scariest 😦
Pretty much spot on
I think for most American Evangelicals these issues fall under Christian Smith’s 9th characteristic of biblicism:
Universal Applicability: What the biblical authors taught God’s people at any point in history remains universally valid for all Christians at every other time, unless explicitly revoked by subsequent scriptural teaching.
Since these things were verboten in biblical times, they remain so today, with the exception of divorce, which ironically is probably addressed more in the New Testament than is homosexuality and sex outside of marriage. And, of course, abortion is really not mentioned at all, except for some proof texts from the Old Testament (e.g. Jer. 1:5). And I find it ironic that the practice of ‘exposure’ (abandoning unwanted infants to die of exposure or be eaten by wild animals, or be picked up by people who took them in as slaves), which was a common practice in Roman times, is not addressed in the New Testament at all (at least that I have ever seen).
Evangelicals fail to appreciate the cultural aspects of ‘biblical morality’ and ancient culture’s impact on that morality. I think that issues like gay marriage, divorce, or even sex before marriage, are largely cultural issues. In a subsistence agrarian economy a gay ‘couple’ would probably starve to death since they could produce no children to work the farm, and a divorced woman often had only one option for survival – prostitution. And sex outside of marriage could lead to illegitimate children with all the issues of inheritance that involved (not to mention the consequences in an honor-and-shame culture), in a time without birth control, and when young girls typically married while still young teenagers. Asking a young couple to remain ‘pure’ until they are 14, 15, or 16, in a highly structured, tight-knit community is a little different than asking a 20 or 30 year old to remain celibate today, when the social and economic consequences of an unwanted pregnancy are far different. I’m not trying to justify sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, abortion, or divorce. I’m just saying that when dealing with moral issues like this, one ought to ask some questions and raise some points like these instead of simply falling back to ‘the Bible says it so that settles it’. Even the most conservative Evangelicals do that with questions of divorce (and not many Evangelical women have their heads covered when in church either).
But can we bash people who are essentially saying, “My definition of inerrancy is inerrant”…?!?!
”For the moment it seems that evangelicalism is inextricably tied to republican party politics.”
That would be the dominant position but I think it is eroding. In the church I attend it seems about two-thirds R’s and one-third D’s. As an aside, a lot of members are in covid mask denial but they wear them anyway because the church has chosen to follow guidelines with masks, distancing and attendance limits as well as online services for those like me.
Are we Evangelical? As a church we seem to adhere to the Bebbington Quadrilateral definition of Evangelical. As for myself, I’m an old Earth Theistic Evolutionist who hasn’t voted Republican in decades but politics and origins are not preached from our pulpit.
I frequently have to bite my tongue in Sunday school. And it is not even because I want to say something controversial, it is just people say things so often that are just plain wrong. I know that sounds arrogant, but it is the truth.
All of us commenting (except Michael Bell reminding us about the situation in Canada) are coming from our knowledge of American Evangelicalism, which is distinct due to our distinct culture. It’s very much A Thing unto itself, for sure. We Americans tend to not know much about how Evangelicalism is expressed and lived by people in other countries. Probably the the most positive statement of what Evangelicals all over the world believe about themselves is the Lausanne Covenant. It was originally set down in 1974. To my knowledge it hasn’t been changed since then, although I know there is a working group, made up of people from many countries, that writes statements that are issued from The Lausanne Movement from time to time.
Some American Evangelicals could sign on to this. I think most, particularly the types we who comment here have most frequently encountered, would not be able to affirm some of it. When I was in the Wilderness and seeking some sort of Protestant Church with which I could be affiliated, everyone I met that was associated with the Lausanne Movement presented a very attractive version of Evangelicalism. Problem is, it’s a movement, not a church; there was no local congregation with whom I could worship – not even a congregation where the majority (or even a solid minority) held that kind of general stance. The Presbyterian church that was my last stop in the Protestant world (for 9 years!) came close, but at the same time I was finding myself being led down another path because of what I discovered to be the answer to my question “What is The Gospel?” That answer involved theology that was different enough from what I knew as an Evangelical (and as a Roman Catholic growing up) that it became a matter of conscience for me that I had no place to lay my head in the West.
The KJV people are a thing – and true Fundamentalists – I’d put them outside the boundaries of Evangelicalism.
I recall several instances of Evangelicals making fun of the KJV people.
“There don’t seem to be any of them around any more.” Thankfully, there are not many left who are like that. Fifty years ago, as a son of a loving and sincere CofC preacher and while a dedicated Christian College student, I did my perceived duty of knocking on doors to teach people “THE TRUTH”. Those encounters and experiences caused me to question and eventually lose that style of faith. It was hard. Most people I had grown up with, had gone to college with, and my extended family were in this fold. Including not a small number of ministers and missionaries. It was devastating. To this day I’m still in recovery.
Wanna push back here a little.
It has been seen as a problem since, oh, Plato, that human reasoning has an uncomfortable tendency to dissolve nearly every thing it touches. Plato (through his character Socrates) comes down hard on the Athenian sophists who delighted in turning fishermen into philosophers through the use of the manipulation of words.
When Protestantism began to transform under the weight of critical theory in the 19th century into an ideology that had increasingly little resemblance to anything traditionally Christian, it was blamed on too much reliance on the Academy. J. Greschem Machen, the Presbyterian worthy, was certainly not by anybody’s standards an anti-intellectual, but he blamed the academic imagination for turning historic, small o-orthodox Christianity into something more akin to pantheism.
I mean, c’mon, given all the critical theories about the composition of the Bible, be it the Pentateuch, the Gospels, or the Pauline corpus, is there any documentary evidence for any of it? or is it all assumption heaped upon conjecture heaped upon lexicography?
Well, I don’t know any black progressive Disciples of Christ pastors (most of the black pastors in my area are Baptist), but I have been around some white ones, and they would not affirm all seven of my theological points. I would be surprised if a truly progressive black pastor would affirm all seven. For me it has always been purely theological, and that is why I struggle with the word today, and quite frankly, don’t see it as helpful. In the past it seemed to form a point of unity between Christians of different denominations or of no denomination. Now I’m not so sure. Is there a group who can come together and authoritatively claim, “This is what it means to be evangelical”? I don’t know that there is.
“I will not agree to use that word-inerrancy- and that puts me outside also. For years I thought I was a conservative but now i am considered a Liberal.”
Isn’t it great when other people get to define you… ):
I would agree. But I would also say that in most if not almost all Evangelical churches that if you argued for Evolution you would be at least quietly taken aside and told you were upsetting too many people. Those who argue for YEC would not be told the same thing.
Tom I’m not trying to tell you what you have to believe in, I’m answering Mike’s question about what I consider to be an evangelical, and what would disqualify someone from being an evangelical, at least in my area.
I very heartily second your point about confusing one’s interpretation of Scripture with Scripture. I think this is a characteristic even of some portion of the Evangelicalism that is “cosmopolitan” and open to help from history, genre and original language study in their approach to Scripture interpretation.
I agree with Dana. YEC is important to a lot of Evangelicals but it is not a defining belief, the tent seems a bit bigger than that. If one requires YEC as a defining belief then the Intelligent Design folks at Discovery Institute are no longer Evangelicals.
Yes, the sinners prayer is big in evangelicalism
> One could argue the latter has led to the former, not vice versa
Agree. America has always been a Center Right nation with a hot vein of populism.
American Evangelicalism is very American.
> I believe Evangelical anti-intellectualism isn’t much more than the American
> democratic anti-intellectualism brought over into the sphere of religion
Agree. Despite the posture of cultural antagonism the slosh factor between General American Culture and American Evangelicalism is *HUGE*.
This is one thing which makes defining Evangelicalism difficult. Where I live it is essentially synonymous with White Suburban… in the 90%+ for overlap. One doesn’t even need to ask, it is safe to assume. You can nearly draw lines on a map with large swaths of “Evangelicals here”; and corresponding “Evangelicals Not Here” areas.
It is common these days to have people posting on Reddit or Twitter that they are moving into the region and where should they look for housing based on their Not-Evangelical / Evangelical identity.
–> “I can only agree with Burro that any anti intellectualism found within the four walls of evangelicalism is simply inherited from the wider culture.”
Ah, but which came first, anti intellectualism culture or anti intellectualism evangelism. One could argue the latter has led to the former, not vice versa.
I don’t think belief in a young Earth belongs to the core of Evangelicalism. Maybe in certain communities, but not as a whole.
I think Evangelicals in Canada developed in parallel. Evangelicals in Britain would scoff at the idea that they had any kind of American roots. However, The Missionary movement (much of it American) has great influenced Evangelicalism around the world.
The National Association of Evangelicals (USA) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada are both members of the World Evangelical Alliance.
Tremendous synopsis! I am the first proponent of looking deeper and seeing things that are not necessarily immediately apparent but that cannot be called Gnosticism offhand. What these guys are describing in American evangelicalism is seriously scary stuff. There’s a militancy based on groupthink that only they have the knowledge and no other knowledge can counter it.
Dr. Olson at Baylor is a noted defender of the term evangelical on historical and linguistic grounds. One point he made recently on his blog is that one may distinguish an ethos from a movement. In his considered opinion, the Evangelical Movement per se is dead, but its ethos carries on, however imperfectly.
He, too, emphasizes how in the 1970s Jerry Fallwell Sr managed to rebrand fundamentalism as evangelicalism, to his then astonishment. Of course this was precisely when sloppy language regarding religious zealotry in Iran settled on the term fundamentalism as the final descriptive word, a word more and more Christian fundamentalists thus opted to drop.
Any effort to define evangelicalism thus must contend with these features of the landscape, at least here in the US. You can define your way around them, or not, but they can’t be avoided without sowing further confusion.
Regarding some defining features promoted thus far, I don’t think I’d insist that evangelicalism is inherently anti intellectual per se (as Mike Bell notes in his Canadian experience.) That it’s common can’t be denied, however. I remain astonished that I only learned of the origins of the doctrine of the Rapture from an early 1990s Humanist Magazine article, rather than from the AG where I’d been for a dozen years of my youth.
In any case, I can only agree with Burro that any anti intellectualism found within the four walls of evangelicalism is simply inherited from the wider culture.
And for those that would, how many of them could trace their roots back to American evangelical missions/training?
How many people/groups outside of the US use/claim the category “evangelical”? Serious question.
I remember a friend sending me a link to the website of a fundamentalist ‘seminary’ (that met in the basement of a church I think) that had a press release saying it would no longer teach or encourage the learning of Greek or Hebrew since God had revealed his will fully in the KJV and learning the original languages would just confuse students.
The general and accelerating hostility to experts in whatever field, for example…
I could have made these explicit in my point about “cultural/political conservatism” above, but I was trying to cleave to the spirit of your ground rules. 😉
“Do you suspect you would receive a difference answer if polling the congregants?” Yes, a significant one. But up here it is becoming enshrined in Statements of Faith.
“Here, at least, the there would be a deep cleavage by age. ” Here too.
Yep. After all, we did want to sit out WWII.
Several people have already offered some great ideas about Evangelical characteristics, ones which I’ve already agreed with, but I’ll offer up some, too.
-Like people to say the Sinner’s Prayer in order to be “saved.”
-Generally drift away from or ignore the church calendar, except for the biggies Christmas and Easter.
-Prefer emotional worship services that create a building sense of the Spirit, and seem to not to value moments of quiet reflection/introspection.
-Like to offer “programs” and are always ready to jump onto “the Next Big Thing” (Purpose-Driven Life, Prayer of Jabez, etc.)
-Like to give and support mission work (note: not all Evangelical things are “suspect,” and I think this is one Evangelicals do right).
-Have drifted toward fighting the Culture Wars as a way to prove their faith.
-Try to blend “faith community” with “all faith is personal.”
-Like sermons and sermonizing.
-Like altar calls.
-Some are “Bible Uber Alles,” while some haven’t opened their Bible in YEARS.
–> “A couple of people have mentioned anti-intellectualism. I don’t think I have really seen that in my sphere. To those who mentioned it: What does that look like?”
Here is what I said in my comment to Greg at ~11:40am…
(Greg’s comment): “…the two chief characteristics of Evangelicalism as a religious movement that I observed are biblicism and anti-intellectualism.”
(My response): I think I’ve noticed this as well. If it comes down to “what is evidence telling me” vs. “what does the Bible say,” the Bible will win out every time with most Evangelicals.
To me, then, it’s a “shutting off of the brain” when it runs into conflict with the Bible. I know some VERY SMART people who just plain go stupid when it comes to anything that seems to conflict with the Bible and “faith.”
> Can you be and Evangelical and not support Trump?
This would be extremely uncomfortable in the American Midwest.
> Can you be an Evangelical and support Gay Marriage?
Not in the American Midwest.
> I surveyed my mainly Canadian Evangelical Pastoral friends, 95%
Do you suspect you would receive a difference answer if polling the congregants?
Here, at least, the there would be a deep cleavage by age. It is going to be the next great schism IMO.
“from Regent College in Vancouver, to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship” – Interestingly enough, Regent College was my 2nd choice for seminary (maybe first if it had been cheaper) and I have a long history with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
It seems to me that evangelicalism too often is where one confuses one’s interpretation of Scripture for Scripture, and then confuses Scripture with Jesus. Note the Lord’s words in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me.”
By confusing one’s interpretation of Scripture for Scripture and confusing Scripture with Jesus, you end up recreating first century Pharisaical spirituality in modern evangelical Christianity.
> That line is now blurred
America is probably far ahead in the blurring process; certainly the Midwest is.
Here is an interesting piece from On the Media that ties gnosticism to QAnon and evangelicals’ penchant for conspiracies. It does so in a reasoned argument without histrionics.
This seems to capture some of my thinking as well, Jon. One thing I’m not sure anyone has commented on yet is that Evangelicals really seem to like un-saved people to say the Sinner’s Prayer in order to “cross over” into Christendom. (That was the case with me, anyway, and many that I’ve known.)
That gets at your #3…
“3. An emphasis on a “decision” to put your faith in Jesus Christ”
Ah. Yes, very recognizable.
Interesting questions; distinct from the question in the post.
–> “…the two chief characteristics of Evangelicalism as a religious movement that I observed are biblicism and anti-intellectualism.”
I think I’ve noticed this as well. If it comes down to “what is evidence telling me” vs. “what does the Bible say,” the Bible will win out every time with most Evangelicals.
Good “definition,” Eeyore. Most of these resonate with me.
And if the two groups are now largely two different entities, the questions of “when” and “why” the divergence place will need to be asked.
For example, do cosmopolitans have a communication issue getting their thoughts to churches and congregations on a large scale? Or were there other internal and external forces that drove the “populist” side?
It was definitely there in South Africa though. They used to even play down knowledge of the original languages (i.e. Greek Hebrew, Aramaic), equating that with trying to water down the plain message and all that.
Yes, I fear.
Yes. Inerrancy and Biblical illiteracy leave you with a magic book that is worshipped as a grand idea and ignored in the specifics.
That exactly. Smiley, happy happy.
Burro, I’m sure you are correct. It is the ‘Christian’ version of a general skepticism (or laziness) among Americans toward critical thinking or expertise at all. Let me give an example of this in my Evangelical experience. Not to boast but I have considerably more education in biblical studies than the average SBC church member (as do most who frequent IM) but if I go in to a Sunday School class, no matter how much information I provide to support a particular understanding of a text, be it using historical backgrounds, literary context, or the ‘trump card’ – original languages, the next person will say, ‘but this is what it means to me’ and that will carry equal weight in the discussion. As Burro said, emotion and sincerity, or intuition (‘the Holy Spirit’s leading) will always carry as much, and often more weight than serious biblical or theological scholarship. Just look at whose books are at the top of the best-sellers list – people with little or no serious academic training, and often positing silliness posing as ‘deeper understanding’ – e.g. the ‘Prayer of Jabez’ fiasco a few years ago, and that by someone with the academic training to know better!
Not to be overly fussy, but I believe Evangelical anti-intellectualism isn’t much more than the American democratic anti-intellectualism brought over into the sphere of religion. Strength of emotion and sincerity, real or feigned, has far more power to influence American behavior than logic or argument.
For example, I have been trying for some time to figure out (and I am sorry for the injection of politics) what the ‘Socialism’ is that Republican candidates want me to be afraid of. I don’t hear anyone calling for the nationalizations of ports, banks, utilities, or railways. Then I remember that probably somewhere someone got in line behind a black guy who paid for a couple of Slim Gems and a Fanta with an EBT card, and hey presto! Socialism!
You probably wouldn’t see it in Canada. I think you guys have cooler heads up there.
PS I hope you are feeling well.
This is what I meant when I said to avoid “Snark”.
Except Billy has been co-opted by his son Franklin.
And being dead, he isn’t around to disturb the Official Version.
I have noticed for decades that Christians are obsessed with Homosexuality.
It’s the Ultimate Enemy, the Ultimate Other, the Ultimate Not-Us.
How does “The Queers are after Our Christian Children” differ from the Ku Klux Klan obsession of “The [blacks] are after Our White WImmen”? I keep seeing that parallel, especially when they double down again and again.
If I was to take a stab at this, I would say, the Evangelical Testimony, “here is my life before I became a Christian, here is my life now. Look at the change. See how wonderful things are!” Evangelicals don’t do lament well. You have to put on a happy face and pretend that everything is great.
As I mentioned. Not my experience. I think this is part of what was known as the “Billy Graham” dividing line between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. That line is now blurred, but “What do you think of Billy Graham?” seemed like a dividing line for a while.
A German once told me “America is the world’s largest Island Nation, and to island nations,the world does not exist outside their island.”
How about “to include ME and ME Alone”?
The ultimate theoretical end state is Millions of One True Churches, each with only ONE Member, all constantly at each others’ throats with fingernails and teeth. “DIE, HERETICS!!!!!”
I use Gay Marriage as an example because when I surveyed my mainly Canadian Evangelical Pastoral friends, 95% of them considered Gay Marriage to be sinful. I imagine that 90% of them would have voted Biden if they had a vote.
So based on that I believe it can be divorced from the political arena. The politics is an outplaying of the belief, but my question is around the beliefs.
Can you be and Evangelical and not support Trump? Up here certainly. Can you be an Evangelical and support Gay Marriage? That is a totally different question, and I would suspect the answer is generally no.
Reading the Bible as “Math Truth” (Axiom, Axiom, Axiom, Fact, Fact, Fact) instead of the “Poem Truth” it was written in.
My experience with anti-intellectualism in Evangelicalism is principally that anything from outside Evangelicalism is suspect, and no one in a conversation has the obligation to engage it.
As Greg mentioned above in his comment: “””Os Guiness notes that anti-intellectualism is Evangelicalism’s greatest weakness because it simply has no answers to engage issues of the times”””
The scope of what can be discussed or considered is extremely narrow. In my own experience this was frequently run into in regards to how the church was to ‘reach out’ to the community, be a participant in the neighborhood or city, the answer was that it couldn’t. Not really. There was no overlap in what was important, no conversation really possible, no curiosity on behalf of the church. People could go to the nearby prison and lead Bible Studies, that was clearly sanctioned.
The anti-intellectualism I encountered has overlap with Purity Culture. The fear of being contaminated, or distracted from “core values”. Or even accidentally affiliated with other groups.
Hell and Rapture are very useful to Scare the mark into the Altar Call.
(During my time in-country, there was a widespread folk belief that the Number of Souls (not People) you personally Saved would determine your favor and position in Heaven. The more notches on your Bible, the higher your position.)
And (4) complete POLITICIZATION to the GOP, Trump Organization, and Q-Anon. Incorporating all the Party Lines of Anti-Vaxx, Anti-Mask, COVID Hoax, and Stolen Election Conspiracy.
A lot of Evangelicals would be completely out to sea if they didn’t have to threaten with Eternal Hell.
There’s a distinct attitude that “Somebody HAS to Get PUNISHED!”
And if God is merciful, “THEY WON’T GET PUNISHED! PUNISHED! PUNISHED!”
FEAR and GUILT Manipulation is characteristic of the Evangelical bubble.
“If you can’t Love them into the Kingdom, SCARE THEM INTO THE KINGDOM!”
> There are bunch of areas or belief / practice that haven’t been touched on
You said to avoid politics! And I was being good. 🙂
> Abortion. Gay Marriage
This falls so squarely under Republicanism it cannot be discussed outside of a Partisan frame.
I did mention it above, as a delineation between True Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. Evangelicals have a comfort with — I’ll say it — Moral Relativism in regard to sexual and relationship issues which no respectable Fundamentalist would quarter. I call it “now lets be reasonable”-ism. It is, and has been for ~30 years (?), a deeply incoherent aspect of Evangelicalism …
> Sex outside of marriage
… given its history on indulging in Purity Culture.
I’d describe Evangelical sexual ethics as an arbitrary pastiche of norms from differing decades.
Including the ability to recite “the exact time and place of MY Saving” down to the hour/minute/second. And you had to use the exact words. Miss any of these and you weren’t REALLY Saved.
As for “individualistic experience”, why do you think I coined the description “Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation”?
> There are so many disparate strands;
Pentecostals and Evangelicals are overlapping sets, clearly not 1:1.
In my early youth there was an LCMS church that went in a Pentecostal direction; it was quite the kerfuffle. And the old grange hall in my town was converted into an LCMS church populated, initially, largely by the refugees from the former LCMS church.
A couple of people have mentioned anti-intellectualism. I don’t think I have really seen that in my sphere. To those who mentioned it: What does that look like?
There are bunch of areas or belief / practice that haven’t been touched on really at all. Abortion. Gay Marriage. Sex outside of marriage. Divorce. I suspect in a number of these areas, belief and practice may be quite different.
Can you elaborate on the meaning of “cult of happiness”?
I am skeptical these terms can be defined in a truly meaningful way super-regionally.
Why do you think some Evangelicals would not include Pentecostals? Where would the line be drawn?
There are so many disparate strands; 1) “1st wave” Pentecostals who came out of the Wesleyan Holiness Movement (1900-1940) 2) “New Thought”/”Healing Revival” adherents (1930-1970) 3) Participants in the Charismatic ‘renewal’ movements in the ‘mainline’ Protestant groups (something that took everyone by surprise). (1960-1990) 4) “Third Wave” Apostolic/Prophetic coming out of Toronto/Brownsville/Lakeland, etc.
When I was younger, I remember having some fierce arguments with hardcore Church of Christ types who treated Sola Scripture like the Thunderdome. I remember their calling me a heretic for speaking in tongues and denying that I was any kind of an Evangelical, but they weren’t very ecumenical. There don’t seem to be any of them around any more.
We can thank a Anglo-Irishman for Dispensationalism. J.N. Darby.
I deleted the comment thread that was heading into the political rabbit hole that I warned about.
That’s true. American Evangelicalism has been heavily influenced by uniquely American experiences and values. The Second Great Awakening and the frontier revival movements, and even the Civil War had a great influence in shaping the values and theology of American Evangelicals, as well as its political views. When I was working on my Ph.D. (unfinished) in the UK it was obvious that while American Evangelicalism dominated ‘Evangelicalism’ it was often viewed with an almost dismissive tone, kind of like when N. T. Wright referred to Dispensationalism as ‘that quaint American doctrine’.
“No bashing of Evangelicals or their beliefs or practices. ” – I don’t want this to devolve into a discussion of points of belief. An Evangelical would simply answer this with “in the original manuscripts.” There are other reasons why Inerrancy is a problem. But as I said, this is not the point of this post. Perhaps we can get into the details of belief in a follow up post.
Aren’t we Americans always American centric? I forget that this thing goes all over the world. In fact I think it’s confined to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Yeah but even that might be changing. The folks in the RETHINKING HELL group are in most ways conservative evangelicals except they question eternal conscious torment. They’re a minority opinion now but that could change over time.
I do not have the certainty that I used to have about the use of certain word requirements today or about the new words I am supposed to use to be one of the crowd.
‘inerrancy’ seems to me to be an excuse to claim our own interpretations of sacred Scripture are ‘inerrant’ but that doesn’t make sense when there are hundreds of different varieties of evangelical denominations each with their own ‘twist’ on what is ‘inerrant’ in the bible . . .
maybe better to see that the sacred Scriptures are a part of the Apostolic deposit of faith handed down through the centuries that contains what is needed so that a person can come to know God.
sure, there has been ‘human activity’ in that process, of course: if you trace the history of sacred Scripture in Britain from the King James Bible back into previous centuries, you will come to Tyndale, Wyclif, and before them, Alcuin.
And before Alcuin, to Ceolfrith and to the ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’ which were copied and illuminated beautifully (in the tradition of the Book of Kells) in the ‘scriptorium’ room at Lindisfarne Abbey (founded by Aiden).
You see, the tradition of the ‘scriptoriums’ (rooms where Scripture was copied by hand) goes back even further to the time of the Septuagint scholars who were set to work on the island in the harbor of Alexandria and produced a Greek translation of the Old Testament, through Saint Jerome and his Vulgate tradition, through Cassiodorus and his reworking of Jerome’s Vulgate of the old Latin texts.
The Lindisfarne Gospels represent the ancient tradition of ‘receiving what was handed down and preserving it to pass on intact’,
and in the scriptorium on Lindisfarne, the hand-written sacred texts were copied with great care according to that tradition.
The printing-press would not be invented for another eight centuries into the future, so these monastic scriptoriums were an important connection for the sacred writings to be preserved and passed on.
It’s good to know something of the history of how sacred Scripture ended up in our hands . . . there was a long line of people who cared greatly that this should happen, and they too were members of the Body of Christ and a part of the heritage of all Christian people.
honestly, the word ‘inerrant’ seems a pitiful replacement for the word ‘sacred’
remember, remember ‘you shall not side with the great against the powerless’
‘what we do to the least of these, we do also to Him’
we often make mistakes when we ‘know not what we do’, but I have been thinking that the ‘acceptance’ of junk science and conspiracy theories are NOT valid excuses on the DAY for telling the Good Lord that ‘we knew not what we were doing’, no
I think we have an obligation to make an effort to sort out what is ‘real’ from what ‘tickles our ears’ and we have an obligation not to let authoritarian leader-types attack our Judeo-Christian norms of the value of even a single human life
politics? or something more? people search their own hearts for what is important to them, I suppose, and that is something between them and their consciences and their God –
I suspect that a lot of what has happened to ‘evangelicalism’ is going to take a long time to evaluate and analyze, yes, but at the heart of it for me is this:
you can’t embrace trumpism and stand with the powerless at the same time – and that is was clear to me the moment of trump’s embrace of Miller’s ‘family separation policy’ when littles were taken from parents and in great cruelty, deprived of basic needs, and also deprived of mental health service which we now know is true
I’ve heard the trade-off comments from ‘good people’: that they ‘put up’ with Trump because he would change the courts to go ‘their way’ against abortion and against what they saw as the persecution of religious liberty,
but senecagriggs, we are warned in sacred Scripture not to embrace evil so that good may come of it
hence, the harm done, sometimes unknowingly, to the witness of the whole Church by trumpist supporters of all Abrahamic faiths
I will not agree to use that word-inerrancy- and that puts me outside also. For years I thought I was a conservative but now i am considered a Liberal.
I spent from 1974 until whatever year the Southern Baptist Convention began requiring you believe in the inerrancy of the scriptures. I certainly believed and still believe in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. Seems there was a lot of controversy about inerrancy in the Southern Baptist Convention and that there are multiple definitions of inerrancy.
This statement below is word for word from the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message:
“Baptists are a people who profess a living faith. This faith is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ who is “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” Therefore, the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. A living faith must experience a growing understanding of truth and must be continually interpreted and related to the needs of each new generation. Throughout their history Baptist bodies, both large and small, have issued statements of faith which comprise a consensus of their beliefs. Such statements have never been regarded as complete, infallible statements of faith, nor as official creeds carrying mandatory authority. Thus this generation of Southern Baptists is in historic succession of intent and purpose as it endeavors to state for its time and theological climate those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us”
I guess I was an evangelical until the Southern Baptist Convention required me to sign off on inerrancy-so be it.
To be clear I was a member of the Southern Baptist denomination from 1974-2018. Long enough to see the Fundamentalist takeover the Convention and add many requirements that were not there before they made certain things mandatory.
When I was growing up in South Africa, the hallmarks of evangelicalism were the following:
6. A cult of happiness.
The political part was subdued, mainly because in the National party, the ruling party of apartheid, the Dutch Reformed Denominations (yes plural) held sway. This gradually changed as the Dutch Reformed moved away from enthusiastic support of the government, and came to oppose apartheid.
Wayne Grudem Bible Doctrine – Chapter 2
Had this talk with men at my church last week. Inerrancy is just a useless word with all the caveats that have to go with it.
I think many see me as “outside” now.
I still enjoy “cosmopolitan evangelicalism”; and read their BLOGs, articles, etc… There are some truly fascinating and brlliant people within that sphere.
Yet the distance between them and Common Midwest Evangelicalism is so vast, there is barely a tether between the two groups. I fear for the future of those institutions.
That is however a very American centric view. In Canada our most conservative party would be roughly equivalent to the American Democrats, so it would not be true of Evangelicals in Canada.
Given other comments I would a (4) an [entirely undefined] assertion of “inerrancy”, this coupled with pervasive biblical illiteracy may be what makes Evangelicalism feel so hard to pin down as a ‘world view’ [to borrow their own term].
Inerrancy is a guiding principal of Evangelicalism.
For example: To be a member of the Evangelical Theological Society you have to hold to Inerrancy.
They in fact have just two items in their “Doctrinal Basis”:
1. “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”
2. “God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”
Burro, that is a good observation. I do think Pentecostalism is the only growing segment of Evangelicalism (broadly defined – many Evangelicals don’t consider Pentecostal to be Evangelicals).
For the moment it seems that evangelicalism is inextricably tied to republican party politics. I know that not every Evangelical is an adamant adherent to the party but I’m guessing you might be getting the left-hand of fellowship when mingling amongst the brethren if you’re happy about the Biden result and looking forward to progress on the environment. I grew rapidly more uncomfortable with the mix when Reagan was considered the only possible vote. I voted for him but I was growing very leery of the blending of my spirituality with American politics back in ‘84. I’m way more leery of it now.
To be an Evangelical: Yes.
To be a Christian: No
> But words are defined by their common usage,
> and I’m not sure what it really means anymore
Yeah. Hindsight, I am not sure I have ever had a clear idea what it meant. Finding that troubling likely puts you on the outside. This is where things get soggy – identity can be defined as much by the questions one asks as by the answers one does or does not ‘go to’.
If there were no Pentecostals, would Evangelicalism be doing any better than mainline Protestantism?
Christianity in general doesn’t seem to be doing very well these days, at least in White World.
To be an evangelical. Can I be a Christian without using the word inerrant as it relates to the Bible?
Jon, so I have to believe the Bible is inerrant? Where is that in the Bible?
The thing is, a black progressive Disciples of Christ pastor would likely affirm all seven of your theological points, while vehemently rejecting evangelical*ism* as a whole. As tempting as it is to focus on theological definitions, I don’t think they are sufficient in our current situation
I prefer the term Evanjellyfish, considering Axis #1 is the primary one by far in most “Evangelicals'” mindsets.
There you go. Decisional regeneration.
“The things Eeyore lists map inconsistently across the three axes”
My goal was to encapsulate who would raise their hand when asked, “Are you an evangelical?” I was not thinking about how internally consistent their culture and claimed theology is. I would agree with your assessment that Axis #1 is the primary one, with #3 being second and #2 a distant third. And that tension between the sociological and the theological is probably a driver in the exit of many who no longer claim the moniker “evangelical”.
I believe this is off topic. I will give you a chance to tie it into the topic, but other than that won’t allow any comments on it.
Barna on the Mainline – 2009
[ I believe Mainline churches have experienced very significant declines in the last decade; far worse then what George Barna saw.
Yes. Currently I would agree that Evangelicalism has returned to its Fundamentalist root.
My only hesitance saying that is it may be a bit disrespectful of Fundamentalism; the lack the emphasis on Biblical Literacy – even if of the course common-man variety – of ‘true’ Fundamentalists. Evangelicalism has a concurrent pragmatic streak of “now, lets be reasonable”-ism; see Divorce as a prime example.
No majik sauce? ;o)
Christiane, you just can’t put politics aside can you – smile
What is it? I’m not sure. What I thought it was:
1. Belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God that is the authority for everything we believe and teach
2. Belief that Jesus Christ is the only hope of salvation that we have.
3. An emphasis on a “decision” to put your faith in Jesus Christ
4. An emphasis on the need for all Christians to tell others how to be saved by Jesus.
5. An emphasis on having a personal relationship with God.
6. Belief in the traditional view of Jesus (virgin birth, sinless life, crucifixion for sins, resurrection, return).
7. A general ignorance of and suspicion towards church tradition (I don’t consider this a requirement, just something that is fairly common)
I’m sure I’m leaving things out but if someone asked me what is an Evangelical, this is what would come to mind. Rejecting any of the first six would put you outside of Evangelicalism. But words are defined by their common usage, and I’m not sure what it really means anymore. Now I would just say I’m a Southern Baptist. For some that is worse than Evangelical, but at least there is a Baptist faith and message I can point to that has been agreed upon by most Southern Baptist to say, “This is basically what I believe, with maybe a couple of points of disagreement.”
There are at least three axis along which Evangelicalism can be defined.
1.) Current Socioeconomic-Political; a stunningly – stunningly – cohesive block of people. What other group even begins to compare in uniformity?
2.) Historically; the entire Fundamentalist / Evangelical “controversy”.
3.) Current Theologically – which may or may not neatly map onto the outcomes of #2, depending on how you define terms [argh, human language, you slippery weasel]
The things Eeyore lists map inconsistently across the three axis – – – and some of they reflect an interplay with outside forces bending the axis away, or towards, each other.
In defining “What is an Evangelical”, today, as in “a person who is evangelical”, I’d choose #1 as the most reliable map onto how someone would respond if I asked them. #2 is not useful at all for that task. And I suspect #3 would define a much smaller and possibly distinct set from #1; of course, depending on what “theology” you included.
Based on personal experience #1 does not map onto Biblical Literacy, really at all. So a divergence #1 and #3 is understandable.
goodness, my spelling, I need COFFEE – but good morning everyone anyway and thanks Mike for an interesting topic that will field a great discussion hopefully – many prayers said for folks here who are facing difficulties ahead
Having spent 35+ years as an Evangelical, the two chief characteristics of Evangelicalism as a religious movement that I observed are biblicism and anti-intellectualism. The first involves a particular approach to the Bible; the second, a particular approach to knowledge and life in general.
Christian Smith, in his book ‘The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not A Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture’, notes 10 characteristics of biblicism.
Divine Writing: The Bible, dow to the details of its words, consists of and is identified with God’ very own words written inerrantly in human language.
Total Representation: The Bible represents the totality of God’s communication to and will for humanity, both in containing all that God has to say to humans and in being the exclusive mode of God’s true communication.
Complete Coverage: The divine will about all of the issues relevant to Christian belief and life are contained in the Bible.
Democratic Perspecuity: Any reasonably intelligent person can read the Bible in his or her own language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.
Commonsense Hermeneutics: The best way to understand the biblical texts is by reading them in their explicit, plain, most obvious, literal sense, as the author intended them at face value, which may or may not involve taking into account their literary, cultural, and historical contexts.
Solo Scriptura: The significance of any given biblical text can be understood without reliance on creeds, confessions, historical church traditions, or other forms of larger theological hermeneutical frameworks, such that theological formulations can be built up directly out of the Bible from scratch.
Internal Harmony: All related passages of the Bible on any given subject fit together almost like puzzle pieces into single, unified, internally consistent bodies of instruction about right and wrong beliefs and behaviors.
Universal Applicability: What the biblical authors taught God’s people at any point in history remains universally valid for all Christians at every other time, unless explicitly revoked by subsequent scriptural teaching.
Inductive Method: All matters of Christian belief and practice can be learned by sitting down with the Bible and piecing together through careful study the clear “biblical” truths it teaches.
The weakness of biblicism, as Smith notes, is that it fails to deliver what it promises. His primary thesis is that if biblicism is the correct way to approach the Bible why are there so many different views on such fundamental things as the nature of the atonement (not exactly a peripheral issue), even among Evangelicals. If it’s all clear for anyone to read and understand, why are so many issues not clearly agreed upon.
The other characteristic, anti-intellecualism, has been noted, and criticized by Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals alike, such as Mark Noll, J. P. Moreland, Os Guiness, and many others (including most of the professors at the Evangelical seminar I attended). Os Guiness notes that anti-intellectualism is Evangelicalism’s greatest weakness because it simply has no answers to engage issues of the times (other than those provided by biblicism), and is its greatest sin since it neglects part of Jesus’s ‘Greatest Commandment’ – to love the Lord with all you heart, strength, soul, and MIND. There is a deep distrust, and general lack of interest in, expertise, science, and learning in general (unless it’s devotional Bible study). God can use anyone, even Balaam’s donkey, is an oft-heard statement. It’s almost like ignorance is a spiritual virtue to many.
correction: 80 plus PERCENT of evangelicals
Also a strong emphasis on the individualistic experience over the communal connection.
As in Jesus is MY personal savior accompanied by pin-point precision on the exact time and place of MY saving.
In other words, Fundamentalism 2.0
Oh and one more thing…
“What beliefs would put you outside Evangelicalism but still leave you inside Christianity?”
Just about anything that contravenes one or more of the points above while still holding to the general parameters of the Nicene Creed.
I’d rather stew in my own juices. 😛
Belief in (1) Hell (2) Rapture or more vaguely “immanent” end times, and I would add (3) Young Earth. If you don’t match those three you aren’t an Evangelical, and staying in the tent will require deliberate silence on the topics.
Those three beliefs are the hallmarks of Evangelicalism in my corner of the world.
These are layered on a profound suspicion/distrust of Others; everyone is initially perceived as a threat. There is as much a cultural tone which is Evangelicalism as there is an intellectual scaffold.
I think we’re going to have to make a distinction between how it has been defined historically/theologically, and how it’s used today, especially by people who own and claim the category for themselves. *Who, nowadays, claims to be evangelical?*
Just from my observations, they tend to be…
1) White, or non-whites who are embedded in white American culture
2) mostly middle class with greater bleed over into the lower class and much less bleedover into the upper class.
3) acknowledge the ultimate authority of the Bible as the revelation of God’s will for humanity (how and how much they use it is another matter)
4) Heavily emphasize personal experience and relationship in spirituality
5) have a strong tendency towards cultural and political conservatism
6) have a very ambivalent relationship with the wider culture, and anyone/anything not also within the evangelical umbrella
These traits are of course not present in equal degrees in everyone who claims to be evangelical, but they do seem to be present in general terms.
Historically true; but no longer apt. Read Barna
Evangelicalism is Christianity focused on conversion: making converts, and being converted, in dramatic, sensational, and public ways which are thought to involve a sudden, seismic change in the lives of those converted. The worship of such evangelical churches is similarly focused on dramatic, sensational conversion and/or recapitulating the kind of experience that is thought to typically accompany it for those already identified as converted.
So broad as to make it almost meaningless.
I too have one foot in and one foot out. I do appreciate the international evangelicals, and think what David Swartz discusses and questions over at Anxious Bench as “cosmopolitan evangelicalism” (v. “populist evangelicalism”) speaks to why I keep “one foot in”:
“If we grant for a moment that there is something called “cosmopolitan evangelicalism”—in the faculty offices of Wheaton and Baylor, in the editorial meetings of InterVarsity Press and Christianity Today, and among small study centers in college towns—is it worth talking about? Writers like Michael Gerson have hoped to highlight a cosmopolitan tradition to illustrate that not all evangelicals were or are populists, or that the true evangelicals aren’t represented by figures like Jerry Falwell, Jr… It is part of a longer history of postwar evangelical study centers on American university campuses. Historically, these study centers have been agents of a loosely shared cosmopolitan evangelicalism. They have encouraged pluralism in the tradition of Leslie Newbigin, rather than wage culture wars on university campuses. Contra Jamie K. Smith’s supposition that the “evangelical mind,” where it can be found, is located in confessional bodies, study centers have tended to work outside denominational structures… “Cosmopolitan” does not necessarily mean “liberal” or “progressive.” What cosmopolitan denotes are the priorities and practices of a subculture…These priorities are rooted in a distinct intellectual backdrop. Cotherman’s history of the Christian study center movement elucidates many of the network influences and nodes, from Regent College in Vancouver, to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, to scholarly networks of Reformed, Wesleyan, and Anglican varieties. The guiding lights are not Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffress, or Paula White, or even The Gospel Coalition or Wayne Grudem. Instead, cosmopolitan evangelicals look to the work of Soong-Chan Rah, N.T. Wright, and Fleming Rutledge; the AND
Lindsay’s sociological description informs the theological and cultural focus of cosmopolitan evangelicalism, which combines concerns that on their own could be categorized as “liberal” or “conservative” but together make up the distinctive priorities of cosmopolitans.”- Swartz
Dang, I just now noticed rules 1 & 2. My bad.
Ok, I’ll let yall katchup with me ;o)
Evangelicalism is the chittlins of ‘Murican religionism.
Another perspective would be anything that had a whif of “universalism”.
And, denial of Eternal Conscious Torment.
>>What beliefs would put you outside Evangelicalism but still leave you inside Christianity?<<
Two positions came to mind;
1. A repudiation of Penal Substitutionary Atonment.
2. A non Premilennial Dispensational perspective. Ya kaint argue with LeHaye and Jenkins…
Nowadays, “Evangelical” is a pretty broad tent.