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Multiple Approaches to Understanding Evangelical Christianity

In America today, there seems to be so much uncertainty about Evangelical Christianity. Who exactly are Evangelical Christians, and what beliefs do they hold? How have these beliefs evolved over time?

Let’s begin with the most basic of all these questions – what is Evangelical Christianity? In reality, no particular answer may be given to this, though some essential characteristics are linked to it.

Based on a historical point of view, the four core qualities of an Evangelical Christian are:
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> Biblicism (asserts that all spiritual truths can be learned in the Bible);
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> Crucicentrism (highlights Christ’s atoning act on the cross);

> Conversionism (emphasized that human beings must be converted); and

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

Based on a sociological perspective, Evangelical Christianity can be referred to as Evangelical denominations that have pursued more independence from the larger culture, engaged in missionary activity while espousing individual conversion, and showed exacting adherence to specific religious dogmas.

As it is usually used, Evangelical Christianity pertains to Protestants exclusively, though there’s no reason to automatically exclude Catholics from the general definition of Evangelicalism.

We come to the tricky part: how is Evangelical Christianity to be measured? That is, how do we distinguish who is one and who is not?

The most common method is knowing the person’s religious links and defining Evangelical Christianity from a denominational standpoint. Thus, if a person is a member of a certain “Evangelical” Protestant denomination, he is himself an Evangelical. But there are plenty of approaches to this.

One affiliation-related approach separates Protestants into three sets per by tradition: Evangelical, Mainline, and Historically Black. Evangelicals are social as well as theological conformists, Mainlines are more lenient both ways, and Historically Blacks are a hybrid – lenient socially but conservative theologically.

However, another popular affiliation-based method refers to “conservative” Protestants and separates them from “moderate” and “liberal” Protestants. Conservative Protestants are then split up into different sets, such as charismatics, evangelicals 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.” Each of these terms, however, are given more precise meaning by others.

A second general approach by some scholars is focused on identity. For them, an Evangelical Christian is anyone who says he is. But as discussed earlier, plenty of those who are involved in Evangelical churches can also be called other labels, like “non-denominational” or “born again” Christian.

Lastly, as a third general approach, a famous marketing company designed theological questions to determine Evangelical Christians. Two set off the process of identifying born-again Christians. Then, for born-again Christians, seven additional theology questions are asked before Evangelical Christians can be identified.

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