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Multiple Approaches to Understanding Evangelical Christianity

There is a lot of confusion about Evangelical Christianity in America today. Who exactly are Evangelical Christians, and what beliefs do they hold? How have these beliefs evolved over time?

What better place to start than the most fundamental of these questions – what is Evangelical Christianity? Truth is, there is no specific answer to this, although there are essential characteristics it is associated with.

A historical point of view would present four major qualities an Evangelical Christian would possess:
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> Biblicism (asserts that all spiritual truths are found in the Bible);
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> Crucicentrism (focuses on Christ’s atoning work on the cross);

> Conversionism (emphasizes that human beings should be converted); and

> Activism (avers that the gospel has to be physically expressed 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.

Here is the tricky part: How does one measure Evangelical Christianity? That is, how can we determine 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. Therefore, anyone who belongs to an “Evangelical” Protestant denomination is an Evangelical himself. But there are various ways to do this.

One affiliation-centered approach groups Protestants into three based on traditions – 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.

However, another popular affiliation-based method refers to “conservative” Protestants and separates them from “moderate” and “liberal” Protestants. Conservative Protestants are then split into various groups, such as the evangelicals, charismatics and fundamentalists.

To add to the confusion, journalists and other personalities in public discourse (including some scholars) make use of many different terms in place of evangelical/conservative Protestant, like “religious right,” “fundamentalist,” and “born-again.” However, others give every one of these terms a more specific meaning.

A second general approach by some scholars is focused on identity. To them, when someone says he is an Evangelical Christian, then he is an Evangelical Christian. 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.”

Finally, a third general approach for identifying Evangelical Christians was developed by a famous marketing firm, and it came in the form of theological questions. Two set off the process of identifying born-again Christians. Then, for born-again Christians, there will be seven more theology questions to determine who are Evangelical Christians.

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