What Is Evangelical Christianity?
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 have these beliefs evolved over time?
Let's start with the most elementary of all such questions - what is Evangelical Christianity? There is, in reality, not one definite answer to this, although it is related to some essential characteristics.
From a historical point of view, there are four key qualities an Evangelical Christian would have:
> Biblicism (asserts that all spiritual truths are found in the Bible);
> Crucicentrism (highlights Christ's atoning act on the cross);
> Conversionism (emphasizes that human beings should 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 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.
This is where things can get tricky: how is Evangelical Christianity 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. Hence, people belong to "Evangelical" Protestant denominations are Evangelicals themselves. 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 socially and theologically more conservative, Mainlines are more liberal on both, and Historically Blacks are socially liberal but theologically conservative.
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 matters even more complicated, journalists and other individuals in public discourse (including some scholars) use a number of terms treated as synonymous with evangelical/conservative Protestant, such as "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, Evangelical Christians are people who say they are such. 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. The process begins with two, which will be used to identify born-again Christians. Then, for born-again Christians, seven additional theology questions are asked before Evangelical Christians can be identified.