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Multiple Approaches to Understanding 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 are these beliefs changing?

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.

From a historical point of view, there are four key qualities an Evangelical Christian would have:
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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 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 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 plenty of approaches to this.

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

Another common approach based on affiliation, however, pertains to “conservative” Protestants and segregates them from “moderate” and “liberal” Protestants. Conservative Protestants are then split up into different sets, such as charismatics, evangelicals 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.” Others, however, provide a more specific meaning for each of these terms.

A second general method used by some scholars centers around identity. For them, Evangelical Christians are people who say they are such. 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.