Tuesday, April 18, 2006


An Evangelical By Any Other Name.... --
The New York Times reports on how evangelical Christianity is not a monolithic movement.


Evangelical leaders have clashed recently over a range of issues, including whether the movement should get involved in the debates over global warming and immigration. A tug of war is also unfolding behind the scenes over theology — should evangelicalism be a big tent, open to more divergent views, or a smaller, purer theology?

To a certain extent, divisions are to be expected, because the evangelical movement has become increasingly diverse as it has grown, making it harder to define, or for any one person to serve as even its symbolic head, as Mr. [Billy] Graham did.

"There are many people today who call themselves evangelical whom no person would call an evangelical 40 years ago," said Donald A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, used polling data to separate evangelicals into three camps, traditionalist, centrist and modernist. The traditionalists, characterized by high affinity for orthodox religious beliefs and little inclination to adapt them to a changing world, bear the closest resemblance to what has been labeled the Christian right, whose most visible spokesmen have been figures like the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the television evangelist Pat Robertson, Dr. Green said.

Centrists, he said, might be represented by the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., and author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life." Mr. Warren is theologically and socially conservative, but has mostly avoided politics and recently turned much of his focus to fighting poverty and AIDS in Africa.

According to Dr. Green's findings from a survey taken in 2004, the traditionalist and centrist segments are roughly the same size within evangelicalism, each accounting for approximately 40 to 50 percent of the movement's adherents. Modernist evangelicals, who have much more diversity in their beliefs and lower levels of church attendance, are a small minority. Fissures between the traditionalist and centrist camps of evangelicalism have begun to emerge much more prominently in recent months in the political realm.


I have always compared the way that people think about religion with the way people think about politics. Can anyone else see how someone could easily craft an analogy between this and splits between liberal and centrist wings of the Democratic party?
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