Alexandria, Va.: Somebody told me the other day “I’m an evangelical.” What does that mean? How is it different from a fundamentalist? Hanna Rosin: A very excellent question, as that term is much misunderstood. People used to define an evangelical as anyone who liked Billy Graham, but that’s not so helpful anymore. Fundamentalist is a historical term from the beginning of the century that’s come to be associated with very literal reading of the Bible and a restrictive lifestyle, and also has come to take on negative connotations. I rarely meet people who call themselves fundamentalists anymore. Theologically speaking, an evangelical believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and has a living, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. But that term also has taken on political implications, so it has come to mean someone who advocates the “family values” agenda. Right now that term is so overused that anyone who goes to a megachurch can call themselves an evangelical, and it doesn’t really tell you all that much about what the person believes or how they live. Complicated answer, but there it is.Combining some ideas from Bebbington & Green, here's a paraphrased snapshot of the three basic tenets of what it means to be theologically evangelical:
- salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ & not through good works
- the Bible is inerrant & is the primary source of religious authority
- all followers of Christ are commissioned by Jesus to share their faith ("evanglize" - where the word "evanglical" comes from)
Note there's no party affiliation in here - and there's no denominational affiliation, either. While believing these things may make it more likely for you to attend a particular brand of church or be loyal to a particular political party, it is not an implicit part of the belief system.Evangelicals are not a monolothic sub-culture that can be manipulated by uttering a few religious buzz words or leaving near-subliminal signals in your television advertising. While we have some right-wing (or even right of right-wing) nut jobs in our fold, that's not a complete picture of who we are. How many of you atheists out there are glad that Madyln Murray O'Hair has been the face of your movement for 40+ years? We evangelicals - for the most part - feel the same way about people lumping all of us in with Pat Robertson. I'm not sure this is a coherent post - but I feel better for writing it. So, I guess that's all good, eh?