There are three ways to look at Christian Evangelicals: as people of faith that follow a set of specific doctrines; as an organic network of traditions; or as a self-identified coalition that emerged during World War Two. These doctrines, according to historian David Bebbington, are the belief in the need to change lives through conversion; expressing the message of the gospels through activism; a strong regard for the Bible as a guide for life; and stressing the importance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
According to the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE), when viewed as an organic network of traditions, evangelicalism "denotes a style as much as a set of beliefs. As a result, groups as disparate as black Baptists and Dutch Reformed Churches, Mennonites and Pentecostals, Catholic charismatics and Southern Baptists all come under the evangelical umbrella—demonstrating just how diverse the movement really is."
The terms Fundamentalist, Born-Again, Pentecostal, and Charismatic denote specific and sometimes overlapping subsets of Christianity, and primarily are found within Protestant evangelicalism. To be Born-Again implies a specific personal religious conversion experience that involves a powerful sense of being imbued with the spirit of God. Fundamentalists tend to read the Bible literally, reject liberal church doctrine, and often shun secular society. Pentecostals and Charismatics believe they routinely manifest gifts from the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues or being swept up into physical ecstasy by the Lord of the Dance.
In the broadest sense, according to Gallup polls, the number of persons in the United States who described themselves as either Evangelical or Born-Again between 1976 and 2001 fluctuated between 33 percent and 47 percent with a reasonable estimate being 35 percent of the population or just over 102 million people in 2003.
1) Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE). 2003. "Defining Evangelicalism." See, http://www.wheaton.edu/isae/defining_evangelicalism.html.
4) Princeton Religion Research Report. 2002. "Describing Self as Born-Again or Evangelical," bar graph, online. See, http://www.wheaton.edu/isae/Gallup-Bar-graph.html.
From "Religion and Politics in the U.S.: Nuances You Should Know" by Chip Berlet, the Public Eye Magazine, Political Research Associates. Released by permission of the author.
- (Evangelical Demographics) "Religion and Politics in the U.S.: Nuances You Should Know" by Chip Berlet, Political Research Associates