USA Today had an interesting article on the “evangelical Christians” yesterday. Cathy Grossman considered whether the E-word can be saved. What was interesting is that this is not so much an article discussing the political impact of evangelicals, but one exploring the question of what evangelicals need to believe to be considered and evangelical Christian. You can’t expect in-depth coverage in this mcpaper, but even in this brief piece we can see that its not just us theologically fundamental, conservative types that have seen a change in Christian beliefs. The whole concept of “evangelical” has been watered down. Grossman writes: “The term has become so diluted and covers such a wide spectrum of believers that it no longer clearly identifies specific leaders, programs or ideas.” In other words, it seems that the word, once meaningful and expressive of core beliefs, is now meaningless so “Christians” who use it to describe themselves and what they believe may be describing someone who is not even saved.
The article points to the research of George Barna who found that 38% of the US population consider themselves evangelical Christians yet when Barna defined evangelical more specifically using nine characteristics (see here scroll to “research details“) that number shrinks to 9%. And Barna’s 9 points don’t include belief in the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, or even that Jesus rose from the dead.
According to Barna:
The most striking differences relate to the beliefs of each group. Compared to the 9-point evangelicals, those who say they are evangelicals are: 60% less likely to believe that Satan is real
53% less likely to believe that salvation is based on grace, not works
46% less likely to say they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others 42% less likely to list their faith in God as the top priority in their life 38% less likely to believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth 27% less likely to contend that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings 23% less likely to say that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith
We’ll duh! Most “evangelicals” are not Christians beyond label only. Maybe we need to go back to the fundamentals (as politically incorrect as that label has become). USA Today had the five fundamentals in a sidebar to this article … and they got them right. I have to wonder how many “9-point evangelicals” would agree with the fundamentals. I’m guessing there might be fewer followers of Jesus out there than we think.