2016-06-30
Do all evangelicals think the earth was created in six 24-hour days?

No, in fact the number of evangelicals who believe in "six-day creationism" (as it is called) is diminishing. The Hebrew term yom, used to denote "day" in the creation narrative (Genesis 1) is used in a variety of ways and does not demand an interpretation rendering it a 24-hour time period. It is also used to describe "the day [yom] of the Lord," which suggests an event outside the bounds of linear time.

What do evangelicals believe about evolution?

"Evangelicals" are not a single monolithic entity, and therefore do not advance "an evangelical position" when it comes to evolution. Some believe it is yet to be definitively proven and therefore discount it. Others believe God could use the evolutionary process to advance his creative activity if he so chooses. It is safe to say, in any case, that evangelicals generally believe that, whatever the process, God started it and that human beings are not the result of a random process of natural selection.

How many evangelical Christians are there in America? Are they all or mostly white?

Some estimates put the number around 50 million. Recent statistics indicate that white evangelicals comprise 24% of the U.S. population; black evangelicals, 10%; mainline Protestants, 16%; Catholics, 22%.

Why do evangelicals care so much about prayer in schools? Can't they just pray at home?

Not all evangelicals do care about prayer in schools for the very reason you mention: they can pray at home and realize that "a moment of silence" (or whatever form it might take) will not forge a person's religious sensibility or identity. Those who argue for freedom of prayer in public schools do so on the basis of the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment, which states the government "shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion." Since the Constitution grants the free exercise of religion, the pro-prayer proponents argue, that right should not end as soon as a student walks through the door of a public school.

Those who oppose prayer in public schools do so by virtue of the same clause, arguing that the government should not encourage religion in public schools, but remain neutral. This line of argument is countered by the pro-prayer people who assert that any governmental "neutrality" is a backhanded way of saying God is irrelevant in the public square, which in turn, they argue, violates the individual's right to the free exercise of religion.

In any case, it's a safe bet that, before final exams, there is a lot of silent prayer going on in public schools.

I just moved from L.A. to a neighborhood in the Bible Belt. Where does everyone go on Wednesday night?

Who knows? Some people may go to the Piggly Wiggly. Many churchgoing people, evangelical and otherwise, find Wednesday night the most accommodating night of the week for a midweek event: youth group, Bible study, various board or committee meetings. Who can say why? Maybe it's pacing. But not everyone in the "Bible Belt" is at church on Wednesday night.

What do evangelicals believe about demons, and what's a "deliverance"?

Evangelicals believe what Jesus believed (and said) about demons, and that is that they are real and they are force to be reckoned with. One will note in the gospel narratives that Jesus spent a lot of time "casting demons out" of people who were considered possessed. The classic evangelical view of the demonic (and evil generally) is that it is a parasitic force that latches on to something wholesome and good and then eats away at it until it loses itself--kind of like the way undergrowth in the rain forest lives off of larger trees until the host tree loses its ability to sustain life.

When he sent out his disciples to start spreading the word about God's Kingdom, Jesus gave them "authority to cast out evil spirits." Both the authority and the casting out concur with the notion that the demonic realm is less powerful than God's realm, and that when the two confront one another, God has the upper hand. A "deliverance" is a contemporary term used to describe the event Jesus himself exercised and gave authority to his disciples to exercise: that is, once it has been discerned by two or three mature believing individuals that a person has fallen prey to a parasitic demonic spirit, they possess the authority, given by Jesus himself, to command that spirit to leave the broken individual.

The temptation is to put so much emphasis on "the demonic" that one transfers responsibility for destructive behavior onto the devil instead of to the individual. This is why it is incumbent upon the ministering individuals to discern and be unanimous in their determination about demonic possession.

Do evangelicals handle snakes and speak in tongues? Why do they fall down on the floor at tent revivals?

No, evangelicals do not handle snakes. This tradition arises out of Appalachia and the isolated expressions of the faith in these mountains (where, evidently, there was an abundance of snakes). The notion is rooted in a portion of the gospel of Mark which says a person can hold a snake and not be harmed. One has to walk a long hard mile to find an evangelical and a snake together in the same room.

As to why people fall down at tent revivals, I have no idea. They call it "being slain in the spirit," but this notion does not exist (as such) in the New Testament. This phenomenon is more typically expressed in Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement, which emphasize manifestations outside the parameters of conventional evangelicalism.

Why do evangelicals talk about Jesus so much, even to people who aren't Christian? (Is it impolite if I tell them to stop?)

Why do grandparents talk about grandchildren? Parents about children? Lovers about their mates? Evangelicals have a love relationship with Jesus. He is their friend, their champion, the one with whom they share their most intimate cherished emotions, frailties and weaknesses. They also believe he rescued them from alienation from God when they were powerless to save themselves. They believe Jesus can be the same kind of friend and champion to others, if they'll give him the chance. The point is well taken, in any case. Maybe evangelicals should stop talking about him so much and start living more as he lived. This is what Jesus would want.

Whether or not it would be impolite to ask people to stop talking about Jesus could likened to whether or not it would be impolite to ask grandma to stop talking about her beloved grandson. You make the call. Or write Miss Manners.

Are all evangelicals right-wing Republicans?

No. Among evangelical Protestants, 56% self-identify as Republicans, 27% as Democrats, and 17% as Independents (see PDF chart*).

How are evangelicals different from mainline Protestants?

Many are not. But if one had to make a distinction, it would be (broadly speaking) that mainline Protestants are less assertive about wanting to know what you believe and letting you know what they believe. They tend to uphold a certain standard of privacy on these matters. Follow-up: Can a person be a Presbyterian, Methodist, or Episcopalian and be an evangelical? Of course! Many are. As noted in the book, evangelicalism is not a monolithic "bloc." It is a river (of belief) that flows through all kinds of demographic landscapes, including Mainline Protestantism.

Do evangelicals believe that everything in the Bible literally happened?

Evangelicals believe the writers of the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, are telling the truth as they saw and experienced it and that they can be trusted. If these writers were going to make up incidents they recount in the Bible, it certainly would have had less holes, incongruities, and fewer messy situations. The Psalms say the "trees clap their hands" in praise of God. Do evangelicals believe trees have hands? No. Do they believe nature in all its beauty and robustness bears witness to the beauty and robustness of God? Yes.

When it comes to portions of the Bible that are intended to communicate events that happened, particularly with regard to the life of Jesus (books known as "the gospels"), it is possible to believe something "literally happened" without a consensus about how it played out in every detail. For example, if five people saw a car accident and a police officer asked them each to write a report about the incident, he or she would come away with five very different narratives about the specifics of the accident. In any case, all five versions would indeed confirm there had been an accident and the major facets of the report would hold together.

Many evangelicals embrace this concept when it comes to some "gray" areas in the Bible: unity in the essentials (Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and so on); magnanimity in the non-essentials (drinking, smoking, cursing, tattoos--just kidding); in all things, charity.

What do evangelicals believe about the Apocalypse?

This is too comprehensive to answer in a Q&A. It is discussed in detail in Chapter Four of the book. The bottom line is: At the end of "time" as we presently know it the forces of evil will assert themselves in a final flourish to overturn the forces of God. But God wins. And Jesus returns in some notable way to claim the victory.

Why do evangelicals criticize the mainstream media so much?

Not all do. As for those who do possess a combative relationship with the media, it is due in part to the now-recognized weakness in many media outlets in understanding religious issues from a theological rather than an ideological point of view. As a result, evangelicals have been and remain to be misunderstood and thus misrepresented in the media. More media are recognizing this weakness and trying to redress it.

It is worth noting that the "mainstream media" includes many individuals who consider themselves evangelical. But being evangelical in these instances is beside the point. They are journalists doing their job who also happen to possess a personal belief system. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Do all evangelicals believe Christians should be active in politics?

No. In fact a large contingent of evangelicals believe that the mingling of politics and matters of faith is an unholy marriage and carries potential for great harm. Those who believe this way do not appear the talk shows or on the cover of major news magazines.

What IS being "born again"? Are all evangelicals "born again"?

The born-again phenomenon comes from Jesus who, in a conversation with an older "teacher of the law," was telling him that all humans have been born once from the womb. But to belong to God's family, they must undergo a second kind of birth experience, not from the flesh, but from the spirit of God (John 3).

Whether or not all who claim to be evangelicals are indeed born again only God knows. Jesus also said that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord," will enter the Kingdom of God. In any case, the born-again aspect of faith is dynamic in evangelicalism, though not always uniform in its manifestations.

Do evangelicals believe that people of other faiths are going to hell?

Again, evangelicals would answer this question differently. Some would say yes, based upon Jesus' own words "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me." Other evangelicals would opt rather to allow God to make the final determination about who is going to hell. Most evangelicals concede in either case, that those who don't go to hell and do get to heaven have gotten there by virtue of Jesus' saving acts.

Why do evangelicals cite the Bible about issues like homosexuality but not about things like polygamy? The Bible says polygamy is OK, but evangelicals don't. How do evangelicals decide which Bible verses still "count"?

Codes of behavior for evangelicals are grounded in "the scripture," the Bible. However it is important to remember that the Bible is comprised of 39 documents considered the Old Testament and 27 considered the New Testament (totaling 66). Within this corpus one finds several genres, all of which function differently. The historical narratives in the Old Testament, for example, are intended to be descriptive (describing what happened, right or wrong, for better or worse). Letters Paul wrote in the New Testament, on the other hand, are considered prescriptive (prescribing appropriate responses to particular situations). Understanding the various types of biblical literature is very important in knowing how to determine which portions are intended as "guides for life" and which are "lessons to be learned" from the actions or misdeeds of biblical forebears.

Polygamy, for example, is recognized as part of the descriptive narratives of the Bible, as is King David's conspired murder of Uriah so he could cover his sexual misbehavior with Uriah's wife. Because these events are recounted does not mean they are prescribed as the way we must live. Polygamy is denounced in the New Testament, when Paul outlines that leaders within the church must have one spouse only.

What about the Old Testament "laws," such as sacrifice of animals or stoning of adulterers? For evangelicals, these have been subsumed under the "New Covenant" inaugurated by Jesus, who said he "did not come to overturn the law, but to fulfill it." That means that the activities forbidden in the Old Testament are regarded as informative, but not required for living in relationship with God. The New Covenant initiated the era of "law of the Spirit," which, ideally, evangelicals are compelled to obey in accordance with the guiding impulse of love commanded by Jesus and reinforced by other New Testament writers.


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