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Is ‘White Evangelicalism’ the Same as ‘Historic Christian Theology’? Christians Debate Evangelicalism’s Place in Church History on Twitter

“If you don’t like our support of Trump you probably wouldn’t have liked our support of Constantine,” someone wrote. Another said that criticizing evangelicalism is “what you do when you hate Jesus *and* white people.” Someone else affirmed that the term “white evangelical” is “code for true Christian.”

Though evangelicalism has certainly existed as a distinct tradition within the broader global church and traces its roots back to the Great Awakening of the 18th century, pinning down exactly what it means to be an evangelical has been a point of disagreement among theologians, historians, and sociologists alike. 

Last year, Christianity Today editor-in-chief Russell Moore weighed in on the usage and meaning of the term. 

“I’m talking every day to churchgoing evangelical Christians who don’t want to use the word ‘evangelical’ because it’s become merely a political word,” Moore said to NBC’s Meet the Press Reports in October 2021. “And so, often what I’m doing is spending all day talking faithful evangelical young people out of walking away from the church, at the same time that you have people who haven’t been in a church since Vacation Bible School but think they’re evangelical because of their political beliefs.” 

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Moore added that he stopped identifying with the term “evangelical” for a short time but returned to it because he “couldn’t find a replacement for it to describe what it means to be a Gospel-centered Christian, protestant Christian, who believes in the things that we believe.”

The political component of “evangelical” as an identity was recently highlighted by the State of Theology study conducted by Ligonier and Lifeway Research, which found that 65% of self-identifying evangelicals believe people are born innocent, 56% deny that Jesus is the only way to salvation, and 43% deny the divinity of Christ. Conversely, 91% agree that abortion is a sin, and 94% believe that sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin. 

Striking in these results is that a large portion of people who identify as evangelicals deny essential Christian doctrines while remaining aligned with elements of Christian morality that intersect with the political sphere, indicating that use of the term is shaped by identification with political ideology as much as evangelical theology—if not more so. 

Regarding the attention his tweet has garnered, Shenvi told ChurchLeaders that “responses from progressive Christians seemed to substantiate the Tweet. Lots of critique came from people with pronouns in their bio, and some even explicitly admitted that, yes, they are attacking historic Christian theology.”

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Shenvi added that much of the disagreement came from users with Pride flags in their Twitter profiles and that one of the most “liked” responses included a sexual innuendo centering on a play on Shenvi’s word choice in his original tweet.