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Nearly Half of U.S. Cannot Define "Evangelical"

A study conducted by Grey Matter Research attempted to determine how Americans define the term “evangelical Christian.” Only 56 percent of respondents gave any type of substantive answer to the question. By far the largest percentage of respondents (36 percent) admitted they “had no idea” how to define the term, and the remaining eight percent answered with criticism of the group as a whole instead of offering defining characteristics.

Among the 56 percent of respondents who offered a definition, 18 percent said an evangelical Christian is one that attempts to spread his/her faith to others; this was expressed both positively (“they tell others about Jesus,” “they focus on evangelism”) and negatively (“they proselytize,” “they try to recruit people”) in the survey. Equal numbers of respondents said evangelicals were simply “a type of Christian” or were “zealous or devoted” to their faith (9 percent each). Equal numbers said evangelicals’ strong focus on the Bible was really what set them apart or gave a theological definition with at least some accuracy (8 percent each). Six percent said evangelicalism had to do with a person’s worldview or politics, and five percent defined them as religious “fanatics.” Another four percent defined them as “closed-minded.” Two percent defined them as “ministry professionals.” One percent said evangelicals “attempt to follow Jesus’ lifestyle as closely as they can.”

Study analysts concluded with an interesting point: “Another Grey Matter Research study showed that only 35 percent of all Americans said they actually know an evangelical Christian very well, and just 49 percent said they know one even casually. One-third of all Americans said they have never known an evangelical at any point in their lives.”

The team also researched how alleged authorities define the term: The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “of, relating to, or in accordance with the Christian gospel…of, relating to, or being a Protestant church that founds its teaching on the gospel; of, relating to, or being a Christian church believing in the sole authority and inerrancy of the Bible, in salvation only through regeneration, and in a spiritually transformed personal life.” Wikipedia.com defines evangelicalism as “a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s and gained popularity in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century. Its key commitments are: The need for personal conversion (or being “born again”); actively expressing and sharing the gospel; a high regard for biblical authority, especially biblical inerrancy; an emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and subsequent resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.”