America is a very diverse nation, some say even a divided nation. When you look at numerous demographics you see there is a great deal of difference in opinions, views, and religions. Even within Christianity there is much variety. Even within denominations there are vast differences. The PCUSA (one Presbyterian denomination) has within it both churches that ordain homosexual ministers, and others who oppose them. In addition the PCA and OPC, other Presbyterian denominations, have been, and still are the strongest defenders of traditional Christianity. They have defined Biblical Christianity and orthodoxy in theology for the whole of conservative Protestantism.
Yet, I often hear large, broad, sweeping statements that place everyone on the same shelf. My Slavic friends often think “American” is a whole religion. They simply say things like “I like American churches better” or “all American churches are bad; everyone gets divorced.” My American secular friends, often think “all Christians are the same” or worse, assume there are only two types, the “good tolerant kind and the crazy hateful ones.” Christians can be complicated. Some try to over-simplify everything, others try to over-complicate things. I will try my best to do neither. We will divide American Protestant Christianity into three groups, based on the way they identify and treat “truth.” All three positions are not three separate steps but more of a sliding scale. One can be somewhere in the middle of two positions, for example between fundamentalist and evangelical.
1. Liberals: Make absolutely no absolute statements.
If you grew up in a fundamentalists church, these “liberals” are like the boogey man. They are the worst thing anyone can think of. Supposedly in the hierarchy of hell there are weak demons, regular demons, demon overlords, the devils generals, Satan himself, and then… liberals. Generally, liberal Christians do not view the Bible as a collection of truth statements about God, but a compilation of writings that detail human beliefs and feelings about God within their historical or cultural context. God is not known through propositional truth, like “God is a Trinity, so Father, Son, and Spirit are all equally God,” but by vague emotional ideas like “God is love, so everything that is love is a fragment of God.” The way people should live is not governed by truths, such as “greed is sin, stop being greedy and ripping people off” but instead by distant philosophical reinterpretations such as “the biblical idea of greed is a powerful metaphor for how corporations suppress lower socioeconomic classes.” Usually the only true statement In liberal circles is that they don’t like truth statements. This group believes that truth about Christianity is a different thing that everyone has to figure out for him or herself.
2. Evangelicals: Make absolute statements only when they’re absolutely sure the Bible does.
(Full disclosure, this is the group I am in and believe is correct, so I am very biased about it). ‘Evangel’ is the Gospel, the good news, this is the source of our name. Evangelicals are the largest Protestant Christian group out of these three ( though some say fundamentalists are actually a type of evangelical). There is a great deal of variety in the churches and denominations that comprise Evangelicalism, some being Lutheran or Non-denom, others Charismatic or Baptist. Some are Arminian, others Calvinist. The thing that unites these Christians is not the differences in secondary issues, but unity in the primary issues. Certain truths are revealed and must be agreed upon, others things are not revealed and Christians can have liberty and charity in approaching these. For example, some may be against alcohol, others pro, and certain passages can be ripped out to support either position. While the totality of Scripture seems to say drinking can be allowed, but drunkenness is always sin, Evangelicals readily agree to allow differences of personal opinion. An evangelical will not beat down, slander, and excommunicate another for a different (but Biblical) view of alcohol. They believe the Bible is 100% true (though a simplistic literal interpretation is not always the best one). Yet they do not declare their opinions, cultural views, and possible interpretations as “truth.” Only the Bible deserves that title. This group believes that truth about Christianity is something the Bible reveals, while God is revealed many ways, such as through science and reason, the only fully authoritative source of truth about Christianity is Scripture.
3.Fundamentalists: Make absolute statements, about absolutely everything, absolutely all of the time.
This is a bit smaller than the evangelical group in America, though it’s quite sizable in other countries. The easiest way to spot a fundamentalist is by their harsh, separatist views on culture. Most have very strict truth statements about things like clothing, music, television, or the King James Version Bible. They view their personal preference about culture to be God’s revealed truth. For example, many fundamentalist men wear suits and ties, and state that is truthfully the only Christian thing to wear to church (even though Scripture has nothing of the sort). Many disallow any form of jewelry, and very seriously make truth statements declaring jewelry as sin (even though Scripture seems to state otherwise ). If you attempt to have an open discussion about any of their views, you will be met with sharp criticism, hostility, and will be told you are against the Bible. They have a strong position on everything from music to politics, and any alternative views are considered sinful or a compromise with the world. Fundamentalists are also very critical of scholarship and learning. They prefer simplistic slogans rather than inquisitive study. This group believes that every truth about God, life, and Christian practices is completely known by their specific church/denomination. Every single religious practice, teaching, cultural view, and method they have is the only True position; they are completely right on every position. Every idea they believe, whether it’s in the Bible or not, is Truth.