Labels, as I've often said, hide more than they reveal.
Still, sometimes they are useful as a shorthand way of identifying groups of people who share some characteristics -- as long as we keep in mind that they are not exhaustive descriptions of everyone in the group.
Religious labels (and religious photographs, like this one) tend to be especially dangerous because they can mislead people about what others believe and can dismiss (or affirm) people for reasons that bear little relation to reality.
I was intrigued recently when the Barna Group, a research and media development organization in southern California, did another of its religious surveys and, for its purposes, defined two terms for Christians in interesting ways. "Born again Christians" were defined as "people who said they have made a 'personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today' and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior." Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as born again. Rather, the pollsters did that later based on responses.
The other term the Barna folks defined was "evangelicals," who were identified as a "subset of born again Christians." But to be evangelical, according to Barna, means meeting seven other conditions:
1. Saying their faith is very important today.
2. Contending they have a personal responsibility to share their beliefs about Christ with non-Christians.
3. Saying Satan exists.
4. Believing salvation is possible only through grace, not works.
5. Believing Jesus lived a sinless life on Earth.
6. Saying the Bible is completely accurate in all its teachings.
7. Describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful deity who created the universe and still runs it today.
Again, respondents were not asked to identify themselves as evangelical.
So, what do you think? Is that a fair description of evangelical Christians today? What's left out? What's there that shouldn't be? Does this description fit you or people you know? Barna says that based on its defintion, there are 15 million adult evangelicals in the U.S. now.
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