Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Evangelical & Mainline Differences @CTmagazine

Yesterday, Christianity Today posted an article (more like a summary graphic) based on some research of political differences between evangelical and mainline groups, particularly the pastors.

While the political differences are interesting, I found the right-hand column, entitled Characteristics of Protestant Clergy, to be even more interesting. In fact, it seems like there are even more significant differences between evangelicals and mainliners in these theological areas.

These seems rather relevant to my recent musings on doctrine. In my experience, evangelicals seem more concerned about defending doctrine than mainliners. Yet evangelical pastors are significantly less likely to have graduated seminary. Does that seem ironic to anyone else?

It's hard to truly interpret the data without more information, and as anyone who taken a stats course know, correlation does not mean causation. But I do find it fascinating that those with greater theological education tend to be less apparently dogmatic about their theology overall.

In fact, it seems like evangelicals tend to display more dogmatic, everyone-must-believe-this-exact-set-of-beliefs than mainliners. If you look at the three other graphs, the evangelical line is almost at 100%. All three are on theological beliefs--Agree That Jesus Was Born of a Virgin, Agree That The Devil Actually Exists, and Male (this last one would indicate a belief in complementarianism v. egalitarianism).

I don't think any of these are essential beliefs, but with the almost unanimity that the evangelicals in the study correspond to these beliefs, it could be assumed that many evangelicals do hold these as essentials, either explicitly or implicitly. Even if they don't, I find it interesting that there isn't much diversity in thought on the issues.

In contrast, mainline denominations seem to display much greater diversity in these beliefs. All agree with those statements at over a 50% rate. But the significantly lower number would indicate to me that they hold these as less salvific issues than the evangelicals and allow members to disagree on a greater number of issues.

Again, I may be reading too much into these graphs, which truly provide very limited information. At the same time, these things do match up with my general experiences (there is always an exception on both sides) of evangelical and mainline congregations. What do others think?

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