, 72 tweets, 10 min read Read on Twitter
I wanted to take a slightly longer shot at answering this question, mostly because my position as a slightly older #Exvangelical gives me a somewhat different perspective on the whole thing.
When I was growing up in Southern California in the 1970s, I knew that we were "Christians" and that this was somehow different from being "Catholic" or "Episcopalian" but I could not have told you HOW it was different.
Sometimes I think my parents described themselves as "non-denominational" or at least, used that to describe the kind of church they were looking for.
They might also have described themselves as "born-again Christians."
I knew people in the same churches who called themselves "charismatic." Or "Bible-believing." "Evangelical" was in use, but not as a catch-all for the religious style. You might hear "evangelical ministry" to describe the act of going around bothering people for Christ.
I'm not sure exactly when "evangelical" as a description of the style of worship started to become widely used. But it clearly described something that was already there, that needed describing.
As a family, we went to four churches: Santa Ana Christian Church, North Orange Christian Church, Lake Sawyer Christian Church, and Faith Baptist.
In addition, I have attended the church my extremely evangelical grandma went to in Lewiston, which was an "Alliance" church. gothhouse.org/blog/territori…
One of those churches was surprisingly liberal, one was wackdoodle into Satanic panic and weirdness, and the others were kind of evangelical mainstream.
If I average them together, I can come up with a unifying theory, "what does it mean to be evangelical?"
Partly referenced here:
First, a caveat -- the style of evangelical faith I'm describing is specifically a white, middle class, western-states style.
"Bebbington identifies four main qualities which are to be used in defining evangelical convictions and attitudes" -- "convictions and attitudes" is important, because there isn't, like, a Pope of evangelicals.
They have superstars, like James Dobson or the late Billy Graham & Jerry Falwell, but their relationship to the faith is -- hard to describe.
Okay, I have an appointment, I'll get back to this later.
I'm back!
One of the weird things about trying to explain "what even is an evangelical?" is that the religion is described more as a series of tendencies than as a specific doctrine.
White Evangelical Christianity is a distinct religious subculture, and in a lot of ways, it's a subculture ~rather~ than a religion. Or, maybe, it's a religion that considers "culture" to BE its religious faith?
Evangelicals, sometimes explicitly, always implicitly, believe that LITERALLY EVERYTHING IN YOUR LIFE should be about "praising God" which in practice means that literally everything in your life is defined by "being an evangelical"
So, one of the points that ISN'T in Bebbington's Quadrangle, that I think is important, is that evangelical Christianity is totalistic, a quality it shares with cults.
The 80s satanic panic was centered around secular pop and rock music, with "Christian rock" offered as an alternative, particularly for teenagers. There are evangelical movies, like the anti-legal-abortion propaganda film "Unplanned"
There's evangelical fiction, like the Frank E. Peretti books or the Left Behind series
And, oh my, there's evangelical nonfiction -- some of the ones about child-rearing and (not) dating are kind of infamous, but there's also books about psychology, self-help, physical fitness, all from an evangelical perspective.
But there's also, like, an evangelical version of fashion and home decorating. There's a reason my mom became "concerned" for the state of my soul when I dyed my hair black for a while when I was already in my 20s & hadn't really been an evangelical since I was 15.
We'd had a million conversations about it -- she KNEW that I didn't go to church when I was on my own at college, and she KNEW my support for LGBTQ rights put me at odds with the church, but somehow it was my HAIR that got her having a burden on her heart for me.
So, McJulie's "what even is an evangelical?" could start with:

"Evangelical" is a somewhat loose catch-all term for a collection of related Protestant churches that emphasize certain shared characteristics.
Among these characteristics is the idea of "Totalism" -- evangelicals believe that even seemingly trivial lifestyle decisions must be made in light of one's evangelical religious/cultural identity.
Evangelicals are highly conforming -- like teenagers who work to avoid doing/saying/wearing anything the other teenagers will make fun of, evangelicals strive to avoid doing/saying/wearing anything that will cause other evangelicals to question the state of their salvation
Also like teenagers, evangelicals are prone to faddism and in group/out group behaviors. The faddism is one of the things that makes "what even is an evangelical" hard to pin down, BECAUSE the nature of fads is that they, you know, change over time --
And faddism can be highly localized. Like, a certain idea for "how to be sure of your salvation" might take off in a single church, without being replicated in other evangelical churches.
The wackdoodle church had a period where everybody had been to some rally and got rid of their televisions, and let me tell you, MY family wasn't gonna do THAT --
But my mom couldn't see that her concern about the "satanism" in rock music was coming from the same place -- see, she WATCHED television, she didn't listen to the same kind of music I liked
I keep getting interrupted, this is probably the longest time period for any thread I've ever tried to write. Where were we? McJulie's additions to the Bebbington quadrilateral, I think?
Totalism -- a view that ALL life decisions, even seemingly trivial decisions related to aesthetics and pop-culture, must be made in light of one's evangelical identity.
Bebbington starts with:
"biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)"
I find this an extremely accurate assessment of evangelical practice.

In fact, I would claim evangelical biblicism is so extreme, their regard for "The Bible" as a holy fetish object COMPLETELY OBLITERATES any understanding of the Bible as a book with words in it.
Side story: my extremely evangelical grandfather had this joke he would tell, of the shaggy dog type, and I can't remember the setup, but the punchline is --
Some guy (maybe in prison??) is converted to (implicitly evangelical) Christianity in a context where he has LITERALLY never seen a Bible before (??) and he pronounces it "holly bibble"
I heard the actual joke once, maybe twice, but my grandfather would refer to it frequently by saying "holly bibble" as if that was inherently hilarious.

Which, you know, the funny thing was that he would always say it, not that it WAS funny in any way.
But it just occurred to me now how INCREDIBLY evangelical that joke is, presuming there could even BE a person who speaks English, but doesn't recognize the words "Holy Bible" and then tries to pronounce them NOT according to the usual rules of English
The third element of the quadrilateral is "conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted" and that also rings true as a description of evangelicals, but WOW does it get weird on the ground --
Where the idea that humans PERPETUALLY need to be converted results in, among other things, an endless cycle of "rededicating" one's life to Christ -- a need to manufacture a "conversion" experience for the thing you already supposedly believe
Evangelical belief in conversionism seems tied in to their belief that the evangelical (unlike the Catholic or other "denominational" Christian) is aligned with the early church, a scrappy newcomer burdened with the need to share a BRAND NEW RELIGION with everybody in the world
And this self-image as "bringing the word to people who have literally never heard it before" holds true even when they're "converting" people in Christian-majority countries, that have been that way for hundreds of years.
The second item on the evangelical quadrilateral is "crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross"
This, too, I think is accurate, but it doesn't tell the whole picture.
There's a conscious and deliberate emphasis on "Christ's atonement," but in many ways the REAL doctrine is found in the shadow of that -- the question "but why do we NEED Christ's atonement?"
And in that shadow, in that question of why we even need saving, that's where you find the worst, most poisonous evangelical doctrines, like "essential depravity" even for tiny babies, and also, Hell, Hell, Hell.
The fourth point on Bebbington's quadrilateral is "activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort" which, yet again, seems accurate, but not quite enough. Because in the modern evangelical world, that means POLITICS
I recently went to Jerry Falwell Jr's Twitter feed, looking for a particular thing to screen grab, didn't find it, but DID notice that his posts are like 99% pro-Republican, 1% evangelical Christian.
My parents haven't officially declared themselves #exvangelical yet, but they started having problems with the church during the GW Bush era --
When my parents first started to notice, "hey, we aren't GWB supporters, and the church... kind of assumes we have to be. What's up with THAT?"
I tried to be patient as I explained to them "yes, that's why I left the church 20 years ago only it was Reagan and you didn't understand at the time" but it was ultimately good for our relationship, so there's that.
And I think that's a key aspect of evangelicism, in practice, on the ground -- it's very much about being a member of a certain religious sub-culture, and if you fit into that sub-culture just fine, you might not see any problem with that, it's a seamless whole --
But if you never do fit in -- which, as a gloomy, gothic, smart-ass skeptic, I never did -- you notice right away, "hey, why does my religion think all these things that aren't in the Bible at all are so crucial to my salvation?"
So, we're kind of at the end of the thought now, and are we at all close to answering the question, "what do you MEAN when you say 'evangelical'?"
Evangelical. It's a style of Protestant Christianity where the cultural aspects are dominant over the personal faith experience.
The evangelical style of faith emphasizes conformity and obedience to authority. It holds traditional and neo-traditional patriarchal doctrines as key. It's cultlike and prone to faddism.
Evangelicals are anti-Democratic. They believe the US is "a Christian nation" and embrace theocracy, rejecting the idea that the first amendment requires any distinction between religion and politics.
Evangelicals believe in conversion as a perpetual state. Non-Christians must be made Christian, other Christians must be made evangelical, evangelicals must be constantly refining their faith to become MORE evangelical.
Evangelicals worship THE BIBLE as a fetish object. They interpret the Bible using fragmented literalism, treating every verse as a distinct "meaning" unto itself, with no need for context.
Evangelicals believe in a doctrine of "utter depravity," meaning, all humans, even the tiniest babies, are inherently wicked, and can only be redeemed through obedience to the evangelical church.
Evangelicals believe acts that require the performance of piety -- such as compulsory prayer in schools -- are the same as acts that arise from sincere belief.
Evangelicals believe that all acts, no matter how seemingly trivial, fall into a binary of "good" (evangelical) and "bad" (satanic). Good acts move a believer toward salvation, bad acts move a believer away from salvation & provide an egress for demonic attacks.
Evangelicals believe in a literal Hell of eternal, infinite torment, as the default post-death state of all humans. Evangelical faith is the only way to escape this dire fate. However --
Evangelicals also believe that it is possible to be mistaken about one's faith. That is, you can think you're an evangelical believer, but are you sure? No, but are you SURE? Seriously, are you really, REEEEAAALLY sure?
This evangelical belief in "false faith" drives both the push for constant re-conversion, and their dismissal of #exvangelicals as people who were never "really" Christian to begin with.
Evangelicals believe in a totalistic, obedience-first approach to faith, in which "being an evangelical" dominates all aspects of life, and critical, independent thought is actively discouraged.
Until recently, evangelicals strongly resembled a cult with no single cult leader. For example: thestranger.com/seattle/church…
But in DJT, evangelicals recognized the cult leader they had been looking for.

And DJT, in turn, recognized a pre-assembled group of worshipers eager to follow him wherever he might lead, as long as he placed them FIRST, above all others.
DJT is not, himself, a Christian, nor is he a decent person.
Evangelicals sort of acknowledge this -- they hold him up as a GIFT from God, to them, & justify his many moral failings by comparing him to flawed secular leaders from the Old Testament.
But WHY is he such a gift to them? WHAT is he promising that evangelicals want?
1. Conformity and obedience to authority
2. Traditional and neo-traditional patriarchy
3. A totalistic, cultlike fad which utterly consumes your life
4. Anti-democratic, theocratic ideals — the promise of America remade into a white Christian nationalist state
5. Intolerance of all religions other than evangelical Protestantism
6. Utter depravity
7. Performative piety
8. Binary thinking
9. Hell
And I guess that's the end of this thread. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to McJulie is (not) a witch
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!