If I had to summarize a complicated, important week at the Southern Baptist Convention’s meeting in a single sentence, it would be this: In a series of contentious confrontations, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination confirmed that it is (for now) more Evangelical than fundamentalist. And that outcome is good news for the church and the nation.
To explain what I mean, let me back up a moment and define my terms. It’s important to understand what “Evangelical” really means, and that requires going back to pre-exit poll Christianity.
How did exit polls corrupt our definitions? When most Americans think of the term “Evangelical,” they’re not thinking so much as a set of theological presuppositions but rather of the sub-group of Americans who respond “yes” to an exit-poll question, a very imprecise exit-poll question. For example, here it is, in 2020:
The problems with the question are obvious. Immediately you lose any sense of the racial diversity of American evangelicalism. Black and Hispanic Evangelicals are lost in “all others,” and they’re far more politically diverse than white Evangelicals. In addition, the question papers over tremendous differences within “evangelical” and “born-again” Christianity itself.