What Do Evangelical Protestants Believe?

Evangelicals believe that every Christian has a responsibility to share the Gospel.
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Evangelical Protestantism is an interdenominational movement that is theologically and politically diverse. Believers with differing points of view can be found throughout a broad spectrum of evangelical churches, schools, advocacy groups and other organizations. However, scholars have identified several distinguishing beliefs that evangelicals tend to share.

1 Biblical Authority

As historian David Bebbington observed, one hallmark of evangelicalism is belief that the Bible is a divinely inspired work whose original texts are without error. This view, the doctrine of inerrancy, stands in contrast to liberal Protestantism's acceptance that the scriptures developed historically and can contain mistakes. There has nonetheless been some debate among evangelicals on the precise implications of biblical infallibility for such issues as creationism, the end times or belief in a literal hell.

2 Sacrificial Atonement

Another core evangelical doctrine identified by Bebbington and other scholars is the belief that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ saves people from their sins. Whereas liberal Protestants are open to viewing Christ's death on the cross as an instructive example of selflessness or a demonstration of the human capacity for violent injustice, evangelicals view the crucifixion as Christ paying the penalty for sinful disobedience. As for the scope of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice, or atonement, some evangelicals believe that Christ died for all humanity, while others follow the Calvinistic belief that Jesus died only for those whom God predestined to salvation.

3 Spiritual Rebirth

A third signature evangelical Protestant doctrine is the need for a distinct and dateable conversion experience. The experience of believing in, or "accepting" Christ as one's personal savior is seen as the only way of salvation. The evangelical belief in regard to conversion as a singular experience stands in contrast to a liberal understanding of Christian conversion as gradual transformation.

4 Morality and Mission

In addition to such spiritual experiences as prayer, repentance and worship, evangelicalism also has an equally strong emphasis on personal morality and active evangelism. The evangelical belief that Christians have a responsibility to communicate the Gospel to nonbelievers has helped spark global missionary initiatives as well as more localized evangelistic outreach, such as revival meetings and personal witnessing. Evangelical morality tends to fall on the conservative end of the political spectrum, such as the belief that premarital sex, abortion and same-sex relationships are sinful. However, progressive evangelicals, exemplified by the followers of Jim Wallis and the Sojourners Community, have displayed some openness to a broader moral perspective.

John Green is an attorney who has been writing on legal, business and media matters for more than 20 years. He has also taught law school and business courses in entrepreneurship, business enterprise, tax and ethics. Green received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in religion from Duke.