Mess of Pottage Blog

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Tim Keller: What is a Conservative Protestant

on May 15, 2015

I’ve mentioned the recent Pew survey to some people this week and several have asked me what “Mainline Protestantism” is and how it relates to “Evangelical Protestantism”. The Pew people explain their methodology, but it’s not especially useful unless you’re trying to classify people in a survey. So I prefer this explanation by Tim Keller:

I’ll use the Bebbington four plus one. Now, David Bebbington was a historian and a sociologist some years ago who tried to define evangelicalism and came up with these four characteristics.

I have never found the autograph of what he actually said, but because it keeps coming down through everybody else, this is my understanding of his four characteristics were the authority of the Bible — by that, I think it means the Bible trumps reason and experience. Secondly, the necessity of a conversion experience of some kind. Thirdly, salvation through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, not good works. Fourth, mission, the idea of activism, needing to take this message to the world.

And my fifth one I would add — even though it may be inherent, it may be implied, I would call it supernatural Christianity. Liberal Christianity tried to redo all of Christian doctrine in terms of naturalistic assumptions, no miracles. And I would say an evangelical conservative Protestant definitely believes in miracles, believes the resurrection really happened.

Somebody once told me, if you ask an Episcopalian minister, “Did the resurrection really happen?” and if he says, “Well, it depends on what you mean,” that means no.

I don’t know if that’s fair to suggest about Episcopalians, but I know a several Methodist and Presbyterian ministers who would add a lot of caveats and nuance to their answer.


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