Life Way confirmed the statements are statistically valid, reliable, and form a valid scale, testing them in online and phone surveys.
People who strongly agree with one statement tend to strongly agree with others, indicating the statements measure a “theological package” of evangelical belief, Stetzer said.
Those who strongly agree with all four statements are more likely to attend church frequently and identify themselves as evangelical.
That’s the conclusion of a two-year collaboration between the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and Nashville-based Life Way Research to improve the contested ways researchers quantify evangelicals in surveys.
The NAE, one of several stewards of the term, hopes that the new belief-based research definition will replace older definitions based on race or politics that lead to incomplete results.
For example, the report notes that "though the African American Protestant population is overwhelmingly evangelical in theology and orientation, it is often separated out of polls seeking to identify the political preferences of evangelicals." “Evangelicals are people of faith and should be defined by their beliefs, not by their politics or race,” said NAE president Leith Anderson.
[CT previously explored how politics keeps evangelicals white.] The new report identifies four key statements that define evangelical beliefs, creating what may be the first research-driven creed.
Those statements are: Only those who strongly agree with each of those statements should be considered “evangelical by belief,” according to the NAE.
“We’re not saying these are the only evangelicals, but we are saying this will define someone as having evangelical belief,” said Scott Mc Connell, vice president of Life Way Research.To come up with the new definition, researchers sought input from a diverse group of sociologists, theologians, and evangelical leaders, including: Richard Mouw, Paul Nyquist, Mark Noll, Rodney Stark, Christian Smith, Penny Marler, Nancy Ammerman, Mark Chaves, Scott Thumma, Warren Bird, Andre Rogers, Peter Lee, Tammy Dunahoo, Gabriel Salguero, Heather Gonzales, Samuel Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Jo Anne Lyon, Leith Anderson, and Lynn Cohick.A list of 17 statements was eventually narrowed to a set of four.The statements closely mirror historian David Bebbington’s classic four-point definition of evangelicalism: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism.But this list emphasizes belief rather than behavior, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of Life Way Research.“Affiliation and behavior can be measured in addition to evangelical beliefs, but this is a tool for researchers measuring the beliefs that evangelicals—as determined by the NAE—believe best define the movement,” he said.