Monday, February 22, 2010

streams of protestantism

For those outside of Protestantism, I'm posting this helpful synopsis from Undeception of the different streams of Protestant Christianity:
1) Fundamentalists/conservative evangelicals assume that the main body of church teaching is correct. When they encounter opposition to that teaching, they tend to marshal their most trusted apologists to defend the teaching.
Distrust: All unbelievers and Christians who disagree with certain (varying) core teachings except for on matters not perceived as influencing worldviews.
Boundaries: Uncertainty is strongly resisted. Very stable; those who unwillingly stumble into doubt tend toward a treacherous disillusionment with faith. May become progressive if enticed to begin critical examination of their tradition.

2) Progressive evangelicals hold to the main body of church teaching somewhat more provisionally. When they encounter opposition to that teaching, they more open-mindedly and critically evaluate the evidence.
Distrust: Fundamentalists; anti-Christian secularists except on non-worldview matters.
Boundaries: Certainty is still largely assumed possible and sought out. Tends to be a transitional stage; an overriding “thrill of the hunt” has been aroused. May become post-evangelicals or liberal Christians when core traditional assumptions are rejected and/or the belief forms that highly formulated theology is artificial and limiting.

3) Post-evangelicals have identified a very few core teachings and hold somewhat loosely to others until they are problematized, which they find happens fairly easily. Characterized by a pronounced agnosticism (in the general sense) and distrust of any systematic theology purporting to be based on Scripture/tradition alone. The assumption is still present that the Bible in the main presents an adequate and accurate picture of spiritual reality, but the burden of proof is not as heavily weighted toward the opposition’s side as it is for progressive evangelicals.
Distrust: Strident conservative evangelicals and strident anti-religious secularists in matters of worldview.
Boundaries: Content with or resigned to uncertainty. A potentially stable position for those who are more content with uncertainty, but many move on to agnosticism or liberal Christianity.

4) Liberal Christians are those whose view of God and spirituality is shaped almost exclusively by the ethics of Jesus/the Christian tradition, clinging to no teaching of the Bible or tradition without subjecting it to thorough critical scrutiny. They have (to varying degrees) adopted the conviction that such critical scrutiny has proved virtually all traditional conceptions of the Bible’s origin, nature, and accuracy to have been inaccurate. Typically regard Scripture as fully human and merely reflective or suggestive of the spiritual realities to which its human authors attest, lacking any coherent theme imposed upon it by God. Needless to say, there are at least as many different varieties of liberal Christian as there are evangelicals.
Distrust: Fundamentalists and the more conservative evangelicals.
Boundaries: Bask in uncertainty. Extremely stable.

Protestantism and especially Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism can be quite a mystery for those who have had the fortune or misfortune (depending on your perspective) of avoiding active involvment in this segment of the Christian religion. In the future, I'd like to attempt to describe my background, and an understanding of Protestantism is necessary in order to grasp different aspects of my experience. . .


  1. When creating a taxonomy, one has to decide if it is "normative" or "descriptive". Do you want it to tell the reader the way things SHOULD be (normative) or the way the ARE.

    This chart has touches of both.

    For instance:
    Fundamentalists: "marshal their most trusted apologists" (that is demeaning).

    Post Evangelicals: "identify with very few core teachings" Using the expression "core teachings" is already showing a preference of the taxonomy.

    Liberal Christian: Boundaries, "Extremely unstable" --> why not "very flexible"

    You can tell he likes "Progressive Evangelicals".

    Such a taxonomy is more confessional than objective.

  2. I'd say that's not limited entirely to protestants. All four varieties are found within the Catholic and (I would guess) Orthodox churches. The difference is that they are all shoved into the same denomination, due, i would guess, to a strong unwillingness to convert/switch denominations.

    Nice chart. I suppose the language could be neutralized a bit more, and distrust could be explained a bit more clearly, but other than that, you did a nice job!

  3. @ CRL
    I think the chart is Steve's (Undeception), not Nathan's(Repareieren).

  4. @ Sabio
    I agree that objectivity is not the strong point of this taxonomy. It's clearly a product of an individual who has experienced some of these different streams of Christianity and has formed opinions about them. However, I posted it because I appreciate its succinctness. (Also, perhaps unfortunately, I can relate to the undertones of antipathy towards certain branches of Christianity, esp. Fundamentalism.)

    @ Caitlin
    Yeah, there likely is an equal amount of heterogeneity within Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.

    BTW, you mentioned in a previous post that you attended church as a child. I'd be interested in hearing more about your religious background (if you want to share).

  5. Me? Catholic mom, "highly lapsed Unitarian" dad, 9 years (k-8) of a very conservative catholic school. Many a report card ruined by low religion grades. Atheist 5th, 6th, and 8th grades. Reconverted for unexplained reasons.