A Sure Fire Way to Distinguish an Evangelical Christian From a Non-Evangelical Christian


In his book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, Randall Balmer suggests that one way to distinguish an evangelical from someone who is not an evangelical is by the way they pronounce the word "evangelical." Balmer writes:

Although the rule is not universal, people who call themselves "evangelical" generally pronounce the word with a short "e" (the first two syllables rhyme with "leaven"), while people who are not evangelicals use a long "e" (ee-van-gel-i-cal).

Religion watchers, sociologists, and political pollsters have tried to identify evangelicals in all kinds of ways. What distinguishes them from other Christians? Is it their theology? Is it a born-again experience? Is it church attendance or denominational (or non-denominational) affiliation? While all of these are good means of thinking about how to define an evangelical, I want to offer a more Balmeresque suggestion, one that I came up with today while leaving the parking lot of an evangelical church. Here it is:


What do you think? Am I on to something here?


Anonymous at: March 9, 2008 at 2:59 PM said...

I thought that everybody pronounced "evangelical" with a short e, so that the first 2 syllables rhyme with "leaven."

I also thought that all Protestants brought their Bibles to church, but what do I know? You wouldn't be asking the question if they all really did.

Matt H. at: March 9, 2008 at 7:45 PM said...

It's been a while since I read it, but David Harrington Watt's Bible-Carrying Christians: Conservative Protestants and Social Power is an interesting sociological study on this very question. The "Bible theory" might hold true on national studies, but Watt's study of the greater Philadelphia region suggests--if I remember right--that socially progressive Quakers are as likely to tote their Bibles as are independent fundamentalist Baptists. I suspect, however, that the trend Watt notes would not hold true in every corner of America.

David Grua at: March 9, 2008 at 8:24 PM said...

Mormons, who would gladly claim the identity of "non-evangelicals" while bitterly contesting those that deny them a "Christian" identity, always carry their Bibles (along with their copies of the Book of Mormon) to church.

Russ R at: March 10, 2008 at 12:26 AM said...

The Christian Reformed Church is a bit hard to categorize, but it's rare to see anyone bring a Bible. I've dubbed a certain sound the "CRC Clunk" - it's the loud thud when the entire congregation drops their pew Bible back into the pew rack after the Bible reading.

Anonymous at: March 10, 2008 at 7:59 AM said...

I think my ee-vangelical credentials are fairly well established. I have a degree from a Christian liberal arts college. I attended a non-denominational church that identified itself as evangelical and have attended more than my share of Campus Crusade for Christ events. I have rarely met anyone in these circles who pronounces evangelical so that the first two syllables rhyme with "leaven."

I think the problem with defining evangelicalism is that it is primarily a spirituality more than a movement or a political persuasion, though contemporary scholarship suggests otherwise. Until scholars figure that out how to talk about evangelicals as American pietists (F. Ernest Stoeffler) we will continue to be confused.

Anonymous at: March 10, 2008 at 10:41 AM said...

Evangelicals tend to evangelize a lot more than non-evangelicals, I think. And they seem to like to quote scripture, for the purpose of evangelizing/teaching/justifying, with a readiness that is uncommon among non-evangelicals.

I always thought "leaven" pronunciation was a southern thing. That's the only place I've heard the world pronounced that way.

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