It's an old question, but it keeps coming up here at GetReligion and in many other settings online, in journalism and in academia: What does the word "evangelical" mean?
Is this, as many young people insist (including lots of my students), just another name for white Republicans?
Is this a sociological term, describing a movement of people in a specific subset of conservative Protestantism, one best defined in terms of culture, zip codes and upbringing?
Is it simply a term that describes a specific marketing niche containing conservative Protestants who consume certain types of media, admire specific religious celebrities and support the same parachurch ministries?
Is this a term with precise doctrinal and historical content, one linked to specific confessions of the faith? If "evangelical" is a term with doctrinal content, who has the ecclesiastical power to define or alter that content?
People were arguing about this issue again, of course, In the wake of the media mini-storm surrounding evangelical activist Tony Campolo's long-awaited open embrace of gay marriage, as a doctrinal statement, as well as political policy. GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn that this was the topic of my "On Religion" column this week for the Universal syndicate and also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune in the Issues Etc. network version of that program.
For many commentators it was much more significant that recently retired Christianity Today editor David Neff moved to the doctrinal left on gay marriage, in comparison to the rather predictable statement by Campolo. In my column I noted: