Define "evangelical"

time evangelicalsI was not alone in enjoying David Gonazalez's first piece on a Pentecostal storefront church in New York City. Although I do note that our posts always receive many more comments when we criticize something than when we praise something. Why is that? I also must note with regret that I haven't yet read the subsequent installments. Anyway, a few readers pointed out that a graphic that accompanied the first installment of the story was corrected on Monday by The New York Times. The correction appears on the first page of the online story:

A graphic about the growth of Pentecostalism that accompanied an article yesterday about a storefront church in Harlem referred imprecisely to the beliefs of evangelicals. Some evangelicals believe in the literal truth of the Bible; not all do.

Ah, defining evangelicals. Not the easiest task. Terry wrote about that in a post-2004 election column. He pointed out that Billy Graham himself told him that "evangelical" could not be defined:

The Associated Press Stylebook notes that "evangelical" once served as an adjective. Today it is a noun, referring to a "category of doctrinally conservative Christians. They emphasize the need for a definite, adult commitment or conversion to faith in Christ. Evangelicals stress both doctrinal absolutes and vigorous efforts to win others to belief."

The problem is trying to agree on the "doctrinal absolutes" that define evangelicals.

The problem the Times had with its graphic dealt with Biblicism. The original graphic -- which used Todd Johnson from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, John Green from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and Tony Carnes from the International Research Institute on Values Changes as sources -- defined evangelicals as

Protestants who believe that the Bible is literally true, that salvation requires a "born again" conversion, and that one must share that faith with others. Some belong to established groups like Methodist and Baptist churches.

The new graphic omits the first phrase, beginning now with the "born again" clause. One reader who passed along the correction wrote:

But it seems to me that biblicism -- though you might want to phrase the definition without the word "literal" -- is at least as important to evangelicals as conversionism and evangelism. Anyone else think the Times correction is now more misleading than the infographic might have been originally?

The fact is that the word is tricky to define. Which do you think is better -- the original or the new graphic? If you were an editor, how would you change it to improve it?

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