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Christianity under the umbrella of 'Protestants' is still incredibly diverse. I see a lot of questions asked on this site along the lines of 'what do protestants believe about X' or 'what is the Protestant interpretation of Scripture Y', and these seem to be accepted questions, but the reality is that the Reformed Presbyterians look at things from a very different perspective from the Pentecostals, and both of them are very different from the Episcopalians, even though they are all 'Protestant'. Even the doctrines of 'Sola Scriptura' and 'Sola Fide' are not universal to Protestantism.

For example, if someone asks, what are the differences between the Protestant and Catholic interpretations of John 6:53, what do I say? Presbyterians don't believe in the real presence, but the Lutherans do, but still believe in it differently than the Catholics - and I could go further by talking about the attitudes of the Pentecostals, Methodists, Anglicans, etc, and how they reconcile that verse with reference to Communion (or maybe some even say that it's not about Communion at all).

We might want to consider tightening down on the requirements so that we know which school of thought is being targeted when a specific question is being asked.

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Scoping should reflect the level of specificity required in the context of the question.

"Protestants" should be considered valid if it is regarding something that is distinctive to the broad group of Protestants. An umbrella denomination (like "Reformed") should be used for something more distinctive but generally applicable to the Reformed denominations. A specific denomination (like the PCA) for something broadly applicable to the PCA.

If I were to ask, "What is the Protestant canon?" that should be acceptable, even though there is not absolutely 100% agreement on the Protestant canon it is universal enough to provide a real answer. Theology of communion should probably be scoped to the umbrella denomination (Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, etc). More specific questions like, "What is the Protestant belief on Exclusive Psalmody?" would be too broad both for Protestants and the umbrella denominations. You would have to ask about specific Reformed denominations who believe in Exclusive Psalmody.

We should not exclude out of hand the use of the Protestant label, but be mindful of its abuse.

  • I see this as probably the best way to handle the Protestant label. There are a few things that almost all Protestants agree on. – Josiah Feb 9 '16 at 20:43
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Neither of the other answers mentions the "overview" type of question, which is certainly applicable in many questions asking "what do Protestants believe?"

A question like "What do Protestants believe about the unforgivable sin?" is too broad, because Protestants of different traditions believe different things about the unforgivable sin.

However, a question like "What is an overview of Protestant belief regarding the unforgivable sin?" is in scope: instead of asking for one position, or a never-ending list of positions, the question asks for an overview of the views held by Protestants. An answer to such a question would need to briefly address the major positions held across Protestantism—not necessarily an easy task—in order to give a high-level understanding of the doctrine's variations.

The same could be said for many doctrines. However, keep in mind that even the "overview" type has limits, and may not always be enough to rescue an extremely broad question.

  • But how do you decide which groups which define themselves as under the Protestant umbrella should be included in the "overview" (if there is one) on the topic of the unforgivable sin? There's no consensus on which Christian sects should be included and excluded from the Protestant grouping. Why not make people specify which particular Sects they want to know about, because Protestant is so broad, it could potentially take me months to write a complete answer to Protestant belief regarding the unforgivable sin, since I need to cite sources. – Josiah Feb 9 '16 at 20:37
  • This actually isn't a hypothetical example. Certainly some branches of Protestantism got only cursory attention in my answer (like dispensationalism), and some might argue that I should have included an Anabaptist or even a Mormon representative. Nonetheless, the answer provides a high-level summary of the vast majority of "Protestant" thought, even if you stretch the boundaries of what Protestant means. – Nathaniel is protesting Feb 9 '16 at 20:51
  • How do you provide a proof that this represents general Protestant thought? Do we define general by most sects or most people? At which point is there enough agreement to say "this is what protestants generally believe"? It's too vague to say what you mean by saying "generally this is what protestantism teaches" unless the consensus is extremely overwhelming – Josiah Feb 9 '16 at 22:53
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    Two of my sources cover the topic generally, so readers can refer to them for confirmation/further reading. But generally, Protestantism has the disadvantage of rarely having a "canonical" answer to any question, so these sorts of answers ultimately come down to showing that you have done your homework and citing enough sources. The same issue often applies to questions specific to Protestant branches, like "what do Calvinists believe about X," because even there a single answer can't quote every Calvinist who has expressed an opinion. – Nathaniel is protesting Feb 9 '16 at 22:59
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    If it turned out that my answer had failed to capture a major view, then I'd expect it to get comments and/or downvotes until I had addressed the deficiency. – Nathaniel is protesting Feb 9 '16 at 23:02
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No. It's too broad, and the definition is fuzzy.

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