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Per Caleb's suggestion, I've broken my answer up.

The main (and much shortened!) potential FAQ is here: What is Christianity.SE?

In there, I've linked two questions that I think are really important, but are both more controversial and more technical.

  1. What is "mainstream Christianity"?

There's a big difference between "Who is a Christian" and "What Christians are we talking about in a given answer." When no identified denominational perspective is present, I feel like this answer is a good one. It goes to great pains to say that everyone is welcome, but if you don't identify a perspective, these are the things that people are going to assume about the answer.

  1. What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer?

This is really just another crack at What makes a good supported answer? I don't want to replace it, just wanted to have another option.

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    Lots of good stuff here, especially the part about bias, but the first paragraph could use some work. Currently, it seems to establish some beliefs (including LDS and JW) as second-class citizens on this site, since they are not among the "manifestations of Christianity [that] should form the basis of the best questions and answers". I think that part should be reworded to be more inclusive while keeping the idea that posts from personal or extremely obscure beliefs are discouraged. – hammar Jan 20 '12 at 20:07
  • Think I've maybe addressed that comment (good catch!) – Affable Geek Jan 20 '12 at 21:48
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There is some really good content here. There are also some parts that I think would need to be scratched altogether since they don't have a place on the site at all.

However, even if we worked through this point by point (some of it is going to go over better than others with the community), I think it is far too verbose for the FAQ. How about breaking down these sections into individual proposals/guidelines and making them a series of posts her on meta. It would be much easier to gather feedback and community consensus, and particular issues or segments that are well received could become good reference posts to educate new participants with. Once an frequently encountered issue is backed by some community consensus, we can tag posts on meta as .

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(This was the original) What kinds of questions can be asked here?

Christianity.SE is a scholarly forum in which questions can be asked about the tradition, doctrine, and practice of Christianity. Christianity has existed for nearly 2000 years, and has many manifestations. This site defines as Christian all who claim to be such, but questions and answers that are representative of mainstream manifestations of Christianity (see below) should form the basis of the best questions ans answers. Less well known and more modern sects should be identified as such, and privately held viewpoints are discouraged.

On-topic questions and answers will make use of what is commonly referred to as the four sources of theology:

  • Scripture (References to the 66 books can be assumed, other Scriptures can be used but should be called out as 'non-canonical')
  • Tradition (References to historical and contemporary practice in recognized denominations or sects are highly encouraged)
  • Reason (Explanations of logic from sources or postulates are encouraged)
  • Experience (References to documented extrabiblical and widespread, other historically sourced experienced are allowed, but personal experiences are discouraged when answering, only because scholarly analysis does not work well in this context. The Azusa Street Revival, for example, would count, but 'I saw Sister Jenkins..' would not.)

Off-topic question and answers

  • Are devoid of sources named above
  • Make unreasonable inferences or implications
  • Express privately held beliefs rather than demonstrable manifestations
  • Are argumentative (i.e. trying to "score points" either for or against a particular point of view)
  • Are not represented in historical manifestations of the church
  • Are individual or call for personal pastoral advice. If "you" are an integral part of the question or the answer, please seek a pastor or priest. We might be a spiritual Web.Md, but we definately aren't your local physician.

What makes a good answer?

First off, it should be clear that votes represent a viewpoint that

  • a question is a valid, non-argumentative request for an answer or an explanation
  • an answer is well sourced, logically coherent, and representative of either mainstream Christianity or of the requested denominational perspective
  • in any case shows a high ratio of fact and reason to bias and opinion.

Questions and answers that are good at doing these things are worthy of your upvote. Particulary good answers can even be awarded bounties.

What doesn't deserve a downvote?

  • a question or answer that is otherwise well-sourced, well-written, and/or well thought out, but doesn't happen to conform to your doctrinal position or belief.

What does deserve a downvote?

  • argumentative or rude behavior. (Rude behavior should be flagged)
  • answers lacking sources
  • poorly expressed or framed responses (e.g. a "Yes" or "No", a naked bible verse, or nonsense)
  • privately held opinion, especially when it does not clarify its own biases
  • non-explicit biases

What is fact and reason?

Facts are demonstrably provable points. Bible verses, church documents, historical references, and other information that is either widely known or sourceable. Reason is an inference or implication made explicit from a demonstrable fact.

What is opinion?

Anything that isn't either widely known, well-sourced, or a logical implication or inference of a documentable fact.

  • "This verse should be read [ literally | figuratively ]" is an opinion
  • "Fundamentalists read this verse literally | Liberals read this verse figuratively" is a fact. (Note: You could actually be right or wrong. The point is that facts are falsifiable. Opinions are not.)

What is bias?

Bias is an intentional or unintentional covert attempt to either avoid an issue or reframe an issue outside of the bounds of mainstream thought. It should be noted that naming one's own bias is good. Leaving out widely known information because it does not fit your bias is bad, and should be downvoted. A good answer can be "biased" as long as it calls itself out. Note also, by the scoping of this site, a bias towards Christainity expressed in its many forms, is acceptable. (I.e. you don't have to preface everything with "Assuming there is a God," or "Assuming the Bible is a valid source of theology.")

What is prolegomina?

Christian Theology has been going on for nearly 2000 years. That is a long conversation which to which this site is only a recent addition. Good answers should advance that ongoing conversation, and should refer to it. There are also sorts of theological terms and concepts that have already been named, defined, and argued. References to that conversation are clearly facts. Where those facts are not as widely known, links are encouraged. Explanations of technical terms are good. Creating your categories is not.

What is a privately held opinion? Anything that is "novel" in regards the current state of the prolegomina. If you can find a reputable theologian, seminary journal, or news source that mentions your opinion or your sect, then its most likely on topic. If you just made it up, it's not.

What is "mainstream Christianity"

First off, remember that the working definition of a Christian for purposes of this site is "anyone who identifies as such." In defining 'mainstream' Christianity, we are not attempting to to say who is or who is not a Christian. We are seeking to cover as wide a spectrum of Christianity as possible. We actively solicit from as many recognized manifestations of Christianity as possible. What we are attempting to do is to arrive at a reference for people interested in "Christianity." What we're not interested in is "What I think".

That said, here are some widely recognized types of Christianity, all of which happen to be Chalcedonian:

  • Orthodox (e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc...)
  • Roman Catholic
  • Protestant (Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, etc...)

Less widely known but still equally as on-topic are Non-Chalcedonian and "other" Christians. When answering from these perspectives, it is important to identify the denominational perspective, in order that less educated readers would understand that Christianity is perhaps broader than originally assumed:

  • Historic Non-Chalcedonian Churches (Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian, Nestorian, etc..)
  • Jehovah's Witness
  • The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)
  • Seventh-Day Adventists

In the "definately requires sourcing" would be sects that have had brief histories or very, very limited followings:

  • David Koresh
  • Jim Jones
  • Westboro Baptist Church

When referencing groups such as this, it should be abundantly clear that these are not mainstream but are self-identified as Christian. Answers that would be this "peculiar" (theologically novel) must recognize that they are not representative of the mainstream.

Is there such a thing as "Christian Atheism?" Yes, but don't expect to be representative of the mainstream. If you are answering from this perspective, please call it out as such.

Do I have to be a Christian to answer? No. In fact, many secular theologians have contributed greatly to the conversation, both on this site and in the wider academic world. We expect all answers to be respectful, but we do not expect all answers to be holy.

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