If I could provide a summarizing framework for all the various forms of Protestantism, it would consist of a two-category continuum: the exegetical traditions (having an emphasis on doctrine) and the experiential traditions (having an emphasis on experience). However, this gets complicated when you filter in the categorical dichotomy between sacramental and non-sacramental traditions. Despite such a distinction, it is nonetheless undeniable at this point that the vast majority of modern Protestantism consists of non-sacramental traditions, so this will be the primary focus of my thoughts.
There are many non-sacramental non-denominational congregations that are so close to the middle of the spectrum that it becomes difficult to discern where they land (I would probably put the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard movements as being the closest to the middle among non-sacramental traditions, the former being slightly on the exegetical side and the latter being slightly on the experiential side. If sacramental traditions were included, I would probably place Anglicanism somewhere in the middle.
However, all traditions vary heavily between local congregations, sub-denominations, and networks), but I find it rather fair to make such a graph. Because of my experience of Protestantism across the spectrum from one extreme to the other, much could be said with regards to my appreciation for Protestantism and how it shaped me, but I shall limit the content to what I am able to currently verbalize.
Among the exegetical traditions (Lutheran, Baptist [Reformed and Fundamentalist versions included], Presbyterian, Calvary Chapel, etc.), I have discovered a common love for the Bible. This is not to say the experiential traditions do not also love the Bible, but the exegetical traditions amplify their desire to learn more about the scriptures by doing things like dedicating more service time to the sermon or having a night dedicated to Bible study.
It was this emphasis on the Bible that provoked me to begin reading it for myself as a teenager, and by age twenty, I had read through the whole Bible multiple times and even read different versions. I would not have the knowledge of the scriptures that I have today if it were not for such an emphasis.
Prayer and Community
Among the experiential traditions (Methodist, Pentecostal, Vineyard, Mennonite, Charismatic, etc.), I have discovered a common love for both prayer and community. These forms of Protestantism may not be where you go to learn doctrine, but these congregations, as far as I can tell, pray more and have a better sense of community with one another. Whether it be political activism or charity work, they seem to do everything together as a single unit. Some services even have a time of prayer for those who might be sick and need healing, and there is even the pseudo-monasticism of the International House Of Prayer (IHOP), which is dedicated to 24 hour prayer, much like a monastery.
It was this emphasis on prayer and community that made me develop a private prayer life before God. When troubles would enter my life, I would channel my frustration constructively by motivating myself to pray. As far as community is concerned, there was one time a guest speaker at a particular charismatic gathering said that in his church back in England, nobody is in financial debt. Everyone in the congregation pooled their resources and got everyone out of debt. When I heard this, I was dumbfounded, and I have not forgotten it to this day. An act so clearly from Acts (Acts 2:44-45), yet this was the only time I have heard such a testimony.
Whether with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals, Post-Millennial Preterists and partial-Preterists, Pre-Millennial Futurists, Fundamentalists, Charismatics, Young Earth/Old Earth Creationists, Calvinists or Arminians, I have been in many informal debates and theological conversations. Most people probably would not consider these things enjoyable simply because they are usually quarantined to the dreadful space known as ‘conflict,’ but I enjoyed being challenged so often because it made me constantly evaluate what it is I actually believe, how to better articulate what I believe, and whether or not I have good reason to believe it. This desire for apologetic knowledge is what made me realize that I was an apologist by nature.
Since Protestantism is continually trying to discover and define itself, it is constantly changing according to what does and does not work. Small groups (or ‘life groups’) are a good example of how Protestantism is trying to balance itself against the weight of the megachurch model. When there is a perceived need, there always comes some attempt at adaptation.
Granted, not every experiment was shown to be successful, but being in a position to observe what does and does not work has been very helpful for me.
Some of the greatest gems found within Protestantism are some of their intellectuals. The largely invisible George MacDonald has become a favorite of mine (and who just might have been the greatest and indirectly the most influential theologian Protestantism has ever produced), then there is C.S. Lewis and Karl Barth, then Charles Spurgeon weasels his way in there, and finally G.K. Chesterton is my honorable mention since he was Anglican before converting to Catholicism.
Because these men were so well read (especially C.S. Lewis), many aspects of their theology comes directly from many of the Church Fathers. Therefore, without being conscious of it, I was slowly being shaped and prepared to encounter the patristic ocean.
I’m sure there is much more I could say about this, but that is all for now.