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Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian theological stream which began in Great Britain in the 1730s.[1] Most adherents consider its key characteristics to be:

David Bebbington has termed these four distinctive aspects conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism, noting, "Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism."[3]



The term evangelical has its etymological roots in the Greek word for "gospel" or "good news": ευαγγελιον (evangelion), from eu- "good" and angelion "message." In that sense, to be evangelical would mean to be a believer in the gospel, that is the message of Jesus Christ.

By the English Middle Ages the term had been expanded to include not only the message, but also the New Testament which contained the message, as well as more specifically the four books of the Bible in which the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are portrayed.[4] The first published use of the term evangelical in English was in 1531 by William Tyndale, who wrote "He exhorteth them to proceed constantly in the evangelical truth."[5] One year later, the earliest recorded use in reference to a theological distinction was by Sir Thomas More, who spoke of "Tyndale [and] his evangelical brother Barns."[5]

By the time of the Reformation, theologians began to embrace the term evangelical as referring to "gospel truth". Martin Luther referred to the evangelische Kirche or evangelical church to distinguish Protestants from Catholics in the Roman Catholic Church.[6][7] In Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, and especially among Lutherans, the term has continued to be used in a broad sense.[8] This can be seen in the names of certain Lutheran denominations or national organizations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and the Evangelical Church in Germany.


Current usage

The contemporary North American usage of the term is influenced by the evangelical/fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century. Evangelicalism may sometimes be perceived as the middle ground between the theological liberalism of the mainline denominations and the cultural separatism of fundamentalism.[9] Evangelicalism has therefore been described as "the third of the leading strands in American Protestantism, straddl[ing] the divide between fundamentalists and liberals."[10] However, according to Christianity Today, “The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. It is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. It would not be unfair to call it postmodern evangelicalism.”[11]

While the North American perception is important to understand the usage of the term, it by no means dominates a wider global view, where the fundamentalist debate was not so influential.

In the first half of the 20th century, evangelicalism in America was largely synonymous with fundamentalism. George Marsden in Reforming Fundamentalism says, “There was not a practical distinction between fundamentalist and evangelical: the words were interchangeable” (p. 48). When the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was formed in 1942, for example, participants included such fundamentalist leaders as Bob Jones, Sr., John R. Rice, Charles Woodbridge, Harry Ironside, and David Otis Fuller.

D.W. Cloud[12]

By the mid-1950s, largely due to the ecumenical evangelism of Billy Graham, the terms evangelicalism and fundamentalism began to refer to two different movements.[13]

While most conservative evangelicals believe the label has broadened too much beyond its more limiting traditional distinctives, this trend is nonetheless strong enough to create significant ambiguity in the term.[14] As a result, the dichotomy between "evangelical" and "mainline" denominations is increasingly complex, particularly with such innovations as the "emergent church" movement.

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, used polling data to separate evangelicals into three camps which he labels as traditionalist, centrist and modernist.[9]

  • The traditionalists, characterized by high affinity for Protestant Christian beliefs, (e.g. penal substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, the authority of scripture, priesthood of all believers, etc.) which, when fused with the highly political milieu of Western culture (esp. American), has resulted in the political disposition that has been labeled the Christian right, whose most visible spokesmen have been figures like Jerry Falwell and the television evangelist Pat Robertson.
  • Centrist evangelicals are described as socially conservative, mostly avoiding politics, who still support much of traditional Christian theology.
  • Modernist evangelicals are a small minority in the movement, have low levels of church attendance, and "have much more diversity in their beliefs."[9]


18th century

Religious reform movements between 1730 and 1790 such as Puritanism, Pietism, and Methodism, fueled by dissatisfaction with the established church in England, mark the earliest roots of modern evangelicalism. In the United States, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were considered early leaders in evangelicalism.[4] John Wesley had a similar role in England. This period also saw the First Great Awakening.

19th century

The start of the 19th century saw an increase in missionary work and many of the major missionary societies were founded around this time (see Timeline of Christian missions).

The Second Great Awakening (which actually began in 1790) was primarily an American revivalist movement and resulted in substantial growth of the Methodist and Baptist churches. Charles Grandison Finney was an important preacher of this period.

Evangelicals were also concerned with social reform during this period—in England the Clapham Sect included figures such as William Wilberforce who successfully campaigned for the abolition of slavery.

John Nelson Darby was a 19th century English minister considered to be the father of modern Dispensationalism, an innovative Protestant movement significant in the development of modern evangelicalism.[15] Cyrus Scofield further promoted the influence of this theology through his Scofield Reference Bible.

Other notable figures of the latter half of the 19th century include Charles Spurgeon and Dwight L. Moody.

20th century

Evangelicalism in the early part of the 20th century was dominated by the fundamentalist movement, which rejected liberal theology and focused on separation from the world.

The Azusa Street Revival in 1906 began the spread of Pentecostalism.

In the post-World War II period, a split developed amongst evangelicals, as they disagreed among themselves about how a Christian ought to respond to an unbelieving world. The evangelicals urged that Christians must engage the culture directly and constructively,[16] and they began to express reservations about being known to the world as fundamentalists. As Kenneth Kantzer put it at the time, the name fundamentalist had become "an embarrassment instead of a badge of honor."[17]

The term neo-evangelicalism was coined by Harold Ockenga in 1947 to identify a distinct movement within self-identified fundamentalist Christianity at the time, especially in the English-speaking world. It described the mood of positivism and non-militancy that characterized that generation. The new generation of evangelicals set as their goals to abandon a militant Bible stance. Instead, they would pursue dialogue, intellectualism, non-judgmentalism, and appeasement. They further called for an increased application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas. Not all conservatives are pleased with the new direction. One author has termed it "the apostasy within evangelicalism."[12]

The self-identified fundamentalists also cooperated in separating their opponents from the fundamentalist name, by increasingly seeking to distinguish themselves from the more open group, whom they often characterized derogatorily, by Ockenga's term, "neo-evangelical" or just evangelical.

The fundamentalists saw the evangelicals as often being too concerned about social acceptance and intellectual respectability, and being too accommodating to a perverse generation that needed correction. In addition, they saw the efforts of evangelist Billy Graham, who worked with non-evangelical denominations, such as the Roman Catholics (which they claimed to be heretical), as a mistake.[18]

The post-war period also saw growth of the ecumenical movement and the founding of the World Council of Churches, which was generally regarded with suspicion by the evangelical community (see Evangelical Protestant views on ecumenism).

In England, John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones emerged as key leaders in evangelical Christianity.

The charismatic movement began in the 1960s and resulted in Pentecostal theology and practice being introduced into many mainline denominations. New charismatic groups such as the Association of Vineyard Churches and Newfrontiers trace their roots to this period (see also British New Church Movement).

The closing years of the 20th century saw controversial postmodern influences entering some parts of evangelicalism, particularly with the emerging church movement.

21st century

From the late 20th century onwards, such conservative Protestant Christians, and their churches and social movements, have often been called evangelical to distinguish them from Protestants who have a tendency towards more liberal Christianity.[citation needed]

Contemporary North American perspective

Evangelicals held the view that the modernist and liberal parties in the Protestant churches had surrendered their heritage as evangelicals by accommodating the views and values of "the world." At the same time, they criticized their fellow fundamentalists for their separatism and their rejection of the social gospel as it had been developed by Protestant activists of the previous century. They charged the modernists with having lost their identity as evangelicals and the fundamentalists with having lost the Christ-like heart of evangelicalism. They argued that the gospel needed to be reasserted to distinguish it from the innovations of the liberals as well as the fundamentalists.

Today, evangelicals are often concerned with their own failure to live up to Christian standards in contrast to the world. "It's now pretty much agreed that the evangelical church mirrors the dysfunctions of secular society, from premarital sex stats to divorce rates to buying habits. Much to our dismay, we are hardly a light to the world, nor an icon of the abundant, transformed life."[19]

As part of this renewal of evangelicalism, the new evangelicals sought to engage the modern world and the liberal Christians in a positive way, remaining separate from worldliness but not from the world — a middle way between modernism and the separating variety of fundamentalism. They sought allies in denominational churches and liturgical traditions, disregarding views of eschatology and other "non-essentials," and joined also with Trinitarian varieties of Pentecostalism. They believed that in doing so, they were simply re-acquainting Protestantism with its own recent tradition. The movement's aim at the outset was to reclaim the evangelical heritage in their respective churches, not to begin something new; and for this reason, following their separation from fundamentalists, the same movement has been better known merely as "evangelicalism". By the end of the 20th century, this was the most influential development in American Protestant Christianity.[citation needed]

Global demographics

On a worldwide scale evangelical churches (together with Pentecostals) claim to be the most rapidly growing Christian churches. The two often overlap, in a movement sometimes called transformationalism.[citation needed] Churches in Africa exhibit rapid growth and great diversity in part because they are not dependent on European and North American evangelical sources. An example of this can be seen in the African Initiated Churches.

The World Evangelical Alliance is "a network of churches in 127 nations that have each formed an evangelical alliance and over 100 international organizations joining together to give a worldwide identity, voice and platform" to an estimated more than 420 million evangelical Christians.[20] The Alliance was formed in 1951 by evangelicals from 21 countries. It has worked to support its members to work together globally.

Types of evangelicalism

Conservative evangelicalism

Chinese evangelical church in Madrid, Spain

Toward the end of the 20th century, some have tended to confuse evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but as noted above they are not the same. The labels represent very distinct differences of approach which both groups are diligent to maintain, although because of fundamentalism's dramatically smaller size it often gets classified simply as an ultra-conservative branch of evangelicalism. Both groups seek to maintain an identity as theological conservatives; evangelicals, however, seek to distance themselves from stereotypical perceptions of the "fundamentalist" posture of antagonism toward the larger society and advocate involvement in the surrounding community rather than separation from it. However, despite the differences, some people, particularly those with a non-denominational background, may consider themselves both evangelical and fundamentalist because they believe in the engaging practices of evangelicalism and take a fundamental view of the Bible.

On the American political spectrum, evangelicals traditionally fall under socially conservative. For instance, based on the biblical position that marriage is defined as only between one man and one woman, they tend to oppose state recognition of same-sex marriage and polyamory. Also, based on the principle that the life of a child begins at conception and that a baby's right to live should take precedence over a wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, evangelicals tend to oppose laws permitting abortion (See below for more details). Note that while evangelicals may have conservative cultural values and lifestyles, they rarely seek to actually restrict private behavior of others except where they believe it infringes the rights of others (such as with abortion). For example, while they oppose governmental endorsement of same-sex marriage (regarding it as actively promoting an opposing worldview), hardly any evangelicals seek to actually criminalize private sexual behavior (see below).

Though less publicized, evangelicals traditionally tend to be economically conservative as well; this stems from biblical principles such as reverence for private property rights, freedom to contract, and the view that charity should primarily be voluntary/non-coercive and privately (i.e., church, family, individuals) administered.[citation needed]


British author Dave Tomlinson characterizes post-evangelicalism as a movement comprising various trends of dissatisfaction among evangelicals. The term is used by others with comparable intent, often to distinguish evangelicals in the so-called emerging church movement from post-evangelicals and anti-evangelicals. Tomlinson argues that "linguistically, the distinction [between evangelical and post-evangelical] is similar to the one that sociologists make between the modern and postmodern eras".[21]

There persists considerable and inevitable confusion as to how best to classify the non-traditional/non-conservative forms of evangelicalism. Some call the emerging church movement a version or manifestation of post-evangelicalism, whereas others distinguish both under the broader umbrella of the "evangelical left" movement. As such developments are still relatively new, it remains to be seen how the categories and semantics will settle.

Evangelicalism in the United States


The 2004 survey of religion and politics in the United States identified the evangelical percentage of the population at 26.3 percent while Roman Catholics are 22 percent and mainline Protestants make up 16 percent.[22] In the 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the figures for these same groups are 28.6 percent (evangelical), 24.5 percent (Roman Catholic), and 13.9 percent (mainline Protestant.) The latter figures are based on a 2001 study of the self-described religious identification of the adult population for 1990 and 2001 from the Graduate School and University Center at the City University of New York.[23] A 2008 study showed that in the year 2000 about 9 percent of Americans attended an evangelical service on any given Sunday.[24]

The National Association of Evangelicals is a U.S. agency which coordinates cooperative ministry for its member denominations.


Christian right

Evangelical influence in America was first evident in the late 19th century and early 20th century movement of prohibition[25].

In recent decades, one of the most prominent issues that tends to be associated with conservative evangelicals' political activism is abortion. Conservative evangelicals generally believe it to be the taking of an innocent life, although the theological bases underlying this belief vary, from specific Bible verses purportedly about when life begins, to the more generalized ban on murder. Critics believe that any legal restrictions based on such a worldview amount to imposing religion, whereas adherents claim that it is as legitimate as seeking protection for any other oppressed class through religiously-motivated activism (many of which causes are now non-controversial). Abortion abolitionists trace some of their lineage through the history of English common law, which for centuries had purported to implement fundamental Judeo-Christian principles of justice into its legal system. However, abortion was not deemed criminal until the "quickening" of the fetus under common law; it was not until England's Offences Against the Person Acts of 1837 and 1861 that abortion was fully criminalized there, and even then it was not legally classified as murder. There remains today a wide divergence of opinion within the American religious right as to precisely how abortion should ideally be classified and/or punished, exactly whom would be prosecuted, and other logistical matters of implementing an outright ban. There are also internal disagreements about whether and which exceptions to any ban should be entertained.

Modern opponents of the Christian right assert that Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision rendered in 1973 preventing states from making laws that prohibit abortion, was not the most significant landmark of a new era of conservative evangelical political action. They maintain that it was not until 1980 that the evangelical movement came to oppose abortion.[26][27] They cite Green v. Connally a.k.a. Coit v. Green (and President Jimmy Carter's support of the decision), which ruled that any segregated institution was not charitable and thus not tax-exempt, as having galvanized conservative evangelicals.[28] Almost no conservative evangelicals agree with this characterization, regarding it as an attempt to portray them in a negative light; they widely contend that racial segregation has long been a minority view among evangelicals, and dismiss portrayals to the contrary as smears from what they regard as a hostile media.

The mass-appeal of the Christian right in the so-called red states, and its success in rallying resistance to certain social agendas, is sometimes alleged as an attempt to impose a theocracy on an otherwise secular society.[29] There are indications that the belief is widespread among conservative evangelicals in the USA that Christianity should enjoy a privileged place in American public life in accordance with its importance in American life and history.[30] Accordingly, those evangelicals often strenuously oppose the expression of other faiths in schools or in the course of civic functions. For example, when Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala became the first Hindu priest to offer an invocation before Congress in 2000, the September 21 edition of the online publication operated by the Family Research Council, Culture Facts, stated the following objection:

While it is true that the United States was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all, that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage. The USA's founders expected that Christianity—and no other religion—would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.

Conversely, many on the Christian right contend that they merely seek freedom from the imposition of an equally-subjective secular worldview, and feel that it is their opponents who are violating their rights. [2] They suggest that on many hot-button issues (other than abortion), they rarely seek to actually criminalize the behaviors of others, and that more often it is the other way around.[citation needed] Indeed while most in the religious right criticized the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down state laws prohibiting homosexual conduct, it was also emphasized that the reasons for disagreeing with the ruling were more about process than substance (much like dissenting Justice Scalia, who noted that were he a legislator he would oppose such laws, but he just didn't believe that they were actually unconstitutional). Even the most ardent opponents of legally-recognized same-sex marriage almost never seek to reinstitute any bans on homosexual conduct.[citation needed]

The Christian right is not made up completely (or even mostly) of evangelical Christians. According to an article in the November 11, 2004 issue of The Economist, entitled "The Triumph of the Religious Right", "The implication of these findings is that Mr. Bush's moral majority is not, as is often thought, composed of a bunch of right-wing evangelical Christians. Rather, it consists of traditionalist and observant church-goers of every kind: Catholic and mainline Protestant, as well as evangelicals, Mormons, and Sign Followers. Meanwhile, modernist evangelicals tend to be Democratic." Although evangelicals are currently seen as being on the Christian right in the United States, there are those in the center as well. A major distinction between traditional/conservative evangelicals and others is a conviction that a truly "biblical worldview" compels certain social and cultural (and thus political) positions among professed followers. To the extent that traditional evangelicals find common ground with conservative segments of other religions (especially other forms of Christianity), alliances inevitably form, sometimes ironically against the more moderate or liberal strains of evangelicalism (with whom there may still be more theological overlap).

According to recent reports in the New York Times, some evangelicals have sought to expand their movement's social agenda to include poverty, combating AIDS in the Third World, and protecting the environment.[31] This is highly contentious within the evangelical community, since more conservative evangelicals believe that this trend is compromising important issues and prioritizing popularity and consensus too highly. Personifying this division were the evangelical leaders James Dobson and Rick Warren, the former who warned of the dangers of a Barack Obama victory in 2008 from his point of view [3], in contrast with the latter who declined to endorse either major candidate on the grounds that he wanted the church to be less politically divisive and that he agreed substantially with both men. [4] Indeed many are not sure how to characterize Rick Warren on the evangelical spectrum; despite his avowed centrism he recently supported California's controversial Proposition 8 (2008), which is regarded by critics as a right-wing position.

Christian left

Typically, members of the evangelical left affirm the primary tenets of evangelical theology, such as the doctrines of Incarnation, atonement, and resurrection, and also see the Bible as a primary authority for the church. A major theological difference, however, which in turn leads to many of the social/political differences, is the issue of how strictly to interpret the Bible, as well as what particular values and principles predominantly constitute the "biblical worldview" believed to be binding upon all followers. Inevitably, battles over how to characterize each other and themselves ensue, with the evangelical left and right often hyperbolically regarding each other as "mainline/non-evangelical" and "fundamentalist" respectively.

Unlike conservative evangelicals, the evangelical left is generally opposed to capital punishment and supportive of gun control. In many cases, evangelical leftists are pacifistic. Some promote the legalization of same-sex marriage or protection of access to abortion for the society at large without necessarily endorsing the practice themselves. There is considerable dispute over how to even characterize the various segments of the evangelical theological and political spectra, and whether a singular discernible rift between "right" and "left" is oversimplified. However, to the extent that some simplifications are necessary to discuss any complex issue, it's recognized that modern trends like focusing on non-contentious issues (like poverty) and downplaying hot-button social issues (like abortion) tend to be key distinctives of the modern "evangelical left" or "emergent church" movement.

See also




  1. ^ Bebbington, D. W. (2008). Evangelicals in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, London: Unwin, 1.
  2. ^ Eskridge, Larry (1995). "Defining Evangelicalism". Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  3. ^ Bebbington, p. 3.
  4. ^ a b Noll, Mark A. (2004). The rise of evangelicalism: the age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys. Inter-Varsity. ISBN 1844740013. 
  5. ^ a b Johnson, Phil (2009-03-16). "The History of Evangelicalism (Part 1)". Pulpit Magazine. 
  6. ^ Livingstone, Elizabeth A (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 583. ISBN 0192802909. 
  7. ^ Gerstner, John H. (1975). "The Theological Boundaries of Evangelical Faith". in David P. Wells. The Evangelicals. John D. Woodbridge. Nashville: Abingdon Press. pp. 21–36. ISBN 0687121817. "Despite the dominant usage of euangellismos in the New Testament, its derivative, evangelical, was not widely or controversially employed until the Reformation period. Then it came into prominence with Martin Luther precisely because he reasserted Paul's teaching on the euangellismos as the indispensable message of salvation. Its light, he argued, was hidden under a bushel of ecclesiastical authority, tradition, and liturgy. The essence of the saving message for Luther was justification by faith alone, the article by which not only the church stands or falls but each individual as well. Erasmus, Thomas More, and Johannes Eck denigrated those who accepted this view and referred to them as 'evangelicals.'" 
  8. ^ Marsden, George M (1991). Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans. pp. 5. ISBN 0802805396. 
  9. ^ a b c Luo, Michael (2006-04-16). "Evangelicals Debate the Meaning of 'Evangelical'". The New York Times ( 
  10. ^ Mead, Walter Russell (2006). "God's Country?". Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2008-03-27. 
  11. ^ Crouch, Andrew. “The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, Nov. 2004
  12. ^ a b Cloud, D.W. What is the Emerging Church. Way of Life Literature. Excerpt on Web: 1 Dec 2009
  13. ^ William Martin, A Prophet with Honor, p. 224. Quoted in Cloud, D.W. What is the Emerging Church.
  14. ^ George Marsden Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism Eerdmans, 1991.
  15. ^ History Channel "Antichrist: Zero Hour" (2005)
  16. ^ Henry, Carl F.H., (1947), The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism; reprinted, (2003), Eerdmans, Grand Rapids
  17. ^ Kenneth Kantzer, The Fundamentalist-Evangelical Split retrieved July 2005
  18. ^ (Christian) Fundamentalism
  19. ^ Mark Galli: We've Won the Lottery—Now What? The meaning of evangelical scandals—including our own Christianity Today, July 30, 2009.
  20. ^ "History". World Evangelical Alliance. 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-24. 
  21. ^ Tomlinson, Dave (2007). The Post-Evangelical. pp. 28. ISBN 0310253853. 
  22. ^ Green, John C.. "The American Religious Landscape and Political Attitudes: A Baseline for 2004". 
  23. ^ Kosmin, Barry A.; Egon Mayer, Ariela Keysar (2001). "American Religious Identification Survey". City University of New York.; Graduate School and University Center. Retrieved 2007-04-04. 
  24. ^ David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2008, 240pp. See also this
  25. ^ Jason S. Lantzer. "From Temperance to Prohibition". 
  26. ^ "Church Meets State in the Oval Office" on Fresh Air
  27. ^ "Charismatic Movement"
  28. ^ [1] Evangelical author Randall Balmer's article.
  29. ^ New York Times Review of Books 'American Theocracy,' by Kevin Phillips
  30. ^ Fresh Air A Political Warning Shot: 'American Theocracy'
  31. ^ The Evangelical Crackup, cited from

Further reading

  • Bebbington, D. W. (1989), Evangelicals in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, London: Unwin .
  • Carpenter, Joel A. (1980), "Fundamentalist Institutions and the Rise of Evangelical Protestantism, 1929–1942", Church History 49: 62–75 .
  • Freston, Paul (2004), Evangelicals and Politics in Asia, Africa and Latin America, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 052160429X 
  • Marsden, George M. (1987), Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans .
  • Pierard, Richard V. (1979), "The Quest For the Historical Evangelicalism: A Bibliographical Excursus", Fides et Historia 11 (2): 60–72 .
  • Price, Robert M. (1986), "Neo-Evangelicals and Scripture: A Forgotten Period of Ferment", Christian Scholars Review 15 (4): 315–330 .

External links


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