Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Evangelicalism, in a strictly lexical, but rarely used sense, refers to all things that are implied in belief that Jesus Christ is the savior. To be evangelical would then mean to be merely Christian - that is, founded upon, motivated by, acting in agreement with, or in some other way identified with το ευαγγελιον : the good news, the Gospel of salvation given to Man in Jesus Christ.

Table of contents
1 In common usage
2 Moving to a future definition
3 Characteristics (based on the most common definition)
4 Other information

In common usage

However, this most general definition of Evangelicalism is hardly ever the intended meaning in religious discourse. When it is granted by Catholics, for example, that only Protestantism is Evangelicalism, it is not in the lexical sense that this concession is made, any more than the appellation of "Baptist" concedes that only the Baptists have legitimate baptism. Rather, their teaching is called Evangelicalism because it is upon the issue of the preaching of the Gospel, the evangel, that the critics of the Pope and of the Catholic magisterium wished to differentiate themselves. A Catholic layman may even insist on being Catholic, rather than being Christian in a sense identical to being evangelical (just as an Evangelical may deny being catholic or orthodox) - so much have some terms become identified with one side or the other, in controversies which divide Christians, especially since the Reformation.

Evangelical was the originally preferred term of self-description for the teachings and culture which arose in Protestant churches ("the Evangelical churches") of the Reformation. This relatively older Evangelicalism was, for a while, identical with Protestantism. The word is still used in this sense in Europe, and in some Lutheran churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Modern Evangelicalism also draws roots from the Wesleyan Revival. Possibly Charles Wesley, brother of the more famous John Wesley, has had as much influence through his hymns, which crossed denominational lines through congregational singing, and became a part of the theology of many Christians. Another hymn writer whose influence still lasts is John Newton, author of Amazing Grace.

In the 19th century, "Evangelicalism" was the revivalism and religiously motivated social activism which typified the Second Great Awakening. In more recent times, the term has been widely used to differentiate conservative Protestantism from liberal Protestantism.

The modern Evangelical movement has come to be identified with those groups within churches that place primary emphasis on biblical instruction, i.e. the sermon and activism motivated by preaching and biblical teaching. This is in contrast with a view of Christian ministry focused on the sacraments or liturgy of the Church. Another key characteristic of Evangelical Protestantism is the importance given to a personal belief and relationship with God based on the revelation of the Bible. In most of the English-speaking world, conservative, Trinitarian, Protestant Christians are the group most readily identified as Evangelical and their religious, social and political attitudes are called Evangelicalism.

There are two major types of contemporary evangelical, usually referred to as Conservative Evangelicals and Charismatic Evangelicals, with the major difference being that the Conservative Evangelicals tend to emphasise the instructions laid down in the bible while the Charismatic Evangelicals tend to emphasise the movement of the Holy Spirit in such forms as glossolalia.

Moving to a future definition

This definition is increasingly considered by many to be inadequate, as Evangelicalism has surpassed the boundaries of a church or single institution. An alternative way of differentiating Evangelicalism is to describe the religious and social temperament itself, rather than any definite group. As such, self-described Evangelicals (or so-called "evangelicals" identified as such by others, but not self-identified) are found in the Roman Catholic church and in Eastern Orthodoxy: implying a sense of common identity crossing traditional boundaries, pointing to a similar attitude, beyond any official definition, about what it means to be a Christian. There is a third group that calls itself Post-Evangelical, but these are post-evangelical rather than currently evangelical.

Characteristics (based on the most common definition)

Commentators and historians have described four distinctive characteristics of evangelicals (Bebbington):

  1. An emphasis on the conversion experience. The conversion is also called being 'saved' or the "new birth" or being "born again" after John 3:3 (Evangelicals are sometimes referred to as "born-again Christians" because of this emphasis.)
  2. The use of the Bible as the primary source of God's revelation to man, and therefore the ultimate religious authority.
  3. Encourage evangelism, that is the act of sharing one's beliefs in the gospel with others in order to convince them to convert, either in organized missionary work or through personal evangelism.
  4. A central focus on Christ's redeeming work on the cross, especially as the means for salvation and the forgiveness of sins.

Evangelicals generally believe the Bible to be reliable and the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice and subscribe to the doctrines of sola scriptura and sola fide. They believe in the historicity of the miracles of Jesus Christ and his literal virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection and Second Coming. Generally, they are conservative in their social outlook, believing, for example, that homosexual behavior is sinful and that human life begins at conception.

Active involvement in secular society is a characeristic of modern evangelicals, who see the danger of withdrawal on the one hand, and accommodation, on the other, and try to take the middle course, that of penetrating society with the gospel. As such, evangelicals are highly active in social causes. Historically, Evangelicals have often been in the forefront of movements such as abolition, prison reform, orphanage and hospital building, and founding educational institutions. Today this activism is also expressed in literacy training, adoption agencies, food banks, and day-care centers for children, as well as more controversial causes such as the pro-life movement. Within US mainline denominations there is often a political dichotomy, with the non-evangelicals and evangelicals both actively lobbying in Washington, but for opposite causes.

Evangelicals also tend to prefer individual understanding of the bible and participation in the service by all on an equal footing to a highly structured liturgy and church hierarchy. On the other hand, there is surprisingly little variation of understanding of the bible within individual evangelical churches.

Evangelicals can be found in a wide variety of Christian traditions and locations, although they are most commonly Protestant. Many fundamentalists can also be defined as evangelicals, although not all evangelicals are fundamentalists, because they may not hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Some Evangelicals also identify with the Pentecostal movement.

A 1992 survey (Green) showed that in the United States and Canada evangelicals make up both the largest and the most active group of Christians (surpassing both Roman Catholics and non-Evangelical Protestant groups).

On a worldwide scale evangelical Churches are (together with Pentecostals) the most rapidly growing Christian churches. The two are even beginning to overlap, in a movement sometimes called Transformationalism.

Other information

Famous evangelicals include:



Evangelical para-church organizations

Many Evangelical Christians share an understanding of cross denominational collaboration in mission and evangelism, while at the same time eschewing large institutional church structures. As a result of this emergence, a plethora of church-based and church-related organisations, often founded with a direct and limited purpose in mind which are sometimes called para-churches or para church organisations.

Some examples of larger, international organisations of this kind, are:

Parachurch organizations well-known in the United States, are:


See also

External Link