General Information

Evangelicalism is the term applied to a number of related movements within Protestantism. They are bound together by a common emphasis on what they believe to be a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a commitment to the demands of the New Testament. Evangelicalism is usually associated with a type of preaching that calls on the hearer to confess his or her sin and believe in Christ's forgiveness.

During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th, Pietism was the mainspring of the so - called evangelical revival in Germany. Its counterpart in Great Britain and the United States was Methodism, which contributed to the series of revivals called the Great Awakening that swept 18th century America. The common purpose of evangelical movements was to revitalize the churches spiritually. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Evangelicals in the Church of England - especially William Wilberforce and other members of the group known as the Clapham Sect - played a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery in the British colonies.

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Since about 1950 the term evangelical frequently has been applied in the United States to the inheritors and proponents of Fundamentalism.

Paul Merritt Bassett

D G Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology (1982), and Freedom for Obedience (1987); J D Hunter, Evangelicism: The Comming Generation (1987); K Hylson - Smith, Evangelicals in the Church of England, 1734 - 1984 (1989); G Marsden, ed., Evangelicism and Modern America (1984).


General Information

Evangelicalism is a movement in modern Anglo-American Protestantism (and in nations influenced by Britain and North America) that emphasizes personal commitment to Christ and the authority of the Bible. It is represented in most Protestant denominations.

Evangelicals believe that each individual has a need for spiritual rebirth and personal commitment to Jesus Christ as savior, through faith in his atoning death on the cross (commonly, although not necessarily, through a specific conversion experience). They emphasize strict orthodoxy on cardinal doctrines, morals, and especially on the authority of the Bible. Many Evangelicals follow a traditional, precritical interpretation of the Bible and insist on its inerrancy (freedom from error in history as well as in faith and morals).

The term Evangelicalism has been a source of controversy, and the precise relationship or distinction between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism has been disputed. Liberal Protestants often oppose the use of Evangelical to refer only to the strict traditionalists.

In the general sense, evangelical (from the New Testament Greek euangelion,"good news") means simply pertaining to the Gospel. The word identified the early leaders of the Reformation, who emphasized the biblical message and rejected the official interpretation of dogma by the Roman Catholic church. Thus, Evangelical often simply means Protestant in continental Europe and in the names of churches elsewhere. In Germany, it once identified Lutherans in contrast to the Reformed (Calvinist) churches. Nevertheless, the large union body, the Evangelical Church in Germany, today encompasses most Protestants, whether Lutheran or Calvinist, liberal or conservative. The term has also been applied to the Low Church wing of Anglicanism, which stresses biblical preaching, as opposed to sacramentalism and belief in the authority of church tradition.


Forebears of 20th-century Evangelicalism include pre-Reformation dissenters such as the French merchant Peter Waldo, early leader of the Waldenses; the 14th-century English theologian John Wycliffe; and John Huss (Jan Hus), leader of the 14th-century Hussites. The 16th-century Reformers, the 17th-century English and American Puritans , and the early Baptists and other Nonconformists were more immediate forerunners of Evangelicalism. Historical landmarks of the movement include the arrival (1666) of Philipp Jakob Spener at a parish in Frankfurt, where he became the leader of Pietism in German Lutheranism, and the 1738 conversion experience of John Wesley, the leader of Methodism within the Church of England. Both Pietism and Methodism taught the necessity of personal saving faith rather than routine membership in the national church, and they had a profound impact on personal devotional life, evangelism, church reform, and - in Wesley's case - broad social reform. English Evangelicalism reached a high point with Wesley and the lay member of Parliament William Wilberforce. Wilberforce and his associates contributed greatly to education for the poor, the founding of the Church Missionary Society (1798) and the British and Foreign Bible Society (1803), the institution of the British ban on slave trading (1807), and the abolition of slavery (1833) in British territories.

Evangelicalism in the U.S.

Wesley's colleague and sometime disputant George Whitefield linked this English Evangelicalism with revivalism in the American colonies. The Great Awakening developed about 1725, deepened with the preaching and writing of the Congregational minister Jonathan Edwards, and reached a peak after 1740 with Whitefield's preaching tours. A Second Awakening is often identified in the early 19th-century U.S., and other revivals followed. The Evangelical label began to be applied to interdenominational efforts at outreach and the establishment of foreign missions. Revivalism was typified by camp meetings and the itinerant ministries of such evangelists as Charles G. Finney and Dwight L. Moody. Their outstanding 20th-century successor is Billy Graham, the leading figure in U.S. Evangelicalism since World War II.

Modern Evangelicalism

The emergence of theological Modernism during the 19th century, particularly historical criticism of the Bible, produced a movement of reaction within many denominations. From 1910 to 1915 conservative scholars produced a series of booklets entitled The Fundamentals, and in 1920 a conservative northern Baptist journal coined the designation Fundamentalist for the defenders of orthodoxy.

The term Fundamentalism gradually came to designate only the most uncompromising and militant wing of the movement, however, and more moderate Protestant conservatives began to adopt the older designation of Evangelical. They created the National Association of Evangelicals in the U.S. (1942) and the World Evangelical Fellowship (1951), the latter reviving an international body formed under Britain's Evangelical Alliance (founded 1846). The constituencies of these bodies are largely outside the World and National Councils of Churches, but large numbers of Evangelicals exist within the mainstream ecumenical denominations.

The largest U.S. Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention, embraces Evangelical tenets; other components of Evangelicalism include Pentecostalists, the Charismatic Renewal (including its Roman Catholic wing), Arminian-Holiness churches, conservative confessionalists such as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and numerous black Baptists, as well as independent "faith missions" and interdenominational ministries such as Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, and World Vision. Current Evangelicalism bridges two elements that were, for the most part, antithetical in the 19th century, the doctrinaire conservatives and the revivalists.

Evangelical educational materials are produced by a number of publishing houses, and such publications as Christianity Today are widely read. Evangelical preachers have long made extensive use of radio broadcasts, and during the 1970s evangelical programs on television proliferated, reaching an audience of more than 20 million. According to a recent estimate, there are about 157 million Evangelicals throughout the world, including about 59 million in the United States.

Richard N. Ostling


Advanced Information

Evangelicalism is the movement in modern Christianity, transcending denominational and confessional boundaries, that emphasizes conformity to the basic tenets of the faith and a missionary outreach of compassion and urgency. A person who identifies with it is an "evangelical," one who believes and proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. The word is derived from the Greek noun euangelion, translated as glad tidings, good or joyful news, or gospel (a derivative of the Middle English godspell, a discourse or story about God), and verb euangelizomai, to announce good tidings of or to proclaim as good news. These appear nearly one hundred times in the NT and have passed into modern languages through the Latin equivalent evangelium.

Biblically the gospel is defined in 1 Cor. 15:1 - 4 as the message that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day in fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures and thereby provided the way of redemption for sinful humanity. Three times the NT calls one who preaches the gospel an euangelistes (evangelist).

Theological Meaning

Evangelicalism has both a theological and historical meaning. Theologically it begins with a stress on the sovereignty of God, the transcendent, personal, infinite Being who created and rules over heaven and earth. He is a holy God who cannot countenance sin, yet he is one of love and compassion for the sinner. He actively identifies with the sufferings of his people, is accessible to them through prayer, and has by his sovereign free will devised a plan whereby his creatures may be redeemed. Although the plan is predetermined, he allows them to cooperate in the attainment of his objectives and brings their wills into conformity with his will.

Evangelicals regard Scripture as the divinely inspired record of God's revelation, the infallible, authoritative guide for faith and practice. Inspiration is not mechanical dictation; rather, the Holy Spirit has guided the various biblical authors in their selection of words and meanings as they wrote about matters in their respective places and times. Thus the words and imagery are culturally conditioned, but God has nonetheless conveyed his eternal, unconditional Word through them. The Scriptures are inerrant in all that they affirm and serve as the adequate, normative, and wholly reliable expression of God's will and purpose. But the heavenly teaching of the Bible is not self evident, and the guidance and illumination of the Holy Spirit is required to bring out the divine meaning embedded in the text and to apply it to our lives.

Denying the Enlightenment doctrine of man's innate goodness, evangelicals believe in the total depravity of man. All the goodness that exists in human nature is tainted by sin, and no dimension of life is free from its effects. Man was originally created perfect; but through the fall sin entered the race, making man corrupt at the very core of his being, and this spiritual infection has been passed on from generation to generation. Sin is not an inherent weakness or ignorance but positive rebellion against God's law. It is moral and spiritual blindness and bondage to powers beyond one's control. The root of sin is unbelief, and its manifestations are pride, lust for power, sensuousness, selfishness, fear, and disdain for spiritual things. The propensity to sin is within man from birth, its power cannot be broken by human effort, and the ultimate result is complete and permanent separation from the presence of God.

God himself provided the way out of the human dilemma by allowing his only Son, Jesus Christ, to assume the penalty and experience death on man's behalf. Christ made atonement for sin on Calvary's cross by shedding his blood, thereby redeeming man from the power of spiritual death by dying in his place. Christ's substitutionary or vicarious atonement was a ransom for mankind's sins, a defeat of the powers of darkness, and a satisfaction for sin because it met the demand of God's justice. Then when Christ arose from the grave, he triumphed over death and hell, thus demonstrating the supremacy of divine power in a sin cursed world and laying the foundation for the eventual redemption of all creation from sin's corrupting influence. To affirm the atonement, Christians are called upon to bear witness by following their Lord in a life of demanding discipleship and bearing the burdens, sufferings, and needs of others.

Evangelicals believe that salvation is an act of unmerited divine grace received through faith in Christ, not through any kind of penance or good works. One's sins are pardoned, and one is regenerated (reborn), justified before God, and adopted into the family of God. The guilt of sin is removed immediately, while the inward process of renewing and cleansing (sanctification) takes place as one leads the Christian life. By grace believers are saved, kept, and empowered to live a life of service.

Heralding the Word of God is an important feature of evangelicalism. The vehicle of God's Spirit is the biblical proclamation of the gospel which brings people to faith. The written word is the basis for the preached word, and holy living is part of the process of witness, since life and word are inseparable elements of the evangelical message. Holiness involves not withdrawal from the world and detaching oneself from evil but rather boldly confronting evil and overcoming its effects both personally and socially. In this fashion the church brings the lost to a knowledge of Christ, teaches the way of discipleship, and engages in meeting human needs. Social service thus becomes both the evidence of one's faith and a preparation for the proclamation of the gospel. The preevangelism of works of mercy may be just as important as preaching itself in bringing people into the kingdom of God.

Finally, evangelicals look for the visible, personal return of Jesus Christ to set up his kingdom of righteousness, a new heaven and earth, one that will never end. This is the blessed hope for which all Christians long. It will consummate the judgment upon the world and the salvation of the faithful.

It should be stressed that these are special emphases of evangelicals and that they share many beliefs with other orthodox Christians. Among them are the Trinity; Christ's incarnation, virgin birth, and bodily resurrection; the reality of miracles and the supernatural realm; the church as the body of Christ; the sacraments as effectual signs or means of grace; immortality of the soul; and the final resurrection. But evangelicalism is more than orthodox assent to dogma or a reactionary return to past ways. It is the affirmation of the central beliefs of historic Christianity.

Historical Meaning

Although evangelicalism is customarily seen as a contemporary phenomenon, the evangelical spirit has manifested itself throughout church history. The commitment, discipline, and missionary zeal that distinguish evangelicalism were features of the apostolic church, the fathers, early monasticism, the medieval reform movements (Cluniac, Cistercian, Franciscan, and Dominican), preachers like Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Waldo, the Brethren of the Common Life, and the Reformation precursors Wycliffe, Hus, and Savonarola. At the Reformation the name "evangelical" was given to the Lutherans who sought to redirect Christianity to the gospel and renew the church on the basis of God's authoritative Word. With the onset of Lutheran orthodoxy and the domination of many churches by civil rulers, unfortunately much of the spiritual vitality evaporated. Soon the word came to be applied collectively to both Lutheran and Reformed communions in Germany. Congregations belonging to the Prussian Union Church (founded 1817) utilized it as well, and in contemporary Germany evangelical (evangelisch) is synonymous with Protestant.

A recovery of the spiritual vigor of the Reformation resulted from three movements in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, German pietism, Methodism, and the Great Awakening. Actually these were rooted in Puritanism with its strong emphasis on biblical authority, divine sovereignty, human responsibility, and personal piety and discipline. The pietism of Spener, Francke, and Zinzendorf stressed Bible study, preaching, personal conversion and sanctification, missionary outreach, and social action. It directly influenced developments in Britain and America and laid the foundations for the later revival in Germany.

To be sure, the Enlightenment had a chilling effect on spiritual movements, but this was countered by the Methodist revival of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield in Britain and the Great Awakening in America prior to the Revolution. The new fervor spread within the Anglican Church at the end of the century where the "Evangelical" party of John Newton, William Wilberforce and his Clapham sect, and numerous others fought social ills at home and abroad and founded Bible and missionary societies. Similar developments occurred in the Scottish church under Thomas Chalmers and the Haldane brothers, while the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists all created foreign mission agencies. In Germany, where the old pietism had waned, a new wave of evangelical enthusiasm spread across the land, the Erweckung, which cross fertilized with British movements, while a parallel development occurred in France and Holland, the Reveil.

The nineteenth century was clearly the evangelical age. The Anglican party, represented by such distinguished personalities as Lord Shaftesbury and William E Gladstone, occupied a central position in public life, while Nonconformist groups like the Baptists with their silver tongued orator Charles H Spurgeon and the Christian (Plymouth) Brethren reached many with the gospel. Other instances of British evangelical vitality included the Y M C A founded by George Williams, the Salvation Army of Catherine and William Booth, the social ministries of George Mueller and Thomas Barnardo, the China Inland Mission of J Hudson Taylor, and the Keswick movement. In Germany were the Gemeinschaft (fellowship) movement, the charitable endeavors of J H Wichern, and the spiritual preaching of the Blumhardts, while in Holland the Calvinist theologian and political leader Abraham Kuyper had a major impact.

In America revivalism was the hallmark of evangelical religion. The urban efforts of Charles Finney and D L Moody as well as rural and frontier movements among the Baptists, Methodists, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyterians and the growth of holiness perfectionism all helped to transform the nation's religious landscape. Evangelicalism reached to the grass roots of white America, while the black community, in both slavery and freedom, was sustained and held together by its churches, which expressed a deep, personal evangelical faith. Evangelicalism shaped the nation's values and civil religion and provided the vision of America as God's chosen people. Political leaders publicly expressed evangelical convictions and suppressed non Protestant and "foreign" elements who did not share in the national consensus. Not only unbelief but also social evil would be purged, and revivalism provided the reforming vision to create a righteous republic. The antislavery and temperance campaigns, innumerable urban social service agencies, and even the nascent women's movements were facets of this.

The Protestant nations of the North Atlantic region shared in the great foreign missionary advance that carried the gospel to every corner of the earth, and before long the evangelical revivals that had repeatedly swept the Western world began to occur in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as well. The Evangelical Alliance was formed in London in 1846 to unite Christians (but not churches or denominations as such) in promoting religious liberty, missions, and other common interests. National alliances were formed in Germany, the United States, and many other countries. In 1951 the international organization was replaced by the new World Evangelical Fellowship.

The Twentieth Century

In the early twentieth century, however, evangelicalism went into a temporary eclipse. A decorous worldliness characterized by a stress on material prosperity, loyalty to the nation state, and a rugged individualism inspired by social Darwinism virtually severed the taproot of social concern. Orthodox Christians seemed unable to cope with the flood of new ideas, German higher criticism, Darwinian evolution, Freudian psychology, Marxist socialism, Nietzschean nihilism, and the naturalism of the new science, all of which undermined confidence in the infallibility of the Bible and the existence of the supernatural.

The bloodbath of World War I shattered the optimistic, postmillennial vision of ushering in the kingdom of God as soon as the hold of social evil was broken at home and the Great Commission of carrying the gospel to all parts of the globe was fulfilled. Emerging from the struggle against theological liberalism and the social gospel in Britain and North America was a narrow fundamentalism that internalized the Christian message and withdrew from involvement in the world. In addition, communism in the Soviet Union, nazism in Germany, and secularism throughout the world contributed to declining church attendance and interest in Christianity in general.

After World War II things turned around dramatically. Foreign missionary endeavors, Bible institutes and colleges, works among university students, and radio and literature ministries blossomed, while the evangelistic campaigns of the youthful Billy Graham had a global impact. A party of "conservative evangelicals" emerged in Britain and Evangelikaler in Germany, and their strength was reflected in such developments as the National Evangelical Anglican Congress and the German based Conference of Confessing Fellowships. In the United States the foundation of the National Association of Evangelicals (1942), Fuller Theological Seminary (1947), and Christianity Today (1956) were significant expressions of the "new evangelicalism," a term coined by Harold J Ockenga in 1947.

The new or "neo" evangelicalism took issue with the older fundamentalism. Ockenga argued that it had a wrong attitude (a suspicion of all who did not hold every doctrine and practice that fundamentalists did), a wrong strategy (a separatism that aimed at a totally pure church on the local and denominational levels), and wrong results (it had not turned the tide of liberalism anywhere nor had it penetrated with its theology into the social problems of the day). Edward J Carnell maintained further that fundamentalism was orthodoxy gone cultic because its convictions were not linked with the historic creeds of the church and it was more of a mentality than a movement. Carl F H Henry insisted that fundamentalists did not present Christianity as an overarching world view but concentrated instead on only part of the message. They were too otherworldly, anti intellectual, and unwilling to bring their faith to bear upon culture and social life.

Although the new evangelicalism was open to ecumenical contacts, rejected excessive legalism and moralism, and revealed serious interest in the social dimension of the gospel, many of its spokespersons remained tied to the political and economic status quo. Groups of more "radical" Christians within mainstream evangelicalism, e.g., the Chicago Declaration of 1973, the Sojourners Community, and the British Shaftesbury Project, began calling attention to needs in this area. As more attention was given to defining an evangelical, it became clear that the numbers were far greater than had been believed. But the variations among the groups, Mennonites, Holiness, Charismatics, Christian Brethren, Southern Baptists, black churches, separatist - fundamentalists, "nondenominational" bodies, and evangelical blocs within the traditional denominations, were enormous and probably unbridgeable.

Nevertheless, evangelical ecumenism has proceeded apace. The Billy Graham organization has been a major catalyst, especially in calling the World Congress on Evangelism (Berlin, 1966) and the International Congress on World Evangelization (Lausanne, 1974). The subsequent consultations sponsored by the Lausanne committee together with the activities of the World Evangelical Fellowship and the regional organizations formed by evangelicals in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe have done much to foster closer relations and cooperative efforts in evangelism, relief work, and theological development. With the indigenization of mission society operations, the multinational character of relief and evangelistic organizations, and the sending of missionaries by people in Third World countries themselves, evangelicalism has now come of age and is truly a global phenomenon.

R V Pierard
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

B L Ramm, The Evangelical Heritage; D F Wells and J D Woodbridge, The Evangelicals; D G Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, and The Evangelical Renaissance; K S Kantzer, eds., Evangelical Roots; K S Kantzer and S N Gundry, eds., Perspectives on Evangelical Theology; M Erickson, New Evangelical Theology; B L Shelley, Evangelicalism in America; J D Woodbridge, M A Noll, N O Hatch, The Gospel in America; W G McLoughlin, ed., The American Evangelicals; D W Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage; T L Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform; D O Moberg, The Great Reversal: Evangelism and Social Concern; G M Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture; D E Harrell, Varieties of Southern Evangelicalism; J B A Kessler, A Study of the Evangelical Alliance in Great Britain; R O Ferm, Cooperative Evangelism; J R W Stott, Fundamentalism and Evangelism; R H Nash, The New Evangelicalism; C F H Henry, Evangelicals in Search of Identity, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration, and Evangelicals at the Brink of Crisis;

R V Pierard, The Unequal Yoke: Evangelical Christianity and Political Conservatism; R Quebedeaux, The Young Evangelicals; R Webber and D Bloesch, eds., The Orthodox Evangelicals; R E Webber, Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity; R G Clouse, R D Linder, and R V Pierard, eds., The Cross and the Flag; S E Wirt, The Social Conscience of the Evangelical; R J Sider, ed., The Chicago Declaration; C E Armerding, ed., Evangelicals and Liberation; M A Inch, The Evangelical Challenge; R K Johnston, Evangelicals at an Impasse: Biblical Authority in Practice; J Johnston, Will Evangelicalism Survive Its Own Popularity? J Barr, Fundamentalism; R P Lightner, Neoevangelicalism Today; J C King, The Evangelicals; J I Packer, ed., Anglican Evangelicals Face the Future; J D Douglas, ed., Let the Earth Hear His Voice: International Congress on World Evangelization; C R Padilla, ed., The New Face of Evangelicalism; D E Hoke, ed., Evangelicals Face the Future.


Advanced Information

Evangelist, lit., "a messenger of good" (eu, "well," angelos, "a messenger"), denotes a "preacher of the gospel," Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11, which makes clear the distinctiveness of the function in the churches; 2 Tim. 4:5. Cf. euangelizo, "to proclaim glad tidings," and euangelion, "good news, gospel." Missionaries are "evangelists," as being essentially preachers of the gospel.

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