AskDefine | Define evangelicalism

Dictionary Definition

evangelicalism n : stresses the importance of personal conversion and faith as the means of salvation

User Contributed Dictionary



From Greek evangel(ion), ‘gospel’ + adjectival ending + ism.


  1. Lutheranism.
  2. Protestant movement basing its theology almost entirely on Scripture, which is held to be inerrant.
  3. Christian fundamentalism.

Extensive Definition

Evangelicalism is a theological perspective, most closely associated with Protestant Christianity, which identifies with the gospel. Although evangelicalism has been defined in a number of ways, most adherents consider belief in the need for personal conversion (or being "born again"), some expression of the gospel through evangelism, a high regard for Biblical authority, and an emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus to be key characteristics.


The term "evangelical," in a lexical but less commonly used sense, refers to anything implied in the belief that Jesus is the Messiah. The word comes from the Greek word for "Gospel" or "good news": ευαγγελιον evangelion, from eu- "good" and angelion "message." In that strictest sense, to be evangelical would mean to be merely Christian, that is, founded upon, motivated by, acting in agreement with, spreading the "good news" message of the New Testament.
Historically, and in many parts of the world other than the United States and Canada, the term refers to the distinction between the Roman Catholic Church and movements following the tradition of the Protestant Reformation (referred to by Martin Luther as the evangelische Kirche or evangelical church).
The contemporary usage of the term derives from a 20th century movement which was perceived as the middle ground between the theological liberalism in the Mainline (Protestant) denominations and the cultural separatism of Fundamentalist Christianity. In North American usage the term "evangelicals" is nearly always used in this sense. Evangelicalism has been described as "the third of the leading strands in American Protestantism, straddl[ing] the divide between fundamentalists and liberals."
The term is also used by some Protestant mainstream churches, such as Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Other examples for this usage can be found in Canada (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), Germany (Evangelical Church in Germany), and several other countries.

Conservative Christianity

Especially toward the end of the 20th century some have tended to confuse evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but they are not the same; the labels represent very distinct differences of approach which both groups are diligent to maintain. Both groups seek to maintain an identity as theologically conservatives; however evangelicals seek to distance themselves from stereotypical perceptions of the "fundamentalist" posture, of antagonism toward the larger society, advocating involvement in the surrounding community rather than separation from it.
In North America, evangelicals tend to be perceived as socially conservative. For instance, based on the view that marriage is defined as only between one man and one woman, many evangelicals oppose Same-sex marriage for the same reason that they would oppose polygamy. Also, based on the view that the value of a human embryo takes precedence over an individual's right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, evangelicals tend to oppose laws permitting abortion (See below for more details).

Evangelical 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. Unlike many evangelicals, however, the evangelical left are often opposed to capital punishment and supportive of gun control. In many cases, they are pacifist (or pacifist-oriented) or support laws protecting abortion on demand.
Evangelicals of both the right and left often utilize modern Biblical criticism.


British author Dave Tomlinson characterizes post-evangelicalism as a movement 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 ex-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."

Contemporary 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. 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 more than 420 million evangelical Christians" . The Alliance (WEA) was formed in 1951 by Evangelicals from 21 countries. It has worked to support its members to work together globally.

Evangelical associations around the world

Evangelicalism in the United States

History & Evangelicalism

The term neo-evangelicalism was coined by Harold Ockenga in 1947, to identify a distinct movement within evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity at the time, especially in the English-speaking world.
There was a split within the fundamentalist movement, 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 , and they began to express reservation 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."
The fundamentalist 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.
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.

Engagement without accommodation

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 and the fundamentalists.
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 as merely, "Evangelicalism". By the end of the 20th century, this was the most influential development in American Protestant Christianity.

The United States Today

The 2004 survey of Religion and politics in the United States identified the Evangelical percentage of the population at 26.3%; while Catholics are 22% and Mainline Protestants make up 16%. In the 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the figures for these same groups are 28.6% (Evangelical), 24.5% (Catholics), and 13.9% (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.
The National Association of Evangelicals is a U.S. agency which coordinates cooperative ministry for its member denominations.

Evangelical politics in the United States

Evangelical influence was also evident in past movements which are now unpopular, such as prohibition.
Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision rendered in 1973 preventing states from making laws that prohibit abortion, is the most prominent landmark of a new era of conservative evangelical political action, unprecedented in its intensity and coordination. It was not until 1980 that the evangelical movement came to oppose abortion.
Before 1980, the Southern Baptist Convention advocated for abortion rights. During the 1971 and 1974 Southern Baptist Conventions, Southern Baptists were called upon "to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother." W. Barry Garrett wrote in the Baptist Press, "Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the [Roe v. Wade] Supreme Court Decision." 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 according its importance in American life and history. 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, raised objection:
While it is true that the United States of America 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.
However, the Christian Right is not made completely (or even a majority) 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. In other countries there is no particular political stance associated with evangelicals. Many evangelicals have little practical interest in politics.
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.

See also



  • Carpenter, Joel A., "Fundamentalist Institutions and the Rise of Evangelical Protestantism, 1929-1942," Church History 49 (1980) pp. 62-75.
  • Marsden, George M., Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1987.
  • Pierard, Richard V., "The Quest For the Historical Evangelicalism: A Bibliographical Excursus," Fides et Historia 11 (2) (1979) pp. 60-72.
  • Price, Robert M., "Neo-Evangelicals and Scripture: A Forgotten Period of Ferment," Christian Scholars Review 15 (4) (1986) pp. 315-330.
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