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Evangelicalism, in a strictly lexical, but rarely used sense, refers to all things that are implied in belief that Jesus 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 τὸ ευαγγελιον (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον): the good news, the Gospel of salvation given to humanity by Jesus.

In Western history, though, two uses of "Evangelical" have arisen:

  • The classic meaning of the word, used in the US until the mid-20th century and still used in continental Europe, refers generally to Protestantism. In Germany, particularly, where multiple Protestant groups arose (both Lutheran and Reformed), evangelical referred to all of these groups together--hence the "Union of Evangelical Churches," the national body of both Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany.
  • The popular late 20th century and early 21st century definition in the US refers to a more conservative version of Protestantism focused on witnessing and conversion, personal faith testimony, and a generally more conservative view of the Bible. People and churches defined by this use of the term are usually seen as distinct from "mainline" Protestantism.

Scriptural basis

In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, Jesus gives his apostles instructions to spread the Gospel to all the earth. This is commonly known as the Great Commission.


The Bible is accepted as reliable and the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice. The Protestant Reformation doctrines of sola scriptura and sola fide are primary. The historicity of the miracles of Jesus and the virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and Second Coming, although there are a variety of understandings of the end times and eschatology.

Following popular American understandings, commentators and historians describe four characteristics of evangelicals:

  1. emphasis on the conversion experience, also called being saved, new birth or born again after John 3:3. Thus Evangelicals, at times, refer to themselves as born-again Christians.
  2. the Bible is the primary source of religious authority, as God's revelation to man.
  3. encourage evangelism, the act of sharing one's beliefs to convince them to convert --in organized missionary work or by personal evangelism.
  4. a central focus on Christ's redeeming work on the cross as the means for salvation and the forgiveness of sins.


John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio, found that despite many variations, evangelicals generally adhere to four core beliefs:

  1. The Bible is without error
  2. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus and not good works
  3. Individuals must accept Jesus above an age of understanding (around 7 years old)
  4. All Christians must evangelize


Early Christian Church period

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, some of the disciples or followers of Jesus travelled throughout the Roman Empire to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Among these include Paul of Tarsus and the apostle Peter.

18th century

During the 18th century, there was a religious revival in the Americas known as the First Great Awakening. John Wesley is credited as launching the modern Evangelical movement and his Aldersgate experience in 1738--"I felt my heart strangely warmed," is referenced in this regard. Wesley's ministry started in England, and spread to the American colonies, from where it spread to the rest of the world. It was not his intention to break from the Church of England, he sought to work within it.

Following the American Revolution, the first Methodist church was chartered in 1784 in the U.S.A. after the Church of England refused to ordain American clergy. Initial leaders included Francis Asbury, called by George Washington "America's Bishop", and Thomas Coke, a leader in Christian missions.

Other important figures of the time include: Jonathan Edwards, American Puritan preacher/theologian; George Whitefield, British Methodist preacher; and Robert Raikes, who established the first Sunday School to prevent children in the slums entering a life of crime.

19th century

Evangelicals Christians were a diverse group, some were at the forefront of movements such as abolition of slavery, prison reform, orphanage establishment, hospital building, and founding educational institutions.

In 1846, eight hundred Christians from ten countries met in London and set up the Evangelical Alliance. They saw this as "a new thing in church history, a definite organization for the expression of unity amongst Christian individuals belonging to different churches." However, the Alliance floundered on the issue of slavery. Despite this difficulty it provided a strong impetus for the establishment of national and regional evangelical fellowships.

Evangelical along with trade unionists, Chartists, members of cooperatives, the self-help movement and the Church of England were involved in setting up the temperance movements in the U.S.A., Ireland, Scotland and England.

William Booth, a Methodist minister, founded the Christian Mission in London, England on July 5, 1865. This became The Salvation Army in 1878 as it takes on a quasi-military style.


20th century

The World Evangelical Fellowship (now Alliance) (WEA) was formed in 1951 by believers from 21 countries. It has worked to support evangelicals to work together globally.

Active involvement in secular society is a characteristic of modern evangelicals, who see the danger of withdrawal on the one hand, and accommodation, on the other, and try to follow the biblical injunction to be "in the world yet not of the world". As such, evangelicals are highly active in social causes.

This activism is also expressed in literacy training, adoption agencies, food banks, and day-care centers for children, as well as more politically controversial causes such as the pro-life movement and the prohibition of same-sex marriage.

Within US mainline denominations non-evangelicals and evangelicals may actively lobby in Washington, but for opposite goals. Many evangelicals within mainline denominations are organizing within various structures often referred to as the Confessing Movement. The theological call for the mainline churches to return to their evangelical roots, especially within Methodism, is known as Paleo-Orthodoxy.

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 variation of understanding of the Bible and the liturgical forms within individual evangelical churches.

Evangelicals can be found in a wide variety of Protestant Christian traditions and locations. The secular media often confuses Evangelicals with Fundamentalists. While there is some cross pollination, and increasing cooperation on issues, there are distinctive differences. Some Evangelicals also identify with the Pentecostal movement.


See main article Christian fundamentalism

The fundamentalist movement in the early 20th century was a conservative response to the Protestant churches accommodating to the wider society and the questioning of accepted tenets in the church.


See main article Neo-evangelicalism

The Neo-Evangelical movement was both a response to fundamentalist Christianity's separatism in the 1920s and 1930s and an attempt to reassert the place of evangelical Protestant thought in society.

Contemporary Evangelicalism (2005)

Globally - World Evangelical Alliance

The World Evangelical Alliance is now

a network of churches in 121 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 335 million Christians[1] (http://www.worldevangelical.org/wefinfo.html).

WEA Regional bodies:

United States

Barna Research Group [2] (http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=17) surveyed Christians in the United States in 2004 and asked nine question to determine whether the respondent was an Evangelical Christian. Seven of the questions asked were:

  1. Are you a born again Christian?
  2. Is your faith very important in your life today?
  3. Do you believe you have a personal responsibility to share your religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians?
  4. Do you believe that Satan exists?
  5. Do you believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works?
  6. Do you believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth?
  7. Do you believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today?

The survey methodology was not given on this website. The questions asked by the group do not necessarily represent all the characteristics of evangelical Christians. This survey found Evangelicals to be a subset of the Born agains.

Although Evangelicals currently are seen as being on the religious right in the United States, there are those in the centre and religious left as well.

Evangelical parachurch 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 not local church-based but church-related organizations, often founded with a direct and limited purpose in mind which are sometimes called para-churches or para church organizations.

see Category:Evangelical parachurch organisations

Future trends

See the discussion under Neo-evangelicalism.

Globally, evangelicalism and pentecostalism are among the most influential and fastest growing parts of the Christian church. This growth lies in Africa and Latin America rather than the West. This growth has become more self-sustaining and less dependent on European and North American evangelical sources allowing greater diversity. An example of this can be seen in the Independent African Churches.

In the U.S.A. the influence of the Religious Right and Paleo-orthodoxy are currently dominant. The Bush Administration basing many on their policy directions on what they understand to be core evangelical values. There has been opposition to these directions from within evangelical circles but it has been limited and ineffective.


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.


  • Bebbington, David. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. Unwin Hyman (London), 1989.
  • Green, John, Guth, James, et.al. Akron Survey of Religion and Politics in America 1992. As quoted in Noll, Mark. Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Eerdmans, 1994.

See also


See the under Protestantism in the List of Christian denominations under Protestantism.

See a List of famous Evangelical Christians.

Parachurch organisations


United States

External links



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