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Lexical definition

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 , to evangelion: the good news, the Gospel of salvation given to Man in Jesus Christ.

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. In the 19th century, Evangelicalism was the revivalism and religiously motivated social activism which typified the Second Great Awakening. More recently, conservative Protestantism, as differentiated from liberal Protestantism, is meant.

Evangelicalism has come to be identified with those groups within churches that place primary emphasis on the sermon and activism motivated by preaching and biblical teaching, rather than the sacraments or liturgy of the Church. In particular, the elements of Protestantism which identify themselves by their personal belief based on the Bible are identified as Evangelical. 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.

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.

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.

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).

Other information

Famous evangelicals include:

Jim Bakker
Jonathan Edwards
Billy Graham
Benny Hinn
Amy Semple McPherson
Dwight L. Moody
Oral Roberts[?]
Francis Schaeffer
Billy Sunday[?]
Jimmy Swaggart
John Wesley
George Whitefield


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.
National Association of Evangelicals web page : http://www.nae.net
Institute for the Study of American Evangelicalism web page: http://www.wheaton.edu/isae/

See also

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