Evangelicalism, evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide, trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity which maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace, solely through faith in Jesus's atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or "born again" experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God's revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message.
Its origins are usually traced to 1738, with various theological streams contributing to its foundation, including English Methodism, the Moravian Church (in particular its bishop Nicolaus Zinzendorf and his community at Herrnhut, and German Lutheran Pietism Preeminently, John Wesley and other early Methodists were at the root of sparking this new movement during the First Great Awakening; which marked the rise of evangelical religion in colonial America.
Today, evangelicals are found across many Protestant branches, as well as in various denominations not subsumed to a specific branch.
- [A]mong evangelical Protestants, at least, birth control — and who has access to it — has only recently become a major political issue. Unlike Catholics, whose catechism denounces use of most forms of contraception as a sin, evangelical Protestants by and large do not. (Because of the disparate nature of evangelical Protestantism, which includes hundreds if not thousands of separate denominations, it’s difficult to speak of a “formal stance” in the way we can of Catholics.) But alongside Catholic organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor, it’s evangelical-led companies like Hobby Lobby that have been on the forefront of opposition to the ACA birth control mandate.
In this, the evangelical stance on the ACA birth control mandate reflects a wider issue: the increased convergence of Catholics and evangelical Protestants — hardly historical allies — on social issues in the past few decades, as issues like the same-sex marriage debate and abortion have united the two socially conservative groups. As David Talcott, professor of philosophy at King’s College and an expert in Christian sexual ethics, told Vox, “Catholic and conservative evangelicals have become allies of certain kinds,” each defending the interests of other, as theological and philosophical overlap between the two.
Recent research supports the idea of overlap between traditional Catholic and Protestant thought. Earlier this fall, a Pew Research Center study found that average Protestants more often than not assert traditionally Catholic teachings about, among other things, the nature of salvation or the role of church teaching, reflecting a cultural crossover — however unconscious — between the two groups.
In contrast to the Catholic stance, the current set of evangelical objections to the ACA birth control mandate have less to do with any formal doctrine about birth control per se than they do about wider cultural issues, including the abortion debate, the aftermath of the sexual revolution, and precedents for religious exemptions more generally.
- Tara Isabella Burton, “How birth control became part of the evangelical agenda“, VICE, (Oct 7, 2017).
- The claim that participation in an evangelical Protestant church diminishes participation in political activity diverges from the current literature in two ways. First, the general relationship between religious and political involvement is a strong positive correlation. Putnam succinctly states the conventional wisdom by noting that churchgoers are substantially more likely to be involved in secular organizations, to vote and participate politically in other ways (Putnam, 2000). Wald (2003) discusses a small library of studies which draw this conclusion (Cassel, 1999; Hougland and Christensen, 1983; Maca-luso and Wanat, 1979; Martinson and Wilkening, 1987; Rosenstone andHansen, 1993). Such studies provide a number of complementary explanations for the positive relationship, including the development of civic skills (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, 1995), experience in democratic decision-making (Peterson, 1992), and development of community attachments (Strateet al., 1989). Wald notes a unifying theme across these studies, however, that applies to this analysis as well, Churches serve as social networks that seem to draw participants into public affairs (2003, p. 37). The argument here is that while evangelicals’ tight social networks facilitate sporadic mobilization, the process by which those networks are formed can also serve to deflate their levels of political activity.
- David E. Campbell, “ACTS OF FAITH: Churches and Political Engagement”, Political Behavior, Vol. 26, No. 2, (June 2004); p. 159.
- The term, Evangelical, has had a variety of meanings. In its origins, the words was synonymous with Protestant, albeit embodying a positive witness to the Gospel rather than a negative “protest.” This interchangeability of Evangelical and Protestant was found in the United States until about 1900 and is still common in Germany, France, and other parts continental Europe.
In the United States and Great Britain, however, the label Evangelical has also become attached in a distinctive way to persons and institutions affected by the religious renewals or “Awakenings” that have periodically swept trough these lands. The First Great Awakening, associated with figures such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and the Tennet family, reached its peak in the 1730s and 1740s. America's Second Great Awakening, tied to names including Charles Grandison Finney, Lyman Beecher, and Lorenzo Dow, ran roughly from 1800 to 1840. Some observers of the great Revivals of Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday, which spanned from 1873 to 1917, thought that they were living in a Third Great Awakening.
- Allan Carlson, “Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973", p.10
- In any case, the Evangelical spirit in this sense can be understood through certain commonalities:
* The expectation of a personal conversion experience. To be a Christian involves a wrenching process of being “born again.” As understood from the time of Jonathan Edwards, this commonly starts with an overwhelming sense of one’s sinfulness, followed by throwing oneself on God’s mercy, followed next by an inpouring of the Spirit, or of grace, and completed by a deep sense of gratitude for being redeemed through Christ. The “born again” Christian subsequently turns with enthusiasm to evangelization, seeking to bring others to Christ. The process has often been encouraged by “revivals” that feature sermons, hymn sings, prayer meetings, and altar calls, often lasting a week or more. The Revival Tent became a symbol of this style of Evangelicialism.
* Disregard for denominational lines The conversion experience pays no attention to ecclesiastical structures. Evangelists have eschewed distinctions between Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and so on: born-again Evangelicals might be found in all of them or in unaligned congregations. In consequence, Evangelicals have held little regard for church hierarchy. They have focused instead on building institutions that met specific needs: mission societies; tract societies; and the like. In the late twentieth century, this array of specialized organizations would be called “para churches.” The Evangelical “anti vice” societies, described in detail in Chapter 1, stand as solid late nineteenth-century examples of the same phenomenon.
*The Centrality of the Bible. The concept of Sola Scripture, or Scripture alone as a guide to Christian belief, is shared by all Protestants. However, given their disdain for church hierarchies, Evangelicals have given the authority of the Bible still greater emphasis. Most Evangelicals have also affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture: that every word, phrase, and passage is literal truth, directly inspired by God.
Other common evangelical traits should be mentioned. These include: emotionalism, which has been carried over from the conversion experience; crucicentrism, or stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross; and-particularly among Americans-‘’a sense of living in a “chosen land” with “millennial purposes’’” regarding the coming of the Kingdom of God.
- Allan Carlson, “Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973”, pp.10-11
- There has been a “sea change” over the past century in how evangelical Christians see science, a change rooted largely in the debates over evolution and the secularization of the academy, said Elaine Ecklund, professor of sociology and director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University.
There are two parts to the problem, she said: The scientific community has not been as friendly toward evangelicals, and the religious community has not encouraged followers to pursue careers in science.
Distrust of scientists has become part of cultural identity, of what it means to be white and evangelical in America, she said.
For slightly different reasons, the distrust is sometimes shared by Asian, Hispanic and Black Christians, who are skeptical that hospitals and medical professionals will be sensitive to their concerns, Dr. Ecklund said.
“We are seeing some of the implications of the inequalities in science,” she said. “This is an enormous warning of the fact that we do not have a more diverse scientific work force, religiously and racially.”
- Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham; “White Evangelical Resistance Is Obstacle in Vaccination Effort”, New York Times, (Published April 5, 2021 updated April 12, 2021)
- Evangelicalism is highly fragmented and its political effects cannot be read off from its religious doctrines. Fragmentation means that its direct political impact is always smaller than might be hoped or feared and therefore no evangelical neo-Christendom potentially dangerous to democracy is feasible. In addition, it does not seem that Third-World evangelicalism will line up with the First-World Christian right on many issues. But the results for democracy are paradoxical. Totalitarian regimes or movements are firmly resisted, as are non-Christian religious nationalisms, but authoritarian regimes which do not impinge on evangelical religion may not always be. The evangelical world is too fissured and independent to provide a firm basis for nation-wide movements advocating major political change. It is thus less ‘use’ during democratic transitions than during periods of democratic consolidation.
- Paul Freston, “Evangelical protestantism and democratization in contemporary Latin America and Asia”, (01 Mar 2004, Published online: 24 Jan 2007). p. 21.
- "White evangelical protestants are some of the most reliably conservative and Republican voters in the electorate," said Greg Smith, associate director of research at Pew. "African-American protestants, on the other hand, are some of the most strongly and consistently Democratic voters in the electorate."
"If you didn't look at them separately," he added, "if you lumped them all together, you would miss a big part of the story about the connections and the interrelations of religion, race, and politics in the U.S."
- Danielle Kurtzleben, “Are You An Evangelical? Are You Sure?”, NPR, (December 19, 2015).
- "The term 'evangelical' has a very broad set of meanings in Christianity. In its origins, it refers to the evangel, which is a Greek word from the New Testament that refers to the 'good news,' or the gospel of Jesus Christ," said John Green, professor of political science at the University of Akron and an expert in the intersection of [politics]] and religion, in an August interview.
"In some sense, all Christians have an element of being an evangelical, because they all share to one degree or another those basic Christian beliefs," he added.
- Danielle Kurtzleben, “Are You An Evangelical? Are You Sure?”, NPR, (December 19, 2015).
- You could dismiss this all as pedantry — that using "evangelicals" as a catch-all term for a certain group of Christians is a harmless shorthand, like calling all tissues Kleenexes or all sodas Coke. But then, consider how pollsters and pundits often separate white and black evangelicals based on their political views. That's one piece of a bigger problem: the degree to which "evangelical" may be becoming redefined by its political associations.
"While evangelical, in this traditional sense, is really a religious word," Green said, "it's become very strongly associated with Republican and conservative politics, because since the days of Ronald Reagan up until today, that group of believers have moved in that direction politically."
Indeed, that association has grown stronger in the last couple of decades. In the late 1980s, around one-third of white evangelicals identified as Republican, according to Pew. Earlier this year, Pew found that 68 percent of white evangelicals do.
- Danielle Kurtzleben, “Are You An Evangelical? Are You Sure?”, NPR, (December 19, 2015).
- 1976 was the first year Gallup asked Americans if they had been "born again," as Hackett wrote in a 2008 paper. The organization's measurement methods varied over the next decade, but in 1986, the organization first asked the "born-again or evangelical" question that it uses today. Over that time, self-proclaimed born-again Christians and evangelicals helped reshape the political landscape. In 1976, the born-again former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter was elected to the White House. After that, political interest in evangelicals and born-again Christians remained, but Rev. Pat Robertson's 1988 second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses in particular made it clear that white evangelicals were swinging Republican. Outspoken Christians like George W. Bush continued the trend of winning over these conservative Christians, and targeting those voters is still a key campaign strategy for politicians like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.
- Danielle Kurtzleben, “Are You An Evangelical? Are You Sure?”, NPR, (December 19, 2015).
- Rainey, who leads Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va., said several colleagues were forced out of their churches after promoting health and vaccination guidelines.
Politics has increasingly been shaping faith among white evangelicals, rather than the other way around, he said. Pastors’ influ-ence on their churches is decreasing. “They get their people for one hour, and Sean Hannity gets them for the next 20,” he said.
- Joel Rainey as quoted in “White Evangelical Resistance Is Obstacle in Vaccination Effort”, Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham; New York Times, (Published April 5, 2021 updated April 12, 2021)
- I think the scandal of the evangelical mind today is the gullibility that so many have been brought into — conspiracy theories, false reports and more — and so I think the Christian responsibility is we need to engage in what we call in the Christian tradition, discipleship. Jesus says "I am the way, the truth and the life." So Jesus literally identifies himself as the truth, therefore if there ever should be a people who care about the truth it should be people who call themselves followers of Jesus.
- Ed Stetzer, “'How Did We Get Here?' A Call For An Evangelical Reckoning On Trump”, by Rachel Martin, Morning Edition, NPR, (January 13, 2021)
- [C]onservative evangelicals lacked the Catholic social justice framework that would have led them to treat the protection of human rights as a political priority. Although a few politically progressive evangelicals in the late 1960s and early 1970s wanted to meld evangelical theology with a call for human rights and social justice, these evangelicals were few in number and had only a limited following; most evangelical political activism in the era was anchored in the concerns of the political right, not the left. Communism, moral disorder, and the sexual revolution were the primary targets of politically active conservative evangelicals in the late 1960s; the language of human rights was not yet a major part of conservative evangelicals’ political vocabulary. Most evangelical political campaigns of the era had as their primary goal the salvation of the nation from moral destruction, not the protection of human dignity. Yet ironically, it was their interest in saving the nation and in battling the sexual revolution that eventually led them to embrace the cause of saving the unborn, even though the campaign against abortion was not a political priority for them in the late 1960s.
- Daniel K. Williams, “The Partisan Trajectory of the American Pro-Life Movement: How a Liberal Catholic Campaign Became a Conservative Evangelical Cause”, Religions 2015, 6(2), 451-475, “Evangelicals’ Role in the Pro-Life Movement’s Conservative Turn”; (Received: 25 February 2015 / Revised: 2 April 2015 / Accepted: 3 April 2015 / Published: 16 April 2015)
- Some evangelicals had already suggested that Roe represented the collapse of Christian values in the nation and symbolized the rise of a secular state. Christianity Today, for instance, had reacted to Roe by declaring in its February 1973 issue: “Christians should accustom themselves to the thought that the American state no longer supports, in any meaningful sense, the laws of God, and prepare themselves spiritually for the prospect that it may one day formally repudiate them and turn against those who seek to live by them”. But until Schaeffer, this was not a dominant idea among evangelicals. Most politically active conservative evangelicals in the mid-1970s were still more likely to see sexual promiscuity or feminism as a greater threat than abortion, and they were not likely to cite Roe as the chief symbol of a secular state that had rebelled against Christian values.
- Daniel K. Williams, “The Partisan Trajectory of the American Pro-Life Movement: How a Liberal Catholic Campaign Became a Conservative Evangelical Cause”, Religions 2015, 6(2), 451-475, “Why Evangelicals Became Concerned about Abortion”; (Received: 25 February 2015 / Revised: 2 April 2015 / Accepted: 3 April 2015 / Published: 16 April 2015)
- By portraying the campaign against abortion as a fight against the tyranny of a secular state, Schaeffer reframed what had been a Catholic human rights cause grounded in New Deal liberalism and transformed it into the centerpiece of a conservative evangelical fight for the restoration of Christian-based law in the nation and curbs on the power of the secular judiciary. Unlike Catholics, conservative evangelicals had never been advocates of the New Deal social welfare state, and they distrusted government efforts to eradicate poverty through federal programs. Most evangelicals supported capital punishment and saw no problem with wars against Communism; they therefore had no interest in linking the pro-life cause to antinuclear or antiwar movements. But they had a long tradition of campaigning against sexual immorality and moral vices, so a campaign against abortion that was linked to a broader defense of sexual morality, moral order, and the restoration of Christian values in government appealed to them. At a time when many conservative evangelicals were becoming increasingly alarmed about the sexual permissiveness and changes in gender roles in American society, and at a time when many feared that the state had rejected Christian values, the use of Roe as a symbol for the evils of a secular state made sense.
- Daniel K. Williams, “The Partisan Trajectory of the American Pro-Life Movement: How a Liberal Catholic Campaign Became a Conservative Evangelical Cause”, Religions 2015, 6(2), 451-475, “Why Evangelicals Became Concerned about Abortion”; (Received: 25 February 2015 / Revised: 2 April 2015 / Accepted: 3 April 2015 / Published: 16 April 2015)
“Weber in Latin America: Is Protestant Growth Enabling the Consolidation of Democratic Capitalism?”Edit
- Since the 1930s, a number of countries in Latin America have experienced rapid growth in the expansion of evangelical Protestantism. Has this religious change produced concomitant changes in the political landscape? Some scholars have seen the possibility of a Weberian ‘Protestant ethic’ emerging, making the region more amenable to democratic capitalism. Others have argued that the ‘otherworldly’ nature of these new (predominantly Pentecostal) evangelicals lends itself to a more apolitical outlook and a deference to authoritarian rule. Using survey data from four countries– Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico – this article concludes that denominational affiliation has little effect on political attitudes.
- While Protestantism in Europe and the United States has tended to be linked to an active support of political democracy, the same has not been universally true for Latin American Protestants. Ireland notes that the‘prevailing stereotype of Pentecostal crentes [believers] is that they are apolitical conservatives who leave the injustices of the world to the Lord’s care, privatizing public issues and giving implicit support to authoritarian political projects’. After providing evidence from interviews with two Brazilian Pentecostal he concludes that this stereotype is largely true. His reasoning is largely derived from the fact that Pentecostal theology places far greater emphasis on achieving rewards in the afterlife than in the present world. Such a mindset creates a predilection for political apathy and acceptance of the status quo, which in Latin America has often been authoritarian. Deiros echoes this assertion by claiming that "fundamentalists tend to consider evangelism – in its narrower or ‘spiritual’ sense – to be the only legitimate activity of the church and remain wary of current trends toward church involvement in political affairs. They fear that such involvement may lead the church away from its central evangelistic mission into a substitute religion of good works, humanitarianism, and even political agitation...Because fundamentalists place the end of history outside of history, their social conscience is subdued, and their organizations reinforce this oppressed conscience by supplying a sociocultural structure which attributes a sacred character to the state of oppression...Any claim for justice or liberation from oppression is transferred to a remote eschatological future."
This stereotype is augmented by several high profile cases wherein some evangelicals supported dictators or political leaders with an authoritarian bent: Efrain Rios Montt (Guatemala); Jorge Serrano Elias (Guatemala); the ARENA party (El Salvador); Augusto Pinochet (Chile) and Alberto Fujimori(Peru). For example, Smith and Fleet argue that in Chile, during the Pinochet years, Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations, most of which were opposed to the dictatorship, worked closely together. In contrast, the new denominations (Pentecostals as well as [Jehovah’s] Witnesses and Mormons) were more favorably disposed to the military government.
- pp. 4-5.
“US evangelicals in Africa put faith into action but some accused of intolerance” (18 Mar 2015)Edit
Antony Loewenstein, “US evangelicals in Africa put faith into action but some accused of intolerance”, The Guardian, (18 Mar 2015)
- Africa is by and large conservative, and many poor countries are susceptible to charity with a socially conservative agenda. It’s within this context that many US evangelical churches go to Africa to win the battles that are being lost at home. Many of them subscribe to the dominionist movement, which supports turning secular governments into Christian theocracies. They pressure NGOs not to accept Christians in same-sex marriages. Missionaries have traversed the length and breadth of Africa for centuries, so this 21st century American campaign is just the latest in a long line of foreign influence.
- Rev Jackson George Gabriel, the curate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, tells me that he welcomes outside encouragement, confirming that the American branch of his church “are telling us to stand firm against homosexuality”. In a country where President Salva Kiir has said that homosexuality will “always be condemned by everybody”, and where the public shaming of gay South Sudanese by local tabloid media is growing, his stance enjoys a lot of support.
- Part of the agenda of US evangelical churches is explored in a 2014 report by the Rev Kapya Kaoma called American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism, which is endorsed by Desmond Tutu. Kaoma is an Anglican priest from Zambia now living and working in the US with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts due to threats against his life. His work paints a picture of the myriad of US groups and their African allies who, he says, are “seeking to impose their intolerant – and even theocratic – interpretations of Christianity on the rest of the world”.
- In Uganda, American evangelicals have partnered, and sometimes trained, local pastors and church leaders to push extreme, anti-gay legislation. Leading newspapers outed people as “top homosexuals”, such as Frank Mugisha, and gay men and women face discrimination and violence.
- Bishop Senyonjo of Uganda, a rare voice in his country advocating for LGBT rights, also hopes that churches will change their ways. “Evangelicals, wherever they come from the US and elsewhere, should bring good news of inclusion and love of God rather than sowing seeds of discrimination and hate,” he tells me before adding: “The Gospel is supposed to be liberating to marginalised people.”
“The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology” (2010)Edit
- Evangelical theology has not reached the self-confidence of Roman-Catholic and post-liberal Protestant theology, and some off its strongest thinkers borrow from the two latter schools. But more of them are learning from their own tradition (for example, from Jonathan Edwards’s mammoth philosophico-theological project and John Wesley’s capacious if diffiuse theology_, and sounding distinctive voices in the world of Christian theology. The result has been a new profusion of evangelical theologies. Already, at the end of the 1990s, Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten was saying that “the initiative in the writing of dogmatics has been seized by evangelical theologians in America….[M]ost mainline Protestant and progressive Catholic theology had landed in the graveyard of dogmatics, which is that mode of thinking George Lindbeck calls ‘experimental expressivism.’ Evangelicals, on the other hand, still believe theology is reflection on what comes from outside their experience as the Word of God. Perhaps for that reason, they have more to say-talking not just about themselves but about a transcendent God. If any event, they have been remarkably productive. In the first decade of this new century, the presses have groaned under the weight of books by evangelicals in systematic theology, historical theology, ethics, hermeneutics, biblical theology, philosophical theology of culture, public theology, theology of science, and a host of other theological subdisciplines.
But this is not the evangelical theology of the 1970s. Back then, evangelical theology had little but contempt for the charismatic movement because of what seemed to be its loosey-goosey attitudes toward doctrine and serious thinking. Now some of the new-known evangelical theologians-Clark Pinnock and Amos Yong, for example-are charismatics and Pentecostals, and few theologians hold tightly to the old theory that charismatic gifts ceased after the apostolic age. In the 1970s, there was a sizable gulf between dispensational and Reformed theology, with neither side talking to the other. Now that a respected scholars such as Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising have developed “progressive” dispensationalism, that gap has narrowed.
The questions have also changed, in 1976, which Newsweek magazine dubbed “The Year of the Evangelical,” evangelical theologians debated inerrancy of the Bible, the timing and existence of a millennium, Karl Barth’s neo-orthodoxy, and the threat posed by abortion-on-demand. They agreed that liberal theology was bankrupt, tradition suspect, and universalism (the view that everyone will eventually be saved) impossible. Most evangelical writers were convinced that Roman Catholicism was a religion of works, and apologetics a useful way of showing that Christian faith is reasonable. Other religions were barely on the theological radar-except as proofs that only Christian would be saved.
Almost a half-century later, the assumptions and questions have shifted dramatically. Evangelical theology has accepted the collapse of foundationalism-the notion that there are, or should be, logical or rational grounds for belief. Although most still see a clear line separating Roman Catholic from evangelical theological method, and some still regard Catholicism as sub-Christian, many have learned from the Catholic theological tradition and agree with the Lutheran-Catholic Joint declaration on Justification (1999) that the catholic tradition does not teach salvation by works. Basic theological differences between Calvinists and Arminians remain, but today’s debates swirl around the role of women in the home and church, what it means to care for creation, whether justification was too narrowly defined by the Reformation, whether God knows our future choices, if non-Christians cab be saved and learn religious truth through their traditions, if we need to change our thinking about homosexuality, and whether the damned are destroyed or eventually saved. All assume the Bible is final authority for Christians, but some are saying we ought to learn about the Bible from (mostly Catholic) tradition.
Theologians on both sides of the debate over tradition are divided over the basic task of theology-whether it is to reapply existing evangelical and orthodox tradition to new issues, or to rethink and possibly change the tradition as theologians gain “new light.” All evangelical thinkers recognize that revelation in Scripture contains propositions-ideas that can be expressed in words-as well as non-propositional elements such as stories and images that also reveal. Nearly all would agree that the Bible tells one grand story. But while some think revelation is God both acting ‘’and’’ speaking so that doctrine and experience can never be separated, others say revelation is about God’s acts rather than words and the essence of faith is experience not doctrine.
- As Mark Noll explains in the next chapter, the word “evangelical” goes back to the Greek noun evangelion, which means “glad tidings”, “good news” or “gospel”, the last of which goes back to an Old English word for “God talk.” Three times the New Testament says that someone who proclaims the gospel of Christ dying for our sins is an evangelistes (evangelist). Evangelicalism has always proclaimed this salvation that comes from Christ’s death with a peculiar intensity. Noll shows the origins of the movement in Pietism, the eighteenth-century awakenings, and the Enlightenment. He unpacks David Bebbington’s widely accepted fourfold definition-a movement marked by conversionism, Biblicism, activism, and cruci-centrism.
Evangelical theology on the other hand, is something of a different animal. While evangelical theologians would not reject any of Bebbington’s marks as inaccurate, they typically speak with more theological specificity. Most would endorse Karl Barth’s definition of the word (though Barth was not an evangelical in the American or British sense of the word): “Evangelical means informed by gospel of Jesus Christ , as head afresh in the 16th-century Reformation by a direct return to Holy Scripture.” Some important evangelical thinkers such as N.T. Wright and Thomas Oden are now questioning the primacy of the Reformation. But all would agree with the following six evangelical “fundamental convictions,” first proposed by Alister McGrath: 1. The majesty of Jesus Christ, both as incarnate God and Lord and as Savior of sinful humanity; 2. The lordship of the Holy Spirit, who is necessary for the application of the presence and work of Christ; 3. The supreme authority of Scripture, recognizing that the language of Scripture is culturally conditioned but that through it God has nevertheless conveyed the eternal, unconditioned Word. Scripture is to be interpreted with the help of reason and the best tools of scholarship, with attention to differing genres; 4. The need for personal conversion. This is not necessarily an emotional experience but at least involves personal repentance and trust in the person and work of Christ, not simply intellectual adherence to doctrine. 5. Commitment to evangelism and missions. 6. The importance of religious community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth.
Every one of the above distinctive is shared by most other Christians. What makes this list evangelical, however, is the degree of emphasis which evangelical theology places on the six marks, and the forms which they take. For example, all Christians say evangelism is important at one level or another, but not all regard it with the urgency evangelicals often show. Some regard social service as evangelism, and others do not consider conversion to faith in Christ to be necessary. When Billy Graham conducted his first crusade in New York City, some Protestant mainline leaders ridiculed his efforts-not only because he did not emphasize structural social reform but also because theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr regarded personal evangelism as theologically wrong-headed. Some of those same churches today speak of personal evangelism as essential to the growth of the church in the world, but they send out fewer missionaries and do less to train their members for the task of evangelism than their evangelical counterparts typically do. While all Christians speak of the need to turn from the world to Christ, evangelicals have placed more emphasis on conversion because of the Puritan and Pietist legacies from which Edward, Whitefield, and Wesley learned.
- Evangelical theology is often regarded, both by the media and much of the academy, as fundamentalism put into writing. But they are really two different ways of thinking, which can be identified in eight ways identified in eight ways. Some evangelical theologians might hold some fundamentalist beliefs, and some fundamentalists might share evangelical attitudes. But most evangelical theologians would distinguish their outlook from fundamentalist perspectives in the following ways.
1. Interpretation of scriptures Fudamentalists tend to read Scripture more literalistically, while evangelical theologians look more carefully at genre and literary and historical context. Another way of saying this is that fundamentalists tend to assume that the meaning of Scripture is obvious from single reading, while evangelicals want to talk about layers of meaning. For example, more fundamentalists will understand the first three chapters of Genesis to contain, among other things, scientific statements about beginnings, while evangelicals will focus more on the theological character of these stories-that the author-editor was more interested in showing that the earth has a Creator, for example, than precisely how the earth was created.
2. Culture. Fundamentalists question the value of human culture that is not created by Christians or related to the Bible, whereas evangelicals see God’s “common grace” working in and through all human culture. For evangelicals, Mozart may not have been an orthodox Christian and quite possibly was a moral failure as a human being, but his music is a priceless gift of God. Culture is tainted by sin, as are all other human productions, but it nevertheless can reflect God’s glory.
3. Social action. There was a time when fundamentalists considered efforts to help the poor to be a sign of liberal theology, because proponents of the social gospel during the modernist controversy of the 1920s were theological liberals. Until recently many fundamentalists limited their view of Christian social action to struggles for religious freedom and against abortion. Evangelicals have been more vocal in their declarations that the gospel also calls us to fight racism, sexism, and poverty.
- 4. Separatism. For many decades in this country fundamentalists preached that Christians should separate themselves from liberal Christians (which sometimes separate themselves from liberal Christians (which sometimes meant evangelicals) and even from conservatives who fellowshipped with liberals. This is why some fundamentalists refused to support Billy Graham-Graham asked for help from mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, and sent his converts back to these churches for further nurture. Evangelical theology puts more emphasis on engagement with culture while aiming to transform it, and working with other Christians toward common religious and social goals.
5. Dialogue with liberals. Fundamentalists have tended in the past to believe that liberal Christians (those who doubted Jesus’s bodily resurrection, the essential sinfulness of humanity, and the importance of blood atonement) were Christian in name only, that there was nothing to lean from them, and there was no use trying to talk to them once they refused to accept the fundamentalist version of the gospel. The evangelical approach has been to talk with those of more liberal persuasions in an effort to persuade and perhaps even learn. John Stott and Clark Pinnock have both engaged in book-length dialogues with liberal theologians.
6. The ethos of Christian faith. Although most fundamentalists preach salvation by grace, they also tend to focus so much on rules and restrictions (do’s and don’t) that their church members could get the impression that the heart of Christianity is law governing behavior. There is a similar danger in evangelical churches, but evangelical theology focuses more on the persona and work of Christ, and person and work of Christ, and personal engagement with that person and work of Christ, as the heart of the Christian faith.
7. Fissiparousness. Many evangelical groups have fractured and then broken again over that seems to later generations to have been minor issues. But the tendency seems worse among fundamentalists, for whom differences of doctrine, often on rather minor issues, are considered important enough to warrant starting anew congregation or even denomination. Because evangelical theology makes more of the distinction between essentially and non-essentials, evangelicals are more willing to remain in mainline Protestant churches and in evangelical churches whose members disagree on nonessentials.
8. Support for Israel. Fundamentalists tend to see the modern state of Israel as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecies, and say God’s blessing of America is contingent on its support for Israel. Evangelicals generally see the creation of Israel in 1948 as at least an indirect fulfillment of prophecy, lacking the complete fulfillment because there has not been the spiritual renewal that the prophets predicted. Evangelicals run the gamut in support for and opposition to Israeli policies. But while many other Christians see Israel as just another nation-state, fundamentalists and evangelicas typically think today’s Israel has continuing theological significance.
- If evangelical and fundamentalist ways of thinking differ on both content and practice, evangelical theology differs from classical protestant orthodoxy more on method. Evangelicalism tends to use the principle of ‘’sola scriptura’’ more radically than the Protestant traditions out of which it grew. That is, when it subscribes to the doctrines of the great creeds of the church (yet some evangelicals and their theologians don’t crying “No creed but the Bible!”), they do so not because the creeds teach the doctrines but because they believe the doctrines have biblical support. Evangelical theologians are not always averse to reading the great fathers and mothers of the church (such as Macrina, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and now Mother Teresa) or to learn from the historic confessions, but they typically insist that they do so with critical care. They want to reserve the right to use Scripture as a trump card over tradition when they see conflict between the two. Others, such as “post-conservative” Roger Olson, say they want to be open to further light breaking out from the Word that might compel either a reshaping of doctrine or new doctrine entirely.
Evangelical theologians say they reject liberalism’s faith in human experience as a final norm for truth and morality. Against the homogenizing tendency of liberal theology, which would postulate an underlying religiosity common to all faiths evangelical theology emphasizes the particularity of Christian revelation and the uniqueness of Christian spirituality. While liberals place a premium on person autonomy and appeal to internal norms (conscience and religious experience), evangelicals have usually stressed human responsibility to God who has given us external norms in Jesus Christ and Scripture.
- William Abraham reflects further on evangelicalism’s “ecclesial ambivalence,” and claims that agreement on sola scriptura, often thought to be the only source of unity in the movement, has actually multiplied disputes because it spawns differing interpretations. Abraham shows that evangelicals, despite these differences, have ironically played a pivotal role in the history of ecumenism. He makes the intriguing suggestion that orthodox theology’s search for agreement on authority and epistemology has been misdirected, and that in fact the early churches reached agreement on theological essentials without agreement on either authority or epistemology.
If unity has been elusive among evangelicals, John Witvliet insists that evangelicals have generally shared a deep resistance to ritualism and ceremonialism in worship, because of their demand for heartfelt ardor. According to Witvliet, evangelical worship has highlighted preaching, congregationalism singing, classical evangelical hymns, and personal and family devotions. Evangelicals are divided between memorial and participationist views of the Lord’s Supper, with similar differences in their attitudes toward baptism. Recently, Witvliet says, some strains of evangelical worship have yielded to sentimentalist and consumerist temptations.
- Some years ago, evangelical historian Nathan Hatch said “there’s no such thing as evangelicalism.” By that he probably meant that evangelicalism and its attendant theologies constitute a many-headed monster that regularly transforms itself into new shapes. But historic evangelicalism does not a recognizable character, as this volume will repeatedly demonstrate. William Abraham warns in his essay on ecumenism that “it would be a mistake…to dismiss evangelicalism as a useless category for understanding Christianity; without it we would have to invent a functional equivalent immediately.” For it represents a network of Christian “bound together by a loose but identifiable cluster of convictions and practices that have been and continue to be a potent religious force.”
But what will be the future shape of evangelicalism? And what of evangelical theology. The recent explosion of evangelicalism in the Global South means that future evangelical theology, which is already beginning to come from Asia and Africa and Latin America, will give more attention to the reality of spiritual powers in history and manifestations of the supernatural such as dreams, visions, healing, and direct messages from the Spirit. Because of the tendency of majority-world Christians to take the Old Testament more seriously, evangelical theology will have more a Jewish flavor and be less inclined to spiritualize prophetic promises of land and kingdom. It will be far less ready to sever the connection between moral and dogmatic theology, as Northern theologies have done. Therefore future evangelical theology will be less tempted to relax traditional understandings of sex and marriage. But is will also deal with new issues, says Mark Noll, such as the destiny of ancestors and what it means for families and large groups to convert en masse.
- As the mainline Protestant traditions become more of a sideline, and evangelicalism vies with Roman Catholicism for dominance in the Global South-the new center of gravity in world Christianity-evangelical theology may continue to be influenced by Catholic thought. Rivals often come to resemble each other. Catholics and evangelicals have fought abortion together. Evangelical theologians increasingly draw sustenance from Catholic moral and historical theology. Catholics have launched a new evangelization in partial response to evangelical gains in Latin America, and Catholic theology has reshaped its formulation of justification as a result of evangelical and other Protestant theological dialogues. Evangelicals will continue to believe that Catholics submit themselves to a human magisterium rather than the divine Word, and this will be sounded with more vigor in Global South churches. But just as sixteenth-century Protestant and Catholic theology reacted against each other and thereby influenced each other, twenty-first-century evangelical theology may unwittingly find itself to be not only a leavening agent in the broader church catholic but also shaped in part by its principal challenger.
- By the start of the twenty-first century, evangelical Christianity had come to constitute the second largest grouping of Christian believers in the world. Only the Roman Catholic church enjoyed more Christian adherents than the evangelical churches. By comparison with other world religions, evangelicals-taken only by themselves-were more numerous than all but Muslims and Hindus.
But what is meant by “evangelicals” or “evangelicalism”? These are by no means easy questions. The terms are even much disputed among those whom others casually lump together as evangelicals. Billy Graham, the American evangelist who was probably the world’s most widely known “evangelical” in the twentieth century, was repeatedly chastised throughout much of his public career by self-desccribed “fundamentalists” for abandoning the separatism that they considered a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian faith. Yet most observers class “fundamentalism” as a subcategory of overlapping with “evangelicalism.” Yet most observers class “fundamentalism” as a subcategory overlapping with “evangelicalism.” David Yongi Cho, a Pentecostal minister, pastors the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea. With over 700,000 members, as announced on its Web site, it is the largest single congregation in the world; the same Web site affirms that the church “practices faith, love, and service based on the cross of Christ and the Bible,” a strongly evangelical formula. Paster Cho and his church have, however, been criticized by other self-described evangelicals as pagan for adapting Christianity to ancestral Korean practices (for example, the prayer mountain as replicating aspects of shamanism) and or replacing the Christian gospel with magical formulas that promise health and wealth. Yet most observers have no difficulty recognizing Cho’s brand of Pentecostal Christianity as a variety of evangelicalism.
- [P]roblems of definition today have been compounded by the rapid rise of evangelical-life movements in many locations where few Protestant believers of any kind has existed until very recently. In 1900 according to the well-considered estimate of the editors of the ‘’World Christian Encyclopedia’’, well over 90 percent of the world’s evangelical Christians lived in Europe or North America. (Their definition is resolutely tautlogical: “A subdivision mainly of Protestants consisting of all affiliated church members calling themselves Evangelicals, or all persons belong to Evangelical congregations, churches or denominations: characterized by commitment to personal religion”.) But now-because of Western missionary activity, cooperative efforts at translating the Bible into local languages, the acceleration of worldwide trade and communication, and especially the dedicated efforts of national Christians in many parts of the world-that earlier situation has been dramatically transformed. Today, according to the same reference work, the number of evangelicals in each of Africa, Latin America, and Asia exceeds the total in Europe and North America combined. Moreover, if the editor’s closely allied categories of “Pentecostal,” “charismatic,” and “neo-independent” were amalgamated under a broad “evangelical” rubric, then Brazil claims more evangelicals than the United States, while China, India, South Africa, the Phillippines, Congo-Zaire, and Mexico each counts more than any European country.
- The worldwide expansion of evangelical-type movements also means renewed focus on practices once common among Western evangelicals, but not current in the recent past, such as visions, dreams, healings, and direct messages from the Holy Spirit. Since debates over such practices are first-order concerns in much of the of the world today, they too must be taken into account when looking for a definition of evangelicalism.
- The English word “evangelical” comes from a transliteration of the Greek noun euangelion, which was used by the writers of the New Testament to signify the glad tidings-the goods news-of Jesus’ appearance on earth as the Son of God to accomplish God’s plan of salvation for needy humans. Translators of the New Testament into English usually employed the word “gospel” (which means goods news or glad tidings in Old English) for euangelion, as in passages like Romans 1:16-“I am not ashamed of the gospel (euangelion), because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (NIV) Thus, “evangelical” religion has always been “gospel” religion, or religion focusing on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinner by Jesus Christ. Already in the middle ages the word was applied, for example, to Isiah as “the evangelical prophet,” because of how later Christians read this Old Testament book as describing the work of Christ. IT was also applied to the followers of St. Francis, because their abandonment of worldly possessions was regarded as a clear imitation of Jesus’ own life.
During the sixteenth century, the word “evangelical” began to take on a more specific meaning associated with the Protestant Reformation. In this usage, the evangelicals were those who protested against the corruptions of the late-medieval Western church and who sought a Christ-centered and Bible-centered reform of the church. Because of these efforts, the word became a rough synonym for “Protestant.” To this day in many places around the world, Lutheran churches reflect this older sense of the term (for example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil). In contemporary Germany, evangelisch retains the older meaning attached to the Lutheran churches descended from the Reformation, while evangelikal is a new coinage to designate those who are often called “evangelicals” in other parts of the world.
- In this book “evangelical” refers not to Protestants in general but to those Protestant who, beginning more than three hundred years ago, strongly emphasized the redeeming work of Christ, personally appropriated, and who stressed spreading the good news of that message, whether to those with only a nominal attachment to Christianity or to those who had never heard the Christian gospel. The British historian David Bebbington developed a fourfold definition for his own study of evangelicals in the British Isles; it has become a very useful touchstone for discussing other groups in the world that are linked to British evangelicalism or that possess characteristics resembling the groups Bebbington describes. For Bebbington, there are four key ingredients of evangelical religion:
*conversion: evangelicals are people who stress the need for a definite turning away from self and sin in order to find God in Jesus Christ;
the Bible: evangelicals may respect church traditions in varying degrees and may use schooling, reason, and science to assist in explaining Christianity, but the ultimate authority for all matters of faith and religious practice is the Christian Scriptures;
*activism: evangelicals have historically been moved to action-to works of charity, sometimes to works of social reform, but above all to the work of spreading the message of salvation in Christ-because of their own experience of God;
*the cross: evangelicals also have consistently stressed as the heart of Christian faith the death of Christ on the cross and then the resurrection of Christ as a triumphant seal for what was accomplished in that death (Evangelicals have regularly emphasized the substitutionary character of this atonement between God and sinful humans whereby Christ receives the punishment due to human sins and God gives spiritual life to those who stand “in Christ”).
- For the particularly sensitive issue of whether to classify African-American Protestants as evangelicals, there is further complication. The same mid-1990s survey found that more than one-eighth of all Americans who could be identified as evangelicals by the Bebbington characteristics were African Americans. In the United States, white evangelical churchgoers and black Protestant churchgoers affirm just about the same basic convictions concerning religious doctrines and moral practices. But for well-established historical reasons concerning the discriminatory treatment of African Americans, black Protestant political behavior and social attitudes are very different from those of white evangelicals. If, in terms of both historical descent and religious convictions, most black Protestants could also be considered evangelicals, the history of racial attitudes has driven a sharp social wedge between them and white evangelicals.
Yet if common sense prevails, the difficulties are manageable. As the historian George Marsden has pointed out, evangelicalism can be described as a series of overlapping constituencies that vary in their self-consciousness, but that are related at least loosely in their shared history and convictions. Relatively small numbers of individuals and agencies, often active in parachurch voluntary societies or nondenominational mission agencies, often active in parachurch voluntary societies or nondenominational mission agencies, self-consciously use the evangelical label. Much larger numbers are associated with churches and other institutions embedded securely in the historical train of evangelical movements. And still larger numbers from the world, who may have only loose connections with Western evangelical organizations, nonetheless share the historic evangelical beliefs and practices and so may be included in wider considerations of evangelicalism as well.
- Later chapters in this book will refine questions of definition and explore the question of boundary marking as experienced throughout the world. The most difficulty in such efforts probably comes from assessing the increasing number of non-Western independent churches. In Africa, these groups are sometimes known as aladura churches, from Yoruba word meaning “praying people,” or they are called African Initiated Churches (AIC). Examples, from literally thousands of possibilities, include the Zion Christian Church of Southern Africa and the Cherubim and Seraphim society of West Africa. But similar churches and movements have also proliferated in other parts of the world, such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Brazil, the house church movements in China, and many other rapidly developing church networks in India, the Philippines, Pacific Islands, Africa, and Latin America. As their names suggest, these Christian movements usually exercise a high degree of independence, they are usually well adapted to the religious and social practices of their different regions, and most imitate the supernaturalism of the New Testament. More traditional evangelicals sometimes critique these indigenous groups for exalting the prophetic powers of their leaders or subordinating the work of Christ to the work of the same leaders. And some critics see too much ancestral religion surviving in these groups, as well as a penchant for promoting Christianity as a means to secure health and wealth in this life. Nonetheless, a twenty-first-century conception of evangelicalism must pay considerable attention to such groups, for many of them originated from contact with historic evangelic missionaries, and most of them promote beliefs and practices that overlap with traditional evangelical emphases. Case-by-case analysis is the only way is the only way to discern whether such independent movements are best studied as variants of evangelical Christianity or another species altogether.
- Sketching the early stages of evangelical historical development offers greater clarity about shared beliefs and practices, illustrates some of the complexity of the definition, and provides wider context for the recent world expansion of evangelicalism. The general movement in time of groups usually considered evangelical has passed from an original pan-European phase, through phases dominated first by Britain and then with American leadership coming on, to once again an international phase, but this one taking in the whole world.
"What is “Evangelical”?" (2010)Edit
- A stellar constellation of books from the English historian W.R. Ward has successfully pushed consideration of evangelical roots back into the seventeenth century and convincingly expanded attention from the British world to Europe as a whole. The importance of this perspective for the tewenty0first century lies in noticing that the beginnings of evangelicalism were as international as contemporary expressions of evangelicalism have become.
In this picture, distinctly evangelical beliefs and practices emerged in response to political pressure from European state-church establishments, especially in the Habsburg Empire. These responses led to widely scattered revivals where state authorities, Catholic and Protestant, tried to enforce religious conformity. Protests against this pattern of assimilation, arising first in central Europe, soon displayed a number of common features in defense of “true Christianity” against formulaic, systematic, or imposed orthodoxies. Protestors often relied on small-group enclaves as the best form for encouraging “true Christianity.” They were often led by lay people and witnessed much activity by children and youth. And they regularly expressed their hard-won faith in newly written songs and hymns.
By pushing the history back into the seventeenth century, a new set of evangelical pioneers comes into focus, including Johann Arndt (1555-1621), whose much-reprinted True Christianity(1605-1610) moved Lutheran theology toward stressing Christ in his children rather than just Christ for his children. A recovery of this European history also shows clearly how the major elements of Lutheran Pietism heralded common evangelical patterns of alter centuries. Philip Jakob Spener (1635-1705), whose Pia Desideria of 1675 is regarded as the beginning of organized Pietism, promoted small-group conventicles as a way to encourage the personal appropriation of faith. His successor, August Hermann Francke (1663-1723), used a complex of institutions associated with the University of Halle to translate renewed personal religion into cross-cultural missions, active social service (especially the famous Halle orphanage), and entrepreneurial creativity in raising money for Christian causes. Under Count Ludwig Nicholas von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), the Moravians carried Pietist emphases into a partial break with Lutheranism and an even more wholehearted commitment to personal holiness, missions, and joyful worship.
- These earliest expressions of reforming, revivalistic, anti-statist, and small-group Protestantism were international from the start. All throughout the seventeenth century, books from spiritual reformers as well as news of their innovations circulated from the outposts of Pietism in Russia to the British Isles and beyond. Puritan literature was read with special avidity on the continent. When the Moravians appeared in the 1720s, they had a particularly strong impact on the English-speaking world. Moravian hymns, Moravian dedication to missionary service, Moravian proclamation of justification by faith as a doctrine to live by-all exerted a great influence, indirectly or directly, on evangelical leaders in Britain, Ireland, and America. As these early leaders moved from spiritual renewal to social reform, they invariably took further guidance from what had gone before in Europe.
The continental background to modern evangelicalism is relevant for the twenty-first century in one final way. Early defenders of “true religion” sustained a complex relationship to the historical Protestantism of the Reformation. On the one hand, leading priests like Spencer found precedents in Martin Luther and his generation for much of their program, especially the early Reformers’ stress on the priesthood of all believers and their insistence on the personal appropriation of justification by faith. On the other hand, the continental pietists were surprisingly eager to read the work of Roman Catholic mystics, like Madame Guyon and Francois Fenelon, and to disseminate writings of mystical and spiritual writers from the Catholic Middle Ages. That combination of self-conscious reliance on the Reformation and broad openness to some Catholic influences has been rare in evangelical history, but over the last several decides, since the Second Vatican Council, it has one again become common in some circles.
- The public upsurge of piety that became known as the Evangelical Revival in Britain and the Great Awakening in America did not arise out of thin air. Besides the direct influence on continental Pietism, it also benefitted from two movements closer to home. First was a powerful international network of dedicated Calvinists who read each other’s devotional works and eagerly followed news about Calvinist reforms elsewhere in Europe. This network enjoyed two strongholds in the English-speaking world. The Puritans in England, who had mobilized during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) in order to push the Protestant Reformation further, were joined by the Calvinists of Scotland, who were led by the indomitable John Knox, in their pursuit of personal godliness combined with national reform. When monarchs James I (1603-1625) and Charles (1625-1649) frustrated these efforts in England, several thousands Puritans migrated to the wilderness of New England in order to set up a “godly Commonwealth” of the sort that English circumstances prevented. Scottish Puritans and the Puritans of Old and New England retained a great deal of medievalism, especially an understanding of Christianity as always corporate or even national, as well as personal. But they also promoted innovations (like the personal conversion) and underscored specific teachings of the general Protestant inheritance (like the need for saving grace) that fed directly into later evangelical movements.
The other home-grown influence came from an unlikely source. The High Church party in the Church of England stressed the more Catholic elements in Anglican tradition and also emphasized the necessity of loyalty to the monarch. Later evangelicals drew not so much from these matters of principle as from the practices these Anglicans used to pursue their goals. Beginning in the late seventeenth century, they created voluntary organization, more or less outside the boundaries of the official state church, and they stressed the need for disciplined personal religion and active social outreach. These self-conscious traditionalists also stressed the “primitive Christianity” of the New Testament and the early church as a corrective to their age’s worldliness. They sang the psalms and even a few newly written hymns as a means of encouraging holiness. Most significant, they organize “societies” to promote personal religion and exert an influence for God on society. Early evangelicals poured a new wine into what they inherited, but the wineskins often came from their High Church Anglican predecessors.
- Although it is important to recognize how early evangelicals in Britain and America followed in paths pioneered by Pietists, Puritans, and Anglicans, it is also important to recognize where they broke new ground. While all the major leaders of the evangelical revivals were themselves members of state churches in England, Scotland, Wales, or the American colonies, they critiques sharply the practices of inherited state-church Christianity. To pursue the goal of “true religion,” they embraced distinctly modern means, especially the encouragement of small groups where awakened believers could share the experiences of faith and encourage one another in the gospel. Many of them also became itinerants, so as to proclaim awakened religion to needy sinners wherever possible, despite the fact that itineration was widely viewed as a sure sign of “enthusiasm,” the heedless promotion of social disorder and intellectual irresponsibility.
To be sure, evangelicals remained fixed opponents of some aspects of the Enlightenment, such as criticism of the Bible or excessive trust in natural human ability. Yet in other ways, early evangelicals remained fixed opponents of some aspects of the Enlightenment, such as criticism of the Bible or excessive trust in natural human ability. Yet in other ways, early evangelicals embraced much of the Enlightenment spirit. They too stressed the power of individuals t choose their own destinies, they too read the Bible for themselves without waiting for church officials to guide their interpretations, they too described real religion as a matter of the affections, and they too looked to natural theology for understanding God’s work in the world. Most of all, the evangelical stress on the assurance of salvation marked them as figures of their age. Of course earlier believers had worried about their security before God, but the new evangelicals of the eighteenth century went further and made personal assurance the central goal of their labors.
The leaders of the movement exemplified much of what became commonplace in later history. Most came of age as young adults in the 1730s and 1740s, when evangelicalism took off. Forever after, evangelicalism has been a religion driven by the energy and creativity of younger leaders. George Whitefield became a key uniting figure because he was such an effective preacher in his ceaseless travels throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, and the American colonies. Whitefield was traditional in his status as an ordained Anglican clergyman and in his defense of Calvinistic theology. But we was also the Great Innovator, as well as the Grand Itinerant, for how powerfully he focused on the individual’s stance before God as ‘’the’’ issue of supreme existential importance, for how he subordinated all other considerations to the imperative of preaching the New Birth, and for how he communicated the message of salvation with popular techniques borrowed from the rapidly expanding marketplace of eighteenth-century commerce.
Whitefield’s friends and sometime allies, John Wesley and Charles Wesley, were derided with him as “Methodists” because they applied systematic practices to promoting individual spiritual life and organizing lay-driven spiritual renewal. Charles Wesley, who built upon the innovations of Isaac Watts to become the first great hymn writer of the evangelical movement, provided sentiments and forms of words that have defined evangelical spirituality from his day to the present. Hymns such as “Jesus, lover of my soul,” and “O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise” gave voice to the Christian experiences of countless individuals; they also provided a measure of unity in Bible-centered song for a far-flung and often contentious movement. John Wesley, an organizational genius, empowered laymen and laywomen go guide their own destinies, developed the small-group society meeting into a powerful engine of evangelical nurture, and exemplified the possibilities (and pitfalls) of incessant activity. The Arminian theology of the Wesley’s balanced the Calvinism of other early evangelicals and thereby helped to establish a long-lasting agenda for intra-evangelical theological debate.
Whitefield and the Wesleys never acted alone but always worked in harness with other capable leaders, with few as committed to evangelical causes as Selina, Countess of Huntington. She was one of the first in what would become a long line of well-placed individuals who gave their money and status to assist evangelical efforts. In Wales, the layman Howell Harris organized societies almost effectively as John Wesley, the sermons of Daniel Rowland made almost as great an impression in Welsh as Whitefield’s in English, and the hymn writer William Williams (Pantycelyn) sang the gospels as effectively in his native language as Charles Wesley did in his. Leaders of the Awakening in Scotland were ministers of the established Presbyterian church, like William McCulloch of Cambulsang, who in 1742 oversaw one of the era’s great seasons of revival that accompanied a memorable visit by George Whitefield to his parish.
- Another Presbyterian, Samuel Davies, pushed evangelicalism into Virginia, heretofore closed to all except the Anglican establishment. Davies’s impassioned preaching, his deliberate outreach to salves and native Americans, and his extensive use of hymns (from England and those he wrote himself) marked a momentous beginning for the evangelization of the American South.
Jonathan Edwards of Massachusetts provided evangelicalism with its most extensive theological efforts. Edwards, who could preach effective and whose report on an early revival in his Northampton community became a much-consulted template for latter awakenings, devoted much of his energy to close study of Scripture and contemporary challenges to the faith. His major books defended a Calvinistic picture of divine grace (Freedom of the Will), discriminated carefully between true and uncertain faith (The Religious Affections), and combined, as few later evangelicals have been able to do, the most recondite philosophical speculations with the most intensely God-honoring interpretations of Scripture (Two Treatises: The Nature of True Virtue and The End of Which God Created the World).
Within a matter of years, the stress on conversion, holy living, evangelism, and affective public worship that began among awakened Congregationalists and Presbyterians was taken up by Baptists and many other groups. When missionaries sent by the Wesley’s crossed the Atlantic in the late 1760s and early 1770s, the resulting surge of Methodism dramatically expanded the scope and intensity of evangelical religion in America.
- Evangelicalism became a culture-shaping force in North Atlantic societies because of its compelling power in scenes of social disorder and national distress. The disorder and distress were often the result of political revolutions that wracked the Anglo-American world from the middle of the eighteenth century to past the midpoint of the nineteenth. In the wake of these revolutions, evangelical religion flourished. The details were unique in each case, but the general pattern was clear. Different varieties of evangelical Christianity took hold with great force-in the Scottish Highlands after the Stuart (Catholic) invasions of 1745-1746; in the United States after the Revolutionary War, 1776-1783; in the Canadian Maritimes after ‘’rejecting’’ the American Revolution; in lowland Scotland in connection with mobilization for war with France in the 1790s; likewise in England in the wake of the threat of war, and of actual warfare, with France; in the north of Ireland after the failed rebellion of the United Irishmen in 1798; in Upper Canada (modern Ontario) after the American invasions of the War of 1812; and in the American South after the devastation of the Civil War. A possible exception to this pattern was the situation in Wales, where the tumult of the French wars did seem to stimulate a turn to evangelicalism, but where the long-standing affinity between preaching in Welsh and practicing evangelical faith was probably more important than any one period of social unrest.
- The key in a remarkably diverse range of social, political, and intellectual circumstances was evangelical resilience defined by Christian experience, personally appropriated, and trust in the Bible above all other authorities. Differ as they certainly did in many particulars, the individuals and groups that were recognized as evangelical possessed a core of common characteristics. First, evangelicals throughout the North Atlantic remained firm Protestants who accentuated the historic Protestant attachment to Scripture. They could differ wildly among themselves on the meaning of the Bible, but the Scriptures remained a bedrock of authority. Second, evangelicals shared a conviction that true religion required the active experience of God. Again, evangelicals prescribed myriad norms for that experience and even more ways for accommodating the experience of God with reason, traditions, and hierarchies. But the experience of God remained a sine qua non for the type of religion that many contemporaries and more historians have labeled “evangelical”.
Three more characteristics flowed from this biblical experientialism. First was a bias-it could be a slight prejudice, it could be a massive rejection-against inherited institutions. Since no inherited institution could communicate the power of God’s presence as adequately as Scripture and personal Christian experience, no inherited institution enjoyed the respect according to experience and the Bible. Second, evangelicalism was extraordinarily flexible in relation to principles concerning intellectual, political, social, and economic life. Since such principles possessed primarily instrumental value by comparison with the ultimate realities found in Scripture and the experience of Christ, they could be taken up, modified, discarded, or transformed as local circumstances dictated. Third, evangelicals practiced “discipline,” to borrow a well-considered phrase from Daniel Walker Howe. Their experiential biblicism might lead might lead along many different paths, and with contrasting conclusions, to principles embodied a common evangelical conviction that the gospel compelled a search for social healing as well as personal holiness. In subsequent history, evangelicalism has often expanded in outreach and gone deeper in spiritual depth precisely amid similar scenes of disorder and unrest.
- For much of the nineteenth century, white evangelical Protestants constituted the largest and most influential body of religious adherents in the United States, as also in Britain and Canada. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and some Episcopalians shared broadly evangelical conditions, and evangelical elements were prominent among Lutherans, German and Dutch Reformed, and the Restorationist churches (Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ) as well. Evangelicals often combated each other aggressively on the details of their convictions, but in 1846 delegates from many churches in Britain and North America, as well as substantial representation from the European continent, met in England to establish the Evangelical Alliance, a voluntary interdenominational organization whose doctrinal basis succinctly summarized major points of mutual evangelical agreement. The founding commitments of the Alliance remain central to evangelical movements around the world today.
1. The divine inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures; 2. The right and privacy of private judgment in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures
3. The Unity of the Godhead and the Trinity of the Persons therein;
4. The utter depravity of human nature in consequence of the Fall;
5. The incarnation of the Son of God, His work of atonement for the sins of mankind, and His mediatorial intercession and reign;
6. The justification of the sinner by faith alone;
7. The work of the Holy Spirit in the conversion and sanctification of the sinner;
8. The immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body; the judgment of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, with the eternal blessedness of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked;
9. The divine institution of the Christian ministry, and the obligation and perpetuity of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
- Well before 1846, evangelicals had also begun to take a growing interest in spreading Christianity to other parts of the world. In such efforts, English-speaking evangelicals lagged considerably behind their Continental pietists colleagues. Apart from a few efforts to reach native American Indians with the gospel, significant missionary labors by English speakers did not begin until the end of the eighteenth century. The ex-American slave, David George, emigrated from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone in 1792 as a dedicated preacher of revival just as that West African colony was being opened for outside settlement under the auspices of Anglican evangelicals. The next year, the English Baptist William Carey set out for India. Soon Carey’s Baptist Missionary Society was joined by the Anglican Church Missionary Society, the inter-denominational London Missionary Society, and not too many years by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, along with many other evangelical bodies in what would rapidly grow into great efforts of missionary proclamation. The missionary movement was a very important expression of evangelical zeal in English-speaking countries. It became even more important for planting seeds of Christianity in other parts of the world that would grow vigorously into strong indigenous Christian churches.
At the start of the twenty-first century, evangelicals remain important in the broader Christian histories of Britain and North America. But the great story of recent past has been the flourishing of evangelical churches and movements in other parts of the world. Evangelicals from around the world continue to come to Britain, the United States, and Canada for training, but so now do missionaries from the Two-Thirds World arrive to spread the gospel among fellow immigrants in the West, and also to evangelize among Western pagans. To be sure, the newer evangelical churches of the world also face many difficulties of their own-instability, lack of wise leadership, shortage of educational resources, ethnic violence, numbing poverty, and more. But from these churches insights, practices, songs, and doctrinal emphases have also begun to flow back toward the original evangelical homelands. As one recent commentator has written with a focus on the Pacific: “New Zealand Maori, like other indigenous peoples, valued evangelical Christianity for its acknowledgement of the supernatural. The results may put pakeha [New Zealanders of European descent] back into the beginners class of spiritual things.” The theological explorations in the chapters that follow reflect wisdom from three centuries of evangelical life, but are also alert to the recent changes that have once again made evangelical Christianity an international and multicultural religion of great, if also complex, vitality.
"Scripture and Hermeneutics" (2010)Edit
- Evangelicals are a “people of the book” because they are, first and foremost, a people of the gospel (euangelion). This chapter thus focused on the nature (what it is), authority (rightful say-so), and interpretation (how to use it/make it work correctly) of the Bible, the “book” in question. In strictly speaking, evangelicals do not believe “in” the Bible but in the God who authored and speaks authoritatively through it. Yet this God, and the gospel, are “in” the Bible as well, and the purpose of exegesisis to “lead out” (ex + ago) the message of salvation so that the interprer-disciple can follow it in faith and obedience. The challenge for an evangelical theory (doctrine) and practice (interpretation) of Scripture is to hold fast to the gospel fixed in writings while engaging the living God who is its author and attending to the great salvation is its subject matter.
“Biblicism” is one of the most frequently cited defining marks of evangelicism. Of course, the claim to be people of the good book-the book of good news-is a statement more of aim than achievement. Still, evangelicals take their doctrinal and ethical marching orders from the Scriptures, and the goal is to be a people whose faith, hope, and love-her doctrine, duty and devotion-centers on the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the one about whom the gospel is proclaimed.
It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that evangelicals invest heavily in the Bible: in various translations and editions of the Bible, in Bible study, in composing hymns and praise choruses that set its words to music, in writing and consuming commentaries, in demonstrating doctrines to be biblical and, last but not least, in the doctrine of Scripture itself. Devotional Bible reading, for example, “is more foundational to evangelical piety than the rosary is to Roman Catholic piety.” Moreover, the sermon-an exposition of a particular biblical text-was traditionally the place where the Bible was brought to bear or applied to all areas of life. Bible studies among college students are perhaps as central to the dissemination of evangelical tradition to the next generation as Bible translation is to evangelicals in the global South. These foundational practices for forming disciples presuppose doctrinal convictions concerning the nature and authority of the Bible.
- Evangelicals typically view themselves as heirs of the Reformation who have stood against the modern liberal tide. Jack Rogers and Donald McKim stood this claim on its head by arguing that the nineteenth-century Princetonians invented the doctrine of inerrancy and, by so doing, exchanged their birthright as children of faith for a mess of empiricist and propositionalist pottage, that is, for the modern scientific method. John Woodbridge wrote a book-length rebuttal arguing that the Princetonian view was fully in line with the historic tradition. Meanwhile, in the global South the Bible is being read through the lenses not of modernity but of premodernity: Phillip Jenkins argues that evangelicals in the non-Western world are able to identify with the world of the biblical text much more directly. Many live in agricultural societies marked by social poverty on the one hand and a belief in spiritual powers on the other. The story of evangelicals and the Bible marches on, and it less likely to stumble when no one faction alone gets to narrate it.
- I’m a little scared. Yeah. Because I didn’t realize this until recently, and it’s logical, but I didn’t put it together in my own mind in quite the way I have now, which is that in order for Jesus to come back, the world has to end. It has to. So that means there is about 90 to 100 million people that are pretty excited about it. And that’s kind of problematic to those of us who don’t fucking believe that shit. Right? And a lot of those people are in legislative positions. And I’m sitting there thinking, like, “Wait, what’s happening?” Is there any way they’re– they’re crafting policy to accelerate the prophecy? [scattered nervous laughter] Yeah, think about that for a second. Not exactly humorous, but powerful. If you walked up to your state senator or maybe a congressman that was an evangelical, and they were honest, and you said, “I’m a little concerned about global warming. It seems like humans are causing it. We need to do something about it. It’s happening quickly.” They would say, “Not quick enough, to be honest with you. We’re trying to get the flying Jew back. We got coal going, you know, it’s happening. We’re deregulating as fast as we can. We’re gonna make this shit happen.” Problematic, correct?