History and Traditions
An Evangelical Christian is a Protestant who is Gospel-centered. During the Reformation of the 16th century, "Evangelical" was a favorite term, especially as used by Lutherans. Evangelical Christians are often zealous when it comes to evangelism and evangelical Christianity has seen rapid growth in the world (see: Growth of evangelical Christianity).
The term commonly also suggests a desire to evangelize, i.e. spread the message of the Gospel and make converts to Christianity.
In recent decades the term has become a "catch-all" category used to designate a Protestant denomination that is not considered mainline, fundamentalist or Pentecostal/charismatic, with virtually no agreement as to which of the denominations not in one of the prior categories should be included; the only denomination that is generally agreed to definitely be Evangelical is the Southern Baptist Convention.
There is no exact definition of who is an Evangelical. Pollsters often ask, "Are you a born-again Christian?" to define the group. Sociologists look at membership in specific denominations and often include adherents of Holiness Movement, Pentecostal and Nazarene churches. Some scholars focus on the Bible beliefs, together with a personal commitment to Christ.
The largest Lutheran body in the USA is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It should be noted though that this church and The Episcopal Church, which is in communion with it, have had their Evangelical credentials questioned as a result of their recent acceptance of homosexuality. Some Evangelical Protestant critics, believing homosexual acts to be contrary to Scripture, place these churches on the edge of fringe Christianity along with Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and Seventh Day Adventists.
The Christian researcher and author George Barna defines "Evangelicals" as a subset of those who meet the basic criteria defining born again Christians, but who also meet seven other doctrinal conditions. A distinction is then enabled to be manifest in other areas of faith beliefs.
The First Great Awakening was a spontaneous outburst of religious enthusiasm in the American colonies, with a decisive long-term impact on setting the stage for Evangelicalism in Congregational, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, among others. It did not add new members so much as to change the religious consciousness of church members to a greater awareness of sin and redemption, and a downplaying of ritual, liturgy and theology. The Great Awakening heavily emphasized the individual's experience of salvation and the Holy Spirit's work in revivals. By giving many evangelicals radical notions of the spiritual equality of all people, the revivals helped form the democratic style came to characterize the American people.
The Second Great Awakening from 1800 to the 1830s created a dramatic growth in "evangelical" or "pietistic" denominations. They included the Methodists, Congregationalists, most Presbyterians, Christians (Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ) and Scandinavian Lutherans. They were opposed theologically by the liturgical or "high" churches, including Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and German Lutherans. The evangelicals were strong supporters of moral reforms in society, using government action to promote woman's rights, the abolition of slavery, and the prohibition of liquor.
Politically, the evangelicals in the North were the core of the Republican party in the Third Party System, as well as the small Prohibition party.
Evangelicals were active in missions (as were the non-evangelical Christians). Missionaries, in addition to spreading the word of God, have helped bring much needed medical and educational services to poor parts of the world, as part of their missionary activities.
The Third Great Awakening from 1850 to about 1900 saw the evangelical denominations organize themselves more thoroughly. They also began to experience splits between "modernists" and "fundamentalists" about theological principles. "Evangelical" includes Fundamentalists, not as an organization but as a style of religious belief coupled with activism.
A Fundamentalist believes in actively opposing mainstream religion. Most Fundamentalists believe in Dispensationalism, although Calvinist Evangelicals reject Dispensationalism. The largest Evangelical church is the Southern Baptist Convention, which is largely Fundamentalist.
By the end of the 20th century, there were nearly 100 million Americans who identified themselves as "Evangelical Christians," according to a Gallup Poll in 1995.
Growth of evangelical Protestantism
See: Secular Europe
In the United States
While nominal Christians and mainline denominations, which tend to be theologically liberal and compromised, have been in strong decline, evangelical Christianity has actually increased and become three times larger than mainline denominations based on church attendance.
Beliefs and Practices
The commonly held beliefs and practices of evangelical Christians include:
- the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God
- a generally literal interpretation of the Bible (this extends to the belief that events recorded in the Bible are historically accurate; therefore, Evangelicals generally reject evolution, though some accept theistic evolution)
- church services generally comparable to low church practices
- active participation in a local church
- high levels of charity (both financial and directly assisting others); tithing is considered Biblical and strongly encouraged
- support of homeschooling and Christian schools (though not to the level of fundamentalism)
- active participation in politics, usually holding to conservative political views; in the 21st century White Evangelicals have voted around 75%–80% for Republican presidential candidates
- This includes a willingness to work with other Christian groups, both inside and outside of Evangelicalism and even outside Protestantism, on major social issues such as the pro-life cause, whereas fundamentalist groups generally do not work with groups not in its camp
The beliefs and practices are comparable to those held by Pentecostal/charismatic and fundamentalist Christians, but generally are in sharp contrast to those held by mainline Christians.
- Anti-Saloon League, led the dry forces to enact Prohibition
- Assemblies of God
- Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
- British evangelical Christianity
- William Jennings Bryan, politician who fought Darwinism
- Christian Reformed Church, Dutch Calvinists
- Common Sense Realism, part of Princeton Theology
- Culture War
- Revelation, Book of (historical exegesis)
- Billy Graham, post 1945
- Heritage Reformed Congregations
- Charles Hodge, leader of Princeton theology
- Holiness Movement
- John Gresham Machen, Fundamentalist theologian early 20c
- Princeton Theology
- Protestant Reformed Church
- Reformed Churches
- William Bell Riley, organizer of 20c Fundamentalism
- Second Great Awakening, 188-1820s
- Southern Baptist Convention
- Billy Sunday, early 20c
- Theory of Fundamentalist Antisemitism
- Third Great Awakening, 1850-1900
- United Methodist Church, highly evangelical in 19th century
- Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States
- Evangelical Covenant Church
- Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America (Syro-Chaldean)
- Low church
- What is an Evangelical?
- Robert E. Brown, "Varieties of American Evangelicalism Course Syllabus" (Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture 2004), highly detailed bibliography and outline
- Evangelical Protestants Are The Biggest Winners When People Change Faiths
- Real Life and Death: the interplay of Bible, Israel, America
- Balmer, Randall. Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism (2nd ed. 2004), 655pp Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism online edition, by a leading historian
- Balmer, Randall. Blessed Assurance Cl: A History Of Evangelicalism In America (2000), 144pp excerpt and text search, topical essays but not a systematic history
- Carpenter, Joel A. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (1999), major scholarly history of post-1925 era excerpt and text search
- Hankins, Barry. American evangelicals: a contemporary history of a mainstream religious movement (2008) 205 pages excerpt and text search
- Kidd, Thomas S. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007) excerpt and text search
- Krapohl, Robert H., and Charles H. Lippy. The Evangelicals: A Historical, Thematic, and Biographical Guide (1999). 338 pgs. online edition
- Larsen, Timothy and Daniel J. Treier, eds. The Cambridge companion to evangelical theology (2007) 303 pages; excerpt and text search
- Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (2nd ed. 2006). standard scholarly history by leading Evangelical scholar excerpt and text search
- Marsden, George M. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism
- Noll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (1992) by leading Evangelical scholar excerpt and text search
- Rawlyk, George, ed. Aspects of the Canadian Evangelical Experience. (1997). 542 pp.
- online books
- Burch, Maxine. The Evangelical Historians: The Historiography of George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, and Mark Noll. (1996). 130 pp.
- Thomas S. Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007) excerpt and text search; William G. McLaughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Pietistic Tradition (1967)
- See Krapohl and Lippy (1999)
- Revealing Statistics: America in Decline; Differences among Denominations
- Thomas S. Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007)
- See Richard Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest, 1888-1896 (1971)
- Stetzer, Ed (May 16, 2015). No, American Christianity is not dead. CNN. Retrieved January 17, 2017.