Evangelicalism Explained

Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in the 17th century and became an organized movement with the emergence around 1730 of the Methodists in England and the Pietists among Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia. The movement became even more important—drawing far more members than in Europe—in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century. It continues especially in the U.S. as a major force in the 21st century, and by missionary work has spread across the globe, especially to the Third World.

It is a religious movement that de-emphasizes ritual and emphasizes the pietism of the individual, requiring him or her to meet certain active commitments, including:

David Bebbington has termed these four distinctive aspects conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism noting, "Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism."[1]

Usage

The term evangelical has its etymological roots in the Greek word for "gospel" or "good news": ευαγγελιον (evangelion), from eu- "good" and angelion "message". In that sense, to be evangelical would mean to be a believer in the gospel, that is the message of Jesus Christ.

By the English Middle Ages the term had been expanded to include not only the message, but also the New Testament which contained the message, as well as more specifically the four books of the Bible in which the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are portrayed. The first published use of the term "evangelical" in English was in 1531 by William Tyndale, who wrote "He exhorteth them to proceed constantly in the evangelical truth." One year later, the earliest recorded use in reference to a theological distinction was by Sir Thomas More, who spoke of "Tyndale [and] his evangelical brother Barns".

By the time of the Protestant Reformation, Protestant theologians began to embrace the term evangelical as referring to "gospel truth". Martin Luther referred to the evangelische Kirche or evangelical church to distinguish Protestants from Catholics in the Roman Catholic Church. In Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, and especially among Lutherans, the term has continued to be used in a broad sense. This can be seen in the names of certain Lutheran denominations or national organizations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and the Evangelical Church in Germany.

Current usage

While the main usage is religious, the term is also used to characterize a movement that uses active missionary work to convert others to its political position. For example, the Times Literary Supplement refers to "the rise and fall of evangelical fervor within the Socialist movement".[2]

The contemporary North American usage of the term is influenced by the evangelical/fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century. Evangelicalism may sometimes be perceived as the middle ground between the theological liberalism of the mainline denominations and the cultural separatism of fundamentalism. Evangelicalism has therefore been described as "the third of the leading strands in American Protestantism, straddl[ing] the divide between fundamentalists and liberals". According to Christianity Today, "The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. The emerging church movement is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. It would not be unfair to call it postmodern evangelicalism."[3]

While the North American perception is important to understand the usage of the term, it by no means dominates a wider global view, where the fundamentalist debate was not so influential.

By the mid-1950s, largely due to the ecumenical evangelism of Billy Graham, the terms evangelicalism and fundamentalism began to refer to two different approaches. Fundamentalism aggressively attacked its liberal enemies; Evangelicalism downplayed liberalism and emphasized outreach and conversion of new members[4]

While some conservative evangelicals believe the label has broadened too much beyond its more limiting traditional distinctives, this trend is nonetheless strong enough to create significant ambiguity in the term.[5] As a result, the dichotomy between "evangelical" and "mainline" denominations is increasingly complex, particularly with such innovations as the "emergent church" movement.

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, used polling data to separate evangelicals into three camps which he labels as traditionalist, centrist and modernist.

History

17th century

The work of the Pietists Philipp Jakob Spener and August Hermann Francke is the theological and practical beginning. The Francke Foundations in Halle became the education place for many priests of the New World, above all for the United States. The personal experience of enlightenment is the central reason to find the way to good. The spreading of the faith is pursued by the individually piety.[6]

18th century

Evangelical movements first emerged between 1730 and 1790 and Pietism in Germany and the Netherlands, and Methodism in England and America. They featured revivals and an emphasis on personal salvation and piety, while downplaying rituals and traditions. In the American colonies the First Great Awakening of the 1740s greatly expanded the movement; it was based on revivals led by Congregationalist Jonathan Edwards and Methodist George Whitefield. In England John Wesley led the Methodist movement inside the Church of England.

19th century

The start of the 19th century saw an increase in missionary work and many of the major missionary societies were founded around this time (see Timeline of Christian missions).

The Second Great Awakening (which actually began in 1790) was primarily an American revivalist movement and resulted in substantial growth of the Methodist and Baptist churches. Charles Grandison Finney was an important preacher of this period.

Evangelicals were also concerned with social reform during this period—in England the Clapham Sect included figures such as William Wilberforce who successfully campaigned for the abolition of slavery.

John Nelson Darby was a 19th century English minister considered to be the father of modern Dispensationalism, an innovative Protestant movement significant in the development of modern evangelicalism.[7] Cyrus Scofield further promoted the influence of this theology through his Scofield Reference Bible.

Other notable figures of the latter half of the 19th century include Charles Spurgeon and Dwight L. Moody.

In Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre, Mr Brocklehurst illustrates the dangers and hypocrisies that Charlotte Brontë perceived in the nineteenth-century Evangelical movement.

20th century

Evangelicalism in the early part of the 20th century was dominated by the fundamentalist movement, which rejected liberal theology and focused on separation from the world.

Following the Welsh Revival, the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 began the spread of Pentecostalism in North America.

In the post–World War II period, a split developed amongst evangelicals, as they disagreed among themselves about how a Christian ought to respond to an unbelieving world. The evangelicals urged that Christians must engage the culture directly and constructively,[8] and they began to express reservations about being known to the world as fundamentalists. As Kenneth Kantzer put it at the time, the name fundamentalist had become "an embarrassment instead of a badge of honor".[9]

The term neo-evangelicalism was coined by Harold Ockenga in 1947 to identify a distinct movement within self-identified fundamentalist Christianity at the time, especially in the English-speaking world. It described the mood of positivism and non-militancy that characterized that generation. The new generation of evangelicals set as their goals to abandon a militant Bible stance. Instead, they would pursue dialogue, intellectualism, non-judgmentalism, and appeasement. They further called for an increased application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas. Not all conservatives are pleased with the new direction. One author has termed it "the apostasy within evangelicalism".

The self-identified fundamentalists also cooperated in separating their opponents from the fundamentalist name, by increasingly seeking to distinguish themselves from the more open group, whom they often characterized derogatorily, by Ockenga's term, "neo-evangelical" or just evangelical.

The fundamentalists saw the evangelicals as often being too concerned about social acceptance and intellectual respectability, and being too accommodating to a perverse generation that needed correction. In addition, they saw the efforts of evangelist Billy Graham, who worked with non-evangelical denominations, such as the Roman Catholics (which they claimed to be heretical), as a mistake.

The post-war period also saw growth of the ecumenical movement and the founding of the World Council of Churches, which was generally regarded with suspicion by the evangelical community.

In England, John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones emerged as key leaders in evangelical Christianity.

The charismatic movement began in the 1960s and resulted in Pentecostal theology and practice being introduced into many mainline denominations. New charismatic groups such as the Association of Vineyard Churches and Newfrontiers trace their roots to this period (see also British New Church Movement).

The closing years of the 20th century saw controversial postmodern influences entering some parts of evangelicalism, particularly with the emerging church movement.

21st century

Meaning of Evangelicalism

The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals states:

Adherents

The movement is highly diverse and encompasses a vast number of people. Because the group is diverse, not all of them use the same terminology for beliefs. For instance, several recent studies and surveys by sociologists and political scientists that utilize more complex definitional parameters have estimated the number of evangelicals in the U.S. at about 25–30% of the population, or roughly between 70 and 80 million people.[10]

From the late 20th century onwards, such conservative Protestant Christians, and their churches and social movements, have often been called evangelical to distinguish them from other Protestants.

Since the Iraq War, evangelicalism has begun to make inroads in Iraq, capitalizing on a new openness to Western missionaries following the US-led invasion of the country, although the vast majority of converts are from other sects of Christianity present in Iraq.[11] [12]

Contemporary North American perspective

Evangelicals held the view that the modernist and liberal parties in the Protestant churches had surrendered their heritage as evangelicals by accommodating the views and values of "the world". At the same time, they criticized fundamentalists for their separatism and their rejection of the social gospel as it had been developed by Protestant activists of the previous century. They charged the modernists with having lost their identity as evangelicals and the fundamentalists with having lost the Christ-like heart of evangelicalism. They argued that the gospel needed to be reassessed to distinguish it from the innovations of the liberals as well as the fundamentalists.

Today, evangelicals are often concerned with their own failure to live up to Christian standards in contrast to the world. Christianity Today author Mark Galli says "It's now pretty much agreed that the evangelical church mirrors the dysfunctions of secular society, from premarital sex stats to divorce rates to buying habits. Much to our dismay, we are hardly a light to the world, nor an icon of the abundant, transformed life."[13]

Global demographics

On a worldwide scale evangelical churches (together with Pentecostals) claim to be the most rapidly growing Christian churches. The two often overlap, in a movement sometimes called transformationalism. Churches in Africa exhibit rapid growth and great diversity in part because they are not dependent on European and North American evangelical sources. An example of this can be seen in the African Initiated Churches.

The World Evangelical Alliance is "a network of churches in 128 nations that have each formed an evangelical alliance and over 100 international organizations joining together to give a worldwide identity, voice and platform" to an estimated more than 600 million evangelical Christians. The Alliance was formed in 1951 by evangelicals from 21 countries. It has worked to support its members to work together globally.

In Britain, according to a 2005 study conducted by the Assemblies of God, evangelicals give 7.5% of their income to their churches and a further 3% to Christian charities.[14]

Types of evangelicalism

Conservative evangelicalism

See main article: Conservative evangelicalism.

Toward the end of the 20th century, some have tended to confuse evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but as noted above they are not the same. The labels represent very distinct differences of approach which both groups are diligent to maintain, although because of fundamentalism's dramatically smaller size it often gets classified simply as an ultra-conservative branch of evangelicalism.

Both groups seek to maintain an identity as theological conservatives; evangelicals, however, seek to distance themselves from stereotypical perceptions of the "fundamentalist" posture of antagonism toward the larger society and advocate involvement in the surrounding community rather than separation from it. However, despite the differences, some people, particularly those with a non-denominational background, may consider themselves both evangelical and fundamentalist because they believe in the engaging practices of evangelicalism and take a fundamental view of the Bible.

On the American political spectrum, evangelicals traditionally fall under socially conservative. Based on the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22 & Genesis 2:24) view that for God marriage is only between one man and one woman, they oppose state recognition of same-sex marriage. Since the 1970s they have also added opposition to abortion. (See below for more details).

Open evangelicalism

See main article: Open Evangelical.

Open Evangelical refers to a particular Christian school of thought or Churchmanship, primarily in the United Kingdom (especially in the Church of England). Open evangelicals describe their position as combining a traditional evangelical emphasis on the nature of scriptural authority, the teaching of the ecumenical creeds and other traditional doctrinal teachings, with an approach towards culture and other theological points of view which tends to be more inclusive than that taken by other evangelicals. Some open evangelicals aim to take a middle position between conservative and charismatic evangelicals, while others would combine conservative theological emphases with more liberal social positions.[15]

Post-evangelicalism

See main article: Post-evangelical.

British author Dave Tomlinson characterizes post-evangelicalism as a movement comprising various trends of dissatisfaction among evangelicals. The term is used by others with comparable intent, often to distinguish evangelicals in the so-called emerging church movement from post-evangelicals and anti-evangelicals. Tomlinson argues that "linguistically, the distinction [between evangelical and post-evangelical] is similar to the one that sociologists make between the modern and postmodern eras".

There persists considerable and inevitable confusion as to how best to classify the non-traditional/non-conservative forms of evangelicalism. Some call the emerging church movement a version or manifestation of post-evangelicalism, whereas others distinguish both under the broader umbrella of the "evangelical left" movement. As such developments are still relatively new, it remains to be seen how the categories and semantics will settle.

Evangelicalism in the United States

Demographics

The 2004 survey of religion and politics in the United States identified the evangelical percentage of the population at 26.3 percent while Roman Catholics are 22 percent and mainline Protestants make up 16 percent. In the 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the figures for these same groups are 28.6 percent (evangelical), 24.5 percent (Roman Catholic), and 13.9 percent (mainline Protestant.) The latter figures are based on a 2001 study of the self-described religious identification of the adult population for 1990 and 2001 from the Graduate School and University Center at the City University of New York.A 2008 study showed that in the year 2000 about 9 percent of Americans attended an evangelical service on any given Sunday.[16]

The National Association of Evangelicals is a U.S. agency which coordinates cooperative ministry for its member denominations.

Politics

Christian right in politics

See main article: Christian right. Evangelical political influence in America was first evident in the 1830s with movements such as abolition of slavery and the prohibition movement, which closed saloons and taverns in state after state until it succeeded nationally in 1919.[17] The Christian right is a coalition of numerous groups of traditionalist and observant church-goers of every kind: especially Catholics on issues such as birth control and abortion, Southern Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans,and others.[18]

Evangelical political activists are not all on the right. There is a small group of liberal white evangelicals.[19] Most blacks belong to Baptist, Methodist or other denominations which share evangelical beliefs; they are firmly in the Democratic coalition and (except for gay and abortion issues) are generally liberal in politics.[20]

Abortion

Since 1970 a central issue motivating conservative evangelicals' political activism is abortion. Theologically they argue abortion is the taking of an innocent life. Pro-choice advocates oppose the evangelicals on abortion and argue that any legal restrictions based on such a religious worldview amount to imposing religion. Abortion was not a crime under English and American common law at least until the "quickening" of the fetus. Physicians—not religious leaders—were responsible for enacting the 19th century laws against abortion in the name of protecting the mother. The 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court said women have a right to choose abortion; with some modifications, that remains the law. It proved decisive in bringing together Catholics (who had opposed abortion since the 1890s) and evangelicals in a political coalition in the 1970s, which became known as the Religious Right when it successfully mobilized its voters behind presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980.[21]

School prayer

In the United States, Supreme Court decisions that outlawed organized prayer in school and restricted church-related schools also played a role in mobilizing the Religious Right.[22] In addition, questions of sexual morality and homosexuality have been energizing factors—and above all, the fear that "elites" are pushing America into secularism.

Other issues

According to recent reports in the New York Times, some evangelicals have sought to expand their movement's social agenda to include poverty, combating AIDS in the Third World, and protecting the environment. This is highly contentious within the evangelical community, since more conservative evangelicals believe that this trend is compromising important issues and prioritizing popularity and consensus too highly. Personifying this division were the evangelical leaders James Dobson and Rick Warren, the former who warned of the dangers of a Barack Obama victory in 2008 from his point of view, in contrast with the latter who declined to endorse either major candidate on the grounds that he wanted the church to be less politically divisive and that he agreed substantially with both men.[23] Indeed many are not sure how to characterize Rick Warren on the evangelical spectrum; despite his avowed centrism he recently supported California's controversial Proposition 8 (2008), which is regarded by critics as a right-wing position.

Christian nation

Some opponents have argued that the evangelicals actually want a Christian America—that is a nation in which Christianity is given a privileged position.[24] Survey data shows that 60–75% of evangelicals reject proposals for a Christian America.[25] Evangelical leaders retort they merely seek freedom from the imposition by national elites of an equally subjective secular worldview, and feel that it is their opponents who are violating their rights.

Christian left

See main article: Evangelical left.

Typically, members of the evangelical left affirm the primary tenets of evangelical theology, such as the doctrines of Incarnation, atonement, and resurrection, and also see the Bible as a primary authority for the church. A major theological difference, however, which in turn leads to many of the social/political differences, is the issue of how strictly to interpret the Bible, as well as what particular values and principles predominantly constitute the "biblical worldview" believed to be binding upon all followers. Inevitably, battles over how to characterize each other and themselves ensue, with the evangelical left and right often hyperbolically regarding each other as "mainline/non-evangelical" and "fundamentalist" respectively.

Unlike conservative evangelicals, the evangelical left is generally opposed to capital punishment and supportive of gun control. In many cases, evangelical leftists are pacifistic. Some promote the legalization of same-sex marriage or protection of access to abortion for the society at large without necessarily endorsing the practice themselves. There is considerable dispute over how to even characterize the various segments of the evangelical theological and political spectra, and whether a singular discernible rift between "right" and "left" is oversimplified. However, to the extent that some simplifications are necessary to discuss any complex issue, it is recognized that modern trends like focusing on non-contentious issues (like poverty) and downplaying hot-button social issues (like abortion) tend to be key distinctives of the modern "evangelical left" or "emergent church" movement.

Evangelical environmentalism

See main article: Evangelical environmentalism.

Evangelical environmentalism is an environmental movement in the United States in which some Evangelicals have emphasized biblical mandates concerning humanity's role as steward and subsequent responsibility for the caretaking of Creation. While the movement has focused on different environmental issues, it is best known for its focus of addressing climate action from a biblically grounded theological perspective. The Evangelical Climate Initiative argues that human-induced climate change will have severe consequences and impact the poor the hardest, and that God's mandate to Adam to care for the Garden of Eden also applies to Christians today, and that it is therefore a moral obligation to work to mitigate climate impacts and support communities in adapting to change.[26]

See also

Publications

Popular:
Academic:
Defunct:

Further reading

External links

Notes and References

  1. Bebbington, p. 3.
  2. Cited in Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (1961)
  3. Crouch, Andrew. "The Emergent Mystique", Christianity Today, November 2004
  4. Randall Herbert Balmer. Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press; 2002 [cited October 25, 2011]. ISBN 978-0-664-22409-7.
  5. George Marsden Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism Eerdmans, 1991.
  6. name="Francke Foundations"http://www.francke-halle.de/main/index2.php?cf=6_1_1_2
  7. History Channel "Antichrist: Zero Hour" (2005)
  8. http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN080282661X Henry, Carl F.H., (1947), The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism
  9. http://www.beliefnet.com/story/167/story_16774_1.html Kenneth Kantzer, The Fundamentalist-Evangelical Split
  10. http://isae.wheaton.edu/defining-evangelicalism/how-many-evangelicals-are-there/ "How Many Evangelicals Are There?"
  11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBUdRWjSxHI&feature=channel YouTube - The Iraqi Muslims who convert to Christianity - 22 Feb 09
  12. News: Evangelicals Building a Base in Iraq. The Washington Post. Caryle. Murphy. 2005-06-23.
  13. Mark Galli: "We've Won the Lottery—Now What? The meaning of evangelical scandals—including our own", Christianity Today, July 30, 2009.
  14. Christian Research, "How Christians use their money…and why?" (2006) online
  15. Kelvin Randall, Evangelicals etcetera: conflict and conviction in the Church of England (2005) p. 52
  16. David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2008, 240pp. See also, 125 Surprising Facts, a PowerPoint presentation from TheAmericanChurch.org.
  17. Norman H. Clark, Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition (1976)
  18. "The Triumph of the Religious Right", The Economist November 11, 2004.
  19. Jon A. Shields, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right (2009) pp. 117, 121
  20. Heineman, God is a Conservative, pp 71–2, 173
  21. Jonathan Dudley. Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics. Random House; 2011 [cited October 25, 2011]. ISBN 978-0-385-52526-8.
  22. Heineman, Kenneth J. (1998). God is a Conservative: Religion, Politics and Morality in Contemporary America. pp. 44–123. ISBN 978-0-8147-3554-1.
  23. Web site: Rick Warren: Pastors Shouldn't Endorse Politicians. Michelle A. Vu. christianpost.com. July 29, 2008. October 25, 2011.
  24. Alan M. Dershowitz, Blasphemy: how the religious right is hijacking our Declaration of Independence (2007) p 121
  25. Smith, Christian (2002). Christian America?: What Evangelicals Really Want. p. 207.
  26. Web site: Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action. christiansandclimate.org. Evangelical Climate Initiative. January 5, 2012.