Evangelical Christianity focuses on the “good news” of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion meaning “gospel” or “good news.” Evangelicals believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to receive salvation and eternal life (John 14:6). Here is an overview of some key beliefs and practices of evangelical Christians:
At the heart of evangelical Christianity are several core beliefs:
- The authority and inerrancy of Scripture – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God without error.
- Salvation through faith in Christ alone – Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Salvation is not earned but given by God’s grace to those who put their faith in Christ.
- The deity and humanity of Christ – 1 Timothy 2:5 calls Jesus the “one mediator between God and men.” Evangelicals believe Jesus is fully God and fully human, the Son of God who died for human sins.
- Need for personal conversion – John 3:3 records Jesus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Evangelicals teach people must be born again spiritually through faith in Christ.
- The Great Commission – Matthew 28:19-20 commands Christ’s followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Evangelism and missions are central to evangelicalism.
Evangelical Christians actively live out their faith in Christ through:
- Prayer and Bible study – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to “pray without ceasing.” Evangelicals devote themselves to regular personal and corporate prayer and Scripture reading.
- Church participation – Hebrews 10:25 exhorts believers not to neglect meeting together. Weekly church attendance is standard for evangelicals seeking Christian fellowship.
- Evangelism – Matthew 4:19 records Jesus saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Evangelism and missions are essential as evangelicals seek to share their faith in Christ with others.
- Christ-centered living – 1 Corinthians 10:31 encourages, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Evangelicals aim to live all of life under Christ’s lordship.
- Service and social concern – James 1:27 defines religion that is pure and undefiled before God as caring for widows and orphans. Evangelicals actively serve the needy as an expression of Christian faith.
History and Background
Evangelicalism has its roots in the Protestant Reformation but took shape as a distinct movement in the 18th century revivals. Key historical figures and developments include:
- Martin Luther and other Reformers – Their emphasis on salvation by faith alone, the authority of Scripture, and personal relationship with God laid the foundation for evangelicalism.
- Pietism – This 17th century movement focused on personal piety, godliness, and devotion, further shaping evangelical values.
- John Wesley and early Methodism – Wesley’s open-air preaching and emphasis on conversion and holiness contributed to the rise of evangelicalism in the 18th century.
- Great Awakening – A series of revivals in Britain and North America in the 1700s and early 1800s promoted evangelical religion.
- Billy Graham – His evangelistic crusades beginning in the 1940s helped grow evangelicalism into a prominent religious movement.
- Rise of denominations – Groups like Baptists, Methodists, and Non-denominational churches have provided institutional homes for evangelical faith.
While united around core theological beliefs, evangelicals may differ on secondary issues like baptism, spiritual gifts, end times views, worship styles, and so on. There is also ethnic and denominational diversity within evangelicalism.
Relation to Fundamentalism
Evangelicalism and fundamentalism share historical roots but are distinct movements today. Similarities include high view of Scripture, focus on salvation in Christ, and conservative personal morality. However, evangelicals differ from fundamentalists in tending to be more open to:
- Involvement in social issues and engagement with culture
- Higher education including secular universities
- Cooperation across denominations and ethnic groups
- Dialogue and cooperation with those of other faiths or no faith
- New ideas, methods, and innovations in ministry and worship
Fundamentalism tends to emphasize separation from the world and defensiveness against threats to biblical faith. Evangelicals maintain biblical fidelity while engaging society.
Global Growth and Influence
Over the 20th century, evangelical Christianity experienced explosive growth worldwide. Key factors include:
- Evangelistic effectiveness of evangelical theology and methods
- Energy of evangelical missionary expansion across six continents
- Rapid evangelical church growth across the Global South
- Evangelical dominance of global Christian media like TV, radio, books, internet
- Adaptability of evangelicalism to diverse cultures
- Networks of international evangelical alliances, conferences, and ministries
Major bastions of global evangelical strength today include sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, China, South Korea, and parts of Southeast Asia. Roughly 25% of the world’s Christians today are evangelical. The Lausanne Movement stands as a key global network for evangelical leaders and churches.
In the U.S., evangelicals comprise around 25-35% of Christians. The National Association of Evangelicals unites over 40 denominations and many independent churches and organizations. Evangelicals exercise significant social and political influence in America, upholding conservative positions on issues like abortion, religious freedom, family, and sexuality.
Key Theologians and Leaders
Prominent evangelical thinkers and leaders over the centuries have included:
- John Wesley – 18th century British evangelist and theologian, founder of Methodism
- Jonathan Edwards – 18th century American preacher and philosopher during the First Great Awakening
- William Wilberforce – British politician who led the campaign to abolish the slave trade in 19th century Britain
- Charles Finney – 19th century American revivalist preacher during the Second Great Awakening
- Dwight L. Moody – 19th/early 20th century American evangelist central to the development of evangelicalism
- C.S. Lewis – 20th century British author, prominent Christian apologist and lay theologian
- Carl F.H. Henry – 20th century American theologian seen as the voice of neo-evangelicalism after WWII
- John Stott – prominent 20th century British pastor and theologian who shaped evangelical thinking globally
- Billy Graham – the most influential evangelical of the 20th century, renowned American evangelist
- James Dobson – contemporary American evangelical leader, founder of Focus on the Family
While leaders like these have promoted evangelical growth, the essence of evangelicalism rests not in human figures but in the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture and directly accessible to all who put their faith in him.
Evangelical Institutions and Publications
Key evangelical institutions and publications include:
- National Association of Evangelicals – network of evangelical denominations, leaders, and churches in the U.S.
- World Evangelical Alliance – global network of evangelical churches and organizations
- Lausanne Movement – global evangelical network focused on world evangelization
- Campus Crusade for Christ – large evangelical campus ministry founded by Bill Bright
- Christianity Today – flagship evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham
- Moody Bible Institute – influential evangelical Bible institute in Chicago
- Dallas Theological Seminary – leading U.S. evangelical seminary
- Wheaton College – prominent evangelical liberal arts college outside Chicago
- Tyndale House – major evangelical Christian publisher located near Chicago
- Zondervan – one of the largest international Christian publishing companies
These organizations and publishers promote evangelical growth and influence through ministries, events, media, education, and literature.
Worship and Lifestyle
There is diversity in evangelical worship styles and lifestyles. However, some common features include:
- Emphasis on preaching and teaching of the Bible
- Singing a mix of hymns and contemporary worship songs
- Casual to formal church services
- Small groups for Bible study, prayer, and fellowship
- Strict codes of personal morality and ethics
- Families with parents and children actively involved in the church
- Abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs
- Ongoing Christian education through the life of the church
Rather than mere outward conformity, evangelical teaching emphasizes transformed hearts and minds through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
Criticisms and Controversies
Some common criticisms of evangelical Christianity include:
- Anti-intellectual and overly simplistic faith
- Judgmental attitudes toward those living differently
- Exclusiveness in salvation beliefs
- Unhealthy fusion of faith with right-wing politics in America
- Legalism and rigid codes of conduct
- Support of unjust traditions like slavery, segregation, apartheid
- Resistance to feminism and LGBTQ rights
- Opposition to scientific theories like evolution and climate change
- Public scandals by prominent evangelical leaders
In response, evangelicals affirm the life-changing intellectual rigor of biblical truth. They aim for grace and humility in relations with others, while upholding traditional teachings on salvation, ethics, gender, and sexuality. Evangelicals point to positive social and political engagement over issues like human trafficking, poverty, addiction, and education. Ethnic diversity and women in leadership roles are growing in evangelicalism. Evangelical scholars actively research and discuss science. While certain leaders prove flawed, the hope is in Christ.
Evangelical Christianity centers on the “good news” that God graciously saves people from sin through faith alone in Jesus Christ and the Bible. Evangelicals actively spread this message, while also engaging society. The movement has grown rapidly worldwide, exercising substantial influence in churches, missions, media, politics, social issues, and education.