In its widest sense, the term signifies a body of doctrine regarded as the essential message of the Gospel. Although the precise meaning of Evangelicalism has varied with different historical contexts, it is generally applied to the doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ. In the era of the Reformation, those who followed Martin Luther in placing a new stress on this doctrine were commonly designated as Evangelicals. The term was used in this sense to distinguish the churches of the Lutheran tradition from those of the Calvinist tradition, which were commonly known as Reformed. Many Lutheran synods in the United States and Europe use the term "Evangelical" as part of their official designation.
The Evangelical Revival in the 18th century, characterized by pietism in Germany and methodism in England, gave a new sense to the term. Since the 18th century, particularly in English-speaking lands, Evangelicalism has been used to designate the school of Protestantism that maintains that the essence of the Gospel consists in the doctrine of salvation by faith in the atoning death of Christ. In this sense, Evangelicalism has been represented by a tradition within the Anglican communion, as well as by those churches that developed from the 18th-century Evangelical Revival. The Evangelical tradition, in both groups, stressed the authority and inspiration of the Bible and the depravity of fallen nature and its need for a Redeemer, and regarded the sacraments as symbols rather than as means of grace. The Evangelical tradition in worship denied that ordination confers any supernatural power on the minister and stressed the reading of Scripture and the importance of evangelistic preaching.
In England, the Evangelical party found more in common with the Nonconformists than with the High Church wing of the Establishment, and cooperated readily with them in missionary and social-welfare efforts in the 19th century. Similar cooperation among the Protestant churches took place in North America in the same period. From this mutual sharing, the evangelical alliance developed as an institution in 1846, and a general sense of a community of Evangelical doctrine shared by many denominations grew up over a longer period. The division between liberals and fundamentalists in the early 20th century, particularly in American Protestantism, brought a somewhat different emphasis to the term. A school of theology, conservative in outlook and closely akin to the fundamentalist view, developed in the United States after 1940 under the general designation of Evangelicalism. Conservative American Protestantism adopted the term, since the forming of the national association of evangelicals in 1942, as a substitute for fundamentalist or conservative, but with the same meaning.
In England. The Evangelical Revival became influential within the Church of England in 1735. The preaching of John and Charles wesley and of George whitefield stimulated many members of the Established Church to develop a more personal piety and inner religion. The movement was never separatist, and the ordination of Francis asbury in 1784 was the first overt step toward separation of the Wesleyan movement from the Church of England. Whitefield found a warm welcome in Scotland, where an Evangelical party developed within the Church of Scotland, and in North America. The great awakening, which swept over the American colonies after 1740, had an impact on all the Protestant churches. The growth of Methodism in England and America and the growth of other closely related churches marked the closing decades of the 18th century. In both countries, the Evangelical movement found reflection in missionary efforts. The English Evangelicals organized the Church Missionary Society and the Religious Tract Society in 1799, as well as the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804. Through the so-called Clapham Sect, Evangelical churchmen were instrumental in developing reform and social welfare. Henry Ryder, bishop of Gloucester, and Charles Sumner, bishop of Llandaff, brought the Evangelical party to the Bishops' Bench after 1815.
Opposition to the oxford movement characterized much of the Evangelical activities in the mid-Victorian period. The Parker Society was organized in 1840 to publish the writings of the English Reformers. English Evangelicals stressed home missions and open-air preaching in industrial areas in the latter part of the 19th century; they sponsored the revival meetings of Dwight L. moody in 1875. Evangelicalism was somewhat on the defensive in Great Britain in the 20th century, but it experienced a marked revival in 1947 and 1948.
In the United States. Evangelicalism in the United States has been closely linked to efforts at interdenominational cooperation on a basis of shared doctrine. Reflecting the contemporary English development, American Protestants united to form the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1812, the American Bible Society in 1815, and other cooperative ventures. The writings of Samuel S. schmucker and Philip schaff stressed the common heritage of Evangelical Protestantism, as did the publications of William A. Muhlenberg, who blended Evangelical doctrine and Catholic practice in the Episcopal Church. The development of an American branch of the Evangelical Alliance after the Civil War drew its strength from a shared doctrinal inheritance. After Schaff's death, a new stress on the social Gospel led to the supplanting of the alliance in 1908 by the Federal Council of Churches. To many Evangelicals, the new body was tainted with liberal theology, and they found a more congenial association in the fundamentalist movements.
Several leaders of the fundamentalist crusade were theologians of considerable stature, such as J. Gresham Machen and Benjamin B. warfield, although the movement as a whole was characterized by anti-intellectualism and biblical literalism. These theologians and their successors provided a transition from the older fundamentalism to the new Evangelicalism. Recognizing the blunders of the fundamentalists in their attitude toward science and reason, the modern Evangelicals found spokesmen in Gordon Clark, Bernard Ramm, and Carl F. H. Henry. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, published by Henry in 1947, had a marked influence in developing a social concern among Evangelicals.
"The Statement of Faith" adopted by the National Association of Evangelicals in Chicago in 1943 stressed the inspiration and authority of Scripture; the Trinity; the Divinity, Virgin Birth, and Bodily Resurrection of Christ; and his atoning death and message of salvation. The much smaller american council of christian churches, similarly conservative, was formed in 1941. The National Association of Evangelicals sponsored the National Association of Christian Schools (1947) to promote Christian day schools and a National Sunday School Association (1949) to provide uniform lessons. In the field of foreign missions, the Evangelical Foreign Mission Society (1945) centralized the activities of a large number of small mission societies and has been adamant in opposing any concession to local rites or non-Christian customs. The Evangelicals, although recognizing the need for union in Christ, have resisted the ecumenical movement, fearing its tendency to downgrade doctrine for the sake of organizational unity. They claim to have separated from the neo-orthodox and liberal theologians on their understanding of the Bible and from the fundamentalists on questions of social ethics.
Bibliography: l. e. elliott-binns, The Early Evangelicals (London 1953). j. d. murch, Cooperation without Compromise: A History of the National Association of Evangelicals (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1956). m. a. shibley, Resurgent Evangelicalism in the United States: Mapping Cultural Change since 1970 (Columbia, S.C.1996). g. rossell, The Evangelical Landscape: Essays on the American Evangelical Tradition (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1996). a. e. mcgrath, A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism (Leicester, Eng. 1996). l. i. sweet, The Evangelical Tradition in America (Macon, Ga. 1997). h. a. harris, Fundamentalism and Evangelicals (Oxford/New York 1998). c. smith and m. emerson, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (Chicago, Ill. 1998). g. j. dorrien, The Remaking of Evangelical Theology (Louisville, Ky. 1998). r. steer, Church on Fire: The Story of Anglican Evangelicals (London 1998). r. h. balmem, Blessed Assurance: A History of Evangelicalism in America (Boston, Mass. 1999). g. carter, Anglican Evangelicals: Protestant Secessions from the Via Media, c. 1800–1850 (Oxford 2000). t. p. rausch, Catholics and Evangelicals: Do They Share a Common Future? (New York/Downers Grove, Ill. 2000).
[r. k. macmaster/eds.]
Revd Dr William M. Marshall