Caution: Some heavy terms and concepts ahead
Evangelical comes from the Greek word euangelion meaning Gospel or Good News—from which we derive “evangelist.” Martin Luther originally used the term “evangelical church”evangelische kirke to characterize his reformation movement ideals. Such an evangelical church would be faithful to the message and ministry of the Gospel (Evangel).
In America, evangelicalism sprang from the revivals of the 18th century onward led by such notable figures as George Whitefield (1715-1770), John Wesley (1703-1791), Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Charles G. Finney (1792-1875), Billy Sunday (1863-1935), Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), Billy Graham (1918-present), et al.[Note: Evangelicalism, though indebted to these leaders, cannot be characterized aseither Armenian (free-will) or Calvinist (predestination) perspectives since they both are deemed to contain important aspects of biblical truth. A number of evangelicals are also merging the Wesleyan-Pentecostal-Charismatic idea of a “second work of grace” or “baptism of the Holy Spirit” with an updated Calvinist orthodoxy with its emphasis on church councils and systematic theology.]
Prior to the civil war (1861) evangelicals were largely credited with helping to reshape American society through such reforms as temperance, the early women’s movement, the establishment of various organizations to help alleviate social suffering, the abolition of slavery, etc. In modern times, evangelicals have been very influential in U.S. elections, the debates over abortion and homosexuality—and most recently the controversy over Creationism and/or Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.
Evangelicals generally hold to certain biblical “fundamentals” including the inspiration of the Bible, the deity of Christ, salvation as gift by grace through faith, the importance of a vital relationship with Christ (the head) and the Church (his body), a commitment to help fulfill the Great Commission, and the victorious return of Jesus Christ who will judge the world and make visible his eternal kingdom.
Though there is an undeniable link between evangelicalism and fundamentalism, there are however, some important distinctions that need to be made between them as well. Generally speaking, fundamentalism is often perceived as a militant reaction against modernism whereas evangelicalism is much more committed to the validity of scientific investigation, social service, and the use of the media in promoting the Gospel.
Today, evangelicalism is a broad designation encompassing any number of Protestant churches and ministries that value the principle of denominationalism: an inclusive theory that no single ecclesiastical structure can represent the whole church—as opposed to the exclusive claims of certain sects and cults. As such, evangelicalism is a cross-denomination phenomenon.
Let the Lord be magnified