Definition of evangelicalism

This is an issue that comes up frequently on this board. Most recently, it’s popped up on the thread “Evangelicals and the Church,” and I think it needs a new thread. I was defending evangelicalism from what I thought were unfair blanket accusations by eden and sadie, and in the process Mickey and magdelaine raised some excellent points that I’d like to address here. Mickey first:

Perhaps this is a silly question. But what does evangelicalism teach? I admit I am not extremely versed on highly esteemed evangelical writers, but is there any kind of doctrinal unity?

On the other thread (post #95) I cited the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals:

We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God. • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

• We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.

• We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.

• We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

• We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

 • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus      Christ.

The Evangelical Theological Society has a brief doctrinal statement addressing two points: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”

Neither the NAE nor the ETS can be said to speak for all evangelicals, but the NAE probably comes closer (the ETS is criticized by some as too close to fundamentalism). I couldn’t subscribe to the ETS statement myself because I think the whole “inerrant autographs” business is deeply problematic (whatever the true sense of Scriptural inerrancy is, it must be something available to us now and not something tied to inaccessible autographs). I could subscribe to the NAE statement (and will have to do so, if I get the job I’m interviewing for next week), although I have problems with what it *doesn’t *say about the Church and sacraments (in particular, the statement on the spiritual unity of all believers could be understood to imply that this is all that the unity of the Church means–which I emphatically do not believe).

The NAE and the ETS are about as close as evangelicals get to any kind of unified structure. Evangelicalism is not and does not claim to be a church or a denomination. It is a broad movement/coalition. And it can be defined in all sorts of ways.

Which brings me to magdelaine’s excellent question:


This is slightly off topic, but if someone such as yourself (an Episcopalian, about as close to Catholic as you can get outside of Orthodoxy and Rome) can be Evangelical, can a Catholic be Evangelical? What is it besides wanting to evangelise for Christ that defines the Evangelical? I know many friends who are Evangelical who have inspired me to have a deeper life in Christ. I would love to see an Evangelical renewal in the Catholic church. Is this something that is possible (in terms of definitions) or am I hopelessly mixing up meanings?*

In your later post (146) you cite two different definitions of evangelical–one having to do with certain emphases, and the other historical. Christianity Today back in the 50s (when it was a bit more dogmatic than it is now) defined an evangelical as a Protestant who holds to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and believes in the authority of Scripture and a personal relationship with Christ.

I think the twofold definition you cited is helpful. Insofar as evangelical is a matter of emphasis, Catholics can definitely be evangelicals. Historically, evangelicalism developed out of the Pietist movements within Protestantism in the 17-18th centuries, and the subsequent revivals of the 18-19th centuries. These movements affected just about every Protestant tradition. Anglicanism, contrary to the stereotype in this country, was in the forefront of the evangelical movement. The great evangelical revivalists of the 18th century were largely Anglicans (John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield), though they hung fairly loose to their Anglican identity (Whitefield especially) and the hierarchy wasn’t too happy about them. Evangelicalism was a powerful force in Anglicanism in the 19th century, and this is still the case in the Church of England (the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, was an evangelical, although the more hardline folks wouldn’t recognize him as such).

One of the problems of definition is that many of the 19th-century evangelicals became liberals–liberalism in the U.S. at least has some very evangelical roots. Methodism as a whole came out of the 18th-century revivals and hence was entirely “evangelical” in the sense I’m using. But by the 20th century many Methodists had morphed into liberal Protestants. Those Protestants who resisted these trends tended to be labeled as “fundamentalists”–and this is where the anti-intellectualism Noll talks about became a huge problem. Then in the mid-20th century many evangelicals began distinguishing thimselves sharply from “fundamentalists,” who dug themselves deeper into sectarianism.

It’s a long, complicated story. But in my view the simplest way to define an evangelical would be as an heir of the 18th-century revival movements who still holds to the basic Christian doctrines (i.e., the Apostles’ Creed), to the authority of Scripture, and to an emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ.

This definition includes only Protestants, but at the same time it’s constructed so as to be open to Catholicism. I have no problem with a broader definition purely in terms of emphasis that would allow us to speak of evangelical Catholics. I don’t think that the essentials of evangelicalism are incompatible with Catholicism. But as a matter of history evangelicalism is a style of Christianity that has emerged within Protestantism. When I say “Catholics need evangelicals” I mean basically what you mean–that this style of Christianity has a great deal of value and is compatible with Catholicism.*

Where the rubber hits the road (at least for me) is with evangelical colleges. You may know of the Wheaton professor who was fired for converting to Catholicism. (Many of the Wheaton professors are Anglicans, and I have heard anecdotally that one of them might well have become Orthodox if he could have done so and kept his job.) Becoming Catholic does open up a gulf with one’s evangelical heritage, and this isn’t just from the Protestant side. One of the reasons I have not myself converted is that I would not be able to share communion with my parents and my wife. (But of course, this is not just a pragmatic issue–if I thought Protestant Eucharists were invalid, the point would be moot; I do hold a basically Protestant understanding of the Church as the entire community of believers, and this is the real issue that keeps me outside Catholicism.) As an Anglican, I can function within the evangelical community while still maintaining my more Catholic beliefs. However, I think this is somewhat of a copout. If I remain Protestant–which looks likely at this point–I’m thinking of joining the United Methodist Church to which my wife and parents belong, and which is closer to my own heritage than Anglicanism is.

One of the main channels for evangelicalism within both mainline Protestant denominations and Catholicism has been the charismatic movement. That’s how evangelicalism resurfaced in the Episcopal Church (in the U.S.–in England it had never gone away) in the 1960s. That’s also how evangelical emphases took wide root in contemporary Catholicism, I think. Mother Angelica and many of the folks at EWTN have been deeply influenced by the charismatic movement. And that’s one of the reasons why EWTN (and Steubenville) are having such a huge impact on contemporary American Catholicism. Mother Angelica, Fr. Groeschel, Scott Hahn–all of these folks are doing a lot to promote evangelical emphases within a fully orthodox Catholicism. I think this is absolutely wonderful. My hope is to do something corresponding to this within evangelical Protestantism–to promote a sacramental piety and a greater respect for tradition. That is why I get testy when Catholics seem to be ruling out the possibility of such a rapprochement by painting a lurid picture of evangelical bigotry and anti-intellectualism.

In Christ,


Adherence to a church or party professing evangelical beliefs or doctrines.

Of, relating to, or in accordance with the Christian gospel, especially one of the four gospel books of the New Testament.
Of, relating to, or being a Protestant church that founds its teaching on the gospel.
Of, relating to, or being a Christian church believing in the sole authority and inerrancy of the Bible, in salvation only through regeneration, and in a spiritually transformed personal life.

Taken from

I posted this from a CA library article on the other thread. It is entitled “A Truncated Christianity”:

**Evangelicalism is a truncated Christianity. Certain things are missing. Evangelical book stores carry books about prayer, but those books do not remotely approach the level of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, and that is because Evangelicalism does not have a theory of spirituality. It cannot talk about what it does not know. If Evangelicals want instruction in how to advance in the spiritual life, they have to read Catholic authors. **

**Similarly with moral issues. Evangelicalism has no moral theology. It has no unified body of knowledge, worked out over the centuries, built up partly from observation, partly from revelation, partly from consideration of the nature of man and the natural law. Catholic moral thinking, when seen at its best, is impressive and eloquent and satisfying. It prevents us from confusing ends and means—and prevents us from not thinking about means at all. **

So, what is the Evangelical theory of spirituality and the moral theology of Evanglicalism? Is it accurated that Evangelicals who want instruction in how to advance in the spiritual life have to read Catholic authors?

Certainly the best evangelical devotional writers draw freely on Catholic sources–this has always been the case.

If you want to see an example of good evangelical spirituality, I’d recommend the writings of A. W. Tozer, such as *The Pursuit of God *and *The Knowledge of the Holy. *Another good evangelical spiritual writer is Oswald Chambers. And then there are older figures in the Pietist tradition like Johann Arndt and Gerhardt Tersteegen; or the hymns of Charles Wesley.