What is an Evangelical Church, Evangelical Christian?
What is an Evangelical Christian?
This article discusses what an evangelical Christian is, when and where Evangelicalism began and who have been key developers of modern Evangelicalism. This is the first of three articles on the topic.
What is an Evangelical?
In the realm of religion today, the word Evangelical is a word that is not understood by many. What is an Evangelical? I use the word constantly in my hubs. I think I have a grasp of its meaning simply because for many years, I was an evangelical myself as a layman, pastor and missionary. In three separate hubs, I would like to cover three aspects of Evangelicalism: History, Theology, Mission. As a result of reading these hubs, I want readers to be able to describe where the Evangelical movement came from, what Evangelicals believe and what they are up to in the world.
A Definition of Evangelical Christian
I will begin this series of articles with a basic definition of the term, Evangelical Christian.
Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the sole source of reliable information about the relationship that exists between God and man as well as the relationship God wants to have with man. They believe that Jesus Christ was God in human form who died as a substitute for men and rose physically from the dead. They believe that Jesus exists today in heaven as a member of the Trinity, One God in three persons. Their mission is to reach every human being possible with the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Evangelical Christians believe that someday Jesus Christ will return to gather all Christians from all time and take them to heaven.
There is so much more involved, but that is a good beginning.
Where Evangelicalism Came From
Following the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, protestantism itself broke into various theological camps which have become known as protestant denominations. The politiacization of these groups and of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the wars between them all, comprise the bulk of European history from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Protestantism began to be divided into theologically liberal and conservative branches.
The Conservative branch, by the early 20th century, was being called Fundamentalism. This movement was defined by its anti Roman Catholic stance, an unwavering commitment to the authority of the Bible as the Word of God and a total dedication to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over individual believers and the Church as a whole.
Fundamentalism, although not known by this term at the time, spread across North America in the form of the Great Awakenings of the 18 and 19 centuries. Fundamentalism was the predecessor and progenitor of Evangelicalism.
In the early 20th century, many within the Fundamentalist ranks became uncomfortable with the radical stance of the movement. While Fundamentalism was single minded and unbending on theological and social issues, these dissatisfied members were more tolerant of varying interpretations of Scripture on some theological issues such as views of the Last Days described in the book of Revelation.
During the first half of the 20th century, Fundamentalism gradually divided into conservative and moderate branches. The moderate branch has become known as Evangelical Christianity. The lines are still blurred between the two, but tolerance for divergent interpretations of the Bible seems to be the primary difference.
Evangelicalism From the 18th Century to the Present
The following table contains lists of influential people and institutions from the 18th century to the present. This is my own list of favorites and only represents the many individuals who participated in this phase of Church history.
Prominent Fundamentalists/Evangelicals From the 18th Century to the Present
Early Fundamentalists-18th-19th centuries
Early Evangelicals-20th century
Current Evangelical Leaders
Influential Evangelical Institutions
John Wesley 1703-1791
The Reverend Billy Graham-born 1918
History will have to separate the popular from the truly important
Columbia International University-Columbia, South Carolina
George Whitefield 1714-1770
Dr. Francis Schaeffer 1912-1984
William and Franklin Graham
Dallas Theological Seminary-Dallas, Texas
Jonathan Edwards 1703-1758
F.F. Bruce 1910-1990
Wheaton College and Graduate School-Chicago, Illinois
Charles G. Finney 1792-1875
Carl F. H. Henry 1913-2003
J. Robertson McQuilkin
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School-Deerfield, Illinois
Charles H. Spurgeon 1834-1892
Ralph Winter 1924-2009
L'Abri Fellowship International-Huémoz Switzerland
William Booth 1829-1912
J. Robertson McQuilkin 1929
J.I. Packer 1926-
Fuller Theological Seminary-Pasadena, California
Dwight L. Moody 1837-1899
C.S. Lewis 1898-1963
Mark Noll 1946-
Harold Ockenga 1905-1985
Evangelicals in the Second Half of the 20th Century
Evangelicals in the second half of the 20th century were focused on world evangelization. "The Unreached" was a popular term for the population of the world which did not have a real opportunity to hear the Christian Gospel. Mission organizations spread around the globe, into every culture, for the purpose of establishing viable, indigenous, evangelical bases.
At home, evangelicals became more and more interested in the political arena as a means of effecting social change. Evangelicals formed organizations to promote the Pro-Life, pro marriage and anti homosexual agendas. The small, local church began to disappear while, one by one, mega churches appeared across the country.
Twenty-first century evangelicalism in America is focused primarily on a multifaceted political agenda which seems to be constantly expanding. Every political issue has an evangelical viewpoint as well as the traditional liberal and conservative viewpoints. Politicians are vetted according to an evangelical Christian template. The Christian Right has become an enormous political force which politicians at all levels must consider.
Another contemporary evangelical development is the "Mega-Church". As smaller churches close their doors, Christians are finding their way to rapidly growing churches which have some common characteristics including the following:
- Professional quality music program
- Energetic, entertaining pastor
- Fast paced worship service
- Advanced use of multi media
- Programs for everyone in the family
- Informal atmosphere
- Constant emphasis on growth/change
- Entertaining, easy to follow sermons
Willow Creek Community Church of South Barrington, IL, is the pace setter, template, icon for mega churches across North America. http://www.willowcreek.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willow_Creek_Community_Church
Willow Creek Community Church: the prototype mega church
Willow Creek Community Church/Chicago Featuring Hillsong United - 2009
Since its official beginning in the 4th century Roman Empire, the Church has continually evolved. Institutions often seem static and stale, but the living organism of the Church is in a process of constant change. As its contemporary observers, Evangelicalism today seems to us to be mired in politics and has lost its focus on change by means of transformed hearts. But history tells us that any state of the Church is temporary. Already there must be "Spiritual Entrepreneurs" grinding out new ideas, new uses, new methods for the Church of tomorrow.