The Evangelical Tradition, c. 1700-2000

Evangelicalism is a world-wide Protestant Christian historical movement that began in the 1730s with the emergence of the Methodists in England. The movement became significant in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. Pietism, Nicolaus Zinzendorf and the Moravian Church, Presbyterianism and Puritanism have influenced Evangelicalism. The earliest leaders included John Wesley, George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards in the English-speaking world. The United States has the largest concentration of Evangelicals by country, with roughly a quarter of the world's Evangelicals (over 90 million). Many Evangelicals now live outside the English-speaking world, and over 42 million live in Brazil alone. The movement continues to draw adherents globally in the 21st century, especially in the developing world. "Evangelical" comes from the Greek word for "gospel," so we might expect that an evangelical Christian puts a high priority on the gospel — but this is not always the way the word is used. In some places, evangelical simply means Protestant; in others places it practically means Pentecostal. Some people want to define the term narrowly and others more broadly. Some people desire this label; others despise it. Evangelical is often distinguished from "fundamentalist" — a term that originally meant Christians who believed in five major fundamentals of the faith, but which eventually came to be associated with a fundamentalist. Some of the more opinionated fundamentalists gave conservative Christianity a bad name, and in the 1950s moderate conservatives began to group themselves under the "evangelical" label to give themselves some verbal distance from their right-wing cousins. So what is an evangelical? Alister McGrath, an evangelical Anglican, offered six major distinctives of evangelical Christianity: 1) The supreme authority of Scripture, 2) Jesus Christ as incarnate God, 3) the Holy Spirit, 4) personal conversion, 5) evangelism, and 6) the importance of the Christian community (Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity, InterVarsity Press, 1995, pp. 55-56). These six beliefs are not a hard and fast boundary, but in general they serve to mark the boundary between evangelicalism and mainstream Protestantism. (A different list of beliefs and practices would be needed to describe the boundary between evangelicalism and fundamentalism.)

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