The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What is an Evangelical?

Can someone help me nail down the meaning of the word Evangelical? Every seems to think they are one, and a hard definition seems to be as hard to nail down as a square of jello.
What is an Evangelical? I used to think it was simply a Christian concerned with evangelism.

But then, why would anyone question whether a universalist could be concerned with evangelism? (Well, maybe I can see the answer to that, since some people think universalists would want to just wait around and eventually everyone will be saved.)

Even so, I began to dig a little deeper. What I found out is that Evangelicalism was a term used to describe Christians opposed to liberal theology. More concerned with the Bible being the final authority as opposed to tradition, and more inclined to trust the Bible as the word of God, believe in miracles, etc. While similar to fundamentalists in their views of the Bible, evangelicals would be more likely to go out into the world and share their views where fundamentalists would be more likely to withdraw and separate themselves from the world.

Then I found out there are actually groups called World Evangelical Alliance and the National Evangelical Association, and so I looked at their statements of faith for guidance in answering the question. Both of those affirm, among other things:
-the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture,
-The triune nature of God
-Resurrection of both the saved and the lost, the saved to life and the lost to punishment.

Based on my findings I put together a definition that included the word “inerrancy”, but I was challenged on that and told that not all Evangelicals believe in inerrancy.

Well, I guess that depends on who you ask.

But that sent me once again on a search for a good, solid definition of the term. Does anyone have one? Is there any “official” definition?

This is such a difficult question and there actually is no accepted definition. Here are a few differences I would point to between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism (but there are others). I hope this helps -

E Strong Emphasis on authority and inspiration of the Bible
F Emphasis on Biblical Inerrancy

E Open to textual, historical, and scientific perspectives on the Bible (within bounds)
F Hostile to all of the above

E Centrality of cross in theology (sometimes at expense of theology of resurrection)
F Penal substitution is only possible model of atonement

E: Emphasis on preaching good news salted with judgment
F Emphasis on hellfire preaching

E Open to the traditions of the wider Church
F Suspicious of genuine ecumenism

E Allows for different journeys in coming to Christ
F Insists on dramatic conversion experience

Based on your definitions, Dick, I guess I have been a soft fundamentalist in the past and am probably a somewhat liberal evangelical now. To tell you the truth, I never knew what either of those terms meant. People just told me I was an evangelical, so I figured they must know what they were talking about (I really didn’t). :laughing:

Cindy, you apparently are not alone. No one seems to be able to tell me what the term means. I thought by coming on the “evangelical universalist” forum surely folks here would know, but I saw my post get 20 views before the first response.

I get the impression that most people who identify themselves as evangelical must only do so because they belong to a denomination that identifies as evangelical.

Going by Dick’s points, I’m closer to evangelicalism than I am to fundamentalism for sure, but I still couldn’t call myself an evangelical.

And with those points in mind, I think it’s safe to say that an evangelical would tend to be more moderate than a fundamentalist in a lot of areas, a little more open-minded, a little more tolerant, not as extreme, not as narrow-minded, which is a good thing to be sure, imo.

But I still don’t think I could fit within that definition, at least not at the moment, as I’m admittedly pretty liberal in a lot of areas.

I feel like I fit in more with ‘progressive Christianity’, if you want to call it that. Roger Wolsey, a United Methodist minister, who wrote a book called Kissing Fish, gives a description of it here:

And here’s an article about it on Wikipedia: … ite_note-8

There are certain elements of Wolsey’s definition of Progressive Christianity that may not describe me very well, but other elements do, and I feel like I have more in common with that than with evangelicalism or fundamentalism.

My two cents :slight_smile:

Sobornost, thanks for your reply. I’m still looking into it. I have found evidence that evangelicals have common roots with fundamentalists, and some even seem to use the terms interchangeably. So I guess I’m not surprised that you decided to contrast the two in order to try to describe evangelicalism by contrast.

One thing that I left out of my O.P. was that I have found that evangelicals supposedly split off from Fundamentalists when Fundamentalists began withdrawing, separating themselves from secular society. This certainly makes sense of the name, if evangelicals are attempting to reach out to and interact with the world around them.

Two things surprise me about your answer. First, you identity E’s without using either of the terms inerrancy or infallibility. But if E’s at least agree to a “Strong Emphasis on authority and inspiration of the Bible” that would include anyone who affirms either of those things.

Second, you identify F’s as “Insists on dramatic conversion experience” but not E’s, but this is one of the specific things mentioned as a core common belief of evangelicals by historian David Bebbington, who I have seen cited on several pages about evangelicalism.

Bebbington identifies the following four traits of evangelicalism:
-Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
-Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
-Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
-Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

One more thing I have noticed is that in discussions of Evangelicalism, one name that invariably seems to come up is Billy Graham, Southern Baptist Evangelist well-known for leading revivals. (It is worth mentioning that Graham has suggested that people who don’t know the name of Christ may still end up saved.)

Geez, Matthew! Now I’m a Progressive? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!

:laughing: :laughing: :laughing:


^^^ that smiley is laughing way too fast :stuck_out_tongue:

Sobornost: these are great points!

I once wrote a post explaining the difference between (progressive and Conservative) Evangelicals, fundies, atheists and anti-theists.

I think that the definitions I proposed clearly stick to the demographic and sociological reality.

As for progressive and liberal Christianities, I differentiated them here.

Cheers from the sunny (yes sunny!) Northern England :slight_smile:

It’s a really curious one and that’s a very good article Lotharson –really enjoyed it; and you make some great points. There is no acceptable definition of fundamentalism (and it hasn’t helped that it has been used as a badge of honour by some and a term of abuse by others in ‘culture wars’). The term is hugely complex and Martin Marty the American Professor who has researched the stuff has spent volumes unpacking it. On an historical level it simply refers to the books known as ‘The Fundamentals’ which was produced by a group of Reformed American evangelicals in the early twentieth century as an attack on Christian ‘liberalism’ (another badge of honour and term of abuse).

Many key figures and movements in earlier evangelicalism were not fundamentalist in the terms of the fundamentals (Luther and Wesley and even Calvin cannot be made to fit this mould)

But fundamentalism has a far wider meaning these days – and is used to refer to a phenomenon across the religions and even ones found in New Atheism (as you’ve said Lotharson.

I think the definition I’ve given is in line with what Robin Parry means when he says something in one of his videos that may surprise, namely that he is a fairly conservative evangelical. ‘Fairly ‘ is the operative word here – but also. Fundamentalism (or evangelicalism with a inferiority complex someone once said) is not a big thin in the UK at the moment. I think Robin Parry’s evangelicalism fits the typology I’ve given above.
IN America there have been many movements and thinkers within Evangelicalism that have tried to draw different kind of American related distinctions between their identity and a fundamentalist identity (Clark Pinnock spring to mind).
Very slippery one… and I also think that liberalism, progressive, traditional are slippery categories .

I think one of the misconceptions about fundamentalism in the UK is that fundamentalists elsewhere are all bumpkins, backwoodsmen, and obscurantists. The Reformed ‘fundamentalist’ tradition is actually highly intellectual and sophisticated in its use of syllogisms/deductive logic. This doesn’t mean to say it is right (not by a long shot) but it is intellectually sophisticated in its deployment of rationalistic arguments.

Hi Magecat (and good to meet you :smiley: )

I’ve read Bebbington’s book – it’s very good and concerns British Evangelicalism. He notes profound shifts in evangelicalism today.
I know that in many conservative evangelical churches today in the UK a dramatic conversion experience – as opposed to a slower journeying process – is not seen as a marker of who is in and who is out (for the most part). A contrast is often made between Paul’s dramatic conversion/call and Peter’s slow dawning of awareness and both are acceptable. But I grant that in the era of the revivals the conversion experience was seen as essential -although Wesley certainly modified his views of this in later life in a very generous and inclusive way (a bit like Billy Graham has shifted).
Regarding Biblicism – I guess it’s like a Venn diagram. People who self describe as evangelicals today are often not biblical literalist (and Luther and Wesley for example were not literalists like the literalists of today). Fundamentalists are evangelicals but they would often claim that evangelicals of more open views are not actually evangelicals or even Christians (because of believing that the Bible is inspired and trustworthy but not inerrant for example)

Activism is a tricky one. The premillenialists withdrew from the world as a sinking ship that is beyond hope when Irving, Darby and Scofield began to promote this doctrine. The older tradition of evangelicalism in the UK – Wesleyan and Clapham sect etc – was, by way of contrast, optimistic about changing society. Hence they fought against the slave trade, and for reforms in working conditions (like the abolition of child labour) etc. As I understand it the Finney revivalist tradition(which Billy Graham stands in) in the USA shared many of these concerns. However, premillenialsim had a huge influence on American Evangelicalism – and the activist agenda of the Religious Right in America today – which developed as repose against premillenialism – is, in a lot of respects, very different from the activism of earlier evangelicalism which had a strong social gospel that the Christian Right of today would see as ‘liberal’. So that’s all tricky.

Regarding Crucicentrism, again there are big differences of emphases between the Reformed Evangelical tradition and the Wesleyan one as far as I can see. Not only n terms of limited atonement but also in terms of the imagery used to communicate the theology of the cross; Wesley often used imagery of healing rather than punishment for example. So it is all a real brainacher . But it’s a great question!!! But erk :laughing: !!! And good luck

Oh yes – one interesting ‘fact’ that i remember about surveys of modern fundamentalists – both Christian and Muslim (if we use the term purely to mean people who reject much of liberal modernity, and embrace a scriptural literalism as a basis of a programme of reforming society) is that educated fundamentalists often come from a technology background (and can be highly educated in applied science). However, very few come from a humanities background or from a background of pure maths or theoretical sciences :confused:

Nice to meet you too, Sobornost! Also, thanks for the info on Bebbington’s book. But he has several books. Which one are you referring to?

I did stumble across a book yesterday at the local used book store called “The Variety of American Evangelicalism” (not by Bebbington) and I’m hoping it will shed some light on the subject for me. It has a variety of contributors writing on evangelicalism from the perspectives of several different groups. I’m hoping I can put together some sort of lowest-common-denominator of beliefs. If I do, I’ll post my findings in this thread. :wink:

I’ll just go for the basics.

I think a person is an evangelical if he believes that the gospel is essentially the message of salvation from hell by faith in Christ’s atonement.

Fundamentalists are a subset of evangelicals.

Historically, a fundamentalist was one who subscribed to “the Five Fundamentals”:

  1. The inerrancy of the Bible.
  2. The literal truth of the Bible.
  3. The virgin birth and the deity of Christ.
  4. The substitutionary atonement of Christ.
  5. The bodily resurrection of Christ and His imminent, personal return.

Well Don I’m not an evangelical Christian so perhaps I am overcomplicating matters.
I guess I would say – as a more Catholic Christian that the heart of the Gospel is our liberation from death and hell through Christ incarnation, his atoning death and his glorious resurrection. And I’d emphasise the communal nature of our salvation more than some in the evangelical tradition
Regarding the seven fundamentals obviously you are spot on that this was the formula regarding beliefs used by the original American fundamentalists (from which the term comes - although its meaning has developed). However I think there are other factors that define how fundamentalists actually act/operate/ behave (which are as important as their own simple summary of their far more complex beliefs I reckon). Martin Marty’s study concluded that, regardless of the religion, fundamentalism has several commonalities (so these commonalities also apply to Christian fundamentalism):
Men are to lead and women and children follow. Wives are to be subservient to their husbands. Often, this subservience applies to sisters toward their brothers. A woman’s role in life is to be a homemaker.
The rules of their religion are complex and rigid and must be followed. Therefore, to avoid any confusion, children of fundamentalists must be sequestered in an environment of like-minded adherents to the corresponding fundamentalist religion. Especially so in their schooling.
There is no pluralism. Their rules should apply to everyone everywhere.
There is a distinct group of insiders and all others are outsiders. Insiders are nurtured and cared for. Outsiders are cast off and fought.
They pine for an older age and a past when their religion was pure, as largely they no longer see it as such. Often, this time never truly existed, but they have a nostalgic view of a Utopian past and they long to acquire it.

Hello magecat

Welcome to the forum :smiley: .

The UK Evangelical Alliance describe themselves as “the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians”. This is their ‘Basis of Faith’, as published on their website:

On this basis, the overwhelming majority of us wouldn’t pass muster for the EA :smiley: . Quite apart from rejecting 11 outright, many of us - me certainly - would take serious issue with 3 and 6. There are quite a few non-Trinitarians here also. And personally I’m not convinced about 8, or 5 for that matter.

But then, I don’t call myself an Evangelical, or consider myself to be one in any way, really, other than in the literal sense that I am evangelical about the ‘gospel’ of Universalism - which, of course, is unequivocal good news for everybody.

It’s interesting that the Evangelical Alliance’s own definition of an evangelical is someone who has “a passion for the good news of Jesus Christ, which we call the ‘gospel’”. Kind of odd, when you think about what their gospel actually is - ie the worst possible news for most people.



Hmmm - those articles obviously must be open to flexible interpretation if people like Steve Chalk can be members of the EA Johnny (I’m thinking of his writings against Penal Substitution) :confused: The last bloke I knew who was in charge of the EA - his first name was Joel - was certainly a rather statesmanlike and irenic figure (unlike the one who came before him). I wonder if they’d dis-fellowship universalists - my hunch is that they might not.

Edit the current head of the EA has said -

“Jesus requires us to disagree without being disagreeable. We must listen honestly and carefully to one another, being courteous and generous.”

It would be interesting to know more about how universalist are treated by the EA.

Sobornost, thanks for your kind words!

You might be interested in my interview of a prominent former fundie in Britain:


It would seem Steve Chalke is in danger of burning his bridges with the EA, Dick - if this article by their general director Steve Clifford is anything to go by: … uality.cfm