What is an Evangelical?



^^^ 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:

eauk.org/church/stories/the- … uality.cfm




Yep Johnny reddit - it was Joel Richards I was thinking of (who I admired - but he’s gone now). One of the posters to the thread says



“Subservience to her husband” is a far cry from being descriptive of my mother. Yet, she claimed to be a fundamentalist.

Hmmmm… maybe that’s why she lived to be 101, whereas my father died at age 62. :laughing:


Sounds like Joel Richards was a good chap, Dick. But depressingly and utterly predictably you have to trawl through an awful lot of homophobic bile before you reach that rare voice of compassion in these so-called Christians. Clifford’s article is deeply hypocritical (what is it about people called Clifford, eh? :laughing: ). How dare he talk about “speaking the truth in love”. Evangelicalism? You can keep it.




Very funny and pertinent Don!!! Again I think that is what it has come to mean today. Likewise some of the early fundamentalists were like Clarence Darrow actually quite progressive in their politics I understand. He had a social gospel but this fell of the radar and is not something that you’d find amongst many who can be described as fundamentalists today.


That’s an interesting interview lotharson. Hmmm I still find these labels difficult. ‘Liberal’ is a case in point too – I mean there is a huge difference between John Shelby Spong and Rob Bell but both have been described contemptuously as ‘liberals’. These labels had a specific meaning once upon a time – but I think culture wars has degraded their currency. Perhaps the only way round this is to be specific about areas of agreement and disagreement between individuals in discussion rather than using the labels – but this is time consuming :confused: .


Well, that really depends on what one thinks “eternal” means, doesn’t it? :slight_smile:


I think evangelical means that you are concerned with soul winning for Jesus and following the Great Commission directive.

The attempts to doctrinally pigeonhole evangelicals are inaccurate in my opinion. There will always be groups insisting on primacy for their beliefs but that doesn’t mean someone with somewhat different belief positions can’t be an evangelical.

There have been multiple schools in eschatology and on afterlife questions right from the start of Christianity.

It is just the more populous denominations seem to assume because they are bigger that their whole belief system must be right. A bigger is better mentality is what I think is behind this which means they aren’t examining everything in detail enough. But a mistake can be magnified…number of believers doesn’t prove the belief is accurate. There are plenty of Hindus and Buddhists. Does that make their beliefs the truth?

For some reason groups have made hell doctrine a salvation issue when the bible doesn’t say that.

The bible says we are saved by grace not works.

Belief In hell isn’t even mentioned as a requirement for salvation In the bible and the people who have tied themselves to it lack the humility to even examine if they could be mistaken. They most likely don’t want to buck the herd so we get this knee jerk reaction from them and then they cherry pick verses to support their previous position.

It is certain groups of people who think that their existence requires them to stand firm on hell doctrine. I don’t believe God thinks so though.

Our foundation that we stand firm on is Jesus…I only need a belief in Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life to be evangelical.

The opposite of life isn’t hell…The opposite is death.

The bible says the wages of sin is death. Not hell.