Defining "Evangelical Christian"

Hey all Catholic Answers friends. :slight_smile: I notice that the topic of “what is an Protestant evangelical Christian?” pops up around here frequently. I always try to do my part to offer insight as best I can, but I admit, my attempted definitions often leave me unsatisfied as being too convoluted. That’s why I’m always on the look out for people who define Evangelicalism in accessible and understandable terms. I was delighted reading evangelical theologian Roger E. Olson’s blog post “Who’s a ‘Real Evangelical?’”

Olson begins by locating Evangelicalism within the spectrum of Protestant orthodoxy: “Protestants who take Christian orthodoxy seriously–trinitarian Christians who believe in justification by grace through faith alone” and the other Reformation solas (Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, through Christ alone, to the glory of God alone).

What distinguishes evangelicals from other orthodox Protestants is what is known as the “evangelical quadrilateral.” First, there is Conversionism, as Olson explains:

Evangelicals are (mostly) Protestant orthodox Christians (orthodox as defined by the Nicene faith in the deity of Christ and the Trinity and by the Reformation solas) who believe that authentic Christian existence necessarily includes being converted to Christ–an experience (whether felt as an experience or not) of transformation from a life of sin and self to a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ through which one is brought by the Holy Spirit into “new creation” (justification and regeneration). In other words, nobody is “saved” by being born into a certain nation-state or family or church or through any sacrament or ritual without personal commitment to Christ.

The next hallmark of Evangelicalism is Biblicism, on which Olson remarks:

Evangelicals are also people . . . who have a special regard for the Bible as God’s written, inspired, authoritative Word whose authority stands above tradition and experience–the highest “court of appeal,” so to speak, for faith and practice. Some evangelicals think the Bible must be “inerrant” to be authoritative, but they disagree among themselves about what “inerrancy” means. I agree with those who define the Bible’s perfection as “perfect with respect to purpose” (e.g., John Piper). Evangelicals also have a special relationship with the Bible as not only a textbook of correct doctrine but also as God’s living Word to be read devotionally–a sacrament, if you will, of God’s gracious love.

Cross-centered devotion and preaching (or Crucicentrism) is another hallmark of Evangelicalism:

Evangelicals are also people who bring nothing to God in their “hands,” so to speak, but cling only to the cross as their sole hope in life and death (for having a living relationship with God that includes forgiveness and acceptance). Evangelicals have a special place in their hearts and minds and worship and devotion for the cross. The atonement of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and trusted as humanity’s only hope for peace with God and for a meaning filled life in relation with God. For evangelicals the cross, the atonement of Jesus Christ that happened there, is the centerpiece of devotion and proclamation.

Then there is Activism, described by Olson in the following way:

Evangelicals are also people who believe in and practice Christian activism to approximate the Kingdom of God among people through missions, evangelism and social action. They disagree among themsleves about the best means and possible ends (within history as we know it before Christ returns), but they agree as evangelicals that God calls them to be active in the world for the cause of God.

Any thoughts? What are the weaknesses and strengths you find within Evangelicalism as you understand it (but please if your definition differs from Olson’s, let us know so we’re all on the same page;)).

Not to be a stickler (Who am I kidding? :)) but,

I was hoping to start with the etymology for “evangelical”.

Being a Spanish speaker, I did not learn the “Gospel” but the “Evangelio”. So in Spanish, St. Matthew is known as “San Mateo, el Evangelista”. “Evangelista” would translate into “Evangelical”.

“Evangelio” is from the Latin “Evangelium” which is from the Greek “Evangelion” (εὐαγγέλιον). As far as I’m concerned.

So for me, an Evangelist is - first and foremost- a Gospel writer. Secondly, someone who shares the “Good News” of Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls. So anyone person who shares and spreads the “Good News” of Jesus Christ is an Evangelical.

Within Evangelicals, there are many denominations. Evangelical not being a denomination in and of itself.

That is my fallible opinion.

Peace,

I believe that it is impossible to define the term, since there is no authoritative structure in place to define or defend it. I might just consider myself an evangelical Christian. Who’s to say otherwise?

:rolleyes: :smiley:

Well, you are right. The etymology of evangelical does originate from the Greek word for the Gospel. However, I think you bring up an important source of confusion. Evangelicalism is not the same thing as evangelism. Evangelicalism is a sub-category within the larger tradition of Protestantism. Within the context of discussing the Protestant movement called Evangelicalism, a person is an evangelical because they adhere to Evangelicalism not simply being evangelistic. I would like this thread to be about Evangelicalism, not about any and all Christians who actively engage in evangelism whether Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness.

This brings up another important point. I have talked to Catholics who have stated that groups that are not Protestant by any legitimate standard of categorization (Jehovah’s Witnesses for example) are evangelical Christians because they happen to be strongly “evangelistic.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that Evangelicalism is a sub-tradition of Protestant Christianity. Groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, while active in proselytism, are not evangelical Protestant Christians.

Right again. Evangelicalism is not a denomination; it is pan-denominational, but there is an underlying Protestant theology. Without this underlying Protestant theology (belief in the Trinity, justification by faith, Sola Scriptura, etc.), groups that might make evangelism a top priority cannot be evangelical Protestants.

Point taken. Just for arguments sake, there is no authority structure for concepts such as conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, Marxism, etc. etc. There are many beliefs, philosophies, and religion (including Christianity, which lacks a universal authoritative structure) that do not have a single authority structure. Should we cease to try to define such ideologies simply because there is no single authority structure to do the defining?

Evangelicals don’t have a single authority, but they do have things in common. People have noticed these commonalities. Historical and religious works have been written about them. Is it really credible to say that we can’t come to any sort of definition for this religious movement?

The only problem is that “evangelical Christian” has, at least in American English, the ingrained meaning of “adherent to Evangelicalism.” So, unless there was a massive change in the way people used the word “evangelical,” you’d be identifying as a Protestant, unless you specifically say, “I’m an evangelical Catholic/Catholic evangelical.” But then once you add the Catholic qualifier to evangelical then everyone will know that you are not talking about the same thing that everyone else is talking about (i.e. Evangelicalism).

Aha! Evangelicalism, yes it’s different. Good catch and change the title then :p;):).

Are we thinking about the various shapes and forms of Revivals, in the 1,700’s (Wesley, Edwards are the first to come to mind?).

Since you are excluding Catholics in your last sentence, I gather you might not be familiar about the Catholic Charismatic movement? Ask a Traditional Catholic about it. :D:D:D Kidding about the Traditional Catholic, lol. Could not help it.

Instead of revivals we call it renewals. Here’s more info from Colin Donovan:

Charismatic Renewal

We are a lot more motley than most people give us credit for :D.

Indeed, that is my understanding of Evangelical Protestants.

Olson’s post seems about right to me.

Weaknesses: Hmm…No one thing comes to mind as a common weakness across the Evangelical spectrum. I think some of us, in the interest of being relevant to our current culture, are too concerned with appearing cool (cough-the humbled Driscoll, God bless him-cough). But then other Evangelicals couldn’t care less about coolness.

Strengths: A passion for truth; warm-hearted devotion to God; usually a good sense of community in a church.

Well, if there are protestants who call themselves “Evangelical Catholics”, what the heck! Turnabout is fair play.

But, you have seized upon the protestant problem: authority. For Catholics or Orthodox, once you have faith in Church authority (Pope or Patriarch, Bishop or Metropolitan), trust and submit, it is such a load taken off the mind. Far easier to concentrate in confidence on a purer spirituality after that.

Po18guy—Just speaking for myself, having grown up with the hymn “Trust and Obey”, I can’t say I’ve ever felt the lack of a central human authority structure is a load on my mind. No doubt it is for some people, though, I guess.

We just want everyone to know Jesus by any (non-sinful) means possible. We believe that the Apostles were the best Christians so we think we shouldn’t be afraid of death or persecution for our faith.

We stand up loudly for the things we hate; like abortion and illicit sex. Although, we teach we must do all these things with love; however some “fundamentalists” get carried away.

We basically believe Jesus should be taught, preached, talked about, etc by any means necessary. We aren’t afraid to open up small groups, support groups, small Churches, large Churches, etc.

We trust, trust, trust in God. We pray continually and try to be able to quote the Bible at will.

I guess I talk us up a lot because it’s what I represent. I love Jesus with all my heart, so very, very much. I would die for Him. Sometimes I wish I could go to a country where I could die for Him because I trust He would protect me and glorify His name if I have Faith. This is Evangelicalism, and it sounds crazy but I believe it’s Biblical.

I know I didn’t define much, but hopefully I can give our mentality. We don’t want to be wishy washy or luke warm; we want to be devout and let people know about Jesus.

When I hear “evangelical Christian” I think of the branch of protestant tradition and not necessarily a christian who evangalizes.
To define it would be someone who falls under main tenets of protestantism such as belief in The Trinity, and sola scriptura, etc… but where they start to differ from mainlain protestantism (Lutheran, Pentecostal, Baptist, etc.) Is interpretation of scripture. Evangelicals believe that The Bible is the inerrant word of God and take a strict literal interpretation. Now I’m not positive about this but from what i gather, among the mainline protestant churches there can be a pretty mixed bag of interpretations on how scripture is to be read and can be adjusted from age to age to support modern times.
Another difference i see and i can probably explain this best metaphorically would be to picture an individual aspen tree in an aspen grove. The individual aspen tree would be say trinity Lutheran church on E 3rd st while the grove as a whole would be the entire Lutheran denomination. What appears as a single entity is part of a larger single organism which would be the grove as a whole.
Now considering evangelical Christian churches they would be more like a solitary oak in a forest. It’s own single entity with pastor Bob as it’s head. Think westboro Baptist. One single church, about fourty members, with a single pastor as it’s head. I know there’s probably plenty of instances of megachurches having more than one actual physical church but this is my rudimentary understanding of the structural differences between mainline protestant and evangelical traditions of protestantism. But some mainline protestant churches do have “heads of authority” like “bishops” such as the Amish.
As for entities such as Jehovah’s witnesses I consider them to be what I’m calling fringe Christian denominations because they don’t really fit into protestantism or anywhere else for that matter. And Mormonism I don’t consider part of Christianity because it’s technically a polytheist religion.
I could be completely wrong on this but it’s as much as I’ve gathered from my observations and personal studies on the subject. And if all else fails you can pigeonhole it into those who believe a rock concert is an acceptable form of weekly worship haha j/k :stuck_out_tongue:

When I hear “evangelical Christian” I think of the branch of protestant tradition and not necessarily a christian who evangalizes.
To define it would be someone who falls under main tenets of protestantism such as belief in The Trinity, and sola scriptura, etc… but where they start to differ from mainlain protestantism (Lutheran, Pentecostal, Baptist, etc.) Is interpretation of scripture. Evangelicals believe that The Bible is the inerrant word of God and take a strict literal interpretation. Now I’m not positive about this but from what i gather, among the mainline protestant churches there can be a pretty mixed bag of interpretations on how scripture is to be read and can be adjusted from age to age to support modern times.
Another difference i see and i can probably explain this best metaphorically would be to picture an individual aspen tree in an aspen grove. The individual aspen tree would be say trinity Lutheran church on E 3rd st while the grove as a whole would be the entire Lutheran denomination. What appears as a single entity is part of a larger single organism which would be the grove as a whole.
Now considering evangelical Christian churches they would be more like a solitary oak in a forest. It’s own single entity with pastor Bob as it’s head. Think westboro Baptist. One single church, about fourty members, with a single pastor as it’s head. I know there’s probably plenty of instances of megachurches having more than one actual physical church but this is my rudimentary understanding of the structural differences between mainline protestant and evangelical traditions of protestantism. But some mainline protestant churches do have “heads of authority” like “bishops” such as the Amish.
As for entities such as Jehovah’s witnesses I consider them to be what I’m calling fringe Christian denominations because they don’t really fit into protestantism or anywhere else for that matter. And Mormonism I don’t consider part of Christianity because it’s technically a polytheist religion.
I could be completely wrong on this but it’s as much as I’ve gathered from my observations and personal studies on the subject. And if all else fails you can pigeonhole it into those who believe a rock concert is an acceptable form of weekly worship haha j/k :stuck_out_tongue:

Amen brother!

Let me interject something really quick. :wink:

I just had a talk recently with one of my kids (I have 4 - 3 of them teenagers and in H.S. - yes there is such a thing as Purgatory on earth while you are alive ;)).

He was telling me about dying for Jesus. And don’t get me wrong, that’s valiant and admirable.

But I asked him the same thing a Priest once asked me when I was younger:

“Would you live for Him?”

God Bless you bro’.

I know this is off topic and might be a dumb question but you just made me think about it. Would it be wrong to be intentionally martyred? I can see a very distinct difference from being martyred out of circumstance and going out of your way to be martyred. The reason I’m asking is because I remember reading before that the reason that St Anthony joined the Franciscans was after hearing about the others being martyred and he thought it would be a good chance to be martyred too. I’m not sure if that’s even true because I’ve only ever read that from one source but anyways it just happened to pique my curiosity and wondering if anyone knows?

I asked the same question in this thread! :slight_smile:

I love this!

Of course. You can’t understand this polyglot we call Evangelicalism without understanding the history of it. I think this thread should consider theological, historical, and social aspects to the definition of Evangelicalism because they are all important aspects. I think you need all three to come to a really good definition. In America, much of the media tends to use only social definitions of Evangelicalism, defining evangelicals along political/racial lines. This type of definition is highly unsatisfactory.

History and theology is important because when we look at the history of Evangelicalism, we see occasions where churches that once were evangelical in their theology actually changed their theology to something that was decidedly un-evangelical. Some of these churches are still in the in-between stage, such as the United Methodist Church, which is often described as being both evangelical and mainline in orientation.

I’m familiar with the Charismatic Movement. I think that the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church is a case of Catholics being influenced by evangelical movements and vice versa rather than the creation of some kind of hybrid evangelical/Catholic thing.

Evangelicalism is so tied into the Protestant paradigm of faith alone, Scripture alone, and the priesthood of all believers that while I think there can be mutual sharing between evangelicalism and Catholicism, I don’t think it’s really possible to be both.

But that’s just my opinion. I have read where Catholic Charismatics were described as evangelical Catholics. I don’t have an objection to Catholics calling themselves evangelicals, but no matter how similar their approach to Christianity may be to my own, I still think that there would be fundamental differences between what they mean by evangelical and what I mean by evangelical.

Hmm. The ever present conundrum of Evangelicalism and its relation to popular culture. I wrote my master’s thesis on this, though it was specifically about Pentecostalism and pop culture.

Dan Coulter at First Things wrote about this, “Evangelicals, Pop Culture, and Mass Culture”:

The issue of populism in the Evangelical ethos raises a concern for the need to differentiate between pop culture as folk culture and pop culture as mass culture. At its best, Evangelicalism seeks to preserve and foster folk culture and the critics of Evangelical piety need to recognize this strength, because it is through the ongoing propagation of folk culture that the disenchanting effects of modernity will be overcome ultimately. I say this knowing full well that the strong temptation within Evangelicalism is to traffic in the forms of mass culture, and it has succumbed to that temptation on more than one occasion.

The whole article is worth a read.

Well, to be sure, Evangelicalism owes much to pietism, which was all about renewing the inner spiritual life, less emphasis on church order and more emphasis on active lay participation in day-to-day church life. Yet, I think saying that evangelicals don’t or can’t put faith in church authority is too simplistic. It really depends on the type of evangelical you are talking about. As Mark Noll writes in The Rise of Evangelicalism:

*[E]vangelicalism was and is a set of defining beliefs and practices easier to see as an adjective (e.g., evangelical Anglicans, evangelical missionary efforts, evangelical doctrine) than as a simple noun. Yet cohesion has always been present, both from the common original commitment to revival and from the strength of shared convictions. *

There are many evangelicals who feel that submission to church authority and doctrinal formularies are extremely important, and they will go to the utmost lengths to uphold who and what they believe are legitimate church authorities.

Yes. I agree.

Well, it’s more complicated then that. Not all evangelicals believe in Biblical inerrancy or at least, they mean different things when they say the Bible is without error. Also, evangelicals differ on how literally they read the Bible. Some are more literal than others.

What separates evangelicals from mainline Protestants is that evangelicals will never question the historicity of biblical miracles, such as the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth. Mainline Protestants, however, do give their theologians and members more room to question whether these events actually happened or whether they were “spiritual events” or metaphors.

Well, evangelical churches can be members of denominations. There are Baptist denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is an evangelical tradition. The Wesleyan Church is an evangelical denomination, as is the Assemblies of God (which is theologically Pentecostal).

Evangelicals can’t really be identified by their church polity. We’re really all over the map. Some evangelical churches are non-denominational. Some evangelical churches are led by bishops, others by presbyterian polity and others give members voting power.

Wesboro Baptist is not an evangelical church. It’s a cult.

The Amish aren’t considered Mainline Protestant. They are Anabaptists and really don’t fit into the dominant Mainline/Evangelical paradigm of American Protestantism.

Yes, I agree. These aren’t evangelicals, Protestants, or Christians.

Yes, evangelicals often are associated with contemporary church. However, it’s worth noting that not all evangelicals like contemporary worship music and there are still evangelical churches where hymns still reign supreme.

The Evangelical Free Church I grew up in actually was non-denominational while I was young. Then they “joined” resources with the Evangelical Free community.

I did work with their youth group for a while, even after joining the Catholic Church. I was invited by a long time friend. The youth pastor is a good Christian and very good at ministering to children.

In a recent group of talks I had with my friend, I mentioned how cool it was that she just asked me (as a Catholic) to help out being a youth group leader. She agreed, but shared that things aren’t like that anymore. I take it, she meant a little more censured and structured.

During my time helping, I made it a point not to contradict what was taught by the pastor. It was never very difficult actually. I had a good time and went on a couple Youth Conference retreats with them. Francis Chan was a guest speaker at one, and I must say, I enjoy his faith quite a bit.

In the end, I had a couple private conversations with the pastor and talked about Baptism and how it is neglected in the ministry. The children are preached to, and asked if they want to accept Jesus into their lives and ask for His forgiveness, but then Baptism was never brought up. To them, it is a sign of dedication to Jesus and basically its up to them to seek when they want.

Another issue was once saved always saved was preached. “If you accept Jesus as your savior, you are saved and no matter what you do, you are always saved.” I strongly believe this has more of a false lure apeal. I think a genuine Catholic can teach this to children as long as they remind them they must make a true confession of their sins. :shrug:

But overall, if I did not believe in the authority of the Church, see its visible unity and respect how it never backs down from what it professes for 2000 yrs, I would prefer this community to fellowship.

Their virtues are reliance on the Holy Spirit to convict them, supporting their community, activities for children, and missionary ministry and support.

By the way, this was done in the States, Wisconsin in particular.

Oh, one more thing… Communion is once a month (not sure why) and technically anyone baptized can offer in a group (based on the general priesthood of all believers, and the symbolic only belief of the bread and wine).

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