This chart largely is derived from our interview with historian Tim Tseng to clarify the confusion behind the word “evangelical.”

His own words from the interview are below.



Christians were mostly Catholic or Orthodox
"Protestants"16th century:
Reformation and immediately after
Catholic Christians split into Catholics and Protestants

Everyone who rejected Catholicism was an evangelical.

Protestants are now mainly Lutheran, Reformed Calvinist or Anabaptist.

    Lutherans helped give evangelicalism its focus on the heart over the head.
    Reformed/Calvinist movement included Armenians.
    Anabaptists emphasized congregational autonomy from the state.

17th centuryAnabaptist Moravians and Continental Pietists introduced a heart-felt element into Christianity. This heart-felt element could be called "evangelical."

Reformed groups like the Puritans began to borrow from this heart-felt strand.

Protestantism and evangelicalism become practically synonymous in America18th century to late 19th centuryGreat Awakenings sparked in Americas and elsewhere: revivals of the heart, an evangelical revival.

Holiness/Methodists emerge to spread heart-felt faith to emerging classes in America.

Revivals are a major feature of how Protestantism (or "religion"), is spoken of and done in America.

Protestant "Mainline" and Protestant "Fundamentalists"late 19th century, early 20th centuryConcerns emerge in America:

Rising middle classes lead to a loss of piety, a loss of dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Response in Evangelical Holiness/Methodist circles: Pentecostalism, an emphasis on the Holy Spirit

Dominance of theological liberalism and social gospel, leads to a loss of the "fundamentals."
Response in Evangelical Reformed circles: Fundamentalism, an emphasis on doctrine

"Neo-evangelicals"20th century1940s-50s: Neo-Evangelicals emerge to counter negative perceptions of Fundamentalism and return America to what it once was

1970s Evangelicalism splits: Conservative and more progressive strands

1990s Emergent movement, countered by the Gospel Coalition (New Calvinists)


Tim Tseng:

In Western Europe in the 16th century, there were perhaps three general categories of Christians:  Lutherans, Catholics and Reformed. Evangelical essentially meant non-Catholic and could be applied to Lutheranism and Calvinism. What made Luther’s evangelicalism different from other approaches to faith was that Luther was more focused on the heart and preaching. Therefore he was not as interested in systematizing theology as Calvin was. Consequently, the word “evangelical” is not usually associated with doctrinal purity, but with a heart-felt experience of saving faith.

[Anabaptists (Radical Reformation) can also be considered evangelical; often heart-felt faith, but usually focused on congregational and ethical practice derived from a narrower reading of Scripture.]

In the 17th century, Evangelicals was reframed when Moravians, Continental Pietists like Philipp Jakob Spener introduced a heart-felt aspect of faith, and in this way, they could claim the term “evangelical.”  Reformed groups like the Puritans began to borrow from this heart-felt strand and emphasize that one had to have this religious experience too.

In the late 17th century to the 19th century, with John Wesley and the awakenings, it became identified as “evangelical.”

Evangelicalism up until the 19th century, always had a balance between Word and Spirit, doctrine and experience. Faith became a more individualistic expression of piety.  It wasn’t until the Fundamentalists emerged in the late 1800s and changed the emphasis of Evangelicalism to doctrine.  Even though heart-felt piety was very much a part of it, fundamentalism became known more as a doctrine-oriented approach to faith. Fundamentalists were reacting to the intellectual climate of the time, the ongoing debates during the 1880s-1920s, as Protestants more and more embraced theological liberalism and the social gospel.

At the same time, Holiness groups were responding to the cultural accommodation to (the rising) middle class mores of the Methodist church. They thought that the spiritual heart-felt faith would be gone.  So in reaction to that they became even more focused on the experience of the Spirit.  To the rise of the middle class and accompanying mores that signified a loss of piety and the Spirit; their response: Pentecostalism.

So you have two different kinds of reactions; a Fundamentalist and a Pentecostal reaction.  Protestantism and Evangelicalism in America were seen as one and the same until these debates at the turn of the last century.


Dr. Timothy Tseng, Pastor, former Professor of Religious History
Tim has done research in Chinese American Christianity, Asian American studies, and the history of race in the United States. Tim was also the founding Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (2005-2011). He currently is the Pastor of English Ministries at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church in San Jose, CA., @tim_tseng



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