Definitions of “evangelical” within Douglas A. Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005, ebook edition 2013. [Page numbers are from the Kindle edition]

brief summary  • chapter by chapter summary (coming soon)  • definitions of “evangelical” used in this book

Evangelicals are people of the gospel.

“Indeed, the English word evangelical comes from the Greek word euangelion—meaning ‘gospel’ or, more literally, ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings’ (as in, ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people’ [Luke 2: 10]).” (17-8)

A popular definition by Timothy George:

“’Evangelicals are a worldwide family of Bible-believing Christians committed to sharing with everyone everywhere the transforming good news of new life in Jesus Christ, an utterly free gift that comes through faith alone in the crucified and risen Savior.’” (Kindle Locations 133-134, quoted from Christianity Today, August 9, 1999, 62.).

Most popular definition used by theologians from Alistar McGrath

“'[E]vangelicalism is grounded on a cluster of six controlling convictions, each of which is regarded as being true, of vital importance and grounded in Scripture. . . . These six fundamental convictions can be set out as follows:

1. The supreme authority of Scripture as a source of knowledge of God and a guide to Christian living.
2. The majesty of Jesus Christ, both as incarnate God and Lord and as the Savior of sinful humanity.
3. The lordship of the Holy Spirit.
4. The need for personal conversion.
5. The priority of evangelism for both individual Christians and the church as a whole.
6. The importance of the Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth.’” (18, quoted from Alister McGrath, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995, 55– 56.)

Most popular definition used by historians from David Bebbington:

“'[T]here are . . . four qualities that have been the special marks of Evangelical religion: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and what may be called crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism.’” (18, quoted from David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 2– 3)

Sweeney offers his own:

“Evangelicals comprise a movement that is rooted in classical Christian orthodoxy, shaped by a largely Protestant understanding of the gospel, and distinguished from other such movements by an eighteenth-century twist. Or put more simply (though less precisely), evangelicals are a movement of orthodox Protestants with an eighteenth-century twist. We are certainly not the only authentic Christians in the world, nor are we the only ones to whom the term evangelical applies. But we are unique in our commitment to gospel witness around the world. Our uniqueness is best defined by our adherence to: (1) beliefs most clearly stated during the Protestant Reformation and (2) practices shaped by the revivals of the so-called Great Awakening.

First, evangelicals comprise a movement, not a church or denomination. We are a coalition of Christians from all sorts of backgrounds working together in pursuit of a common goal: gospel witness. Practically speaking, this means no formal rules and regulations govern our people as a whole. Some do stand closer to the center of the movement than do others. But the movement’s center has shifted a bit as the movement has grown and adapted to change. It is impossible to get kicked out of the coalition altogether. Participation is voluntary. Adherents are largely self-selected. Plenty within our ranks (not least Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians) choose to participate in the movement without affirming everything in it. Second, evangelicals are descendants of the Protestant Reformation with a commitment to the orthodoxy (i.e., right doctrine and right worship) expressed in the ancient Christian creeds and promoted further by Reformers such as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin— especially with regard to the gospel message. Some people disparage commitments to orthodoxy as repressive and narrow-minded, but evangelicals rarely do. Most of us will admit that the maintenance of orthodoxy can (and does at times) devolve into nasty witch hunts and power plays, but most of us also believe that this is in no way necessary— and that the alternative almost always proves much worse.

Not all evangelicals are Protestants, and those who are belong to hundreds of Protestant denominations. Clearly, therefore, we do not all adhere to Protestant principles in precisely the same way. At the center of the movement, however, lies a firm commitment to the good news (euangelion) that “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Rom. 3: 28). Most interpret this passage of Scripture in light of the Reformation doctrine that we are saved by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus Christus). All agree that right doctrine comes from the canon of Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). In sum, evangelicals cling to the gospel message as spelled out in the Bible and seek to spread it as far and wide as limited resources allow.

Finally, modern evangelicals differ from other Christian groups in that the movement emerged from a definite, eighteenth-century cultural context, one that yielded a twist on Protestant orthodoxy. Modern evangelicals, as distinguished from others who use the label or share our view of the gospel message, are heirs of the Great Awakening— a renewal movement that changed forever the course of history.” (23-24)


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