The term “evangelical Christian” has become an extremely loaded term in our modern day society. In recent years the number of people who identify themselves as evangelical Christians has increased dramatically, making their presence impossible to ignore (Sweeney, 3). Their strong political and social viewpoints have put them in the middle of a significant amount of controversy in past and present times. This paper will explore the history and meaning behind the evangelical Christian movement, specifically in the United States, and shed light on how it evolved from a religious reformation to a contentious entity.
In order to look at the role evangelical Christianity has played throughout American history into modern day we must define what the term actually means. Etymologically, the word ‘evangelical’ comes from the Greek word ‘euangelion’ literally meaning ‘good news,’ or in a looser sense ‘gospel’ (Sweeney, 17). The term evangelical does not refer to a specific denomination of Christianity, but rather is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of Protestant Christians who adhere to the evangelical beliefs. Because evangelicals are nondenominational, or perhaps more correctly multidenominational, there is no constitution or formal guidelines for faith and practice. This also means there is no set definition for what it means to be evangelical. Although no singular definition exists there are two widely agreed upon definitions that most evangelicals embrace as correct. The first comes from theologian Alister McGrath who asserts that “evangelicalism is grounded on a cluster of six controlling convictions … [which] 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” (Sweeney, 18).
The second definition was created by David Bebbington who stated that there were four main aspects to evangelical Christianity: “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 … crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelism” (Sweeney, 18). Although there are varied opinions regarding the formal definition of the term, most evangelicals would agree that their faith involves some type of “born again” moment (a moment where a person consciously and actively accepts Jesus Christ as their personal savior), a personal relationship with Jesus, a belief that the Bible is historically accurate and an obligation to share their...