Some commonly used definitions,
including one used by this website
Some definitions of "evangelical;" take your pick:
There are probably at least as many different definitions of the Christian term "evangelical"
and "evangelicalism" as there are evangelical Christian congregations.
As for the definition of "Christian," many evangelicals
have a favorite definition of the term and are convinced beyond any
doubt that theirs is the most valid one.
Various definitions that we have seen are listed below.
Some are very restrictive. The definition used by Barna
Research Ltd. covers only about one in twenty Americans.
Some are very broad, and would include many mainline Christians.
Definition of "evangelical" by dictionaries:
American Heritage dictionary:
"... of, relating to, or in accordance with the
Christian gospel, especially one of the four gospel books of the new
Testament. of, relating to, or being a Protestant church that founds its
teaching on the gospel. of, relating to, or being a Christian church
believing in the sole authority and inerrancy of the Bible, in
only through regeneration, and in a spiritually transformed personal life."
Dictionary.com also has a number of definitions, including:
"...a Protestant church that founds its teaching on the gospel."
"...a Christian church believing in the sole
authority and inerrancy of the Bible, in
salvation only through regeneration, and in a
spiritually transformed personal life." 2
WorldReference.com's English dictionaryhas three
"relating to or being a Christian church believing in personal conversion and the
inerrancy of the Bible especially the
'evangelical Christianity'; 'an ultraconservative evangelical message'."
"of or pertaining to or in keeping with the Christian gospel especially as in the first 4 books of the New Testament."
"marked by ardent or zealous enthusiasm for a cause." 4
Definition of "evangelical" by evangelical associations and groups:
Barna Research Ltd.: This is the main evangelical polling
organization in the U.S. They define an "evangelical" very
precisely, as a person who can affirm all of the following:
They have been "born again;" i.e. they have been
saved by having trusted Jesus as Lord and
"...their faith is very important in their life today."
They feel that they have a personal responsibility to share their
religious beliefs with non-Christians.
They estimate that about 5% of the U.S. population, and 11% of all Protestants
meet their rather specific definition. 5
California-Nevada Annual Conference evangelical Renewal Fellowship:
"...evangelicals believe in the affirmations of the
the divinity of Jesus Christ, the authority and reliability of Scripture,
the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the necessity of conversion to
experience salvation by grace through faith, the reality of
hell, and salvation through Jesus Christ alone." 6
The Evangelical Manifesto Steering Committee prepared "An
Evangelical Manifesto"on 2008-MAY-07. They list defining
features of evangelicalism:
"To be an evangelical is to hold a belief that is also a devotion. ...
Jesus Christ and his written word, the Holy Scriptures, are our supreme
"Evangelical belief and devotion is expressed as much in our worship and
in our deeds as in our creeds." They cite concern and aid for the poor,
homeless, orphaned, imprisoned, victims of disaster and those experiencing
"Evangelicals are followers of Jesus." The movement has always been
diverse, flexible, adaptable, and non-hierarchical."
"Evangelicalism must be defined theological and not politically;
confessionally and not culturally." It is not to be limited to or be
confused with being conservative, liberal, reactionary or progressive.
"The evangelical message, 'good news' by definition, is overwhelmingly
Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies...
liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism."
"Evangelicalism is distinctive for the way it looks equally to both the
past and the future." 7
Michael S. Horton of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals comments:
"Since 'The Year of the evangelical,' corresponding to our nation's Bicentennial in 1976,
the term (in North America, at least) has come to identify those who
highlight a particular brand of politics, a moralistic and often
legalistic approach to life, and a sort of ersatz, "corny" style of
evangelism. For some, the term encompasses the emotionalism they see
on religious TV. For others, hypocrisy and self-righteousness." 8
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) publishes a
Statement of Faith to which churches must agree if they wish to join
the Association. It implies a definition of their concept of
We believe that for the salvation of
lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely
We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose
indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost;
they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost
unto the resurrection of damnation.
We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus
Dr. Brad Waggoner, President of B&H Publishing Group
(of the Southern Baptist Convention):
"An Evangelical is anyone who has experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ by faith and grace alone and who embraces a core set of theological
beliefs such as the inerrancy of the Bible, the Trinity (the existence of
Father, son and Holy spirit who is the creator and sustainer of the universe and
is all powerful, eternal, and all knowing), the virgin birth of
sinless life on earth as fully God and fully man, His
bodily death and
resurrection, the indwelling of the Holy spirit at the point of conversion, the
atoning work of Christ on the cross (serving as a substitution sparing those who
place faith in Christ from the wrath of God), the conviction that
possible only through the death and resurrection of Christ, the belief that
those who are regenerate will spend an eternity with God in
heaven and those who
do not place genuine faith in Jesus Christ will be eternally separated from God
in a literal hell, belief in a literal enemy called
Satan, belief in the second
coming of Christ, belief in the necessity of identification with a local church,
and conviction that all believers are responsible to share the
gospel with the lost." 1
By the media:
"Protestants who believe that the Bible is literally true, that salvation
requires a ‚born again‚ conversion, and that one must share that faith with
others. Some belong to established groups like Methodist and Baptist
Cathy Lynn Grossman, religion reporter,
for USA Today: "Until last year  the answer seemed clear: 'Evangelical'
was the label of choice of Christians with conservative views on politics,
economics and biblical morality. Now the word may be losing its moorings, sliding toward the same
linguistic demise that 'fundamentalist' met decades ago because it has been
misunderstood, misappropriated and maligned." 11
Jeffrey Weiss, religion reporter for The Dallas Morning
"Theologically, anyone who
says he or she is Christian and takes the Great Commission seriously could be
considered to be 'evangelical.' But that definition is much broader than current
popular usage. In her new book, Christine Wicker makes a case that the term has
become synonymous with 'Religious Right.' But I think that‚s a bit more narrow
than current popular usage. When I use it, I try to pair the word with some
actual beliefs or positions relevant to what I‚m writing about, but that‚s not
always possible. I think for most people, an evangelical Christian is someone
who says they take the Bible very seriously and may well use the word
'inerrant,' believe they have an urgent divine mandate to proselytize people of
other religions, consider ‚soul-saving‚ mission work as ultimately more
important than ‚social gospel‚ mission work, and probably consider themselves to
be politically conservative.
That scratches the surface of a complex and
hardly monolithic public understanding of a complex and hardly monolithic
religious identity." 1
By individual evangelicals and authors:
Cal Thomas: "An evangelical Christian is one who believes
that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and who has repented of sin and
accepted Jesus as his or her savior. The evangelical believes he has the
privilege and obligation to share the "good news" that Jesus came to save
sinners with others so they might go to heaven
rather than hell." 12
G.A. Mather & L.A. Nichols: "...all forms of Christianity
that are favorable to the preaching of the gospel." 13
Leon Morris: "...someone concerned for the gospel....for him
[sic] the gospel of Christ is central....The gospel is at the centre of
his [sic] thinking and living." 15
Kevin Reed: Individuals who have had"an emotional religious
experience...[and who] possess a zeal for sharing their experience with
Larry Eskridge: A style of religion, as much as a set of
beliefs, which includes such diverse groups as black Baptists, Dutch
Reformed Churches, Mennonites, Pentecostals, Catholic Charismatics, and
Southern Baptists. 17
Tim and Sandy Kruse: They define the term "evangelical
Catholic" to mean a Roman "Catholic Christian committed to living
an evangelical life and doing evangelical ministry within the Catholic
Sydney Ahlstrom commented on a number of authors' descriptions
"[Bernard] Ramm praises Scholastic Orthodoxy, tends to reject
modern thought and yet speaks of 35 to 40 million evangelicals located
Bloesch calls evangelicalism a 'mood,' yet names nine hallmarks
and then undoes that sign of precision by throwing out dozens of names
from St. Theresa of Avila to Bonhoeffer.
Shelley, as an historian of the National Association of
Evangelicals, is more inclusive than Ramm, less eclectic than Bloesch,
and more inclined to stress 'a true decision for Christ.'
All three distance themselves to varying degrees from fundamentalism, but
do not exclude it." 19
Michael Davenport: "A movement that affirms traditional theology and
submits to the authority of the Bible while striving to participate creatively
in modern society. ... 'Evangelical' identifies an approach to faith, rather
than a separate denomination. ... The distinguishing features of the evangelical
Acceptance of the authority of scripture over all other documents and
Affirmation that, suddenly or gradually, individuals are transformed
('reborn') into believers.
Belief that Jesus' death and resurrection were historical facts,
necessaryy for our new life, and
Commitment to prayer, discipleship, and faithful service to wider
Usage of "evangelical" on this web site:
Since about 95% of our site's visitors are residents of North America, we
will use the following definition:
Evangelical: "The conservative wing of Protestant Christianity comprising
many denominations and other faith groups that tightly hold to historical Christian creeds, beliefs and
Sydney Ahlstrom, "From Puritanism to evangelicalism: A Critical
Perspective," in "The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Who They
Are, Where They Are Changing," Abingdon, (1975), Pages 269 - 270, 288,