Evangelical Protestantism is an interdenominational movement that is theologically and politically diverse. Believers with differing points of view can be found throughout a broad spectrum of evangelical churches, schools, advocacy groups and other organizations. However, scholars have identified several distinguishing beliefs that evangelicals tend to share.
As historian David Bebbington observed, one hallmark of evangelicalism is belief that the Bible is a divinely inspired work whose original texts are without error. This view, the doctrine of inerrancy, stands in contrast to liberal Protestantism's acceptance that the scriptures developed historically and can contain mistakes. There has nonetheless been some debate among evangelicals on the precise implications of biblical infallibility for such issues as creationism, the end times or belief in a literal hell.
Another core evangelical doctrine identified by Bebbington and other scholars is the belief that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ saves people from their sins. Whereas liberal Protestants are open to viewing Christ's death on the cross as an instructive example of selflessness or a demonstration of the human capacity for violent injustice, evangelicals view the crucifixion as Christ paying the penalty for sinful disobedience. As for the scope of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice, or atonement, some evangelicals believe that Christ died for all humanity, while others follow the Calvinistic belief that Jesus died only for those whom God predestined to salvation.
A third signature evangelical Protestant doctrine is the need for a distinct and dateable conversion experience. The experience of believing in, or "accepting" Christ as one's personal savior is seen as the only way of salvation. The evangelical belief in regard to conversion as a singular experience stands in contrast to a liberal understanding of Christian conversion as gradual transformation.
Morality and Mission
In addition to such spiritual experiences as prayer, repentance and worship, evangelicalism also has an equally strong emphasis on personal morality and active evangelism. The evangelical belief that Christians have a responsibility to communicate the Gospel to nonbelievers has helped spark global missionary initiatives as well as more localized evangelistic outreach, such as revival meetings and personal witnessing. Evangelical morality tends to fall on the conservative end of the political spectrum, such as the belief that premarital sex, abortion and same-sex relationships are sinful. However, progressive evangelicals, exemplified by the followers of Jim Wallis and the Sojourners Community, have displayed some openness to a broader moral perspective.
- Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s; David Bebbington
- Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals: Defining Evangelicalism
- Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism; Randall Balmer, ed.
- Encyclopedia of Protestantism; J. Gordon Melton
- Encyclopedia of Religion in America; Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, eds.
- ReligiousTolerance.org: The Christian Concept of Atonement: Beliefs by Some Very Liberal Christians and Post-Christians
- Feminary: Feminist Rejection of Atonement Theory
- Frontline: The Jesus Factor: Evangelicals v. Mainline Protestants
- The New Yorker; The Hell-Raiser; Kalefa Sanneh
- Sojourners: Breaking the Impasse
- American Evangelicals: A Contemporary History of A Mainstream Religious Movement; Barry Hankins
- The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys; Mark A. Noll
- Religion News Service: Evangelicals Say It's Time for a Frank Talk About Sex
- Christianity Today
- Fundamentalism and American Culture; George M. Marsden
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images