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Evangelical varieties

The word evangelical means simply “of or according to the teaching of the gospel (the good news)”. Evangelical was used by Martin Luther to characterize the Reformation so that in Europe it is often a synonym for Protestant. In America the term (often capitalized) has come to have a particular meaning, characterized by historian David Bebbington with the following four distinctives:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

To avoid confusion those who follow the theological tradition that runs closer to Martin Luther could be called Lutheran Evangelicals, though they are often called simply Lutherans. Similarly, those who follow the theological tradition that runs closer to Jean (John) Calvin could be called Reformed Evangelicals, though they are often called simply Calvinists.

These latter two groups would not insist on a conversion experience, being satisfied with Baptism and Confirmation. Other than that, they (or at least the more theologically conservative among them) would fit in with those called simply Evangelicals. Accordingly, to be more precise about which variety of evangelical is referenced, Evangelicals in America could be called Conversionist Evangelicals.

There are other qualifiers that could be used, too: Wesleyan Evangelicals, Holiness Evangelicals, Pentecostal Evangelicals, Charismatic Evangelicals, Fundamentalist Evangelicals, etc.

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