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An Evangelical Christian is a Protestant who spreads the Gospel. In recent decades the term has narrowed to designate a white conservative Protestant, usually with a belief in the inerrancy of scriptures. "Evangelical" includes Fundamentalists. In the Reformation of the 16th century, "Evangelical" was a favorite term especially used by Lutherans.

This article focuses on the United States and Canada since 1740, when the First Great Awakening launched the Evangelical movement.[1]

"Fundamentalism" is not an organization but a style of religious activism: Fundamentalists are fighting evangelicals taking on mainstream religion. Most Fundamentalists believe in Dispensationalism (which most Calvinist Evangelicals reject). The largest Evangelical church is the Southern Baptist Convention, which is largely Fundamentalist. Also important is the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, which is both Fundamentalist and Lutheran.

There is no exact definition of who is an Evangelical. Pollsters often ask, "Are you a born-again Christian?" to define the group. Sociologists look at membership in specific denominations, and often include Holiness Movement, Pentecostal and Nazarene groups. Some scholars focus on the Bible beliefs, together with a personal commitment to Christ.[2]

Christian researcher and author George Barna defines "Evangelicals" as a subset of those who meet the basic criteria defining born again Christians, but who also meet seven other doctrinal conditions.[3] A distinction is then enabled to be manifest in other areas of faith beliefs.[4]

Colonial America

The First Great Awakening was a spontaneous outburst of religious enthusiasm in the American colonies, with a decisive long-term impact on setting the stage for Evangelicalism in Congregational, Baptist, Methodist and presbyterian denominations, among others. It did not add new members so much as to change the religious consciousness of church members to a greater awareness of sin and redemption, and a downplaying of ritual, liturgy and theology. The Great Awakening heavily emphasized the individual's experience of salvation and the Holy Spirit's work in revivals. By giving many evangelicals radical notions of the spiritual equality of all people, the revivals helped form the democratic style came to characterize the American people.[5]

19th century

The Second Great Awakening from 1800 to the 1830s created a dramatic growth in "evangelical" or "pietistic" denominations. They included the Methodists, Congregationalists, most Presbyterians, Christians (Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ) and Scandinavian Lutherans. They were opposed theologically by the liturgical or "high" churches, including Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and German Lutherans.[6] The evangelicals were strong supporters of moral reforms in society, using government action to promote woman's rights, the abolition of slavery, and the prohibition of liquor.

Politically, the evangelicals in the North were the core of the Republican party in the Third Party System, as well as the small Prohibition party.

Evangelicals were active in missions (as were the non-evangelical Christians). Missionaries, in addition to spreading the word of God, have helped bring much needed medical and educational services to poor parts of the world, as part of their missionary activities.

The Third Great Awakening from 1850 to about 1900 saw the evangelical denominations organize themselves more thoroughly, and begin to have splits between "modernists" and "fundamentalists" about theological principles.

20th century

By the end of the 20th century there were nearly 100 million Americans who identified themselves as "Evangelical Christians," according to a Gallup Poll in 1995.

Self Image

The self-image of evangelical Christians include:

  • generally better knowledge of the Bible compared to non-evangelical Christians
  • view all events recorded in the Bible as historically accurate and treat it as the infallible Word of God
  • promote active participation in a local church
  • high levels of charity
  • support of homeschooling
  • disbelief in evolution

White Evangelicals in the 21st century have been voting 75%-80% for Republican presidential candidates and are politically conservative.

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  • Balmer, Randall. Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism (2nd ed. 2004), 655pp Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism online edition, by a leading historian
  • Balmer, Randall. Blessed Assurance Cl: A History Of Evangelicalism In America (2000), 144pp excerpt and text search, topical essays but not a systematic history
  • Carpenter, Joel A. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (1999), major scholarly history of post 1925 era excerpt and text search
  • Hankins, Barry. American evangelicals: a contemporary history of a mainstream religious movement‎ (2008) 205 pages excerpt and text search
  • Kidd, Thomas S. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Krapohl, Robert H., and Charles H. Lippy. The Evangelicals: A Historical, Thematic, and Biographical Guide (1999). 338 pgs. online edition
  • Larsen, Timothy and Daniel J. Treier, eds. The Cambridge companion to evangelical theology‎ (2007) 303 pages; excerpt and text search
  • Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twenteth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (2nd ed. 2006). standard scholarly history by leading Evangelical scholar excerpt and text search
  • Marsden, George M. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism
  • Noll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (1992) by leading Evangelical scholar excerpt and text search
  • Rawlyk, George, ed. Aspects of the Canadian Evangelical Experience. (1997). 542 pp.
  • online books


  • Burch, Maxine. The Evangelical Historians: The Historiography of George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, and Mark Noll. (1996). 130 pp.


  1. Thomas S. Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007) excerpt and text search; William G. McLaughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Pietistic Tradition (1967)
  2. See Krapohl and Lippy (1999) ch 1
  4. Revealing Statistics: America in Decline; Differences among Denominations
  5. Thomas S. Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (2007)
  6. See Richard Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest, 1888-1896 (1971)

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