Evangelicalism in the United States

In the United States, evangelicalism is a movement among Protestant Christians who believe in the necessity of being born again, emphasize the importance of evangelism, and affirm traditional Protestant teachings on the authority as well as the historicity of the Bible.[1] Comprising nearly a quarter of the US population, evangelicals are a diverse group drawn from a variety of denominational backgrounds, including Baptist, Mennonite, Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostal, Reformed and nondenominational churches.[2][3]

TheCall rally in 2008, Washington, D.C., with the United States Capitol in the background

Evangelicalism has played an important role in shaping American religion and culture. The First Great Awakening of the 18th century marked the rise of evangelical religion in colonial America. As the revival spread throughout the Thirteen Colonies, evangelicalism united Americans around a common faith.[1] The Second Great Awakening of the 19th century led to what historian Martin Marty called the "Evangelical Empire", a period in which evangelicals dominated US cultural institutions, including schools and universities. Evangelicals in the northern United States were strong advocates of reform. They were involved in the temperance movement and supported the abolition of slavery in addition to working towards education and criminal justice reform. In the southern United States, evangelicals split from their northern counterparts on the issue of slavery, establishing new denominations that opposed abolition.[4]

By the end of the 19th century, the old evangelical consensus that had united American Protestantism no longer existed. Protestant churches became divided over new intellectual and theological ideas, such as Darwinian evolution and historical criticism of the Bible. Those who embraced these ideas became known as modernists, while those who rejected them became known as fundamentalists. Fundamentalists defended the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and adopted a dispensationalist theological system for interpreting the Bible.[5] As a result of the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy of the 1920s and 1930s, fundamentalists lost control of the Mainline Protestant churches and separated themselves from non-fundamentalist churches and cultural institutions.[6]

After World War II, a new generation of conservative Protestants rejected the separatist stance of fundamentalism and began calling themselves evangelicals. Popular evangelist Billy Graham was at the forefront of reviving use of the term. During this time period, a number of evangelical institutions were established, including the National Association of Evangelicals, the magazine Christianity Today, and a number of educational institutions, such as Fuller Theological Seminary.[7] As a reaction to the 1960s counterculture, many evangelicals became politically active and involved in the Christian right,[8] which became an important voting bloc of the Republican Party. Recently, however, observers such as journalist Frances FitzGerald have noted that since 2005 the influence of the Christian right among evangelicals has been in decline.[9] Though less visible, some evangelicals identify as Progressive evangelicals.


National Association of Evangelicals works to foster cooperation among U.S. evangelical churches

Many scholars have adopted historian David Bebbington's definition of evangelicalism. According to Bebbington, evangelicalism has four major characteristics. These are conversionism (an emphasis on the new birth), biblicism (an emphasis on the Bible as the supreme religious authority), activism (an emphasis on individual engagement in spreading the gospel), and crucicentrism (an emphasis on Christ's sacrifice on the cross as the heart of true religion). However, this definition has been criticized for being so broad as to include all Christians.[10][11]

Historian Molly Worthen writes that "History—rather than theology or politics—is the most useful tool for pinning down today’s evangelicals."[12] She finds that evangelicals share common origins in the religious revivals and moral crusades of the 18th and 19th centuries. She writes that "Evangelical catchphrases like 'Bible-believing' and 'born again' are modern translations of the Reformers' slogan sola scriptura and Pietists' emphasis on internal spiritual transformation."[12]

Evangelicals are often defined in opposition to Mainline Protestants. According to sociologist Brian Steensland and colleagues, "Evangelical denominations have typically sought more separation from the broader culture, emphasized missionary activity and individual conversion, and taught strict adherence to particular religious doctrines."[13] Mainline Protestants are described as having "an accommodating stance toward modernity, a proactive view on issues of social and economic justice, and pluralism in their tolerance of varied individual beliefs."[14]

Historian George Marsden writes that during the 1950s and 1960s the simplest definition of an evangelical was "anyone who likes Billy Graham". During that period, most people who self-identified with the evangelical movement were affiliated with organizations that had some connection to Graham.[15] It can also be defined narrowly as a movement centered around organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals and Youth for Christ.[11]

News media often conflate evangelicalism with "conservative Protestantism" or the Christian right. However, not every conservative Protestant identifies as evangelical, nor are all evangelicals political conservatives.[16]


Scholars have found it useful to distinguish among different types of evangelicals. One scheme by sociologist James Davison Hunter identifies four major types: the Baptist tradition, the Holiness and Pentecostal tradition, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Confessional tradition (evangelical Anglicans, pietistic Lutherans, and evangelicals within the Reformed churches).[17][18]

Ethicist Max Stackhouse and historians Donald W. Dayton and Timothy P. Weber divide evangelicalism into three main historical groupings. The first, called "Puritan" or classical evangelicalism, seeks to preserve the doctrinal heritage of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, especially the Reformed tradition. Classical evangelicals emphasize absolute divine sovereignty, forensic justification, and "literalistic" inerrancy. The second, pietistic evangelicalism, originates from the 18th-century pietist movements in Europe and the Great Awakenings in America. Pietistic evangelicals embrace revivalism and a more experiential faith, emphasizing conversion, sanctification, regeneration, and healing. The third, fundamentalist evangelicalism, results from the Fundamentalist-Modernist split of the early 20th century. Fundamentalists always emphasize certain "fundamental" beliefs against modernist criticism and often use an apocalyptic, premillennialist interpretation of the Bible. These three categories are more fluid than Hunter's, so an individual could identify with only one or all three.[19]

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, used polling data to separate evangelicals into three broad camps, which he labels as traditionalist, centrist and modernist:[20]

  1. Traditionalist evangelicals, characterized by high affinity for certain Protestant beliefs, (especially penal substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, the authority of scripture, and the priesthood of all believers) which, when fused with the highly political milieu of Western culture (especially American culture), has resulted in the political disposition that has been labeled the Christian right, with figures like Jerry Falwell and the television evangelist Pat Robertson as its most visible spokesmen.
  2. Centrist evangelicals, described as socially conservative and mostly avoiding politics, who still support much of traditional Christian theology.
  3. Modernist evangelicals, a small minority in the movement, who have lower levels of church attendance and "have much more diversity in their beliefs".[20]


18th centuryEdit

Jonathan Edwards was the most influential evangelical theologian in America during the 18th century[21]

The roots of American evangelicalism lie in the merger of three older Protestant traditions: New England Puritanism, Continental Pietism and Scotch-Irish Presbyterianism.[22] Within their Congregational churches, Puritans promoted experimental or experiential religion, arguing that saving faith required an inward transformation.[23] This led Puritans to demand evidence of a conversion experience (in the form of a conversion narrative) before a convert was admitted to full church membership.[24] In the 1670s and 1680s, Puritan clergy began to promote religious revival in response to a perceived decline in religiosity.[25] The Ulster Scots who immigrated to the American colonies in the 1700s brought with them their own revival tradition, specifically the practice of communion seasons.[26] Pietism was a movement within the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Europe that emphasized a "religion of the heart": the ideal that faith was not simply acceptance of propositional truth but was an emotional "commitment of one's whole being to God" in which one's life became dedicated to self-sacrificial ministry.[27] Pietists promoted the formation of cell groups for Bible study, prayer, and accountability.[28]

These three traditions were brought together with the First Great Awakening, a series of revivals occurring in both Britain and its American Colonies during the 1730s and 1740s.[29] The Awakening began within the Congregational churches of New England. In 1734, Jonathan Edwards' preaching on justification by faith instigated a revival in Northampton, Massachusetts. Earlier Puritan revivals had been brief, local affairs, but the Northampton revival was part of a larger wave of revival that affected the Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches in the Middle Colonies as well.[30] There the Reformed minister Theodore Frelinghuysen and Presbyterian minister Gilbert Tennent led revivals.[21]

The English evangelist George Whitefield was responsible for spreading the revivals through all the colonies. An Anglican priest, Whitefield had studied at Oxford University prior to ordination, and there he befriended John Wesley and his brother Charles, the founders of a pietistic movement within the Church of England called Methodism. Whitefield's dramatic preaching style and ability to simplify doctrine made him a popular preacher in England, and in 1739 he arrived in America preaching up and down the Atlantic coastline. Thousands flocked to open-air meetings to hear him preach, and he became a celebrity throughout the colonies.[31]

The Great Awakening hit its peak by 1740,[32] but it shaped a new form of Protestantism that emphasized, according to historian Thomas S. Kidd, "seasons of revival, or outpourings of the Holy Spirit, and converted sinners experiencing God's love personally" [emphasis in original].[33] Evangelicals believed in the "new birth"—a discernible moment of conversion—and believed that it was normal for a Christian to have assurance of faith.[34] While the Puritans had also believed in the necessity of conversion, they "had held that assurance is rare, late and the fruit of struggle in the experience of believers".[35]

Its emphasis on the individual's relationship to God gave evangelicalism an egalitarian streak as well, which was perceived by anti-revivalists as undermining social order. Radical evangelicals ordained uneducated ministers (sometimes nonwhite men) and sometimes allowed nonwhites and women to serve as deacons and elders. They also supported laypeople's right to dissent from their pastors and form new churches.[36]

The Awakening split the Congregational and Presbyterian churches over support for the revival between Old and New Lights (see also the Old Side–New Side Controversy). Ultimately, the evangelical New Lights became the larger faction among both Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The New England theology, based on Jonathan Edwards' work, would become the dominant theological outlook within the Congregational churches.[37][31] In New England, radical New Lights broke away from the established churches and formed Separate Baptist congregations. In the 1740s and 1750s, New Side Presbyterians and Separate Baptists began moving to the Southern colonies and establishing churches. There they challenged the Anglican religious establishment, which was identified with the planter elite. In contrast, evangelicals tended to be neither very rich nor very poor, but hardworking farmers and tradesmen who disapproved of the worldliness of the planter class. In the 1760s, the first Methodist missionaries came to America and focused their ministry in the South as well. By 1776, evangelicals outnumbered Anglicans in the South.[38]

During and after the American Revolution, the Anglican Church (now known as the Episcopal Church) experienced much disruption and lost its special legal status and privileges. The four largest denominations were now the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists. In the 1770s and 1780s, the Baptists and Methodists had experienced dramatic growth. In 1770, there were only 150 Baptist and 20 Methodist churches, but in 1790 there were 858 Baptist and 712 Methodist churches. These two evangelical denominations were still most successful in the southern states and along the western frontier. They also appealed to African slaves; on the Delmarva Peninsula, for example, over a third of Methodists were black. In the 1790s, evangelical influence on smaller groups such as Quakers, Lutherans, and the Dutch and German Reformed was still limited. Because of cultural and language barriers, the Dutch and German churches were not a major part of the evangelical revivals in this era.[39]

19th centuryEdit

Depiction of a camp meeting

In the 19th century, evangelicalism expanded as a result of the Second Great Awakening (1790s–1840s).[40] The revivals influenced all the major Protestant denominations and turned most American Protestants into evangelicals.[41] From the 1790s until the Civil War, evangelicals were the most influential religious leaders in the United States.[10] There were three major centers of revival. In New England, a major revival began among the Congregationalists by the 1820s, led by Edwardsian preachers such as Timothy Dwight, Lyman Beecher, Nathaniel Taylor, and Asahel Nettleton. In western New York—the so-called "burned-over district"—the revival was mainly led by Congregationalists and Presbyterians, but there was also some involvement of Baptists and Methodists. The third major region of revival was the Cumberland River Valley in Tennessee and Kentucky.[42]

Unlike the East Coast, where revivals tended to be quieter and more solemn, western revivals tended to be more emotional and dramatic.[43] Kentucky was the location of the Revival of 1800 led by Presbyterian minister James McGready. It was here that the traditional Scottish communion season began to evolve into the American camp meeting.[44] A year later, the Cane Ridge Revival led by Barton Stone lasted a week and drew crowds of 20,000 people from the thinly populated frontier. At Cane Ridge, many converts experienced religious ecstasy and "bodily agitations".[45] Some worshipers caught holy laughter, barked like dogs, experienced convulsions, fell into trances, danced, shouted or were slain in the Spirit. Similar responses had occurred in other revivals, but they were more intense at Cane Ridge. This revival was the origin of the Stone-Campbell Movement, from which the Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ denominations originate.[46][45]

During the Second Great Awakening, the Methodist Episcopal Church was the most successful at gaining converts. It enthusiastically adopted camp meetings as a regular part of church life, and devoted resources to evangelizing the western frontier. Itinerant ministers known as circuit riders traveled hundreds of miles each year to preach and serve scattered congregations. The Methodists took a democratic and egalitarian approach to ministry, allowing poor and uneducated young men to become circuit riders. The Baptists also expanded rapidly. Like the Methodists, Baptists also sent out itinerant ministers, often with little education.[47]

Charles Grandison Finney, the most prominent revivalist of the Second Great Awakening

The theology behind the First Great Awakening was largely Calvinist.[48] Calvinists taught predestination and that God only gives salvation to a small group of the elect and condemns everyone else to hell. The Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace denied to humans free will or any role in their own salvation.[49] The Second Great Awakening was heavily influenced by Arminianism, a theology that allows for free will and gives humans a greater role in their own conversion.[48] The Methodists were Arminians, and taught that all people could choose salvation. They also taught that Christians could lose their salvation by backsliding or returning to sin.[49]

The most influential evangelical of the Second Great Awakening was Charles Grandison Finney. Though ordained by the Presbyterian Church, Finney deviated from traditional Calvinism. Finney taught that neither revivals nor conversion occurred without human effort. While divine grace is necessary to persuade people of the truth of Christianity, God does not force salvation upon people. Unlike Edwards, who described revival as a "surprising work of God", Finney taught that "revival is not a miracle" but "the result of the right use of the appropriate means."[50] Finney emphasized several methods to promote revival that have become known as the "new measures" (even though they were not new but had already been in use among the Methodists): mass advertising, protracted revival meetings, allowing women to speak and testify in revival meetings, and the mourner's bench where potential converts sat to pray for conversion.[51]

Evangelical views on eschatology (the doctrine of the end times) have changed over time. The Puritans were premillennialists, which means they believed Christ would return before the Millennium (a thousand years of godly rule on earth). But the First Great Awakening convinced many evangelicals that the millennial kingdom was already being established before Christ returned, a belief known as postmillennialism. During the Second Great Awakening, postmillennialism (with its expectation that society would become progressively more Christianized) became the dominant view, since it complemented the Arminian emphasis on self-determination and the Enlightenment's positive view of human potential.[52]

Collection box for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, circa 1850.

This postmillennial optimism inspired a number of social reform movements among northern evangelicals, including temperance (as teetotalism became "a badge of honor" for evangelicals),[53] abolitionism, prison reform, and educational reform.[52] They launched a campaign to end dueling.[54] They built asylums for the physically disabled and mentally ill, schools for the deaf, and hospitals for treating tuberculosis. They formed organizations to provide food, clothing, money, and job placement to immigrants and the poor.[55] In order to "impress the new nation with an indelibly Protestant character," evangelicals founded Sunday schools, colleges, and seminaries. They published millions of books, tracts, and Christian periodicals through organizations such as the American Tract Society and the American Bible Society.[54] This network of social reform organizations is referred to as the Benevolent Empire. Postmillennialism also led to an increase in missionary work.[52] Many of the major missionary societies were founded around this time (see Timeline of Christian missions).

John Nelson Darby, considered to be the father of modern Dispensationalism

The spread of dispensationalism in late 19th-century America led many Evangelicals to return to the more pessimistic premillennialist point of view, however.

John Nelson Darby was an austere 19th-century Anglo-Irish Bible teacher and former Anglican clergyman who devised dispensationalism, a new and controversial interpretation of the Bible that was incorporated into the development of modern Evangelicalism. According to scholar Mark S. Sweetnam, dispensationalism can be defined in terms of its Evangelicalism, insistence on literal interpretation of Scripture, identification of distinct stages in God's dealings with humanity, emphasis on premillennialism and apocalypticism, and expectation of the imminent return of Christ to rapture His saints.[56]

First taught in the 1830s by Darby and the Plymouth Brethren in England, dispensationalism was introduced to American evangelical leaders in the 1860s and 1870s as a premillennial position, and within several decades it came to dominate the fundamentalist movement.

Dwight Moody, founder of the Moody Bible Institute

Dwight L. Moody of Chicago played a key role in this transformation. In the latter half of the 19th century, Moody became a notable evangelical figure, reaching very large audiences with his powerful preaching.[57][58][59] Focused on the city of Chicago in his early ministry, "Moody relentlessly sought financial contributions from rich evangelical businessmen such as John Farwell and Cyrus McCormick. Despite Moody’s direct, blunt, impetuous personality, philanthropists recognized that he genuinely cared for the urban poor."[57]

Cyrus Scofield, author of the Scofield Reference Bible

But after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed his church, his home and the local YMCA, Moody left local church work for a new career as a traveling revivalist.[57] Convinced now that the world would be changed not by social work, but by Christ's return and the establishment of His millennial kingdom on earth, Moody rejected his own previous postmillennialist views and began to preach premillennialist dispensationalism.[57] Enlisting philanthropic support from the business community was one of several enduring innovations he introduced into the conduct of revival campaigns.[57] Moody accelerated the spread of dispensationalist beliefs, and he was influential in preaching the imminence of the Kingdom of God that was so important to dispensationalism.[60]

American evangelical minister Cyrus Scofield also promoted the spread of dispensationalism, by including interpretive commentary as prominent footnotes in his Scofield Reference Bible in the early 20th century. First published in 1909, the Scofield Bible became a popular one-volume reference, used widely by independent Evangelicals in the United States.

Evangelicals who followed Darby's ideas also launched a network of independent Bible institutes, which soon became the nucleus for the spread of American dispensationalism. Early examples of these include the Moody Bible Institute (1886) and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (1908). By the early 1930s there were as many as fifty such Bible institutes serving fundamentalist constituencies.[61]

In the late 19th century, the revivalist Holiness movement, based on the doctrine of "entire sanctification," took a more extreme form in rural America and Canada, where it ultimately broke away from institutional Methodism. In urban Britain the Holiness message was less exclusive and less censorious.[62]

From the 1850s to the 1920s, an advanced theological perspective came from the Princeton Theologians, such as Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander, and B. B. Warfield.[63]

20th centuryEdit

By the 1890s, most American Protestants belonged to evangelical denominations, except for high church Episcopalians and German Lutherans. In the early 20th century, a divide opened up between fundamentalists and the mainline Protestant denominations, chiefly over the inerrancy of the Bible. After 1910, evangelicalism was dominated by fundamentalists, who rejected liberal theology, emphasized the inerrancy of Scripture, and taught a dispensationalist interpretation of the End Times. Fundamentalists sought to defend their familiar religious traditions, and feared that new trends in modern science were leading people away from truth.

Scofield Bible, 1917 edition

Dispensationalism led fundamentalist evangelicals to see the world as a battleground in the deadly conflict between God and the Devil that would sweep all unbelievers to perdition very soon, so that they must focus on saving souls, with reform of society as a strictly secondary concern.[64] This may have had an unintended side effect of making the fundamentalists' message more welcome among American groups and communities who opposed reform of their own local culture and cherished institutions.

Fundamentalists also came to believe that modernist and liberal parties in Protestant churches had surrendered their Evangelical heritage by accommodating secular views and values.

Among these fundamentalist evangelicals, a favored way of resisting modernism was to prohibit teaching evolution as fact in public schools, a movement that reached a peak in the Scopes Trial of 1925. The sting of this public embarrassment led fundamentalists to retreat further into separatism. Protestant modernists criticized fundamentalists for their separatist self-isolation, and for their rejection of the Social Gospel. By this time, modernists had largely abandoned the term "evangelical," and tolerated evolutionary theories in modern science and even in Biblical studies.

Congregation at Angelus Temple during 14-hour Holy Ghost service led by Aimee Semple McPherson in Los Angeles, California in 1942.

Increasingly in the 1930s, fundamentalist pastors and parishioners who were wary of modernist viewpoints put forward by their own denominations often turned instead to the dispensationalist Bible institutes for guidance and community.[65] As the largest of these schools, the Moody Bible Institute set the pace, providing a wide variety of fundamentalist outreach services, from guest speakers and extension courses to Bible conferences, magazines and radio programs.[65]

Services at the Pentecostal Church of God in Lejunior, Kentucky, 1946

During and after World War II, evangelicals increasingly organized, adapted the tone of their message to the times, and expanded their vision to include the entire world. There was a great expansion of Evangelical activity within the United States, "a revival of revivalism." Dispensationalism, with its intense focus on the End Times, continued to be a major theme. Many earlier evangelists had preached in tents to small-town audiences on the "sawdust trail," but the new evangelicals sought ways to save souls in the big cities that had come to dominate American life.[66] Youth for Christ was formed in 1940 to help make the evangelical message attractive to soldiers, sailors, and urban teenagers;[67] it later became the base for Billy Graham's post-war revival crusades.[68] The National Association of Evangelicals was formed in 1942 as a counterpoise to the mainline Federal Council of Churches, which had been organized in 1908.[66] Charles Fuller had started broadcasting the Old-Fashioned Revival Hour in 1937; by 1943 it had a record-setting national radio audience, with twenty million weekly listeners.[66] But a split also developed among evangelicals in this era, as they disagreed among themselves about how a Christian ought to respond to an unbelieving world. Many evangelicals urged that Christians must engage the culture directly and constructively,[69] and they began to express reservations about being known to the world as fundamentalists. As Kenneth Kantzer put it at the time, the name fundamentalist had become "an embarrassment instead of a badge of honor".[70]

The term neo-evangelicalism was coined in 1947 by Fuller Theological Seminary founding president Harold Ockenga to identify a distinct movement he saw within self-identified fundamentalist Christianity, especially in the English-speaking world, with the goal of encouraging an upbeat, positive mood. This new generation of evangelicals made it their goal to abandon a militant stance, and to pursue a more open, non-judgmental dialogue with other intellectual traditions. They also called for greater application of the gospel to sociology, politics, and economics. Many self-identified fundamentalists responded by separating their opponents from the "fundamentalist" name, and by seeking to distinguish themselves from the more open group, which they often characterized derogatorily by Ockenga's term "neo-Evangelical", or simply "evangelicals".

Traditional fundamentalists saw these new evangelicals as being too concerned about social acceptance and intellectual respectability, and being too accommodating to a perverse generation that needed correction.[citation needed] They also saw evangelist Billy Graham's later decision to work with non-evangelical denominations, including the Catholic Church (which they claimed to be heretical), as a mistake.[citation needed] The post-war period also saw growth of the ecumenical movement and the founding of the World Council of Churches (1948), which was generally regarded with suspicion by the evangelical community.[citation needed]

Mushroom cloud from the Trinity test, the first test of a nuclear bomb

The end of World War II in 1945 and the onset of the Cold War by 1948 provided a major opportunity for Evangelical expansion. "The Second World War ended in August 1945 after two nuclear explosions destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even nonreligious people groped for religious language to describe the power and destructiveness of the bombs."[71] "The end of the war affected almost everybody in America. Millions of men returned from the armed forces, while millions of women left their temporary industrial jobs. The marriage rate and the birth rate soared, accelerating a baby boom that had begun while the war was still being fought."[72] "As young American families crowded into new churches, their ministers, priests, and rabbis led them in prayers for a world in upheaval."[72]

"No one voiced the fear that the world was coming to a crisis more convincingly than evangelical and fundamentalist preachers. A staple of their preaching had always been that the Second Coming of Christ, foretold in the New Testament Book of Revelation, was imminent and that everyone should prepare for the end of the world."[72]

Evangelical revivalist Billy Graham in Duisburg, Germany, 1954

In September 1949, 30-year-old evangelist Billy Graham set up circus tents in a Los Angeles parking lot for a series of revival meetings. "A handsome and intelligent man with a spellbinding preacher's manner and a piercing gaze, Graham had the knack of filling his listeners first with dread that they were sinners, fragments of a world rushing headlong to catastrophe, and then with the desire to turn their lives around, put their trust in Jesus, and be saved."[67] He attracted national media coverage, especially in William Randolph Hearst's conservative Hearst chain of newspapers. Planned to last three weeks, the event ran for eight weeks. Graham became a national figure, with heavy coverage from the wire services and national magazines, and he went on to become the most influential American evangelist of the twentieth century.

Expansion of evangelicals' international missionary activity in the postwar era was at least as noteworthy as the movement's divisions and organizational growth in the same period. Evangelicals had enthusiasm and self-confidence after the national victory in the world war. Many came from poor rural districts, but wartime and postwar prosperity dramatically increased the funding resources available for missionary work. Overseas missionaries began to prepare for the postwar challenge, as in the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade (FEGC; now named "Send International"). After Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had been destroyed, the newly mobilized evangelicals now prepared to combat perceived threats from atheistic communism, secularism, Darwinism, liberalism, Catholicism, and (in overseas missions) paganism.[73]

While mainline Protestant denominations cut back on their missionary activities, from 7,000 overseas workers in 1935 to only 3,000 in 1980, the evangelicals tripled their career foreign missionary force in the same period: from 12,000 in 1935 to 35,000 in 1980. At Youth for Christ's jubilant 7000-person rally on Memorial Day 1945 in Chicago's Soldier Field football stadium (seating capacity 74,000), soldiers and nurses marched along with missionary representatives who paraded in costumes representing all the nations still awaiting the gospel.[67] Meanwhile, war-torn Europe was falling behind, as North Americans had sent out only 41% of all the world's Protestant missionaries in 1936, but rose to 52% in 1952 and 72% in 1969.

Denominations expanding their missionary efforts after the war included the United Pentecostal Church International, formed in 1945, and the Assemblies of God, which nearly tripled from 230 missionaries in 1935 to 626 in 1952. Southern Baptist missionaries more than doubled from 405 to 855, as did those sent by the Church of the Nazarene, from 88 to 200.[74]

Following the Welsh Methodist revival, the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 began the spread of Pentecostalism in North America. The Charismatic Movement began in the 1960s and led to Pentecostal theology and practice being introduced into many mainline denominations. New charismatic groups, such as Newfrontiers and the Association of Vineyard Churches, trace their roots to this period. (See also the British New Church Movement.)

21st centuryEdit

A 2018 report of polls conducted from 2003 to 2017 of 174,485 random-sample telephone interviews by ABC News and The Washington Post show significant shifts in U.S. religious identification in those 15 years.[75]


Socially conservative evangelical Protestantism has a major cultural influence in the Bible Belt, an area that covers almost all of the Southern United States, and includes all of the states that fought against the Union in the American Civil War.

Anywhere from 6 percent to 35 percent of the United States population is evangelical, depending on how "evangelical" is defined.[76] A 2008 study reported that in the year 2000 about 9 percent of Americans attended an evangelical service on any given Sunday.[77] A 2014 Pew Research Center survey of religious life in the United States identified the evangelical percentage of the population at 25.4 percent, while Roman Catholics were 20.8 percent and mainline Protestants were 14.7 percent.[78] But in 2020, mainline Protestants were reported to outnumber predominantly-white Evangelical churches.[79][80]

In 2007 The Barna Group reported that 8 percent of adult Americans were born-again evangelicals, defined as those surveyed in 2006 who answered yes to these nine questions:[81][76]

  • "Have you made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today?"
  • "Do you believe that when you die you will go to Heaven because you have confessed your sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as your savior?"
  • "Is your faith very important in your life today?"
  • "Do you have a personal responsibility to share your religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians?"
  • "Does Satan exist?"
  • "Is eternal salvation possible only through grace, not works?"
  • "Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life on earth?"
  • "Is the Bible accurate in all that it teaches?"
  • "Is God the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today?"

Sometimes members of historically black churches are counted as evangelicals, and at other times they are not. When analyzing political trends, pollsters often distinguish between white evangelicals (who tend to vote for the Republican Party) and African American Protestants (who share beliefs in common with white evangelicals but tend to vote for the Democratic Party).[76]

An event at Texas megachurch Gateway Church's 114 Southlake Campus

In 2012, The Economist estimated that "over one-third of Americans, more than 100 million, can be considered evangelical," arguing that the percentage is often undercounted because many African Americans espouse evangelical theology but refer to themselves as "born again Christians" rather than "evangelical."[82] As of 2017, according to The Economist, white evangelicals overall account for about 17 percent of Americans, while white evangelicals under the age of 30 represent about 8 percent of Americans in that age group.[83]

Wheaton College's Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals estimates that about 30 to 35 percent (90 to 100 million people) of the US population is evangelical. These figures include white and black "cultural evangelicals" (Americans who do not regularly attend church but identify as evangelicals).[84] Similarly, a 2019 Gallup survey asking respondents whether they identified as "born-again" or "evangelical" found that 37% of respondents answered in the affirmative.[85]

Politics and social issuesEdit

Political ideology among American Evangelicals[86]

  Conservative (55%)
  Liberal (13%)
  Moderate (27%)
  Don't know (6%)

Evangelical political influence in America was first evident in the 1830s with movements such as the prohibition movement, which closed saloons and taverns in state after state until it succeeded nationally in 1919.[87]

The Christian right is a coalition of numerous groups of traditionalist and observant church-goers of every kind: especially Catholics on issues such as birth control and abortion, Southern Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, and others.[88]

Since the early 1980s, the Christian right has been associated with several nonprofit political and issue-oriented organizations including the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council.[89][90]

Most African Americans belong to Baptist, Methodist or other denominations that share evangelical beliefs, but they are firmly in the Democratic coalition, and (with the possible exception of issues involving abortion and homosexuality) are generally liberal in politics.[91]

In the 2016 presidential election, exit polls reported that 81% of white evangelicals voted for New York real-estate billionaire Donald Trump.[92]

Evangelical political activists are not all on the right. There is also a small group of liberal white Evangelicals.[93]


Evangelicals are often stereotyped as Christians who reject mainstream scientific views out of concern that they contradict the Bible. This is true for some evangelicals, including dispensationalists and others who reject evolution in favor of creation science and flood geology (both of which contradict the scientific consensus and the well-established geologic time scale).[94] This has led to a variety of high-profile court cases over whether public schools can be forced to teach either creationism or intelligent design (the claim that the complexity and diversity of life can be explained best by the intervention of God or some other active intelligence).[95]

However, not all evangelicals find evolution to be incompatible with Christianity. For example, prominent evangelicals such as Billy Graham, B.B. Warfield, and John Stott believed the theory could be reconciled with Christian teaching.[96] The Biologos Foundation is an evangelical organization that advocates for evolutionary creation.[97] The American Scientific Affiliation is an organization for evangelicals who are professional scientists.[98]


Since 1980, a central issue motivating conservative evangelicals' political activism has been abortion. The 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, which legalized abortion, proved to be decisive in bringing Catholics and evangelicals together in a political coalition, which became known as the Religious Right when it successfully mobilized its voters behind presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980.[99]

Church and stateEdit

In the United States, Supreme Court decisions that outlawed organized prayer in public schools and restricted church-related schools (for example, preventing them from engaging in racial discrimination while also receiving a tax exemption) also played a role in mobilizing the Religious Right.[100]

Some opponents claim that Evangelicals actually want a Christian America—in other words, for America to be a nation in which Christianity is given a privileged position.[101] Evangelical leaders counter that they merely seek freedom from the imposition of an "equally subjective"[clarify] secular worldview by national elites, and claim that it is their opponents who are violating their rights.[102][unreliable source?]

Survey data indicate that "between 31 and 39 percent do not favor a 'Christian Nation' amendment", but that 60 percent to 75 percent of Evangelicals consider Christianity and political liberalism to be incompatible.[103]

Other issuesEdit

Average surface air temperatures from 2011 to 2021 compared to the 1956–1976 average

According to recent reports in the New York Times, some evangelicals have sought to expand their movement's social agenda to include reducing poverty, combating AIDS in the Third World, and protecting the environment.[104] This is highly contentious within the evangelical community, because evangelicals of a more conservative stance believe this trend compromises important issues, and values popularity and consensus too highly.

Personifying this division in the early 21st century were the evangelical leaders James Dobson and Rick Warren. Dobson warned of dangers, from his point of view, of a victory by Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.[105] Warren declined to endorse either major candidate, on the grounds that he wanted the church to be less politically divisive and that he agreed substantially with both Obama and Republican Party candidate John McCain.[106]

The Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) is a campaign by US-American church leaders and organizations to promote market based mechanisms to mitigate global warming. The Evangelical Climate Initiative was launched in February 2006 by the National Association of Evangelicals, who worked with the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School to bring scientists and evangelical Christian leaders together for the project.

See alsoEdit



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  2. ^ FitzGerald 2017, p. 2.
  3. ^ Vickers 2013, p. 27.
  4. ^ FitzGerald 2017, p. 4-5.
  5. ^ FitzGerald 2017, p. 5.
  6. ^ Marsden 1991, pp. 3–4.
  7. ^ FitzGerald 2017, pp. 5–6.
  8. ^ Miller 2014, pp. 32–59.
  9. ^ FitzGerald 2017, pp. 8–10.
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  11. ^ a b "Defining the Term in Contemporary Context", Defining Evangelicalism, Wheaton College: Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, archived from the original on June 14, 2016, retrieved June 29, 2016.
  12. ^ a b Worthen 2014, p. 4.
  13. ^ Steensland et al. 2000, p. 249.
  14. ^ Steensland et al. 2000, p. 248.
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  19. ^ Dorrien 1998, pp. 2–3.
  20. ^ a b Luo, Michael (April 16, 2006). "Evangelicals Debate the Meaning of 'Evangelical'". The New York Times.
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  23. ^ Sweeney 2005, p. 31.
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  26. ^ Kidd 2007, p. 31.
  27. ^ Kidd 2007, pp. 24–25.
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  29. ^ Sweeney 2005, p. 27.
  30. ^ FitzGerald 2017, p. 14–18.
  31. ^ a b FitzGerald 2017, p. 18.
  32. ^ Sweeney 2005, pp. 44, 48.
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  34. ^ Kidd 2007, Introduction, Amazon Kindle location 66.
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Further readingEdit

  • American Evangelicalism and Islam: From the Antichrist to the Mahdi, Germany: Qantara.
  • Balmer, Randall Herbert (2010), The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond, ISBN 978-1-60258-243-9.
  • Beale, David O (1986), In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850, Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University: Unusual, ISBN 0-89084-350-3.
  • Carpenter, Joel A. (1980), "Fundamentalist Institutions and the Rise of Evangelical Protestantism, 1929–1942", Church History, 49 (1): 62–75, doi:10.2307/3164640, JSTOR 3164640, S2CID 145632415.
  • Carter, Heath W. and Laura Rominger Porter, eds. Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 2017). xviii, 297 pp
  • Chapman, Mark B., "American Evangelical Attitudes Toward Catholicism: Post-World War II to Vatican II," U.S. Catholic Historian, 33#1 (Winter 2015), 25–54.
  • Compton, John W. 2020. The End of Empathy: Why White Protestants Stopped Loving Their Neighbors. Oxford University Press.
  • Grainger, Brett. Church in the Wild: Evangelicals in Antebellum America (Harvard UP, 2019) online review
  • Griffith, R. M. (2017). Moral combat: how sex divided American Christians and fractured American politics. New York: Basic Books, ISBN 9780465094769. History of sexual politics in the United States, 1920–2017, and how it has influenced the formation of political identities in American Christian denominations.
  • Knox, Ronald (1950), Enthusiasm: a Chapter in the History of Religion, with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries, Oxford, Eng: Oxford University Press, pp. viii, 622 pp.
  • Luhrmann, Tanya (2012) When God Talks Back-Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, Knopf
  • Maas, David (1990), "The Life & Times of D. L. Moody", Christian History (25).
  • Marsden, George M (1987), Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.
  • Menikoff, Aaron (2014). Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770–1860. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 9781630872823.
  • Naselli, A. D., and Collin Hansen, eds (2011), Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. ISBN 9780310293163.
  • Noll, Mark A (1992), A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, pp. 311–89, ISBN 0-8028-0651-1.
  • Noll, Mark A; Bebbington, David W; Rawlyk, George A, eds. (1994), Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles and Beyond, 1700–1990.
  • Pierard, Richard V. (1979), "The Quest For the Historical Evangelicalism: A Bibliographical Excursus", Fides et Historia, 11 (2): 60–72.
  • Price, Robert M. (1986), "Neo-Evangelicals and Scripture: A Forgotten Period of Ferment", Christian Scholars Review, 15 (4): 315–30.
  • Rawlyk, George A; Noll, Mark A, eds. (1993), Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States.
  • Schafer, Axel R (2011), Countercultural Conservatives: American Evangelicalism From the Postwar Revival to the New Christian Right, U. of Wisconsin Press, 225 pp; covers evangelical politics from the 1940s to the 1990s that examines how a diverse, politically pluralistic movement became, largely, the Christian Right.
  • Smith, Timothy L (1957), Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War
  • Spencer, Michael (March 10, 2009), "The Coming Evangelical Collapse", The Christian Science Monitor.
  • Sutton, Matthew Avery. American Apocalypse: A history of modern evangelicalism (2014)
  • Utzinger, J. Michael (2006), Yet Saints Their Watch Are Keeping: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and the Development of Evangelical Ecclesiology, 1887–1937, Macon: Mercer University Press, ISBN 0-86554-902-8.
  • Ward, WR, Early Evangelicalism: A Global Intellectual History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wigger, John H; Hatch, Nathan O, eds. (2001), Methodism and the Shaping of American Culture (essays by scholars).
  • Williams, Daniel K. The Election of the Evangelical: Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and the Presidential Contest of 1976 (University Press of Kansas, 2020) online review

External linksEdit