How the term Evangelical has grown to blur theology and ideology

In our previous article Andrew McWilliams-Doty looks at evangelicals you could already get a glimps of the diversity in evangelical Christendom.

The term Fundamentalism

The evangelical Protestant tradition contained a lot of fundamentalists. The term “fundamentalism” precipitating on a type of conservative religious movement characterised by the advocacy of strict conformity to sacred texts, was in the previous century first used exclusively to refer to American Protestants who insisted on the inerrancy of the Bible, the term fundamentalism was applied more broadly beginning in the late 20th century to a wide variety of religious movements.

The first religious movement in the New World

From the very beginning of the Europeans entering the New World, those people coming from totally different denominations sought to find a way in between, to worship together.
After the War of Independence by the scattered parishes of the Church of England which survived the war, a part of the Anglican Communion, organised a Protestant Episcopal Church. It inherited from the Church of England, with which it was in communion, its liturgy, polity and spiritual traditions, though it had entire independence in legislation. While the clergy of both Churches were cordially received in their respective countries, there was no formal connexion between them except in fellowship and in advisory council as at the Lambeth Conference. The Church in the United States was therefore an independent national Church which has adapted itself to the conditions of American life.

Laity and clergy

With many likenesses, the Protestant Episcopal Church was different from the Church of England in its organisation and representative form of government. It had the three orders of bishops, priests and deacons, and used an almost identical liturgy; but it was a democratic institution in which the laity had practically as much power as the clergy, and they were represented in all legislative bodies.

To renew religious devotion

In thirteen North American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s several American citizens strove to renew individual piety and religious devotion. Having come from all sorts of churches from the European continent, people wanted to find a consensus in their community about faith matters.

Building on the foundations of older traditions — Puritanism, Pietism and Presbyterianism — people like George Whitefield, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards articulated a theology of revival and salvation that transcended denominational boundaries and helped forge a common evangelical identity. Revivalists added to the doctrinal imperatives of Reformation Protestantism an emphasis on providential outpourings of the Holy Spirit.

Revivalists

Extemporaneous preaching gave listeners a sense of deep personal conviction of their need of salvation by Jesus Christ and fostered introspection and commitment to a new standard of personal morality. Revival theology stressed that religious conversion was not only intellectual assent to correct Christian doctrine but had to be a “new birth” experienced in the heart. Revivalists also taught that receiving assurance of salvation was a normal expectation in the Christian life.

Great Awakening

https://cdn.britannica.com/15/19315-050-B85D31C8/Jonathan-Edwards-engraving.jpg
Jonathan Edwards, American revivalist preacher, philosopher and Congregationalist theologian, widely regarded as one of America’s most important and original philosophical theologians.

The name Great Awakening was given to a remarkable religious revival centring in New England, in the northeastern United States, including the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, in 1740–1743, but covering all the American colonies in 1740-1750. The word “awakening” in this sense was frequently (and possibly first) used by the theologian and philosopher of British American Puritanism, Jonathan Edwards at the time of the Northampton revival of 1734–1735, which spread through the Connecticut Valley and prepared the Way for the work in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut (1740-1741) of George Whitefield, who had previously been preaching in the South, especially at Savannah, Georgia. He, his immediate follower, Gilbert Tennent (1703–1764), other clergymen, such as James Davenport, and many untrained laymen who took up the work, agreed in the emotional and dramatic character of their preaching, in rousing their hearers to a high pitch of excitement, often amounting to frenzy, in the undue stress they put upon “bodily effects” (the physical manifestations of an abnormal psychic state) as proofs of conversion, and in their unrestrained attacks upon the many clergymen who did not join them and whom they called “dead men,” unconverted, unregenerate and careless of the spiritual condition of their parishes. Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Colman (1673–1747), and Joseph Bellamy, recognised the viciousness of so extreme a position.

Desire for unity and Wittenberg gathering

In 1848, there was the general desire for political unity that made itself felt in the ecclesiastical sphere as well. A preliminary meeting was held at Sandhof near Frankfort in June of that year, and on the 21st of September, some five hundred delegates representing the Lutheran, the Reformed, the United and the Moravian churches assembled at Wittenberg. The gathering was known as Kirchentag (church day), and, while leaving each denomination free in respect of constitution, ritual, doctrine and attitude towards the state, agreed to act unitedly in bearing witness against the non-evangelical churches and in defending the rights and liberties of the churches in the federation. The organisation thus closely resembled that of the voluntary association of British Nonconformist churches for cooperation in religious social work, the Free Church Federation in England. The movement exercised considerable influence during the middle of the 19th century. Later its place had been taken by the Kongress für innere Mission, which held annual meetings in different towns. There was also a biennial conference of the evangelical churches, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirchenkonferenz der Kirchenregierungen, (German Protestant Church Conference, more colloquially Eisenacher Konferenz) held at Eisenach to discuss matters of general interest. Its decisions have no legislative force.

Non-trinitarian lay preachers

The main churches were not at all pleased by the growing lay preachers who went around the states preaching the Word of God and the Good News. The most objectionable thing for the clergy was that among those preachers were men who promoted what many considered to be unorthodox doctrines, such as that Jesus was not God (or god the son) but the Son of God.
According to the clergy, this had to be dealt with very harshly and therefore those people and their followers had to be clearly condemned to damnation in hellfire.
That general opposition to those ‘free Christians‘ or non-trinitarian Christians meant that certain groups wanted to restrain their members even more so that they would not defect to those (according to them) heretics.

Pamphlets, tractates, tracts and Tract Societies

At the end of the 19th century, beginning 20th century those preachers teaching that there is Only One True God Who is One, got printed pamphlets issued all over the United States. On a few pages several religious questions were answered from a Biblical instead of a Church view. some also called it “tracts”, which became a regular name for such unbound works with religious content.

The first great age of pamphleteering was inspired by the religious controversies of the early 16th century. In France so many pamphlets were issued in support of the Reformed religion that edicts prohibiting them were promulgated in 1523, 1553, and 1566. In Germany the pamphlet was first used by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation to inflame popular opinion against the pope and the Roman Catholic church. Martin Luther was one of the earliest and most effective pamphleteers. The coarseness and violence of the pamphlets on both sides and the public disorder attributed to their distribution led to their prohibition by imperial edict in 1589. {Encyc. Brit. on Pamphlet}

As far as derivation is concerned, a tract is identical with a short treatise, but by custom, the latter word has come to be used above will for a lengthy monograph on a subject, dealing with it technically and authoritatively, whereas a tract is understood to be brief and rather argumentative than educational. There is, again, the rarer word tractate, which is not a tract, in the precise sense, so much as a short treatise.

The word “tract” has come to be used for brief discourses of a moral and religious character only, and in modern practice it seems to be mainly confined to serious and hortatory themes.

Benjamin Hoadly by Sarah Hoadly, English clergyman, who was successively Bishop of Bangor, of Hereford, of Salisbury, and finally of Winchester. He is best known as the initiator of the Bangorian Controversy.

An enormous collection of tracts was published between 1717 and 1720 in elucidation of what is known as the Bangorian Controversy, set in motion by a sermon of Benjamin Hoadly, bishop of Bangor, on “The Nature of the Kingdom of Christ” (1717). Convocation considered this a treatise likely to impugn and impeach the royal supremacy in religious questions. A vast number of writers took part in the dispute, and Thomas Sherlock (1678–1761) fell into disgrace through the violence of his contributions to it. Convocation was finally obliged to give way.

The most famous collection of tracts published in the course of the 19th century was that produced from 1833 onwards by Newman, Keble and the English Anglican theologian, scholar, and a leader of the Oxford movement, E. B. Pusey, under the title of “Tracts for the Times.” Among these Pusey’s “Tract on Baptism” (1835) and his “On the Holy Eucharist” (1836) had a profound effect in leading directly to the foundation of the High Church party, so much so that the epithet “Tractarian” was barbarously coined to designate those who wished to oppose the spread of rationalism by a quickening of the Church of England. In 1841 Newman’s “Tract No. XC.” was condemned by the heads of houses in Oxford, and led to the definite organization of the High Church forces.

Tract Societies

Several Bible students travelled across the American prairie, proclaiming from settlement to settlement the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God. In order to reach as many people as possible, they used pamphlets as well as established societies to provide general printed materials for their faith group.

ATCbuilding.JPG
Drawing of the American Tract Society Building, standing since 1894. The ATS being a nonprofit, nonsectarian but evangelical organisation founded on May 11, 1825, in New York City for the purpose of publishing and disseminating tracts of Christian literature.

Those Tract Societies varied in importance from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (Church of England – London – founded in 1698), the Religious Tract Society (London – founded in 1799), the interdenominational organisation Bible Society which began to provide tracts for China in 1813, and as early as 1817 founded an auxiliary tract society at Bellary in India by some men of the 84th Regiment, The Stirling Tract Enterprise ( which also sends grants of its publications to India, Ceylon and Africa), The Christian Literature Society for India (formerly the Christian Vernacular Educational Society), established in 1858, the American Tract Society (New York), the New England Tract Society,  the Watch Tower Society, the American Bible Students Tract Society (later the International Bible students Tract Society) with The Watchtower (Am. Bible Students publishing house + lecture service), the Angel of Jehovah Bible and Tract Society, and the most well-known Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (WTBTS)— all of which are publishing houses of recognised standing — to small and purely local organisations for distributing evangelistic and pastoral literature.

It was not until the Evangelical Revival that tract work began to develop along its modern lines. Starting from the provision of simple evangelistic literature for home use, the enterprise grew into the provision of Christian literature, not only for home use, but also for the mission fields of the world.

It was people like Dr. John Thomas and one of his pupils in America, Charles Taze Russell, who made a lot of use of the possibility to multiply their ideas about Christian matters. Certainly, the last one made it possible to set up a very big print imperium which was later taken over by Joseph Franklin Rutherford who created a very worldwide religious group, the  Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, today better known with their short name Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The title “ Tract Society ” has, in fact, become misleading, as suggestive of limitations which had but a brief existence and are no longer recognised by the more important agencies and by the main churches, because they detest the many tracts and pamphlets of the non-trinitarian grooups. On the other hand it must not be supposed that because the work has gone beyond the provision of tracts, these are no longer widely employed. Probably their use in various forms at home was never wider than it is today; whilst in India, China and elsewhere the attack of the Christian tracts is being met by the circulation of vernacular tracts in defence of the non-Christian faiths.

Blurring the lines between theology and ideology

For the non-trinitarians it was very clear human beings had to focus on biblical doctrines and had to put away human doctrines and human traditions, when not in line with the Biblical teachings. Man had not to become entangled by political matters, though by many of the main church their religion seemed very strictly and closely connected to the white folks their political and moral ideas. In the 18th up to the 20th century many of those protestant believers considered themselves as civilised whilst the coloured people they considered as savages who needed to be reformed.

Evangelical preachers

Although it was common for whites to regard themselves as a superior race, there were evangelical preachers who wanted to change this.

Evangelical preachers

“sought to include every person in conversion, regardless of gender, race, and status” { Taylor 2001, p. 354.}

Early in the 20th century, a series of pamphlets were published by evangelicals, who called themselves theologians, that detailed certain fundamental beliefs that they regarded as non-negotiable.

The author John Green says

Many evangelicals today by the way would agree with many of those fundamentals. But the strict separatism, the special doctrines and the harsh style of fundamentalists often turned out to be unproductive when it came to the mission of the church, and when it came to politics as well.

For Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University,

It’s no secret that evangelicalism has become deeply intertwined with a certain strain of conservative politics over the last several decades, further blurring the lines between theology and ideology. But despite that ever-growing linkage, it seems that most observers of American religion still see the term as primarily denoting spiritual matters.

Evangelical morphed into a social, cultural and political term that stretches far beyond the boundaries of Christianity

Hearing the name Evangelical

Today we more come to think about a certain group of protestants when we hear the name “Evangelical”.

Burge agrees that

the term “evangelical” has broken away from its roots as a sub-genre of Protestant theology and has now morphed into a social, cultural and political term that stretches far beyond the boundaries of Christianity. In fact, the term “evangelical” is now being embraced by religious groups that do not believe in any of the tenets of an orthodox evangelicalism.

Non-evangelic people evangelising

Most surveys that tap into American religion ask two different types of questions about tradition. One is,

“What is your current religion, if any?”

and they have presented about a dozen response options such as Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Muslim or Atheist. We typically call this an affiliation measurement. However, in addition to this question, polls also ask,

“Would you describe yourself as a ‘born again’ or evangelical Christian, or not?”

That question is asked to every respondent, even if they didn’t indicate a Christian attachment in the prior query, and is labelled as “self-identification.”

This makes Burge to conclude:

Thus, the combination of these two questions can illuminate a seemingly incongruent fact: there are evangelical Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus in the United States.

For sure people may not confuse “evangelising” Christians with “evangelical Christians”, of the last ones many not evangelising anymore, whilst in other denominations we may find near the end of the 20th century, beginning 21st century Christians, Jeshuaists, Jehudiem or Jews and Muslims who go out on the streets or on the internet to evangelise.

In the United States the share of White Catholic evangelicals has risen five points in 11 years, but it was a nine-point increase for non-White Catholics. The share of Mormons who identify as evangelical has nearly doubled (18% to 34%) during the same time period, as well as the share of Orthodox Christians (14% to 29%).

The groups that are much further away from traditional Christendom (or Christianity) have seen increases, as well. For instance, 7% of Jews say they are evangelical – that’s up five percentage points. For Muslims the increase is 10% to 20% from 2008 to 2019. Hindus have also seen a slight increase, as well.

Activity, doctrine and passitivity

Spreading religious ideas or evangelising about their faith, those enthusiast believers are confronted with those who call themselves evangelicals but stick more together to enjoyable meetings listening and following a certain pastor. They mostly have become very passive and are taken by dogmatic teachings of their pastor or church, about they would not dare to question those teachings – mainly having been made afraid for questioning those things they have to believe (according to their pastor).

Blindly, they take their preachers’ doctrine of their “big church” as the truth and defend those teachings of their faith community very strongly. In doing so, they go so far as to dare to come out into the streets and accuse all the others of being heathens and sinners.
The last two decades politics got interwoven with their findings and as such it came nearly to mean that when had to be a ‘believer’ and good Christian, one had to be of the Republican Party.
Those politically connected ‘believers’ heard others saying that they are devout believers, whilst this seems blasphemy in the ears of those fundamental evangelicals.

According to Burge one potential reason that those from religious traditions that are in no way connected to a belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ take on the moniker of evangelical, is that the term “evangelical” has become a catch-all for saying,

“I am a devout believer.”

Thus, people who engage in a lot of religious activity may self-identify as evangelical as a way to say that their faith is more than just based on heredity or culture, but something real to them.

Burge writes

There are some religious traditions where Republicans were much more likely to identify as evangelical in 2018 compared to 2008. Mainline Protestant Republicans are 5% more Republican over a ten-year time period and White Catholics had a four-point jump. LDS Republican evangelicals were up four points as well.

There are not a lot of Republicans in the other smaller traditions like Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, but the general trend is all in the same direction: those who identify with the GOP are more apt to also be evangelical today than they were just ten years ago. Thus, there’s some fairly compelling evidence here that the fusion of the Republican party and evangelicalism knows no theological bounds.

There’s an argument to be made here that evangelicalism is not just influencing all of American Christianity, it’s seeping into all aspects of American religion. More Catholics are evangelical today than ever before, the same is true for mainline Protestants. Many Muslims, Jews and Buddhists now take on the moniker. It’s no secret that many Americans have antipathy toward evangelicals, in no small due to their embrace of Donald Trump. But it’s surprising that all that political baggage has not made the term radioactive. In fact, that linkage between Trump, the GOP and evangelicals has actually opened up the “born-again” identity to a larger segment of American religion. If that’s a positive or negative development is something that social scientists and theologians will be working out for decades.

+

Preceding

  1. Which Christians Actually Evangelize
  2. About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated
  3. Andrew McWilliams-Doty looks at evangelicals

++

Additional reading

  1. February 9, 1555 John Hooper Burned in Gloucester
  2. Followers, protestors and reformers
  3. Old and newer King James Versions and other translations #5 Further steps to women’s bibles
  4. American Christianity no longer resembles its Founder
  5. John Thomas namesake and inspirer
  6. Biblestudents on John Thomas
  7. Christadelpians on John Thomas
  8. Brothers in Christ – About founder John Thomas
  9. 19° century Londoners, religion and heretical opinions
  10. TD Jakes Breaks Down the Trinity, Addresses Being Called a ‘Heretic’
  11. Liberal and evangelical Christians
  12. Place for a fifth and sixth house in Christendom
  13. Which Christians Actually Evangelize (Our World)
  14. Evangelisation, local preaching opposite overseas evangelism
  15. Russia and evangelisation
  16. A Worldwide Vision for Theological Education
  17. the Just Gospel conference
  18. The Anti-Reformation in Todays Evangelical Church
  19. Not according to legal description of a cult
  20. Many skeptics who raise objections to the Bible its veracity
  21. Christian fundamentalists feeding Into the Toxic Partisanship and driving countries into the Dark Ages… #2
  22. According to Pew Most White Evangelicals Don’t Think COVID-19 is a Medical Crisis
  23. Who Celebrates Easter as Religious Holiday
  24. Christian values and voting not just a game

+++

Related

  1. This Is America
  2. Of QAnon, Calvin, And the LA Times
  3. Heidelcast 172: With D. G. Hart On American Catholic: The Politics Of Faith During The Cold War (Updated)
  4. Let’s Talk About Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
  5. Warning Signs About That State Of Evangelical Pop Culture: The Visible, Institutional Church Matters
  6. The First Great Awakening: “A Confus’d But Very Affecting Noise”
  7. New In Print: Survival And Resistance In Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction In The Pacific Northwest
  8. God Doesn’t Care About Polls
  9. Beyond the Culture Wars
  10. American religion, culture, and politics
  11. Polyamory, Silverware, and the “Second Generation” Problem
  12. Two Religions?
  13. In Defense Of The Bible Belt
  14. What Follows Secularism?
  15. A Nontheist Who Believes
  16. How Corrupt Is The Mainline?
  17. Review: Struggling with Evangelicalism
  18. Christian Dominionist Politics and the National Guard.
  19. White evangelicalism is a political movement
  20. A MAGA-Defiant Military
  21. The Bible Verse That Destroys Protestantism?
  22. What is evangelicalism
  23. Danny McBride: ‘I try to find new ways to shock people’
  24. Stuck in a Moment
  25. ‘Let’s go Brandon!’ Further Validates My Rejection of Evangelicalism
  26. The Social Justice Fault Lines in Evangelicalism
  27. Reformed and Evangelical across Four Centuries: The Presbyterian Story in America
  28. Book Review: Jesus and John Wayne
  29. Evangelicals Today and William Wilberforce
  30. A Short History of Evangelical Confusion
  31. Christians Today and Authority
  32. stop pretending to be neutral
  33. Christianity vs Churchianity . . .
  34. Why I left evangelicalism for progressivism
  35. How Christian Patriarchy Shows Up in Our Society
  36. An IFBer criticizes Neo-Evangelicalism: Guaranteed to put you to sleep
  37. Using “Religious Freedom” as a Guise for Discrimination
  38. Throwback Thursday: James White: What goes through Ravi Zacharias’ head?
  39. More Christian Nationalist Violence Is Likely After Jan. 6 | Time
  40. On Ukraine-Russia Border, Evangelicals Endure as Invasion Looms
  41. The Christian Right Is Ready to Take Political Violence to the Next Level
  42. Raising Evangelical Children
  43. The Hope of the Gospel
  44. Seriously…It’s a Cult
  45. Not Very Christian
  46. D.G. Hart, ‘The Church in Evangelical Theologies, Past and Future’ in Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (eds), The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology  (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), pp.23-40
  47. Welcome to the Weekend Roundup! – News & Views – 1/15/22
  48. The Search for God in the Modern World ~ A Christian Deconstruction Story: Background
  49. Let’s Talk About Feelings: Angry Faith
  50. The Supposed ‘Feminization’ of Men and American-Evangelical Influence on Eastern Orthodox Converts

Published by Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".

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