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 Issues | Doctrine | Evangelicalism

Evangelicalism - What do evangelicals believe?

Every once in a while the question arises as to what is an Evangelical? It is a question that many do not like.

Some protest that it is just a means of putting labels on people. But labels are not wrong, without them language at all would be impossible. If you had to describe someone's hair but couldn't use the labels 'dark', 'light' or even 'brown' what would you say? Likewise, someone writing a curriculum vitae might call themselves an 'evangelical', an 'open evangelical' or a 'conservative evangelical'. This makes life easier than if they sent in a 16-volume treatise describing their precise views on every subject (or at least their views at breakfast that day).

In order for labels to work there must be a common currency. Unless there is a degree of consensus about what the label 'Evangelical' tells us it is meaningless. Moreover, many who think of themselves as 'Evangelical' feel the need to qualify the term with words such as 'open', 'classical' and so on. Therefore, the person who insists on being just 'evangelical' may do so for a number of reasons. They may be uncertain of their exact views, they may be unwilling to be categorised further, they may want to be all things to all men or they may be adamant that their particular brand is the only true brand.

For Church Society this all has practical importance. Within the work of the Trust we handle forms from clergy who are interested in posts. We have to have some understanding of what a person means by the terms they use. Moreover, some of the financial funds we administer are for supporting evangelical work in particular places. What does this mean? What should we be prepared to support in order to be faithful to the intentions of those who entrusted us with the fund?

The issue also has a wider importance. About four years ago, whilst I was Secretary to the Evangelical Group of the General Synod, this issue of identity was simmering just below the surface. EGGS is a broad group. Some would not join the group because it was not conservative enough whilst others were threatening to leave if it became more conservative. It was clearly an issue that mattered and it mattered because all wanted to claim to be the rightful heirs of those whom we admire from the past whom we call 'evangelical'.

However, when we look back history does not necessarily help us. The term evangelical pre-dates the Reformation but was used of some Reformation Churches and especially the German Lutherans. However, in England it has had a particular association with the evangelical revivals of the 18th Century, which, of course, themselves encompassed a range of views (particularly the issue of Calvinist vs. Arminian).

There is no shortage of definitions of the term 'evangelical' today. However, each necessarily reflects our prejudice. Therefore, it is useful to compare contemporary definitions to those used in the past such as that set out in Church Association Tract 420.

We need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.
(C.S.Lewis : Fernseed and Elephants p35)





Articles on Evangelicalism

The Ecclesiastical Posture of an Evangelical. Churchman article (2009) by Melvin Tinker & Peter Sanlon.

What is Anglican Evangelicalism? Churchman article (1950) by Howard W. K. Mowll,  Archbishop of Sydney and Primate of Australia.

What is Evangelical Churchmanship?  Churchman article from 1937 by C. Sydney Carter.

The Emergence of the Protestant Evangelical Tradition. Churchman article from 1993 by Richard Turnbull.

Evangelicals in the Church of England. Churchman article from 1997 by George Curry explaining what an Evangelical is and what Evangelicals should be doing in the Church of England.

Evangelicals and History. Churchman article (1992) by David Samuel examining the consequences to Anglican evangelicalism caused by Anglican evangelicals who have cut themselves off from their historical roots.

Roots and Reformations. Churchman article (1990) by David Samuel isolating the distinctive features of evangelicalism which can be traced in men of that persuasion in every age of the church.

'To Our Own People Only': Re-owning Original Anglicanism. Churchman article (1998) by John Richardson.

Beyond Bebbington: The Quest for an Evangelical Identity. Churchman article (2008) by Brian Harris.

J. C. Ryle and Comprehensiveness. Churchman article by Peter Toon explaining how Ryle could minister in the Church of England which contained ministers and layman of different views.

Forty Years On: An Evangelical Divide Re-visited. Churchman article (2006) by Andrew Grills examining the results of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott's differing evangelistic strategy.

The Changing Faith of Evangelicalism How does contemporary evangelicalism compare with that of our forebears?

The Need for Evangelical Courage. Cross†Way article (2013) by Pete Myers.

Illustrations of Compromise in Church History. Churchman article (1988) by Derek Scales (include section on 'The ‘new evangelicalism’—Compromise with ecumenical pluralism').


Being Clearly and Positively Evangelical Churchman Article by Mark Thompson


Anglican Evangelicals in Crises - The Problem of Pharisaic Yeast (Luke 12: 1-11). Churchman article by Melvin Tinker exposing some of the weaknesses in contemporary Anglican Evangelicalism.

'Evangelicalism Divided'. By Iain H. Murray - A Review. Churchman article (2002), by Roger Beckwith.

The Embers of Preaching and the Flames of Piety - Great Evangelical advances that have weakened preaching. Churchman article by Peter Sanlon.

George Whitefield: A Commemorative Address. Churchman article by Geoffrey Nuttall.

George Whitefield - Lessons for Today (Part 1) - The Message. Cross†Way article by David Meager, issue 114, 2009.

George Whitefield - Lessons for Today (Part 2) - The Impact. Cross†Way article by David Meager, issue 115, 2010.

George Whitefield - Lessons for Today (Part 3) - Whitefield and the Church of England. Cross†Way article by David Meager, issue 116, 2010.

The Evangelical Revival: The Triumphant Phase 1790-1830. Churchman article by Arthur Pollard.

The Parochial Ministry of the Leaders of the Eighteenth Century Evangelical Revival. Churchman article (2009) by David Wheaton.

Welsh Revivalists of the Eighteenth Century. Churchman article (1958) by Ivor J. Bromham.


From a century ago:
The Chief Essentials of Evangelical Churchmanship by Norman Baptie (Church Association Tract 420)

Where are we? Churchman article by J. C. Ryle examining the state and condition of the evangelical party in the Church of England in 1879.

Unity Among Churchmen. Churchman article by J. C. Ryle.

Thoughts on Public Worship. J. C. Ryle CBRP Booklet

Evangelical Churchmen, True Churchmen by Joseph Bardsley (Church Association Tract 70)

The Best Means for the Advancement of Spiritual and Evangelical Religion in the Church of England. By Talbot Greaves (Church Association Tract 19)

A Blind Guide - Popular Histories and the Decline of the Church of England. Comment on the evangelical revivals of the C19th, why they came to an end and why they are so little known today. Churchman article by Dennis Peterson.

Simeon, Thornton, and Newton - Letters. Correspondence between these three evangelicals at the start of Simeon's ministry in Cambridge. Churchman article by William Carus issue 1/5, 1880.

The Work of the Church Association. Church Association Tract 159 by A. Christopher.


Inerrant and Infallible

What is meant by the terms Inerrant and Infallible?

Theologically, the word Inerrant has come to have a much stronger meaning than Infallible. However, philosophically infallible is the stronger term. Inerrant means without error whereas infallible means not only without error but actually incapable of error.

In theology the order has been reversed. People have adopted the term infallible to mean that the Bible is trustworthy and true in matters of faith. This is a weaker assertion than that the bible is free from errors of fact.

Quite why this change should have come about is curious. R.C. Sproul suggests that the term 'infallible' was adopted because people understand its significance in relation to the so-called infallible statements made by the Pope.

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