Since the mid-1970s, the term “evangelical” has been on many people’s lips as the “born-again Christian” became a popular media focus. Yet the word has almost as many meanings as people who claim the title for themselves. Recently, the word “evangelical” has come to embrace all those who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. Hence, we find “evangelical” Catholics and even “evangelical” liberals. The news media often use the word to refer to those who are eager to promote their message, whether religious or secular.
“Evangelical” comes from the word, “evangelion,” which is the Greek word for “good news.” Thus our English word denotes one who is in agreement with the Christian Gospel found in the New Testament.
In the early Reformation years, an evangelical was a Protestant, so in continental Europe the Lutherans and Reformed churches are known as “evangelical.” In more modern times, the word has come to be applied to those who believe the foundational doctrines of Christianity, regardless of denomination. These doctrines include the trustworthiness of the Bible, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, His resurrection, and personal return.
Often, evangelical is used in relation to those who fall somewhere between fundamentalism on the extreme conservative end of theological views, and modernism on the extreme liberal side. While fundamentalism is a part of the evangelical wing of the church, those who style themselves evangelicals are often more open in general attitudes. Examples of this can be found in the work of Billy Graham, Christianity Today magazine, and seminaries like Trinity Evangelical, Ashland, and Gordon-Conwell.
Evangelicalism includes those Bible believers in Reformed, Wesleyan, Anabaptist, and Pentecostal churches, and many of these groups have banded together in the National Association of Evangelicals (N.A.E.). This organization of more than 50,000 local churches in 77 denominations, attempts to speak out from a evangelical perspective on a wide variety of spiritual, social, and moral issues. Many members of the Church of the Brethren are members of the N.A.E.