American Christianity can be broken down into various groups, sets and sub-sets. Regardless of denomination and church affiliation certain broad categories describe sections of Christianity. These categorizations can help observers understand the general beliefs of various churches and Christians. Four major descriptions of protestant Christians are liberal, evangelical, fundamental or charismatic.
Evangelicals have gained a lot of media attention. A lot of this attention has been unhelpful and often inaccurate. Most news agencies fail to understand Christianity and and to distinguish between Christians beliefs. Any one who attempts to define evangelical based upon the presentation of popular media is sure to be confused.
A simple, exhaustive and settled definition of evangelical does not exist. Many call themselves evangelical whom this author would insist is no more evangelical than a green-soled slug. Some who are evangelical in every significant sense of the word refuse to accept the title. This use of evangelical is a broad categorization of a certain segment of Christianity. Evangelicalism as a label must not be confused with denominations like the Evangelical Free Church or the Evangelical Church of North America or even organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals. While these denominations and church groups may be evangelical the category evangelical is broader than a single denomination.
The most common definition of evangelical has four key elements. An evangelical is one who believes in the necessity of the death of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of men, in the necessity of being born again, in the authority of the Bible and in the importance of applying the Bible to life, especially in regards to calling others to salvation.
An evangelical is one who believes Jesus is God who died on the cross to purchase salvation for those who believe Him. Crucial to this is the conviction that salvation is the gift of God, never the work of men. Jesus died for the salvation of men. Salvation is freely given to those who believe Him. Salvation is never given to those who strive to earn their way to heaven.
Every individual must personally trust Jesus for salvation. The ideas of conversion and personal commitment to Christ are core tenets of evangelicalism. The individual must personally believe on Jesus Christ for salvation. A person must be “born again”. When one turns to Jesus for salvation he is made a new creature and begins a new life in Christ.
The Bible is God’s Word and the authority over the Christians life. The Bible is to be applied to every part of the believers life. This is especially true of the necessity of evangelism. Since none can be saved apart from believing the gospel every Christian has the duty to proclaim the gospel message to others.
Evangelicalism is a largely self-applied label. Those who wish to call themselves evangelical can do so with little repurcussion aside from the disagreement of others. Evangelicalism is possibly the largest category of protestant Christians in America. Evangelicals can be found among Lutheran, Baptist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Methodist, non-denominational churches and most other protestant churches.
Evangelicals will disagree amongst themselves about the specific features of these four broad categories, but, in general terms, this definition accurately describes the distinctive features of an evangelical in America today.