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What Is Evangelical Theology?

By Alan Rankin
Updated May 23, 2024
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Evangelical theology is the belief system of evangelical Christianity. This segment of the Christian faith believes in strict adherence to principles derived from the Bible, particularly the New Testament and the life of Christ. Since its origins in the 18th century, evangelicalism has become a major fixture of global and American Christianity. Evangelicals in modern times are often linked with conservative social and political movements, although this is not always the case. While methods of expression vary, all evangelicals place primary importance on their belief in evangelical theology.

The word “evangelical” has its roots in the same Greek phrases that provide the Christian terms “gospel” and “good news;” much early Christian doctrine was written in the Greek language. Evangelical theology holds that the primary responsibility of the Christian is to relay the teachings of Christ and to convert others to Christianity. This is often linked to a passage from the Gospel of Matthew in which Christ tells the Apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Centuries of international missionary work have been inspired by this and similar messages from Christian leaders.

Historically, there has been little consensus among Christians about the best way to achieve the mandate of evangelical theology. In the 16th century, Martin Luther used the German word evangelische to distinguish Protestantism from the established Roman Catholic Church. Some historical events meant to achieve evangelical goals, such as the Crusades and colonialism, ran counter to the pacifist teachings of Christ. In the 18th century, the evangelical movement in Europe and America emphasized spiritual revival and social work, achieving wide success in rural communities.

In modern times, evangelical theology is usually seen as placing a strong emphasis on the Bible as a primary tool of spiritual guidance. This sometimes includes a literal interpretation of the Bible’s events, a belief that is controversial among other Christian factions. The stress on the spread of Christianity has led to a strong Christian presence in popular culture, including radio, television, and literature programs that focus on Christianity and evangelicalism. In many regions of the world, particularly Asia, Africa, and the Americas, evangelical Christianity is popular and widespread.

Although evangelical Christians have a variety of political beliefs, the movement is most often connected with political conservatism. The “religious right” has been a significant factor in American politics since the 1970s. This movement, based on the tenets of evangelicalism, has successfully united itself with the conservative bloc in American politics. As a result of this influence, followers of evangelical theology have been the focus of coverage and analysis in the mainstream media, such as books and news programs. This coverage contrasts the message of evangelical Christianity with its methods and social impact.

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Discussion Comments
By Pippinwhite — On May 16, 2014

@Wisedly33 -- I didn't know this about evangelical theology, but it does make sense in light of your explanation. I am a Christian, and I know people who are not Christians, and not even religious, look at some of the people in the media and pass judgment on all of us because of these. They make me cringe and wonder how we can so consistently shoot ourselves in our collective feet.

The next time I see something about evangelicals on television, I'll make sure to note the differences you pointed out, to see whether they're really evangelical, or if they're more on the fundamental side of the fence.

By Wisedly33 — On May 15, 2014

Evangelical theology is not at all what it is portrayed in the media. Let's get that out of the way to start with. Although I personally dislike labels, sometimes they are necessary. The problem is that many members of the media are not sufficiently well informed enough about evangelical theology, so they confuse it with extreme fundamentalist theology -- which is where you get the absolute insistence on a literal translation of the Bible, and all the "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots" (legalism).

True evangelicals are usually moderate to conservative, but they are not generally legalistic and are actually very open to change, as long as they feel the changes have been covered in prayer and thus, are directed by God.

Evangelicals obviously believe in spreading the gospel of Christianity, but they are not so interested in ramming it down people's throats. It's a real shame that evangelicals have taken such a hammering in the press, mostly because the reporters didn't know enough about American theology to report correctly.

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