What does “evangelical” mean?

Photo of a BibleRebecca Kiser responds:

EEWC-CFT uses the word “evangelical” in its original and biblical sense, referring to those who share the “euangelion,” the Good News of God that Jesus Christ proclaimed and taught—that in his very presence with us, the realm of God is now among us. And it’s time to live into that realm, accepting the gracious love and forgiveness of God as God reaches out to humankind so that we can live into that vision for all creation and all humankind that God has sought since the Beginnings.

Anne Eggebroten responds:

The word evangel comes from the Greek eu-angelion meaning “good news” (from angelos “messenger”).  Jesus proclaimed “the good news” of the coming of God’s reign on earth.  “Repent, and believe in the good news,” he said (Mark 1: 14-15).  Our English word gospel is condensed from god-spel or “good news” in Middle English.

During the Reformation, many Protestant groups defined themselves as “evangelical” in the sense of returning to earlier forms of Christianity reflected in the gospels.  Some churches today, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, are evangelical in this classical sense: they preach the good news of God coming to earth in human form, and of our being restored to a good relationship with God through Jesus’ death.

In the 1950s, some Christian leaders began using the word evangelical to refer to themselves and other Christians with a particular set of beliefs:

  • a high view of the Bible (perhaps including inerrancy) but not a literal or fundamentalist view,
  • a respect for research into the textual origins and social contexts of various books of the Bible,
  • an experience of being “born again” into a new life of commitment to Jesus, and
  • a strong missionary impulse to convert nonbelievers or lukewarm Christians into a vibrant faith.

These evangelicals saw themselves as moving away from fundamentalism but did not accept the more liberal views of some of the mainstream denominations.

The Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus—Christian Feminism Today began as an offshoot of Evangelicals for Social Action; thus many of our members come from this type of Christian faith.  See “Our Origin” under “About EEWC-Christian Feminism Today.

Our statement of “Who We Are” on this website says, “EEWC is evangelical because our formation was rooted in the belief that the Gospel is good news for all persons.  EEWC is ecumenical because we recognize that faith is expressed through a rich diversity of traditions and forms of spirituality.”

For further reading:

“About EEWC—Christian Feminism Today” on this website.

The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys by Mark Noll (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 2003).

Blessed Assurance: A History of Evangelicalism in America by Randall Balmer (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999).

Becky Kiser and Anne Linstatter
Rev. Rebecca Kiser serves as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church, USA. She describes her faith life as “… like one of those funnel gadgets, being raised in the extremely narrow end of fundamentalism, then moving into the gradually widening scope of the evangelical, through orthodox Reformed theology, and now probably more progressive." Dr. Anne Linstatter is a professor and founding member of EEWC-CFT. She teaches on women and religion at California State University, Northridge. She describes herself as a writer, mother, (somewhat) radical feminist, and born-again Christian. She collected and edited personal stories for her book, "Abortion—My Choice, God’s Grace: Christian Women Tell Their Stories." Her commentaries appear on Women’s eNews and Christian Feminism Today, as well as on her blog Martha y Maria: Women’s Lives, Women’s Rights.

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