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Maintaining Connectivity With Evangelical Faith, History and Identity: A New Zealand Perspective

Is it time for evangelical Christians in New Zealand, in response to various voices (both Christian and ex-Christian) in the United States,[1] and in response to some voices in New Zealand too,[2] to stop identifying themselves as “evangelical”?

Recent calls to stop using the term are primarily because it has been compromised by its association with right-wing politics in the USA where, as one writer has expressed it, the term “evangelical” now means in American pop culture little more than conservative whites who are in some way religious, who vote Republican, and who suppose they must therefore be “evangelical.”[3]There are, however, a number of more longstanding hesitations about the term, which are more theological or ecclesiastical in nature. This article discusses the history and scope of the word “evangelical,” and the worldwide evangelical movement, and responds to some of the specific objections that are sometimes made against the name or identity of “evangelical.” I argue that it is neither necessary nor advisable to abandon the word, given its rich depths of meaning, its long and honourable history, and its continuing usefulness in many churches and societies. I suggest, however, that the term does need to be used carefully, and with sensitivity to context, and that there are other words that can be used as well.

Arguably, the term “evangelical” has always been somewhat controversial. It could hardly have been otherwise, given it is derived from the Greek New Testament word for the Gospel of Christ, εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion). The Gospel is indeed good news, but involves the rejection of much else, including human sin, self-sufficiency, and religion. Likewise, the word “evangelical” signals not only an enthusiasm for the biblical Gospel but may imply a lack of enthusiasm for various alternative expressions of Christian faith, such as ritualism or theological liberalism.

As an adjective, “evangelical” means “of the Gospel.” As a noun, “evangelical”  means someone who holds to the Gospel. Although for many people, emphases, and practices in the ancient and medieval church could be seen to be “evangelical” (i.e. of the Gospel – reflecting both the New Testament and/or its message), the actual word “evangelical” appears to have been commonly used only from the sixteenth century onward. For the Reformers, the word “evangelical” signalled not just reforming the church according to the pattern of the early church as depicted in the four canonical gospels, but primarily the New Testament Gospel of justification by faith (as opposed to justification by works) and the primacy of Scripture (as opposed to the primacy of church tradition). In Germany, Luther freely used the word “evangelical” in both its Latin and German forms. In England, in 1531, William Tyndale wrote about “evangelical truth,” and Thomas More (a Catholic) referred to English supporters of the Reformation as “Evaungelicalles.”

In Western Europe, as many churches and communities broke with the Catholic Church, and the region became divided in its ecclesiastical loyalties, the word “evangelical” would often come to mean little more than “Protestant,” i.e. “not Catholic.” On the European continent, that remains a common sense of the word. It does not mean what is usually now meant by the word in English-speaking countries.

From the 1730s onwards, following the earlier Puritan and Pietist movements, a major movement of revival began to sweep through Britain and its North American colonies, with great emphases on repentance, new birth, spiritual experience, holy living, and evangelism. Its most prominent leaders included such figures as John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. So began the modern evangelical movement, a powerful historic current of conviction and spirituality which profoundly affected both the British Isles and North America, touching all levels of society. This movement was soon termed “evangelical,” and those who followed its doctrines and practices – at least among Anglicans and Nonconformists – became identified as “Evangelicals.” It was a movement that in successive periods was characterised by people such as John Newton, William Wilberforce, Hannah More, Charles Simeon, Thomas Chalmers, Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon, William and Catherine Booth, and Dwight L Moody – and in the twentieth century by Billy Graham and John Stott.[4]

Along the way, evangelical Christianity gave rise to a vast number of religious and philanthropic causes and societies, which were active both at home and abroad. Evangelicalism produced many new church denominations. It sent a countless number of missionaries to every part of the world, among them William Carey, Henry Martyn, Hudson Taylor, Adoniram and Ann Judson, Mary Slessor, C. T. Studd, and Church Missionary Society missionaries such as Henry and Marianne Williams who nurtured Christian faith among Māori. In both Britain[5] and America,[6] evangelical Protestantism was highly influential in shaping religion and culture from the mid-eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century – and had a significant resurgence from the 1950s onwards.

In Britain, an Evangelical Alliance was formed in 1846, as an expression of evangelical identity and united action. In the same year, a World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) was formed. Both organisations are still very active. The WEA claims it reflects the faith of some 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide, in 129 countries.[7] In time, evangelicalism has grown to become a vast global movement of popular Christianity; unstructured, highly diverse, and crossing countless denominational, cultural, and national boundaries. Evangelical faith and spirituality has been expressed in an extraordinary amount of devotional material, literature, hymns, and songs. The word “evangelical” thus describes a wide and deep stream of Christian faith, a worldwide movement, which has been hugely influential in shaping modern Christianity and its churches.

Depending on whether one is looking at evangelicalism from a historical and sociological perspective or from a theological perspective, evangelical Christianity can be seen as both a movement (a very broad movement) and as a set of common “evangelical” doctrinal beliefs (again with much variety in emphasis, and much variety in secondary doctrinal commitments). An important distinction can also be made between those people and groups who consciously and explicitly identify themselves as “evangelical,” and those many more people and groups who share characteristic evangelical beliefs and practices but who do not normally call themselves “evangelical.”[8]

Those defining evangelicalism tend to defer to David Bebbington’s quadrilateral of four recurring characteristics: “conversionism,” “biblicentrism,” “crucicentrism,” and “activism” – the last of those including such things as evangelism, overseas mission, and evangelical humanitarianism.[9] However, other definition of evangelicals and evangelicalism are possible. John Stott identified Evangelicals as simply “Bible people” with a “Gospel” to proclaim,[10] and asserted that “the evangelical faith is nothing other than the historic Christian faith.”[11] The World Evangelical Alliance endorses Leon Morris’ assertion that “an evangelical is a Gospel man, a Gospel woman.”[12] In Australia, Stuart Piggin has described evangelicalism as “biblical experientialism,” by which he meant trust in the Bible and “vital experience of Jesus.”[13] In late nineteenth century England, Bishop Ryle (a self-declared “evangelical”)[14] described “Evangelicals” as “a school or party” within the Church of England, a party whose first and leading principle is “the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture as the only rule of faith and practice,” along with strong belief in human sinfulness and corruption, in the person and work of Christ, and in the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing people to repentance, faith, and spiritual regeneration.[15] As an Evangelical, Ryle rejected religious formalism and ritualism, trends towards re-Catholicising the church, and modernist unbelief in the Bible.[16] Several decades later, many evangelicals would continue to assert the authority of Scripture and the doctrines of the Gospel, but would see the main threat not as ritualism but as liberalism. It is obvious from the history of evangelical Christianity that evangelicals have emphasised different beliefs and practices at different times. Also, diverse forms of evangelical faith can often co-exist in the same time and country: one writer identified fourteen principal types of evangelicalism in the United States, each with its own sub-cultures; [17] another identified fourteen types in Australia.[18]

More often than not, those people who are evangelical in belief and practice (whether they recognise that or not) are similar to most other Christian people, and simply identify themselves as believing in God, as churchgoers, and as belonging to this or that denomination. The use of the word “evangelical” has never precluded the use of many other terms to describe or identify evangelical beliefs, emphases, and people. At various times, many other descriptors have been used. For example, evangelical Christians have often referred to themselves – or to others – by such terms as “born again,” “saved,” “believers,” “Christians,” “true” Christians, “serious” Christians, “vital” Christians, “conservative” Christians, “orthodox” Christians, and “Bible-believing” Christians. Detractors have often felt free to adopt other terms, such as “Bible-bangers,” “holy rollers,” and “hot Gospellers.”

It must be emphasised that American evangelicalism has always been somewhat different in character and tone from that found in Britain.[19] In Britain, a more traditional society, religion had been associated with social conformity and respectability, was dominated by two State churches (the Church of England and the Church of Scotland), was led by socially conservative clergy, and was generally respectful of education. In the Church of England, evangelicalism had opposition from two separate directions, from high church and Anglo-Catholic elements, and from modernists. As a result, Britain’s evangelicalism tended to be more restrained. In the USA, in a new and expanding society, religion was more often more revivalist, populist, flexible, and boisterous. New Zealand evangelicalism more closely followed the British rather than the American model, as New Zealand society was strongly British in identity up until at least the end of the 1960s.[20]

In the USA in the 1920 and 30s, as modern liberal views gained strength in church and society, many evangelicals retreated into a separatist and more defensive style of evangelicalism, which became known as “fundamentalist.” After World War II, however, many evangelicals pulled away from a separatist, fundamentalist type of evangelicalism and worked to re-establish a more positive and intellectually self-assured identity for American evangelicalism.[21] Reformist and intellectually self-assured leaders such as Carl Henry and Harold Ockenga, seeking to regain cultural influence for evangelical Christianity, distanced themselves from fundamentalism, called themselves “neo-evangelicals,” and identified with a more mainstream evangelical Protestant tradition. From 1942, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) helped differentiate neo-evangelicals from the militant fundamentalism of Carl McIntire and the American Council of Christian Churches.[22] Ockenga described the NAE as representing “responsible evangelicals.”[23] From 1949, the overwhelmingly important figure in the evangelical resurgence was the hugely popular Billy Graham, who concentrated on preaching of the Gospel, avoided polemical and secondary matters, and insisted on working co-operatively with as many churches as he could. Other factors in the American evangelical recovery were the establishment of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship in the United States (the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, 1939), the growth of evangelical publishing houses such as Eerdmans, and the influence of British evangelicals such as John Stott.[24]

It is not a new thing for the word “evangelical” to be misunderstood, or used too loosely, or applied too broadly. In New Zealand, in 1930-31, the pages of the Presbyterian Outlook contained many different uses of the term “evangelical,”[25] the word variously meaning “Protestant” (i.e. not Catholic),[26] or “non-conformist” (i.e. Protestant but not Anglican),[27] or “evangelistic.”[28] The same survey of the Outlook showed that the term “evangelical” did not, in that era, necessarily imply biblically conservative, and was sometimes applied to those who held a critical view of the scriptures, such as Karl Barth (who was acclaimed as “thoroughly evangelical in the truest sense of that word”),[29] or to theological modernists such as Harry Emerson Fosdick (who was described as leading “modern evangelical Christianity”).[30] In England, following what Bebbington describes as a “deep and permanent split” within evangelical Protestantism in the early twentieth century, there was an explicitly “liberal evangelical” movement, fostered by such bodies as the Anglican Evangelical Group Movement.[31]

From the 1930s and 40s, however, and into the post-war period, the term “evangelical” began to be reclaimed by the more conservative strand within British evangelical Protestantism, and more tightly defined.[32] A key catalyst for that firmer defining of evangelical faith was the increasing influence in Britain of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship (IVF), which had been established in 1928 following the 1910 secession of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union from a liberalising Student Christian Movement.[33] Factors behind the 1950s and 60s resurgence in British evangelicalism included the sobering effects of the Second World War and the Cold War, the influence of C. S. Lewis, and the impact of the Billy Graham campaigns (1954-55), which greatly boosted evangelical profile and confidence.[34] Bebbington, however, asserts that “probably the most important single factor behind the advance of conservative Evangelicalism in Britain in the post-war period was the Inter-Varsity Fellowship,” which restored evangelical confidence, trained future evangelical leaders, developed a strong evangelical publishing work, and sponsored the revival of evangelical scholarship.[35] Other historians have made similar assessments.[36]

A key contribution of the Inter Varsity Fellowship was to define afresh, in a twentieth century environment, what it meant to be “evangelical.” The IVF Doctrinal Basis set out the perceived essentials of evangelical faith, including the inspiration and authority of scripture, substitutionary atonement, the need for repentance, faith, and regeneration, and the resurrection and return of Christ. These points clearly differentiated IVF-style evangelical faith from the broader theological stances of the Student Christian Movement, and of “liberal evangelicals” and “modernists.” The book Evangelical Belief expounded such evangelical convictions, as did many subsequent IVF publications.[37] The IVF stood for a thoughtful conservative evangelicalism: Gospel-centred, biblically grounded, and theologically orthodox. It was also prayerful, devotional, and evangelistic. It was committed to Bible study, and careful Bible exposition. Conscious that evangelical Christianity had lost ground to theological modernism and religious scepticism, the IVF emphasised that Christian faith is buttressed by understanding, reason, and evidence. The IVF avoided extremes in both belief and style, and was uncomfortable with sectarianism, excessive emotion, and high-pressure evangelism. It identified itself with the historic British evangelical tradition, and its Reformation and Puritan antecedents. The IVF and its evangelical identity was not in any way American.

In New Zealand, Evangelical Unions (EUs) were established from 1930 onwards, the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions (New Zealand) was formed in 1936, and by the late 1960s the IVF student movement had eclipsed the more liberal Student Christian Movement. Within New Zealand’s two largest Protestant denominations, the Anglicans and Presbyterians, graduates of the EU/IVF movement spawned influential evangelical fellowships within their own denominations: the Evangelical Churchmen’s Fellowship (later the Anglican Evangelical Fellowship and later again the Latimer Fellowship), and the Westminster Fellowship. The Baptists – and to a lesser extent the Open Brethren – were also influenced by the involvement of some of their members in the EU and IVF. For those New Zealand church leaders and members who had come up through the university Evangelical Unions, the term “evangelical” was commonplace. It meant adherence to the beliefs articulated in the IVF Doctrinal Basis, and participation in the evangelical practices of Bible-reading, prayer, and evangelism. For those of evangelical belief and identity within theologically-divided mainline denominations, speaking of others as “evangelical” was a convenient way of referring to those who shared similar evangelical convictions.[38]

It should be noted that the British evangelical movement – and the IVF movement in Britain, New Zealand and elsewhere – very definitely did not identify with American “fundamentalism.” While British and IVF evangelicals shared a belief in the orthodox “fundamentals” of Christianity (as defended in The Fundamentals, a series of books published in the USA between 1910 and 1915), they regarded the subsequent American fundamentalist movement, which took shape in the 1920s and 30s, as too narrow, reactionary, anti-intellectual, and polemical, too preoccupied with matters of only secondary importance, and too American. Various British evangelical leaders, such as Graham Scroggie and Campbell Morgan, returned from visits to America and publicly deplored the extremism of the American fundamentalist movement.[39] In New Zealand, in 1939, an EU/IVF leader wrote that “one of the difficulties under which the Evangelical movement labours is its association in the minds of many with the extremes and extravagances of American Fundamentalism.” Instead, he stressed the importance of British evangelical values such as soundness, reasonableness, and “sobriety and balance.”[40] In Britain, evangelical leaders continued to vigorously refute any suggestion that they were to be identified as fundamentalists.[41] These distinctions highlight that the British and United States evangelical traditions were (and are) significantly different than New Zealand evangelicalism. Notwithstanding the steadily increasing American influence in the last few decades, it has primarily reflected the British evangelical tradition rather than that of the United States fundamentalist tradition. Many of those identified currently by American media as “evangelicals” could possibly be characterised as “fundamentalists” rather than as “evangelicals,” or alternatively, as cultural evangelicals rather than as convinced evangelical Christian believers.

In New Zealand, over the last few decades, there has been a discernible move by evangelical organisations to become a little coyer in using the word “evangelical,” and to feature it less prominently in how they describe themselves. The Evangelical Unions have become Christian Unions or Christian Fellowships. The Anglican Evangelical Fellowship has become the Latimer Fellowship. The Evangelical Fellowship of New Zealand has morphed into the New Zealand Christian Network, while the Evangelical Missionary Alliance has become Missions Interlink. Nevertheless, on their websites all of those organisations identify themselves as “evangelical” – as do such denominations as the Baptist and Wesleyan Methodist churches, institutions such as Laidlaw College, and groups such as Presbyterian AFFIRM. [42] In every case, the organisations also use many other words, sometimes quite creatively, to try and describe themselves and what they stand for.

So how might evangelicals in New Zealand respond to the claims that it is now time to discard the label “evangelical” altogether? I shall state some of the main reasons why that is proposed, and briefly respond to each point.

1. The word “evangelical” has become irreparably damaged through the support of American “evangelicals” for right-wing politics and Donald Trump

Unquestionably the politicisation in the United States of the term “evangelical” has created a significant problem for evangelical Christian people in that country, whether they recognise that or not, and there will be no easy way to disentangle evangelical faith from partisan politics. How Americans deal with this situation is for them to work out for themselves. It needs to be questioned, however, how critical this problem is for evangelical Christians outside of the United States. The political and religious fault lines in the United States are peculiar to that particular country and have only limited relevance in most of the world’s other 194 countries, all of which have their own religious and political environments.

The American alliance of conservative evangelical Christians and right-wing politicians does not relate closely to New Zealand. Christianity in New Zealand is generally more muted, the percentage of active Christians in the New Zealand population is lower than in the United States (and the language and cultural presence of “born again” Christians is also lower). In addition, public discourse is more secular. New Zealand politicians generally play down their religious views rather than use them for any political purposes, and politics in New Zealand are generally less polarized.

How much significance has the current association of evangelical religion and Republican politics for the general New Zealand public? And how much does it influence public perceptions of evangelicals in New Zealand? The international reach of American media sources is considerable, and the much-publicised support of many “evangelicals” for Donald Trump and his views probably does provide another reason for some liberally-minded secular New Zealand people to feel prejudiced against evangelical Christians in this country as well as in the USA. American culture wars do have some impact within New Zealand. Many people in New Zealand associate American political and religious conservatives with illiberal views in such issues as patriotism, militarism, abortion, marriage, family, sexuality, race relations, immigration, social inequality, poverty, gun control, Israel-Palestine, and climate change. There may well be some flow over into how New Zealand evangelical Christians are perceived by some. While many people in the New Zealand public will have no awareness of “evangelical” support for Donald Trump, and little interest in either religion or politics, the current situation in America does suggest that Christians in New Zealand should exercise additional caution in using the label “evangelical” in a public setting, at least outside of those church circles where the word is both familiar and reasonably well-understood.

Within the New Zealand churches, and varying from denomination to denomination, the word “evangelical” is still commonly used by many Christians as a theological marker, and without any thought or fear of any possible connection to politics (American or otherwise). Despite the ever-increasing influence of American popular culture in New Zealand generally, and in some branches of the church (especially among many Pentecostal and independent churches, Baptists, and some other theologically conservative churches), and despite some weakening of the IVF-style evangelical tradition both in Britain and New Zealand,[43] the culture of New Zealand and its churches is arguably still generally more British than American. Within some New Zealand churches at least, the word “evangelical” is still widely understood as a useful theological descriptor for those with a focus on the Gospel and a very high view of the Bible. The New Zealand use of the word “evangelical,” where it is used, still largely reflects the longstanding British evangelical tradition, not the more complicated American context and usage (where it is no longer very clear whether the term means evangelical or fundamentalist, or just a conservative voter with some religious sympathies).

2. The word “evangelical” now means too many different things to be a useful term, is often misunderstood, and takes too long to explain.

Terminology is very commonly ambiguous or fluid. There are thousands of other English words, especially those relating to concepts rather than objects, which are frequently misunderstood, or which have a range of meanings. Post-modern, liberal, and fundamentalist, to mention a few. When used, they are best clarified in some way. But nobody is suggesting such words be retired.

As this article has shown, multiple application and misunderstanding of the word “evangelical” is no new thing. From the 1930s through the 1970s, the Evangelical Unions and Inter-Varsity Fellowship helped give closer definition to the term, for those who were influenced by those and similar movements. In New Zealand, with the overall shrinking of the church, and the rebranding of many organisations which were once overtly “evangelical” by actual name (including the EUs and IVF), fewer people are now sure of what the word “evangelical” means, and there is greater potential for misunderstanding. One very common and longstanding misunderstanding of the word “evangelical,” especially by ordinary Christian people, and by people outside the church, is to assume that “evangelical” is a synonym for “evangelistic.” There is little harm in that, though, as the sense of both words have considerable overlap: to be evangelical means to be committed to the Gospel, and to be evangelistic means to be committed to sharing that Gospel.

Whenever it seems appropriate to use the word, but there is the possibility of any serious misunderstanding, it is often best to use the word “evangelical” in conjunction with some other words or phrases, to make the meaning clear. It does not take very many words to say or write something like, [he/she/it] is “evangelical, i.e. [he/she/it] has a strong emphasis on the Gospel and the Bible.” I have found such a passing explanation, by way of a simple paraphrase, is neither difficult not time-consuming.

3. The word “evangelical” is divisive and reflects a “party spirit.”

Biblically, a “party spirit” (or factionalism) is spiritually destructive, unloving, and a breach of the church’s essential unity in Christ.[44] The church has one Lord, one faith, one body, and all Christians are called to make every effort to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.”[45] Within that essential spiritual unity in Christ, however, faith is held and practised in a million different ways, reflecting an infinite variety of cultures, contexts, and convictions, and Christian people of all types and flavours inevitably use different words to articulate and describe their own beliefs, emphases, and identities.

I suggest that the word “evangelical” is no more divisive than any other term which denotes some sub-set of Christian faith and practice, such as “Catholic,” “Protestant,” “Reformed,” “ecumenical,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “conservative,” “traditional,” “orthodox,” “neo-orthodox,” “high church,” or “Anglo-Catholic” – especially when such a designation is used by people to describe themselves. All such terms imply some divergence from (and even disagreement with) some alternative positions. But identifying our own particular Christian persuasions and emphases (and we all have them) need not and should not imply animosity towards others, or any denial of our essential spiritual oneness with all who others acknowledge Christ as Lord, even if we may take a different view on many secondary matters.

4. The word “evangelical” implies “anti-Pentecostal,” and is therefore one which Pentecostals cannot identify with.

Words have connotations, often shaped by past experiences. The lingering feeling that “evangelical” implies a rejection of “Pentecostal” Christianity reflects the tensions and stand-offs of the twentieth century, when neo-Pentecostalism was steadily growing in New Zealand, but was often openly rejected by the “evangelical” leaders of that day. Times have moved on, however, and distinctions have greatly softened. Large numbers of evangelical churches in New Zealand are now suffused by charismatic influences, and the contribution of Pentecostal churches to New Zealand society is now widely accepted by most New Zealand Christians.

When it comes to definitions, evangelicalism is best seen as a very broad and diverse global movement of biblicism and conversionism. By that measure, churches and people of Pentecostal experience and emphasis clearly fall within that, and are a distinctive variety of evangelicalism, rather than another type of Christianity altogether, or an opposing form of Christianity. Many Pentecostals nowadays agree – but not all.

5. The word “evangelical” should be discarded because, in a hostile post-Christian society, with a diminishing percentage of people holding to any form of Christian faith, all we need is the word “Christian.”

Outside the church, the word “Christian” is usually the best way for Christians to identify themselves (despite its negative connotations for those who are hostile to Christianity and especially to evangelical types of Christianity). The word is from New Testament times (Acts 11:26), and widely understood.

Within the church, the word “evangelical” can still be a useful descriptor and category, identifying a particular Gospel and Bible emphasis within Christianity. It is best used as an in-house term, and with some explanatory paraphrase. It is not an everyday word, and the majority of people around the world who are recognisably evangelical in their beliefs neither know nor use the word and are none the worse for that. People may use it, not use it, as they see fit. Other words can express the same sort of thing, but often less succinctly.

So should Christians in New Zealand abandon the word “evangelical”? If they so choose to do so, for whatever reason, that is their choice. Many barely or rarely use it anyway. I would argue, though, that there is some loss in that. In dropping the word “evangelical,” are we losing too much, losing it too lightly, and losing it unnecessarily? Do we really want to distance ourselves from our evangelical faith and heritage? Do we really want to put aside a Christian identity centered on the Gospel of Christ, and known for its belief in the new birth, for its deep love and respect for the Scriptures, and for its great effectiveness in taking Christ into all the world?

Yes, we can use many other words besides “evangelical,” and should definitely continue to do so. For me, I prefer to retain the word “evangelical” in the mix. The word clearly and concisely links us with the Gospel and the Bible, and identifies us with the very rich and transformative evangelical tradition within Christianity – that magnificent tradition which encompasses the faith of the New Testament, all that was reflective of Christ and the Gospel in the early church and medieval periods, the superb re-appropriations of grace and scripture during the Reformation, the dramatic revivals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the courage and global fruitfulness of evangelical missions, the renewal of society wherever the Gospel has taken deep roots, and the sense of spiritual affinity among evangelical believers worldwide. I am not eager to weaken those associations, and do not see any compelling reason to do so. As a Christian in Aotearoa, I think it good for us to keep identifying ourselves closely with the euangelion, the Gospel of Christ – in faith, word, and action.

Stuart Lange

[1] Josiah Hesse, “‘Exvangelicals:’ Why More Religious People are Rejecting the Evangelical Label,” The Guardian, 3 November 2017; Josiah Hesse, “Apocalyptic Upbringing: How I Recovered From my Terrifying Evangelical Childhood,”; “Ex-Evangelical Means Much More than Dropping a Label: A Response to Josiah Hesse,”; Thomas Kidd, “Is the Term ‘Evangelical’ Redeemable?” Gospel Coalition post, 8 September 2017,; David French, “It Might Be Time to Retire the Term ‘Evangelical’,” 19 December 2017, [sic].

[2] Kevin Ward, “Does a Rose by any Name Still Smell the Same?” in Gospel, Truth, & Interpretation: Evangelical Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand, ed. Tim Meadowcroft and Myk Habets (Auckland: Archer Press, 2011), 153–68.

[3] Kidd,

[4] See, for example, Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove and Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2004); John Wolffe, The Expansion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Wilberforce, More, Chalmers and Finney (Nottingham: InterVarsity, 2006); D. W. Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody (Nottingham: InterVarsity, 2005).

[5] D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989).

[6] Douglas A. Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005); Mark A. Noll, American Evangelical Christianity: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001).


[8] My analysis of evangelicalism and its history, in this and some following sections of this article, in part reflects material in my book on the history of evangelicalism in New Zealand: Stuart M. Lange, A Rising Tide: Evangelical Christianity in New Zealand, 1930-1965 (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2013).

[9] Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 1.

[10] John R. W. Stott, What Is an Evangelical? (London: Church Pastoral Aid Society, 1977).

[11] John R. W. Stott, Make the Truth Known (Leicester: UCCF Booklets, 1983), 3; idem, Evangelical Truth (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 16–17.


[13] Stuart Piggin, “Evangelicals Unchained. Stuart Piggin talks to Mark Powell,” AP Magazine online. The Evangelical Reformed Christian magazine.

[14] John Charles Ryle, Knots Untied, Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion from an Evangelical Standpoint, 31st Edition (London: James Clarke and Co., 1954), 6.

[15] Ryle, Knots Untied, 9–12.

[16] Ryle, Knots Untied, 15, 61.

[17] Robert Webber, Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 31–33. Webber’s categories include: Fundamentalist Evangelicalism, Dispensational Evangelicalism, Conservative Evangelicalism, Nondenominational Evangelicalism, Reformed Evangelicalism, Anabaptist Evangelicalism, Wesleyan Evangelicalism, Holiness Evangelicalism, Pentecostal Evangelicalism, Charismatic Evangelicalism, Black Evangelicalism, Progressive Evangelicalism, Radical Evangelicalism, and Main-line Evangelicalism.

[18] E. Croucher, Recent Trends among Evangelicals: Biblical Agendas, Justice and Spirituality (Heathmont: John Mark Ministries, 1986), 1, cit. Ward, op. cit.: 155.

[19] George M. Marsden, “Fundamentalism as an American Phenomenon: A Comparison with English Evangelicalism,” Church History 46 (June 1977): 215–32; David Bebbington, “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain and America. A Comparison,” in Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States, ed. Mark A. Noll and George Rawlyk (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press), 183–212; David Bebbington, “Evangelicalism in its Settings: The British and American Movements since 1940,” in Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles and Beyond, 1700–1990, ed. Mark Noll, David Bebbington, and George Rawlyk (New York and Oxford: OUP, 1994), 365–88.

[20] For evangelicalism in New Zealand, see Lange, A Rising Tide.

[21] George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991); George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987); Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

[22] (accessed 29 August 2018).

[23] J. Elwin Wright to Bernard G. Holmes, 10 June, 1950, TSCF archives N1/4.

[24] A. Donald MacLeod, C. Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007).

[25] Lange, A Rising Tide, 20.

[26] E.g. Outlook (6 October 1930): 5.

[27] E.g. Outlook (22 June 1931): 6. The Federal Council of Evangelical Free Churches (UK) included Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians – the “Free Churches.”

[28] E.g. NZBTI advertisement, Outlook (1 December 1930): 36; Outlook (23 June 1930): 5.

[29] Outlook (25 May, 1931): 20.

[30] Outlook (22 December 1930): 6. Cit. Lange, A Rising Tide, 20.

[31] Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 161, 202.

[32] For British evangelicalism in the twentieth century, see e.g. Bebbington, Evangelicalism; Randle Manwaring, From Controversy to Co-existence: Evangelicals in the Church of England, 1914–1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Ian M. Randall, Educating Evangelicalism. The Origins, Development and Impact of London Bible College (Carlisle: Paternoster Pres, 2000); Harriet A. Harris, Fundamentalism and Evangelicals (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998); Rob Warner, Reinventing English Evangelicalism, 1966–2001: A Theological and Sociological Study (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007); Oliver Barclay, Evangelicalism in Britain, 1935–1990 (Leicester: IVP, 1997).

[33] See e.g. David Goodhew, “The Rise of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, 1910–1970,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 54, 1 (January 2003): 62–88; D. Johnson, Contending for Faith: A History of the Evangelical Movement in the Universities and Colleges (Leicester: IVP, 1979).

[34] Randall, Educating, 51, 95–96, 139.

[35] Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 259–60.

[36] Manwaring, From Controversy, x–xi, 44–45, 51; Randall, Educating, 18; Harris, Fundamentalism, 51, 54; Goodhew, “The Rise,” 64, 86–88.

[37] [IVF] Advisory Committee, Evangelical Belief: The Official Interpretation of the Doctrinal Basis of the IVF (London: the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions, n.d. [1935]).

[38] For evangelicalism and evangelical movements in New Zealand, and especially the influence of the IVF and Evangelical Unions, see Lange, A Rising Tide.

[39] Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 182, 222.

[40] Max Wiggins, IVFEU TSPU circular, April 1939, TSCF I1/035.

[41] E.g. John Stott, Fundamentalism and Evangelism (London: Crusade for the Evangelical Alliance, 1956), 20–24; Clive Calver and Rob Warner, Together We Stand (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), 19–20.


[43] In Britain, the IVF is now called the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), and in New Zealand it is called the Tertiary Student Christian Fellowship (TSCF).

[44] John 17:21, 23; 1 Cor 1:10–13.

[45] Ephesians 4:4–6, 3.