Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Evangelicalism Today

Written by: on February 20, 2015


David Bebbington’s book, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, reviews the history of the evangelical movement in Britain from the 1700’s through the 1980s. Prominent evangelicals that have influenced the movement throughout history include John Welsey, William Wilberforce, and Lord Shaftesbury. I’ve collided with these historic figures as I’ve been educated in my faith throughout my life.  I’ve often heard the term evangelical, but I haven’t necessarily understood the significance of what being an evangelical means. As a child, my impression was that being evangelical was akin to holiness. According to Bebbington, “there are the four qualities that have been the special marks of Evangelical religion: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and what may be called crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.[1] Bebbington looks at the influence that Evangelicals have had on British society, and how culture and environment have impacted the beliefs within the evangelical movement over time.

Evangelicalism is a protestant movement, not to be confused with a denomination or religion. Adherents of the movement have often had difficulty articulating the specific traditions of evangelical beliefs, yet the four traits of conservatism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism were consistent across the movement. Conversionism considers that once a person’s life has been changed, they will begin a life of service based on the model that Christ exhibited (activism). Evangelical belief is centered on Scripture and the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross (biblicism and crucicentrism).

Today, the term evangelical is used loosely. For example, we preach about the authority of Scripture in evangelical churches. Preachers will speak about the danger of beliefs based on anything but Scripture. Yet, at the same time very few people actually read their Bible or learn what it has to say. In fact, many people don’t even know why they believe what they believe.

We spend much time and effort into converting sinners and saving the lost, but once a person accepts Christ there is less emphasis on the way that they act and behave as believers. The term activism, in today’s context, means “the practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.” [2] The lack of action after a person’s conversion to christianity is concerning. Too many people call themselves Christian, yet fail to act or respond in a way that demonstrates Christ to the world around them. If our hearts are changed, then with that change action occurs.  Evangelicals realize that it is through grace that one is saved, not by works. However, the natural consequence of becoming saved is to act out one’s faith by modeling Christ. Despite this, many people today are less likely to serve and more likely to give money in evangelical churches.

As Bebbington describes, evangelicalism has been a major influence within culture while being influenced itself by culture. Yet, since the 1980’s, society in America hasn’t embraced evangelical philosophy. Looking forward to the next ten years, I hope the face of evangelicalism shifts as Christians awaken from their complacency. Biblicism and activism need to once again become a common traits evidenced in Christian communities.

[1] Bebbington, David W. (2004-03-09). Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (pp. 2-3). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[2] activism. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/activism (accessed: February 19, 2015).

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

15 responses to “Evangelicalism Today”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Dawnel, I appreciate your honest reflection as to how current evangelicals are actually living out the four core qualities Bebbington references. I really resonate with your statement, “Yet, at the same time very few people actually read their Bible or learn what it has to say. In fact, many people don’t even know why they believe what they believe.” That really is one of the big tensions I see us facing.

    In American it has become easier then ever to claim to be a Christian yet not actually know what that means and no part of your life reflects Christ. With cultural shifts I see this becoming harder to do. I think this is already the case in Europe. When you say you are a Christian in Europe it actually means something whereas in America I know many who claim to be a Christian not know Christ.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      I think that evangelical is a term that is quite understood and foreign to most people. On a recent application that I submitted to teach at a Christian university, they asked my references if I demonstrated the characteristics of an evangelical Christian. One of my references emailed me and said “I couldn’t answer this because I have no idea what evangelical is”. The concept of being an evangelical is relevant and appropriate today, but the terminology is outdated. We need to teach Christians the concept so that they understand what being a Christian should look like.

      • Nick Martineau says:

        So true Dawnel…This semester has encouraged me to do a teaching series, maybe on some form of the 4 qualities Benngington mentioned, conversionism, activism, biblicism and crucicentrism. It’s too easy in America to say you’re an evangelical christian.

        • Dawnel Volzke says:

          What a great idea Nick! I’d love to see the materials that you develop for this, and to hear what kind of response you get from people who attend the study.

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    Dawnel, when you were listing the four essential qualities of Evangelicalism as Bebbington articulated them, it reminded me of another thought I had when I was reading. Actually, I toyed with making it the focus of my post before going in a different direction…

    I realized that I had never even considered the term “Evangelical” until I stepped into academia and began reading and studying the various streams of church down through history. For me, these four essential qualities are just what it means to be a Christian! I was shocked (about ten years ago) when I began to realize that there were people who claimed Christianity that did NOT prioritize these things. I guess that makes me an Evangelical for sure, right?

    • Mary Pandiani says:

      Thus the value of having other points of view, right, Jon? It helps us see the lens we’ve lived with, never even knowing it existed.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      LOL – I too read this week’s reading and thought, “wow, I really am an evangelical at heart”. Of course, my husband teased me and said, “you are the activist in the family for sure”.

  3. Travis Biglow says:

    Amen Dawnel, i just read where a leading mega church ex pastor is saying that the gay marriage is right at the front door of the church. He also stated that we cant let 2000 year old teachings govern what we do today in this changing time. That is so unscriptural and it really lets us know what time we are living in!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      I struggle with people’s attitudes towards things that they perceive as being old. Scripture is the same yesterday and today. When someone says Scripture is outdated and replaces it with ideas of today, I know that their trendy opinion will someday become outdated and irrelevant to the world as it continuously changes. Scripture is what keeps us rooted in this ever changing world and is relevant across cultures and socio-economic status’. Now, maybe we need to update our terminology to help people apply Scripture to today’s culture – but we should never sacrifice the core principles that it represents.

  4. Mary Pandiani says:

    Once again, an articulate post that explains the core of the book well. Thank you Dawnel. I have a question about your statement: “I hope the face of evangelicalism shifts as Christians awaken from their complacency. ” What would that face look like to you in the business world?

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      The face of an evangelical should be the same in personal, business, church, and academic worlds. It is the face of passion, justice, and action. Unfortunately, I often see a lot of talk and then a complacency toward acting out one’s faith. People say the right things, but then they do very little to demonstrate that they passionately believe what they are talking about. For example, it is great to say we should take care of the poor. Yet, many people that claim to be Christian would walk right by a homeless person on the street and turn their back so they don’t have to take action. Maybe that is the real issue – people that say they are Christian and don’t demonstrate it, probably aren’t really Christians to begin with.

  5. Dave Young says:

    Dawnel, the prophet. I couldn’t agree with you more – our actions and our thinking needs to conform to whom we are to be as a people. Maybe that’s part to the struggle, evangelicalism is so widely distributed, used fairly loosely as a term that it’s losing the clarity of what it means. If we can agree on the characteristics, we can be accountable to abide in them… I’m not necessarily a big advocate of top down religion, but could it be that we’re so independent, so disconnected in our Christian communities that we’re not accountable to any standards… Much less the four that Bebbington described. Just pondering. Thanks for another thought provoking post.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thank you Dave – thought pondering indeed. I think you are on to something when you talk about being disconnected. In general, our culture is disconnected from each other, so your assessment makes sense to me.

  6. Brian Yost says:

    “We spend much time and effort into converting sinners and saving the lost, but once a person accepts Christ there is less emphasis on the way that they act and behave as believers.”
    It is interesting to see how much of evangelism training is focused on getting a person to make a commitment to Christ and how little is spent understanding what that commitment is. I think one of the geniuses of the evangelical movement was in the way people were formed into small communities to “work out their salvation”. Travis mentioned the need for face-to-face evangelism. One thing I like about that is that there is (or at least should be) an established relationship that can continue into a true discipleship process.

  7. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    “Biblicism and activism need to once again become a common traits evidenced in Christian communities.”
    Funny how this two attributes are key issues of the day. Unfortunately biblicism, for it’s waning and activism for its popularity with how God is working in culture. I think it will be interesting to see where all the activism leads to if not driven by biblical values. I believe the social sciences are exploring activism as the pursuit of human flourishing. It is truly out of a secular hedonistic pluralism that is rooted in something very different than a love for God and all of his creation. It will be interesting to see and be a part of evangelicalism staying alive and being shaped in our day.

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