Don’t we just love to define things—music, food, people, ideas? One of the more popular ways people begin a public speech is with the words, “Webster defines X as A, B, C and even sometimes Q, but never W or R. Let us begin with A.” And off they go. With a definition in hand, we have a certain power over the subject. The subject becomes more orderly and contained, even controllable. In Global Evangelicalism Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective we find ourselves returning to the topic of evangelicalism and its global impact. That return begins with a search to define evangelicalism.
The 10 chapters cover topics and issues from expansion and globalization of Evangelicalism to the way in which Evangelicalism approaches engages culture including issues of gender. The book gives an account of the way in which evangelicalism has expanded from a relatively local North American religious expression to a worldwide expression of faith and religious experience. Embedded in the central theme of Global Evangelicalism is an argument against a global secularization thesis whos proponents predict the demise of the church and religion. However, Lewis and Pierard argue, via the various chapters and is an argument against a global secularization thesis whos proponents predict the demise of the church and religion. However, Lewis and Pierard argue, via the various chapters and scholars, that “Instead of receding, religions throughout the world have been growing and often have been rigorous in their engagement with the public sphere.” 
In spite of the exponential spread of evangelicalism in the world, Lewis and Pierard are convinced that non-religious scholars are not well aware of the phenomenon and possibly even bias against evangelicalism.  According to Lewis and Pierard, evangelicalism is marginalized in the academic world for several reasons. First, by its nature evangelicalism is challenging to track and therefore study. Second, the term evangelicalism is often misunderstood or misused—politically and socially. Finally, evangelicals themselves suffer from a lack of unified identity and a central locus, for example, as is the Vatican for the Roman Catholic Church. The stated purpose of the book is both historical and theological, i.e., to survey the recent expansion of evangelicalism as well as delineate its beliefs, practices, and expressions in a global world.  With that thought, we find ourselves once again faced with the attempt to define evangelicalism.
There are so many things one could focus on in this book, but I wish to ask one question—that invariably leads to others. Why do scholars try to define evangelicalism, when to do so often ends with only varying degrees of consensus? I understand the need for a definition in academic circles, it’s difficult to study a moving target. There is also the importance of understanding—outside of political affiliations—those who call themselves evangelicals. No one political party or ideology own’s evangelicalism. 
On the other hand, maybe like love, art or the cosmos—evangelicalism defies definition. Actually, that may be a good thing. To be wholly defined is to be put into a box with limited boundaries, to be pressed into a mold or forced into a framework that literally defines. In this scenario, anything not within the limits of the official definition is outside! But evangelicalism has so many varied and diverse parts, that to define some portion out, would unbalance the delicate symmetry which makes evangelicalism what it is. Could it be that evangelicalism is one of the more dynamic religious movements the world has yet seen? It cannot be pinned down, put in a box or forced into a frame—it just doesn’t sit still long enough!
Maybe the need to define evangelicalism is based on the desire for a pure theology or the advancement of a specific political or social agenda. In this case, the definers probably need to read Erdozain’s Soul of Doubt.  Evangelicalism is more inclusive than some would wish and less than some would hope. That may make it more “heaven-like” than some might think or find agreeable.
Finally, could it be that a lack of definition is exactly what is needed in a world that is bound by an immanent framework? In this way, evangelicalism is almost boundless in its expression of faith in God. It is a far-reaching global movement in a world defined and bound by an immanent framework. It is a movement where people who live and are influenced by this immanent framework experience the transcendent God, who is boundless and undefinable. What a witness of the true God in a world that longs for choices that are sorely limited by the very boundaries in which they have set for themselves. Maybe we could define evangelicalism as simply a living and dynamic expression of “the Church.” Global Evangelicalism certainly alludes to that.
At this point, some might suggest that without a definition Evangelicalism could quickly fall into an unbiblical universalism. I suppose the risk exists as it would for any dynamic religious movement. But the higher risk may be those who use a definition to try to control and limit what is and is not evangelicalism and what it can and cannot do. At this point, Evangelicalism has continued to grow exponentially, while being somewhat inclusive both from a theological and cultural context. I would not be alone in arguing that even in this growth Evangelicalism has maintained it core biblical orthodoxy. There is no reason to believe that it will not continue.
Webster’s defines Evangelical as: “relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels.”  With that definition, where do we begin?
- Lewis, Donald M., and Richard V. Pierard. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History & Culture in Regional Perspective. IVP Academic, 2014.
- Ibid., 11.
- Ibid., 12,13.
- Ibid., 14.
- Ibid., 17-37.
- Smietana, Bob. “What is an Evangelical? Four Questions Offer New Definition.” What Social Science Shows About Beliefs and Behavior (2015): http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2015/november/what-is-evangelical-new-definition-nae-lifeway-research.html (accessed Jan 29, 2018).
- Erdozain, Dominic. The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief From Luther to Marx. 1 ed. Oxford University Press, 2015.
- “Evangelical: Definition of Evangelical By Merriam-Webster.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evangelicalism (accessed Jan 29, 2018).