A short history of Evangelicalism
While traditional Protestant denominations (Presbyterianism, Episcopalism, i.e. ) have been declining these last fifty years, Evangelical denominations, also called Neo Protestant, have met an increased number of devotees, in the United States as well as in the traditional Catholic regions of Latin America and Africa.
Evangelicalism is considered to be more of a broad transconfessional movement, implying a set of various beliefs and customs, than as a specific Protestant denomination. It includes many different denominations, including Pentecostalism, Charismatism, Seventh Day Adventism, etc. In spite of its recent over-all development, Evangelical Protestantism has a historical basis that goes back to the 18th century. Letīs have a look at the origins of the fastest expanding religious movement in the world today.
From German Pietism to British Methodism
Evangelical Protestantism finds it very first origin in 17th century reformed Germany. In 1666, a pastor from Frankfurt, Philip Spener, founded the Pietism within German Lutherianism. This willingness to return to a "true" Christianity, based on a strict understanding of the Bible and an emphasis on personal faith, was introduced in the United Kingdom in the early 18th century by John Wesley. The latter founded the Methodism within the English Church. British colonialists then brought these Protestant evolutions overseas, leading to the first Great Awakening . The historical figures of this renewed Protestantism in the United States are the Methodist John Edwards and the Puritan preacher George Whitefield. The current Evangelical movement in the USA is often presented as the inheritance of the Methodism and Puritanism of the 18th century for its extremely conservative stance on social issues and its literal acceptance of the bible. This 18th century Protestant revival is often said to be a consequence of the Enlightenment taking place at the same time in Europe. The return to an orthodox doctrine is from this point of view a reaction to the sceptic writings of European philosophers.
The “Second Great Awakening”
The "Second Great Awakening" (1800-1830), led by itinerant Baptist and Methodist preachers, was fuelled by the constantly expanding frontier and the new social relations people had to forge in facing hardships. From then on, Methodism, Baptism and Congregationalism formed a more or less homogenous group of Evangelical Christians. The expanding population was ethnically changing: German and Irish new arrivals were replacing the overwhelmingly English settlements of the colonial period. For these Evangelicals, improving the world and winning souls were part of the same perfectionist project. They also played an important role on certain social issues. Thus northern Evangelicals were very much in the forefront of the anti-slavery campaign. Eventually by the mid-nineteenth century, the Baptist church had split into an anti-slavery northern church and a pro-slavery Southern Baptist Convention.
Before the Second World War, a division appeared within the liberal and conservative members of the Presbyterian and Baptist denominations in the USA. In response to the country's growing industrialisation and urbanisation in the late nineteenth century, a new form of Protestantism arose: fundamentalism. Standing against liberal Protestantism, fundamentalism is the faithful heir of 17th century Puritanism. The conflict between the modern world and fundamentalism is represented by the 1925 Scopes trial. At the time when the State of Tennessee forbade the teaching, in any state-funded educational establishment, of any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation; John Scopes, a biology teacher, was prosecuted and found guilty of having taught Darwinian evolution in high school science classes.
From the 1980sī, the Christian fundamentalist found a political ally in the Republican Party and brought their very conservative values - as the prohibition of abortion- at the top of the US political agenda.