The evangelical movement in America emerged in the twentieth century as conservative Protestants sought to perpetuate an intentional continuity with biblical Christianity. While the roots of the movement can be traced through centuries prior to its emergence in twentieth century America, its organizational shape appeared mainly in the years after World War II. And, as anyone who considers the movement with a careful eye understands, evangelical definition has been a central preoccupation of the movement from the moment of its inception.

The word “evangelical” long predates the coalescence of the evangelical coalition of the last century. The word has been applied to Methodism in the eighteenth century, to nonconformists and low church Protestants in Great Britain in the nineteenth century, and to a host of groups, churches, and movements ever since. As early as the nineteenth century, frustration and confusion arose over the use and misuse of the term. The seventh Earl of Shaftesbury expressed the late-nineteenth century frustration when he declared, “I know what constituted an evangelical in former times . . . I have no clear notion what constitutes one now.”

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