Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: Missional, Intellectual, Theologically Diverse, Complex, and Increasingly Global by Ryan A. Brandt and Amber Thomas Reynolds

December 7, 2023

Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: Missional, Intellectual, Theologically Diverse, Complex, and Increasingly Global 

Ryan A. Brandt and Amber Thomas Reynolds

Ryan A. Brandt is Professor of Christian History and Theology at Grand Canyon University; Amber Thomas Reynolds is Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Wheaton College (IL)



Twentieth-century evangelicalism: what a daunting subject to choose! The genesis of this special issue of JBTS was in February 2020. In the three plus years since then, the world changed. And although evangelical identity was already heavily contested prior to 2020, more than ever, whether it is possible to analyze modern “evangelicalism” as an essentially religious rather than a political or cultural movement is in question, especially among American academics and journalists. Important studies of the intersections between evangelicalism and race, politics, and gender have certainly revealed historical blind spots.1 Yet, for all of the recent debate, it is important to remember that defining “evangelical” and “evangelicalism”—even whether or not to capitalize the term—has been debated for at least a century. The profusion of writing on evangelicalism, furthermore, frustrates any attempt to contribute something new to the discussion.2 Thus, the editors have approached the topic with modest aims, recognizing our particular perspectives: one editor, trained in theology at a denominational seminary in the United States, teaches theology students at an evangelical university; the other, trained in cultural history of Christianity at a British university, teaches history courses in an evangelical liberal-arts setting. Although our vantage points may seem to be relatively similar, it became clear during the editorial planning stages that we were coming from two very different academic worlds. Like JBTS in general, we write with the evangelical undergraduate student in mind, who probably has heard much about evangelicals of late but may not, in fact, have a clue who they are.

In that light, this special issue of JBTS will certainly not seek to propose a brand-new definition of evangelicalism, or to throw its total weight behind one existing formulation. As a journal geared toward students, not just scholars, our aim is to, first, clarify some of the major questions involved in defining twentieth-century evangelicalism. Secondly, we explore several religious rather than social or political topics, some of which are well-recognized in the literature and others of which have arguably been overlooked in recent discussions—especially at the popular level—of the twentieth- and early twenty-first century movements. As part of this latter goal, we feature scholar-practitioners from a field that is sometimes under-represented in discussions of evangelical identity: missiology.

This present introductory article seeks to offer some background and cohesion for this special issue’s articles. In the first part, we broadly survey definitions of evangelicalism, focusing on six successive historical developments in the twentieth century and how these developments illuminate and complicate such definition. In the second part, we introduce the five articles in this special issue as a way of highlighting some of these key debates today.


  1. A few recent examples include Anthea Butler, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021); Aaron Griffith, God’s Law and Order: the Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020); John Corrigan, Melani McAlister, and Axel R. Schäfer, eds., Global Faith, Worldly Power: Evangelical Internationalism and U.S. Empire (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2022); and Kristen Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (New York: Liveright, 2020).
  2. Start with Mark A. Noll, David W. Bebbington, and George M. Marsden, eds., Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019), and Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones, eds., The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism (London and New York: Routledge, 2019).


Wrap Up