The very definition of “evangelical” becomes confused after reading the works of certain writers and theologians. One might be tempted to think that evangelical is to be understood by way of attitudes or sentiments. This represents an error in understanding what it means to be an evangelical.
There is an evangelical attitude. It may not be practiced well by all, but it was clarified by Menno Simons who said that a true evangelical faith is not dormant. It is socially engaged. The evangelical faith is socially active. This can be seen all around us, I the pro-life movement (especially CPCs), the rescue missions, and historically in the anti-slavery movement. But this attitude is not exclusive to evangelicalism. Rome does a fine job in the charity world. The attitude does not set the evangelical apart.
There is an evangelical sentiment. Evangelicals call people to repent from sin. Some do it in the public square. Some do it in revival-style meetings. Some do it in home Bible studies, or from the pulpit. But that again is not exclusively evangelical. Other fellowships also call people to repent from sine.
Can evangelicalism then be reduced to a minimalist and selective attitude about doctrine? That is, are evangelicals simply the primitive theologians of the church? Are they spending their time in the Bible and forgetting the whole history of theological development? Yes, in a way.
The evangelical posits this requirement: To become a Christian is to repent wholly and unreservedly from sin, in a direct and unobstructed relationship with God, on the foundation of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, by faith apart from works. A repentance which is less in scope is not repentance; a repentance which requires the intervention of others is not to God; a repentance to God without Christ is lacking; a repentance which materially adds any human energy is not repentance. This is what it means to become a Christian. That is the foundation of evangelicalism. It sets itself distinct from other groups which refuse these requirements.
One implication of this is that a fellowship which claims Christ may be generally “Christian” but not truly born-from-above Christian. This leaves those who intentionally include the unrepentant under the umbrella of God’s kingdom having a misconception of what it means to be actually in the kingdom as a child of the King. They are deceiving the unrepentant into believing that the church has authority to save them, or at least allow them entrance into purgatory.
Repentance does not require revivalism. No altar call is necessary. The requirement is that repentance be full and complete. This means that one sees Jesus as Lord in all and of all (Romans 10:9, Matthew 7:21). It does not mean that sin is allowed, but only that it is acknowledged, with the believer willing to take responsibility and continue in the acknowledgement of sin (I John 1). Christ is Lord over the scope of the human life (περιπατέω).
Yes, one can find persons of an evangelical faith in the other non-evangelical groups.
Being Protestant does not equate to being evangelical. Not all Protestants departed from the errors of Rome because of their doctrinal errors (e.g., divorce). Historic evangelicalism encompasses both the Reformation and Anabaptist movements with their emphasis on personal faith, personal repentance, direct access to God, and the authority of the Word over the church. Evangelicalism is found in the fellowships and denominations built around this faith. It is this movement that takes it beyond being a conversation on distinctive doctrines.
The evangelical has gone nowhere. But the definition of evangelical seems to be in flux.