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Evangelical, a term literally meaning "of or pertaining to the Gospel," was employed from the eighteenth century on to designate the school of theology adhered to by those Protestants who believed that the essence of the Gospel lay in the doctrine of salvation by faith in the death of Christ, which atoned for man's sins (see Evangelical Doctrine.) Evangelicalism stressed the reality of the "inner life," insisted on the total depravity of humanity (a consequence of the Fall) and on the importance of the individual's personal relationship with God and Savior. They put particular emphasis on faith, denying that either good works or the sacraments (which they perceived as being merely symbolic) possessed any salvational efficacy. Evangelicals, too, denied that ordination imparted any supernatural gifts, and upheld the sole authority of the Bible in matters of doctrine. The term came into general use in England at the time of the Methodist revival under Wesley and Whitefield, which had its roots in Calvinism and which, with its emphasis on emotion and mysticism in the spiritual realm, was itself in part a reaction against the "rational" Deism of the earlier eighteenth century. Early in the nineteenth century the terms "Evangelical" and " Methodist" were used indiscriminately by opponents of the movement, who accused its adherents of fanaticism and puritanical disapproval of social pleasures. The Evangelical branch of the Anglican Church coincided very nearly with the "Low Church" party.

[Evangelical Christianity has special importance to Victorian literature because so many major figures began as Evangelicals and retained many attitudes and ideas, including notions of biblical symbolism, even after they abandoned their childhood and young adult beliefs either for another form of Christianity or unbelief. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browining, Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Henry Newman, and John Ruskin. — GPL]

Related Materials

Suggested readings [GPL].

Brown, Ford K. Fathers of the Victorians: The Age of Wilberforce. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1961.

Cuningham, Valentine. Everywhere Spoken Against: Dissent in the Victorian Novel. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Hilton, Boyd. The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1785-1865. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Jay, Elizabeth. The Religion of the Heart: Anglican Evangelicalism and the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.

Hindmarsh, D. Bruce. The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England. Oxford: Oxford University Press,

After one of John Wesley's lay preachers, Thomas Mitchell, had given a Yorkshire congregation his views on sin, a butcher who heard him went home and beat his wife "because he thought she had told me" (wrote Mitchell) "all his sinful ways". The awakening conscience took many forms. When in 1758 another of Wesley's men, John Pawson, persuaded his conventionally Anglican father to hear a few Methodist sermons, the father was soon found in the privacy of his own stables roaring and trembling at the prospect of divine judgement. There was a regular sequence here: you lived unaware of your own wickedness, you became seized of it, you perceived that you could not reform, you feared spending eternity in hell, and you expressed your fear as was most natural to you. But there could also be a further, happier stage: you could accept the New Testament promises of forgiveness as applying directly to you. Do that, and your tears became tears of joy. "I burst out a-crying, and laughing, and dancing, and jumping about the room", wrote one of Charles Wesley's 1741 converts, Joseph Carter. Another, John Walsh, felt his body so light "that I might choose whether to walk or fly". And sooner or later you told other people. — John Whale, "Scab on the Story," Times Literary Supplement (17 February 2006): 32.

Russell, George W. E. A Short History of the Evangelical Movement. London: A. R. Mowbray and Son, 1915


Victorian Web Overview Religion

Last modified 1988; bibliography last modified 13 May 2006