The media uses the term "evangelical" with reckless abandon. Few outlets actually investigate what the description means historically.
Modern evangelicalism emerged from fundamentalism. The latter was a response to the growing movement of theological liberalism that took over "mainstream" denominations and historically Christian universities like Princeton. In the early twentieth century, a number of conservative scholars responded to the leftward drift of many churches with the publication of "The Fundamentals." Yet, many adherents to the positions espoused in these works began to retreat into sectarian "holy huddles." Scholar Carl F.H. Henry responded with the book "The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism," which argued fundamentalists needed to engage the wider culture including academia, politics, etc. Those who subscribed to Dr. Henry's argument became known as "evangelicals." Thus, we can define evangelical as following:
*We hold Scripture to be the inspired Word of God without error;
*We interpret Scripture via the historical exegetical method (i.e., placing every passage in its proper historical-literary context);
*As such, we believe God is one-and-three (the Trinity); the distinction of the creator and His creation; faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation; in order to be saved a person must be "born again" (John 3:3); which entails repentance, the process of sanctification by the Holy Spirit; corporate worship; loving your neighbor (as defined by God not by the ever shifting cultural definition), etc.
Following such a historically defined definition, many figures labeled "evangelical" by the media do NOT fit this mold. They include Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, N.T Wright and even the late C.S. Lewis.
Not being an evangelical does not mean the person is not a Christian it just means that, in the eyes of those who are evangelical, they are wrong about certain (or many) issues. Notable evangelicals include Dr. Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, the late Billy Graham, Dr. Charles Stanley, Dr. David Jeremiah, Dr. Tony Evans, Dr. John Piper, Dr. David Platt, Francis Chan, Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. William Lane Craig, Joni Eareckson Tada, the late Jerry Falwell, etc.
The term evangelical is historically important, too important to be thrown around as carelessly as many do and have for several decades now. Perhaps the most important issue that separates evangelicals from others is the deeply held belief that Scripture is the inspired, perfect Word of God and should be approached with studious and prayerful care--just saying Jesus a lot does not an evangelical make!
That's all for now. Check back daily for more. God bless, Pastor Matt.