Evangelicalism, broadly speaking, is a Protestant Christian tradition, coming out of the late 19th century Holiness Movement and growing throughout the 20th century. It is usually characterized by a belief in the authority of Holy Scripture, the importance of a personal conversion, baptism of adults only, traditional morality, informality in worship, and an emphasis on missionary and evangelistic activity. Within the broad category of "evangelical" there is a wide variety of theological opinion. Some have been strongly influenced by the Reformed tradition of John Calvin, while others have been influenced more by the more Arminian thought of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. Regarding practice, some evangelicals worship along more traditional lines (often influenced by Anglicanism), while others embrace a more charismatic worship style.
Although evangelicalism started as a movement which was ecumenical in scope and included clergy and laity from a wide variety of backgrounds, in the 20th century several denominations emerged which viewed themselves as fundamentally evangelical. These include the Christian & Missionary Alliance, the Evangelical Free Church and others. Other evangelicals continue to be found in denominations that would not, as a whole, embrace evangelicalism.
Although it is impossible to speak in any universal way about the beliefs of all evangelicals, it is possible to speak of some central elements of their faith and practice.
Evangelicals emphasize the need for a personal conversion to Jesus Christ. A personal conversion to Jesus Christ involves accepting and believing several points about Jesus Christ and His uniqueness in human history. The idea of a personal conversion to Christ is rooted in the spiritual doctrine of the "Atonement", the idea that where there is sin or imperfection in our individual life, that this must be addressed and taken care of. [Sin is any imperfection which a Holy God would not be able to accept into His presence].
Where sin exists, it must be "atoned" for, paid for. Sin causes an obligation on the part of the person who commits the sin...to be able to remedy their sin or imperfection. All major religions accept the idea of personal sin or imperfection, and most have some concept for atonement - how to pay for that sin. The main idea in Christianity is that while it accepts that humans will commit sin and/or will not be perfect, the one who came to pay the penalty for all sins is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ - by dying on the cross - paid the penalty for the sins of all those who ask for His forgiveness. By His Resurrection, Christ proved that He was God Incarnate and that He triumphed over death.
Evangelicals accept the teachings in the Bible that Eternal life is obtained by Asking Jesus Christ to "forgive you of your sins and to come into your life". Some have called this a crisis experience, while others have simply understood as a spiritual reconciliation with God. It is also commonly referred to as being born again. Evangelicals differ in their understanding of the role and authority of Official State Churches, believing that the Bible predates the formation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church, and understanding that the thousands of copies of the New Testament (both by themselves and lectionaries) demonstrates the widespread recognition and use of the New Testament in Early Christianity.
Unlike the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches, evangelicals do not consider baptism to be sacramental (valid) in its own right; Evangelicals often understand Baptism - as an additional imported artificial teaching - whenever it is combined with Salvation. Most evangelicals believe that Baptism - as taught in Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy - in Official Churches expresses a confusion about the nature of what (according to Evangelicals) is the basis for Eternal Life: personal belief and individual acceptance in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the payment (atonement) for one's sins, Without any Additions to that understanding. Evangelicals see baptism as a symbolic action only, and a public recognition of one's personal faith - to take place After one has already converted.
Evangelicals subscribe to a strictly sola scriptura theology, believing the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the only authority in matters of faith and doctrine. This does not mean that Evangelicals do not consider the opinions of others. The works of Calvin, Luther, Zwingly and Melancthon are filled with quotations from history and from the early church fathers. However, for evangelicals, the final authority should always be the Old and New Testaments. Most evangelicals subscribe to a "literal" interpretation of the Bible, meaning that where the Bible can be understood literally, it should be taken as such, and not taken figuratively or symbolically. Evangelicals often point out that where symbolic interpretation becomes a guide in a Church or denomination, there is almost no common agreement on what the "Symbolism" is supposed to mean. Many evangelicals use the term inerrant to describe the Bible.
Some evangelicals subscribe to what could be called a “positive conception of scriptural authority.