In this excerpt1 from his classic work, Knots Untied, J.C. Ryle defines “the evangelical religion” as he seeks to defend the faith against apostasy and theological revisionism in the Church of England in the latter portion of the 19th century:
In defining what Evangelical Religion is, I admit at the outset that I have no written creed, no formal declaration of principles, to refer to. The reader will do me the justice to believe that I feel that want very keenly. I can only bring forward the results of such reading, study, and observation, as are within the reach of all ordinary men.
But for many years I have examined carefully the published works of most of the Fathers of the Evangelical school, and especially of the men of the last century, and I have formed decided opinions about their peculiar principles. I may be wrong in my estimate of their merits; but I can honestly say that I have not arrived at my conclusions without prayer, thought, and pains.
To the question “what Evangelical Religion is?” The simplest answer I can give is to point out what appear to be its leading features. These I consider to be five in number:
The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy. Its theory is that man is required to believe nothing, as necessary to salvation, which is not read in God’s Word written, or can be proved thereby.
... a non-evangelical Lutheran theologian who has studied evangelicals a lot and even published one major book about evangelicalism stood up at the back of the room and said “I suggest that an evangelical is anyone who loves Billy Graham.” The whole room broke out in applause. Of course, I don’t believe everyone in the room necessarily agreed, but finally someone had said something meaningful TOWARD some kind of possible consensus.