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]