‘Evangelical’ or ‘evangelical’? To Capitalize or Not?

Interesting, given that I opted for the capitalisation of the word just yesterday.

Matthew Schmitz writes over at First Things.

Evangelical writer Daniel Silliman tackles a problem familiar to this editor: Is it “Evangelical” or “evangelical,” majuscule or miniscule, capitalized or not? The problem encompasses other terms like “deist,” “atheist,” and “charismatic.”

In the chart above, Silliman shows how preferences have swung dramatically through the sixteen- and seventeen-hundreds. Nor, as he points out, do things get any clearer in the twentieth century.


Silliman concludes, “I don’t know how much can really be drawn from these graphs. Maybe there are some social facts to be cited as explaining one style or the other at one time or another. The bigger picture, I suspect, is that we just fuddle along. Which I take some peace in.”

That sounds right. We here at First Things capitalize “Evangelical,” not least because it so often appears alongside Catholic and we want a kind of visual parity, and also because they should not have the word to themselves. Catholics and Orthodox also can be evangelical, as we have long insisted.

Anyway, do read all of Silliman’s post (and browse the rest of his blog) here.


7 thoughts on “‘Evangelical’ or ‘evangelical’? To Capitalize or Not?

  1. Of course this all depends on how one wants to use the term? On this blog, I almost always capitalize it, as I am historically an Anglican Evangelical, on a High Church and Anglo-Catholic blog. 😉 But, I have btw, been an a Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic in my long history, as many know on this blog.

    *And yes, there are degrees of being Evangelical, some Anglican High Church people are in areas, as even some Roman Catholics in places. But the essence of the “Evangelical” must be seen both biblically and historically, and surely this is very historical in classic Anglicanism (Irish Articles 1615, and of course the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles! 🙂

  2. This is really an issue for the individual style sheet or blogger’s preference. I don’t believe there’s a denomination named only “Evangelical” in the same way as Baptist or Presbyterian. You would naturally capitalize Evangelical in Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. On the other hand, you wouldn’t capitalize it if you said “Billy Graham is a little too evangelical for me.” If you capitalized it, it would imply Graham is leaning toward a particular denomination’s doctrine, rather than a certain generalized approach to preaching. Nor would you capitalize it if you said “My approach to Acts is evangelical”. Nor would you capitalize “His view of the Mac is evangelical”. Beyond that, an editor is within his or her rights to lay down the law: the editor may say capitalize it always, and a writer who disagrees is free to say the editor has a tin ear, but should definitely comply with the directive. As a sometime writer and editor myself, though, I would lean toward capitalizing it seldom.

  3. Btw, a biblical and theological re-statement no doubt needs to be done, with groups like the “emergent” evangelicals. Just what is an “Evangelical”? should surely be bibical and theological foremost. “Euangelion”, is the good news and gospel itself! And in some real way, all Christians are “Euanelistes”, messengers and people of the good news and Gospel, itself! And I love the term “Evangelical” itself, and surely the strain and persuasion of the historical church and people themselves that have used and lived its truth lives on in the Church Catholic, itself…the Mystical Body of Christ, visible and invisible!

    1. OK, what we’re seeing is that, like any good dictionary entry, there are multiple meanings for the word. “Evangelium” is a synonym for “gospel”, and one Catholic catechism being used for Ordinariate-bound parishes in the US and UK is called “Evangelium”, so even Catholics can be characterized as small-e evangelical, as even evangelicals can be characterized as small-c catholics. And it took me a little while to have this dawn on me, but are those nincompoops at First Things trying to use 16th and 17th century orthography as some sort of guide to modern capitalization? Remember that before industrial-strength printing, there was little agreement on spelling or capitalization at all — garbage in, garbage out. I would say that other than as an example of how “experts” are not so much, this is not a very productive discussion!

      1. “nincompoops”? You always amaze me John, with your negativity offentimes. I know it is hard not to be somewhat negative with the depth and history of Roman Catholicism, and now the “mystery” of the Ordinariate’s! But, “First Things”? Come on John, and you should have known the aspect of “catholic” and “reformed” from Anglicanism, i.e. the via-media! Sometimes I think your just an old ‘cranky-pants’! 😉

  4. All I can say, Fr Robert, is that as someone who’s done postgraduate work in English and linguistics, anyone who tries to use 17th and 18th century orthography (an oxymoron) as a guide to modern capitalization is a nincompoop. I think I’m simply sane here. Have you ever read, for instance, any John Milton in the original orthography? People are so used to reading heavily redacted versions of Shakespeare’s or Milton’s spelling or capitalization that they think they can rely on such versions as authentic samples of prose during that era! I repeat, such folks are nincompoops.

    1. @John: English Lit. is a precious area for me too, though I must confess I must be a “nincompoop” too, as I don’t get the chance to read Shakespeare or Milton in the original orthography, so help us! 😉 I have read my share of Milton, and some Shakespeare (mostly poetry, Sonnets of Love, etc.)

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