According to author, researcher, and historian David Bebbington, an Evangelical is marked by four distinct characteristics, which form a quadrilateral: conversion, activism, biblicism and crucicentrism (Focus on the cross and atonement). Conversionism, that is conversion of souls unto Christ, could be the single value from which evangelicalism was derived. Bebbington writes, “Conversions were the goal of personal effort, the collective aim of churches, the theme of Evangelical literature”. Conversion of the soul swung at the root of sin, and therefore sin was the result of the unconverted person or people. “A converted character,” Bebbington writes, “would work hard, save money and assist his neighbor.” .
The second characteristic Bebbington notes is activism, which I will right about in more detail. Activism seems to set evangelicalism apart other protestants and high church groups. It is William Marsh who wrote, “An Evangelical believer is a man who believes in the fall and its consequences, in the recovery and its fruit, in the personal application of the recovery by the power of the Spirit […] the Evangelical will aim, desire, endeavor, by example, by exertion, by influence, and by prayer to promote the great salvation of which he himself is a happy partaker.” . Activism appears to be the fruit of conversion. For evangelicals the goal of conversion was the activity of converting others. How one is converted, through what process, prayer or form of baptism, Evangelicals quickly diverge; however, these two characteristics form the foundational identity of the Evangelical movement.
If conversionism and activism form the foundation of Evangelicalism, then what supports and upholds this foundation? Jason Clark comes into conversation with Bebbington on this topic. Clark writes, “Protestant reformers, having left behind doctrines of assurance, suffered resultant anxieties about their personal salvation. If the church was no longer able to dispense an assurance of salvation, how did someone know they were saved?” […] For Bebbington it was this new anxiety, and focus on the doctrine of assurance, that generated the activism that was distinct to Evangelicals.” Prior to the Reformation, the church held the power of assurance among the collective psyche. Post Reformation we see a shift from external authority to internal experience. Previously the church had been the guiding sign post for ones life, and the symbol of ones conversion. However, the Reformers needed a new sign; a sign that generated from one’s life rather than the church.
Enter here the initial rumblings of the symbiotic relationship between Evangelicalism and capitalism. Clark writes, “Initially for Evangelicals, and dominant for them, was the desire for inner spiritual renewal of the self around an identity in Christ. Yet that social imagination for the self eventually atrophies and becomes a market imagination within capitalism.”  Clark pauses before continuing his mapping of Evangelicalism, but sets the stage for Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic.
The final two characteristics of Evangelicalism are biblicism and crucicentrism. If conversionism and activism form the collective identity of Evangelicalism, then the bible is the mortar holding this identity together. Of course this is dialectical relationship – scriptural interpretation leads to a fervent activism for conversions. Likewise, Evangelical focus on winning souls unto Christ reinforces biblical interpretation. Further, the movement’s distinct mission for winning souls, informs the hermeneutical and preferential approach to scripture. Primacy was given to the New Testament and mainly the Gospel of John and the Pauline letters, which heavily substantiated the first two characteristics of Evangelicalism.  Evangelicals historically held to varying views of biblical inspiration, but all venerated the bible as God’s primary revelation, replacing the void left by a lack of clerical authority and Church polity.
Finally, crucicentrism is biblical interpretation, which centers around Christ’s atonement, the cross and its salvific function for humanity. Bebbington writes, “The Atonement eclipsed even the incarnation among evangelicals […] To make any theme other than the cross the fulcrum of a theological system was to take a step away from Evangelicalism.”  Biblical interpretation centered around the cross, and the cross gave legitimacy to the Bible’s authority.
I am curious how Bebbington’s work has shifted in a postmodern world, specifically post 1980. My question is, does the mythology which drove the expansion of Western Evangelicalism hold water, and provide the container and mechanisms needed for personal and social transformation. In 1975 Carl Jung wrote, “Myth is pre-eminently a social phenomenon: it is told by the many and heard by the many. It gives the ultimately unimaginable religious experience an image, a form in which to express itself, and thus makes community life possible.”.  Depending on who you ask, Evangelicalism is somewhere between a death-spiral and a renewal process, but it is undoubtedly in the throws of transformation. The question remains, will a new myth elevate from the collective unconscious to give Western society, even Evangelicalism, a transformational way forward?
9. Edinger, Edward F. The New God-Image: A Study of Jung’s Key Letters Concerning the Evolution of the Western God-Image. Chiron Publications, 1996. 46.