Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Evangelical – How Good News often became Bad News and How There Might Be Hope for Change

Written by: on July 14, 2014

    Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s by D. W. Bebbington is – as the title suggests — a text about a historical exploration of Evangelicalism in modern Britain.  However, it is also about much more than this.  While Bebbington specifically reviews the socio-cultural aspects of Evangelicalism in Britain, there are themes that he discusses that have influenced Evangelical movements world-wide.

For instance, in beginning the text, Bebbington notes that among other varying attributes of Evangelicalism that he understands to have been emphasized, four characteristics remain consistently core: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism.  “Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism.” While his discussion of these aspects related to the specific topic of the text is eminently helpful in its own right, these are also qualities with which most Evangelicals world-wide find affinity.  For instance, in the mid-twentieth century Albert Outler coined his own quadrilateral — what he called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  Outler’s version consists of Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience.  Later Howard Snyder of Asbury Theological Seminary added a fifth component – making a pentalateral — that he suggested was implicit within those already stated – Service.  While it can be noted that of all the characteristics, Outler’s version – who did his Ph.D. work at Yale, taught at both Yale and Duke and was an officially invited observer at the Second Vatican Council – seems to contain the least implicit and/or explicit specific reference to crucicentrism the realities of the day showcased otherwise.  As Bebbington notes in his text, the idea of Biblicism/scripture was often left out various permutations of core doctrinaire assumptions produced by British Evangelicals. This was not due to their lack of commitment.  Rather, it was often due to their being so immersed in the text that they felt no need to reference it.  This same orientation could be similarly suggested of Outler’s rendition related to crucicentrism.

However, overall, despite the relevance of discussing the rationale for an even greater understanding of similarity in the midst of a common core of overlapping emphases, what I find particularly important about Bebbington’s historical review, actually, is its notation of particular personalities, consistent shiftings of emphases within similarity and even some larger shifts of focus beyond the boundaries of easily understood similarity.  My reason for suggesting my own emphasis on noting consistent historical shift over stability within Evangelicalism is due to what has been in the last thirty plus years a rigidification of understanding of doctrine and its adherence in some Evangelical camps and a reciprocal rigidification (ironically) of what amounts to a laissez-faire approach to spirituality in other Evangelical camps.  The tensions of the “middle ground” in Evangelicalism of both “Love of God” (biblicism/crucicentrism) and “Love of Neighbor” (conversionism/activism) has not been an easy road to navigate.  This is a rough sketch of this idea and more specificity would be needed to adequately convey a full connectivity of the above concepts, but I hope a semblance of the issue is communicated.  It is important to note socio-cultural change because I find that this offers room for personal and corporate grace while also still humbly reminding of commonalities from which change occurs.

What I love about Bebbington’s book is that it ends for me in a hopeful fashion.  It informs that where many Evangelicals for too long held to the stance of “your either with us or against us” and also held to an essential Platonic dualism of the spirit being good and the body being bad, a new day is dawning where social responsibility is a vital part of spirituality that requires kindness and friendship, a hospitable working alongside those who think, believe and sometimes do otherwise. I am also coming away from the text feeling that it reminds Evangelicals to be “ambassadors of reconciliation” seeking to bring about goodness – pieces of heaven on earth – here and now not just “in the sweet by and by.”

About the Author

Clint Baldwin

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