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

Global Evangelicalism – Dreams and Dilemmas

Written by: on April 29, 2015

Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard edit a volume – called Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History & Culture in Regional Perspective[1] – where people work hard to suggest that the idea of Evangelical thought influencing the world is a good thing. I think they do a reasonable job of succeeding for the most part. However, for some people the idea that there is global influence to Evangelicalism is a nightmare of epic proportions as some people have experienced a rather unfortunate antagonistic relationship with some people functioning under the auspices of Evangelicalism.

I find that one of the vital, salient points of the text occurs right near the beginning when the two editors note that the idea of the “secularization thesis” of the mid-twentieth century proved absolutely inaccurate. The “secularization thesis” suggested that religion had to do primarily with premodern societies and as much of the world was moving into a modern and/or post-modern stage of functionality religion would fade inconsequentially into the recesses of history. Of course, we have seen the opposite around the world. Faith/religion (lumping them for the sake of convenience) has surged around much of the world. Of course, this has given rise to all sorts of “post-secular” theories.[2] The important point here for me is that we are not simply considering faith or non-faith scenarios. Rather, the choice is between what sort of faith milieu do you find most preferable?

In the first main chapter of the text, Mark Noll writes about attempting to define Evangelicalism. The breadth of the movement has been both boon and bane for those in it and for those trying to understand it. The continuum in which it functions is broad indeed. However, Noll attempts to offer a few characteristics which seem to generally function for it much of the time. These are: Conversion, Activism, Biblicism, and Crucicentrism.[3] [I suppose you could call these literally the “ABC’s of Evangelicalism”].

In the next Chapter on “The Theological Impulse of Evangelical Expansion” William Shenk notes the missional nature of taking this Gospel/Good News to new places. This impetus fits well with Noll’s characteristics of both Conversion and Activism. The driving motivation for such a move was and remains “the Great Commission.” That is, Christ’s call to “Go into all the world and make disciples…” Shenk refers to a hymn that was sung and that I sung considerably during my era growing-up. “We’ve a story to tell the nations, That shall turn their hearts to the right, A story of truth and mercy, A story of peace and light…”[4] Of course, in relation to this hymn, a significant part of the problem for Evangelicalism was that throughout the twentieth century it often seemed to many people that the truth and light portions were emphasized at the expense of the mercy and peace portions.

This text provides a thoughtful history of Evangelicalism up to the current era and notes the efforts by many within the movement to move toward more thoughtful, nuanced stances related to those of differing beliefs and those of varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

I suppose part of the aspect that remains to be seen is if Evangelicals can make it seem more authentic and less ironic than similar attempts by socio-political Conservatives to add the term compassionate alongside their name – as in, Compassionate Evangelicalism. I for one hope they’re able to do it. I think doing so will be a helpful good for the world. If they don’t manage it, I imagine that they will likely find themselves becoming ever more polarized in any number of arenas with those around them and as the culture wars of the 1980’s in the United States showcased, this is not a pretty sight to behold.


[1] Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).

[2] Ibid., 12-13.

[3] Ibid., 20.

[4] Ibid., 53.

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Clint Baldwin

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