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

Influence – in More Than One Place

Written by: on February 8, 2014

As I reached the later stages of D.W. Bebbington’s insightful look into Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s I felt as if I was glimpsing into the past to see and understand the present.  I related to the history and development of Evangelicalism through my experience growing up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s here in the northwest corner of the United States. I read Bebbington with the eyes of my evangelical faith experience, noticing patterns and correlations, as well as questions.

Bebbington begins by identifying four qualities one might easily refer to them as the hallmarks of an evangelical faith.  They form the cornerstones rather than a sequential or even hierarchal structure, although some might disagree with me on that last point.  Conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism comprise “the quadrilateral of priorites that is the basis of Evangelicalism.”[1]  For someone stumbling upon this blog post unfamiliar or even jaded by Evangelicalism a moments review is valuable.  Evangelicalism is connected, deeply so to the “belief that lives need to be changed.”[2]  The gospel message is to be demonstrated.  It may be that this element of Evangelicalism is a bit more difficult to figure out.  Activism is “the expression of the gospel in effort.”[3]  Each word has been reflected upon and demonstrated with different emphasis throughout the years.

The third cornerstone is “biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible.”[4]  My own understanding and adherence to this cornerstone has changed over the past ten years.  In some denominational circles it is a matter of debate or contention, closely aligned with the authority of the Bible in the life and practice of a Christian, and a denomination.  It is one I am now experiencing as I am in the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church – USA (PC-USA).  John Stott[5] and J.I. Packer, both long respected evangelical leaders place the Bible front and center.  Packer placing the supremacy of scripture ahead of the others while Stott affirmed that to be an evangelical affirms that we are “Bible people.”[6]  The fourth identifying characteristic is “crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.”[7]

Each of these qualities is specific, but they are also broad.  They are open to definition and clarity depending upon ones relationship with each specific quality as well has the context in which Evangelicalism exists.  From childhood through grade 12 I attended Baptist Churches.  Bebbington helped me recognize the influence of the holiness tradition in my own expectation of conversion.  True to a definitive conversion experience, I was at a rally for teenagers when I clearly felt I needed to respond, repent from my sins and ask Christ into my life.  I had heard and would hear in the coming years an emphasis on the need to accept Christ so that I would not go to hell.  But I had also experienced and begun to understand, ever so slightly, that God truly did love me.  What I yearned for and hoped for was that I would not sin anymore, now I would be acceptable and perfect. Yet I did, sin.  If I was justified by faith,[8] I doubted I had been genuinely saved.

I loved history, particularly the history of the 1700s and the 1800s.  John Wesley, Hannah Pearsall Smith, Hudson Taylor, Charles Finney and George Müller were people I read.  When I attended college at George Fox I heard about the baptism of the Spirit, a second blessing, there for the asking, if I asked in faith believing.  My understanding of how to live a Christian life was influenced by the holiness movement some one hundred years later. “The holiness movement offered what many late nineteenth-century Evangelicals wanted: a means of coping with the challenges of their era.”[9]  Bebbington provides the link between the influences of that particular time upon Evangelicalism.  In this particular era is was Romanticism, “the sensibility of the age lay behind the new spiritual language.”[10]  It also demonstrates how one era’s influence carries forward and provides the basis from which succeeding generations engage with their present day challenges.

I have heard, and perhaps you have as well that we just need to return to the Bible.  There is a sense of yearning for the impressions we have of a world in order.  What Bebbington points out is that Evangelicals have always been fashioning what it is to understand and practically express the tenets of conversionism, activism, biblicalism and crucicentricism.  It would seem that in each generation one or another is under stress.  New insights, new ways of thinking, responding and reacting to the prevailing cultural thought all impact the way we understand and practice our faith.  One of the most helpful take away from the reading was simply to acknowledge that culture does influence the Church.  I wonder if we have not learned how to discuss that without polarizing or denying.

The challenge I feel is that each of the qualities of Evangelicalism is under stress now in the post-modern, post-Christendom world.  Tides seem to be turning every so slowly.  My evangelicalism is more liturgical, less focused on a specific moment of conversion.  My activism is now oriented toward the kingdom of God and focused on being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others, rather than getting people into Church, my understanding of why Christ died on the cross is not so bound to a substitutionary death.  My conviction that scripture is the word of God has deepened, while no longer affirming it as the inerrant and infallible word of God.  I have been influenced by my culture, present and past.

            [1] D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 3.

            [2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] John Stott passed away July 27, 2011.  Accessed 2/3/2014. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/topics/s/john-stott/.  Stott’s Basic Christianity and J.I. Packer’s, Knowing God have long been on my bookshelf (and yes, they were read!).

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 3.

[8] Ibid., 6.

[9] Ibid., 152.

[10] Ibid.

About the Author

Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

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