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

Is the History of Evangelicalism shaped by culture or does it shape culture by finding its expression in response to the context.

Written by: on February 7, 2022

In the bible, Paul talks about responding to the cultural context in order to share the Gospel and win the people to Christ. He was careful not to conform to the culture but he tries to find a way in which the Gospel finds expression in ways that are relevant and appropriate to the culture. The bible says in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22,

To the Jews, I became as a Jew, so that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the Law, I became as one under the Law, though not being under the Law myself, so that I might gain those who are under the Law; to those who are without the law, I became as one without the Law, though not being without the Law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might gain those who are without the Law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak; I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save more.

Paul finds a way to express the Gospel to different groups in the way that the hearers will understand. He responds to the local context and finds a way to present the same unchangeable Gospel to the different context in ways that they can understand better. He does not conform to the culture but he influences the culture by wisely assimilating into the culture, to influence the culture from within. David Bebbington in his book, Evangelicalism in modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s gives a researched historical study account of Evangelical religion in its British cultural setting.[1] It starts from the inception in the time of John Wesley to Charismatic renewal today. The book highlights the great impact of the evangelical movement on nineteenth-century Britain, details its resurgence since the Second World War, arguing that the development of ideas and attitudes of the movement were shaped most by the British culture. It is clear that the British culture had a big influence on evangelicalism. David Bebbington is a historian and professor emeritus of Stirling University, with the principle research interest in the history of politics, religion, and society in Great Britain from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century, and in global evangelical movement history.

The same period from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century witnessed great changes on the economic front arising from the emergence and growth of capitalism. While Bebbington has not related capitalism to the growth of evangelicalism, Dr. Jason Clark in his PHD research, highlights the role of capitalism in influencing evangelicalism.[2] Evangelicalism is revealed to be both a creature of and a response to capitalism, where evangelical anxieties around assurance migrated into anxieties about providence.[3] Jason asserts that evangelicals started with by using the disciplined ascetics of the market for identity and relationships but the market ascetics deformed and replaced Christian social imaginaries, with market imaginations around providence.

From the two authors, it is important to determine whether evangelicalism was changing in order to respond to the culture or it was being forced to change by the forces of culture. From the research work of David Bebbington, it is clear that there was clear morphing of evangelicalism as reflected in denominational reforms in succeeding generations. The initiation, motivation and the effects of these changes on the different denominations reveals a great impact of the British culture on Christian practice. It is the same thing with capitalism where Jason’s research findings point to the “deforming forces of capitalism” adversely affecting evangelicalism. He says that evangelicalism has not only lost its resistance to the deforming forces of capitalism but has in some ways perfected this forces. Wolffe differs with Bebbington and says that his findings should be balanced by the recognition that, at least in the 19th century, “the relationship between Evangelicalism and its cultural environment was very much a two-way one.”[4]

It is upon the Evangelical movement to identify ways of taking corrective measures to remedy this situation. This can only happen when they acknowledge the problem and develop ways and means to reverse this trend. Jason points out in his findings that these are self-caused problems within the Evangelical movement and can be corrected using internal resources. As a leader, I found myself self-searching in light of whether our organization and its practices are conforming to the patterns of the world, or we are being renewed by the transformation of our minds, to transform our local communities for God. Of particular interest in my research, is that I have been awakened to the need to understand the local culture of my target community and finds ways of positively responding to bring transformation, and being careful not to be conformed and negatively influenced by the culture and other dynamics in the community.


[1] David Bebbington. Evangelicalism and Modern Britain: A History From The 1730s t0 1980s. (Ada, Michigan. Baker Publishing Group, 1989).

[2] Jason Clark. Evangelicalism and Capitalism. A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relation. (2018). Faculty Publications – Portland Seminary. 132. https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/132

[3] Ibid…ii

[4]  John Wolffe “Late Modern — Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s by D. W. Bebbington.” History 75, no. 244 (1990): 346.

About the Author


Mary Kamau

Christ follower, Mother of 3 Biological children and one Foster daughter, Wife, Pastor, Executive Director of Institutional Development and Strategy in Missions of Hope International, www.mohiafrica.org.

Leave a Reply