British historian David W. Bebbington, specializing in the history of modern Britain, provides a thorough analysis of evangelicalism’s development in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. Uniquely, he examines both the influence of evangelicalism on society and the influence of society on evangelicalism. Classified as a history book, Bebbington carefully utilizes both primary and secondary sources to explore through nine chapters, end notes and an excellent index the contours of evangelical thought and practice, broad values that hold the diverse evangelical community together, and deep exegetical and praxis differences that have led to conservative and liberal branches on the same tree. At the same time, he also explores the impact of the enlightenment, romanticism, German philosophy, modernity, the role of science and other cultural developments on evangelicalism in both its conservative and liberal manifestations.
Jason Paul Clark, in his dissertation, Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship, dialogues with Bebbington, among others, concerning the specific ways in which evangelicalism and capitalism have influenced and interacted with each other. Specifically, he explores the interaction between the development of capitalistic markets and the characteristics of evangelicalism. He elucidates how this interaction informed theological movement from the doctrine of assurance to the doctrine of providence and the damaging impact this has had on evangelicalism. He intends his analysis and findings to provide catalytic impetus so that evangelicalism may respond to these damaging impacts with its own internal resources.
In Chapter Two, our focus for this week’s reading, Clark first defines how he is using the terms evangelicalism and capitalism. He then explores and analyzes Bebbington’s description of evangelicalism’s four key characteristics in conversation with other scholars and how this same community of scholars view evangelicalism’s movement from the doctrine of assurance to the doctrine of providence. He concludes this chapter by analyzing the interaction effects of new economic markets, migration, and the complex dynamics of individualism, the need for community (or “islands of social care”), the growth of leisure time, and the rise of volunteerism.
Though Clark as a narrower focus than Bebbington, their core focus on the mutual influence of evangelicalism and culture on each other, particularly drew my interest. Having now lived in the Middle East for nearly nine years and worked primarily with the Middle Eastern evangelical communities of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, I have been fascinated with how evangelicalism in this part of the world has been influencing culture since the early 1800s. It has also been very interesting to observe the ways in which their host culture has influenced their evangelicalism in contrast to how my own culture has influenced evangelicalism in the United States. Another dynamic at play is the interaction between the western cultures (USA, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, and others) from whence the first evangelical mission workers came in the early 1800s and the local cultures to which they came in the Near East.
Here are a few examples: The first Western evangelical mission workers arrived about a century after the Catholic counter-reformation initiative had sent Jesuit priests to the Levant. Embodying Bebbington’s descriptive value of activism and the entrepreneurial (and I would add competitive) spirit noted by Clark as an influence of being in growing capitalistic market areas, these early Western mission workers were determined to start two schools and two hospitals in every town across what was then Greater Syria. When asked why two in every town, they replied along the lines of “Well, if we start one of each, the Catholics will start the second just to not be outdone by us.” This commitment to activism and the influence of capitalism laid the foundation for what would become activist indigenous evangelical communities across the Levant (current day Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Jordan), Mesopotamia (current day Iraq), Asia Minor (present day Turkey), Persia (present day Iran), and Egypt.
The very first school in the then Ottoman Empire dedicated to educating girls was started in 1835 by Sarah Smith in Beirut, a young Presbyterian Connecticut woman. She died within a year of starting that school, but it became the seed for what today is a high-ranking K-12 school in the Beirut area (one of seven in the country) overseen by the local Synod of Syria and Lebanon. These schools serve over 7,000 students and employ more than 900 teachers. Many of today’s moderate Muslim political and business leaders in the region have an evangelical school background.
That early effort of Sarah Smith also led to the development of the first college for women in the area, which is now known as the Lebanese American University—a co-ed vibrant undergraduate and graduate educational institution with two campuses and two training hospitals. The indigenous evangelical communities in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Palestine/Israel, Jordan, and Egypt also all have developed local schools, universities, and seminaries.
I have found interesting that all these early evangelical communities, started by different western mission workers, all use the name “evangelical,” irregardless of the specific denomination from whence the mission workers came (except for the Lutherans and Anglicans in the region). This has a lot to do with their cultural context at the time of developing under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and the dynamics of what was called the millet system. Put simply, the Sultan only wanted to relate to one authority figure from each religious community. Christians posed a challenge since we seem often more committed to division than unity. But the Sultan’s will prevailed, so there was only one millet (like a US census category) allowed for this newly emerging Christian evangelical entity.
To this day, though the Ottoman Empire ended with the conclusion of WWI, the fingerprints of the millet system remain embedded in the life of the evangelical community (and all religious communities across the region). Various government offices today still will only relate to one authority figure from each religious community. Imagine what a challenge that presents to newly planted evangelical churches in a Middle Eastern context who are not in relationship with existing evangelical churches in that same context. When it comes to establishing a bank account or renting or buying a space or settling legal issues or any number of other things, one must interact with government offices, and to do so, one needs to go through that single authority figure appointed to be the liaison.
Bebbington’s and Clark’s respective works have much more for me to ponder and relate to my own evangelical journey and the evangelical context in which I live and work in the Middle East. There is also more for me to explore regarding the conservative/liberal breech. These additional reflections will have to await a future blog!
 Bebbington, David. 2005. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. Transferred to digital printing. London: Routledge.
 Ibid., ix.
 Ibid., 1-19 describes the four key values that define evangelicalism.
 Ibid., 181-228 especially explores the development of conservative and liberal branches of evangelicalism.
 Clark, Jason Paul, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (2018). Faculty Publications – Portland Seminary. 132. https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/132
 Ibid., ii.
 Ibid., 49-76.
 Ibid., 50-52.
 Ibid., 52-67.
 Ibid., 67-76.