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

Providential Quadrilateral Evangelicalism

Written by: on February 2, 2023

Evangelicalism has been a major force in modern British history, the following resources provide an in-depth look at this important movement. David Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s and Jason Clark’s Evangelicalism and Capitalism explore how evangelical Christianity shaped British society during this period. In his book, Bebbington examines how evangelical beliefs influenced both religious practice and public life throughout Britain over a span of 250 years. He looks at key figures such as John Wesley, William Wilberforce, JN Darby, and Charles Spurgeon who were instrumental in spreading Protestant doctrines across England while also advancing social reform movements such as temperance or slavery abolition campaigns.

Additionally, he discusses topics like the revivalist preaching style which was popular among evangelicals during that era. Some of the topics include:

  • their emphasis on personal faith rather than ecclesiastical authority
  • their use of print media for disseminating ideas
  • links between evangelicals with political parties
  • the emergence of missionary societies

Clark’s work focuses more specifically on the economic aspects associated with evangelical Christianity. He concludes by looking into relationships between capitalism and religion from the 18th century to today’s neoliberal world order where free market ideology is the dominant form of global governance. He argues that many elements within the capitalist system are compatible with some core values espoused by Protestant fundamentalists like individual liberty, hard work, self-discipline, etc. Moreover, he claims that although they endorse not all forms of capitalism historically there have been close ties between certain sections within the business community & church leadership due to a shared moral outlook about human nature and the proper role of government intervention.

Overall these two works offer valuable insights into the historical relationship between religious belief systems & socioeconomic forces operating behind them – providing readers with a comprehensive overview of the evolution process which brought us current state affairs.

“Evangelical Anxiety: From Assurance to Providence”

In Chapter two of his thesis, Dr. Clark examines the issue of using the term “capitalism” without a clear understanding of its technical meaning. “Michael Polanyi calls it “tacit knowing,” where everyone knows “more than we can tell” or fully codify, about certain kinds of knowledge.”[1] He argues that many accounts of Evangelicalism and capitalism suffer from an implicit assumption regarding their use of this term. To navigate this problem, he proposes two possible paths. Firstly, to focus on capitalism as a concept with technical critiques related to ownership and property laws. Secondly, to examine actual arrangements between Evangelicalism and Capitalism in real-world settings. ”Using the term capitalism represents the multifaceted nature of various capitalisms, whilst it avoids collapse into overly technical arguments.

Dr. Clark then shifts his attention toward exploring how these social relationships are embodied within different organizations under Capitalism. Instead of providing theological accounts for economic systems or structures, he suggests that it is more important to look at habits or dispositions formed by people within such systems which can be seen as part of Evangelicalism itself in its various forms throughout history.

If we can better understand these habituated practices among individuals operating under capitalist models. We may be able to gain further insight into both economic theories as well as religious belief systems alike.

What is Evangelicalism? Bebbington’s Quadrilateral.

Evangelicalism is a religious movement that has had an immense impact on Christianity in the modern era. Bebbington discusses the concept of Evangelicalism the quadrilateral of priorities, which includes conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism, as key characteristics that define Evangelicalism.

While previous forms of Christianity may have exhibited some similarities to these four aspects of Evangelical thought and practice, it is only within the framework of Evangelical theology that all four are uniquely expressed together.

Bebbington’s thesis also explores the relationship between Evangelical faith and Enlightenment thinking. He argues that through its engagement with Enlightenment ideas such as natural law theory or deistic notions about God’s providence over creation came a new confidence in the faith which naturally outworked itself into overt activism for social reform movements (such as abolition).

However, there have been critiques raised against Bebbington’s thesis regarding his assertions concerning the origins of evangelical thought being located mainly within 18th-century Europe. Raising questions about how much influence was exerted by enlightenment thinking upon evangelical doctrine such as assurance or justification by faith alone.[2]

In conclusion, it can be seen then that while many aspects associated with modern-day evangelical belief were present prior to this period. They did not merge until later centuries when combined with certain elements from both Protestant Reformation teachings alongside various strands from philosophical rationalist traditions found during “The Age of Reasoning, or Enlightenment period.”[3]

This book summary provides an interesting perspective on the Protestant Work Ethic, and how it has shaped Evangelicalism. It is a reminder to Christian leaders that despite beliefs about salvation by faith alone, external signs of providence and good works are often required for assurance. This calls into question traditional methods of evangelism, as well as our own understanding of what constitutes true faith in God’s grace.


[1] Micahel Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (London: Routeldge & K. Paul, 1967), 4. From Dr. Jason Clark’s Thesis, p. 50

[2] White, Matthew. “The Enlightenment.” The British Library, 21 June 2018, link.

[3] Ibid.

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

10 responses to “Providential Quadrilateral Evangelicalism”

  1. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Michael,

    Thank you for your thorough summary and assessment of Bebbington and Clark’s work. I might have missed this in your post, but can you share some reflections on the entanglement with capitalism that Evangelicalism has succumbed to as seen in Dr. Clark’s dissertation?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      You didn’t’ the miss it, David. It’s simply not there and should be. In humble honesty, I was incredibly intimidated by this reading and my first time through Dr. Clark’s thesis I felt like I was reading a foreign language. After reading Bebbington and then Clark again, I was able to wrap my head around it although I made about 3000 words worth of notes, I ended with a summary that still requires explanation. Have you ever read your own work before and then later decided to go in a completely different direction? That is me this week if I could. I think I avoided the entanglement because it’s something I personally struggle with. I actually should have written about that and made it more personal. I do feel like evangelism has succumbed to capitalism and in many respects, it’s a good thing. There is also that corrupt side of any industry whether its preaching the Gospel or selling a product. Where is the line? I asked Caleb this too? How do we discern a “comfortable living” in Kingdom work or where that line even is? In Luke 23 and many other places we are told to die in ourselves and be alive in Christ. Again, where is the appropriate “death line?’ Perhaps the line differs with our own heart and circumstances in different seasons. He gives and takes away! This has always been an uncomfortable dichotomy for me (money and gospel).

      Thanks David.

      • Caleb Lu says:

        Michael, I had to read and re-read Jason’s dissertation as well. In all honesty, I had the worst time tracking everything. I appreciate you and the questions you ask as you consider them in your own life. Hopefully we can keep asking these questions out loud and moving toward Jesus in the way we answer them in our life together!

        • Michael O'Neill says:

          Thanks, Caleb. Sorry, I missed this post. I had a hard time tracking with Dr. Clark’s dissertation at first but it definitely got easier as the semester went on. Our lives definitely need to reflect Jesus wherever we go and whatever we do. These books and discussions really helped me realize how much capitalism plays a role in our lives, jobs, and ministries.

      • Alana Hayes says:

        Michael… I am with you…. Even reading your post is intimidating to me! This is very hard stuff!!!! Where to start, friend!!?

        • Michael O'Neill says:

          Thanks, Alana. Yeah, it’s not an easy read. I am enjoying Clark’s work though more and more each time we get an assignment. I was intimidated by the first one and almost gave up but I re-read it a few more times and changed locations. I’m really impressed with him and all of you scholars.

  2. Tonette Kellett says:


    I found the Bebbington Quadrilateral interesting also, and the start of evangelicalism quite fascinating. Thank you for writing about it. You did an excellent job!

  3. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    I must have spent 20-plus hours this week on this post. It was not easy reading at all.

    However, you did a great job teasing out very salient points. The ending question that external signs of providence call into question traditional methods of evangelism are definitely something to think about. Lots of questions for discussion.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you, Audrey. I agree. It wasn’t easy. I had to re-read it so many times. It definitely opened my eyes though to the relationship of capitalism and religion. I can’t help but point it out or spot it now in my work or other churches I am associated with.

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