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

The great tension

Written by: on January 17, 2019

Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain seems to have filled a gap in academic writing with this comprehensive look at the effect of evangelicalism on British society.[1] Even though some reviews such as Watts[2] and Rutz[3] have censured Bebbington for ignoring some of the more negative critiques of the movement, they have also expressed gratitude for his survey, acknowledging there had not been enough academic work on the subject until its publication.

In fact, “Bebbington’s quadrilateral” has become the standard definition of the distinguishing characteristics of evangelicalism: conversionism, activism, Biblicism and crucicentrism.[4] Few question these four pillars, even when disagreeing with some of Bebbington’s finer points. Mainly, the influence of the Enlightenment on the rise of evangelical Protestantism.

Growing up, and into my twenties, my father served as a denominational leader in our Pentecostal denomination. He is fascinated with church history, especially the history of renewal movements. I traveled with him often, and he would stop at historic sites around the globe. He would always pause to provide commentary on each site and its relation to the Church, particularly our Pentecostal tradition. Even though I hated it at the time, I now view these moments as major highlights of my adolescent years. One of the things that stands out to me even now, is the way the expression of evangelicalism has changed over the years even though the fundamental values have remained the same. As I traveled with my father, I can remember expressing great frustration with the church and its inability to “be relevant with the times.” Now, as I take a long view of the evangelical church, I realize it has been shaped by its context perhaps as much as it has influenced it.[5]

Isn’t this the great tension we live in as Christian leaders? We must stand in the present holding to an eternal truth as well as an unknown future. We lead in a time of constant change. It seems the challenge is remaining nimble and relevant in our expression while remaining deeply rooted in core beliefs. We must answer the difficult question, “How do we remain anchored while in constant motion?”


[1] Clouse, Robert G. 1991. “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Book).” American Historical Review 96 (1).

[2] Watts, Michael. “Shorter Notices — Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s by D. W. Bebbington.” The English Historical Review 107, no. 424 (1992): 747.

[3] Rutz, M. (2010). The advent of evangelicalism: Exploring historical continuities. Anglican and Episcopal History, 79(3), 315-317.

[4] Ibid., 79

[5] Ibid., 271

About the Author

Rhonda Davis

Rhonda is passionate about loving her Creator, her wonderful husband, and her three amazing sons. She serves as VP of Enrollment Management & Student Development at The King's University in Southlake, TX.

6 responses to “The great tension”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Great post, Rhonda. I too remember being in the crowd with “this church isn’t relevant” and what I meant was in it’s approach to people and spreading the good news. Now that I am older and wiser (at least I think so) I get why sometimes we (the church) seem out of date. Culture changes very fast mainly because it seems to always be drawn to the future while as you mention Church has an anchored past while also being drawn to the future. Therefore we have this tension between church and culture. Learning how to manage these fault lines will determine how relevant and impactful the church can and will be.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      I agree, Mario. Perhaps it is simply a matter of age and perspective. As I lead in the context of today’s rapid change, I do find myself constantly asking, “What does it look like to champion Christ-likeness in an American society that values personal truth above all?”

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Rhonda, I appreciate your perspective of how Evangelicalism has remained firm in unchanging truth, as I saw caught the opposite view. I was troubled as I read the history of the various reinterpretations not only of non-essentials but even splintering over what some would deem essential. There is definitely a “tension between church and culture” and it has me digging deep into the mutual influence.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Tammy, I read several reviews of Bebbington, and some of them expressed negative critiques for his attempt to discuss evangelicalism as one movement since it seems so divided within itself. Admittedly, I have grown weary of the splintering you refer to. My perspective is likely the result of a desire to find some commonality among us. I wonder what the evangelical church would look like if she could lean into the tension and choose to be unified even in diversity.

  3. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Hi Rhonda. Thanks for sharing your heartfelt post. It was both reflective and enlightening. I especially loved your statement: “We must stand in the present holding to an eternal truth as well as an unknown future.” It is true that the future is unknown, but we know who does know what the future holds! So standing in the present in truth and faith is the perfect answer. Thanks for sharing about your dad. Sounds like you have many special memories of special times together. I love your heart!

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for your personal reflections and insights. For those of us called to lead the Church in our day, we especially feel the tension of cultural relevancy and simultaneous orthodoxy/orthopraxy. How has Bebbington as a source helped you to navigate this tension? Thanks and take care.

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