While perusing David Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, I went not much further than his first chapter called, “Preaching the Gospel; The Nature of Evangelical Religion”. In my experience, this makes so much sense to start by addressing the essence and birth of a movement. What I’ve come to ponder is that the nature of religion is change. Bebbington noted historically the “four qualities that have been the special marks of Evangelical religion; conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicalism, a particular regard to the Bible; and what may be called crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross”.  What Bebbington seems to have discovered is that Evangelicalism is a living breathing entity, it flows along the stream of culture and people. I love how in the four qualities emphasized regard to the Bible but wasn’t above all of the movement. Bebbington also noted as time went on,” They nevertheless threw themselves into vigorous attempts to spread the faith. Likewise, they did not normally put the Bible among the most important features of their religion”.  As time continues on within the movement according to Bebbington he found by the mid-19th Century, “The first leading principle of Evangelical religion, according to Bishop Ryle, is ‘the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scriptures’.” Bebbington also noted “The primacy of scripture was directed against those who exalted the authority of the church or reason”. It is in this part of the movement where Biblical authority seems to have become the overriding feature of Evangelicalism.
I grew up Evangelical, and the Bible and conversionism were key elements of my upbringing. I don’t believe my understanding of my evangelical faith allowed much room for questions and doubt and experienced most of my questions being replied to with scripture as a way to end my questioning. I don’t believe any of this comes out of malice. Jason Clark in his dissertation stated “Furthermore, historians assume a religious outline to history often cannot conceive of anything other than ‘providential models’ for history, which discourage research accounts. This lack in accounts has led to the state of affairs where even basic questions about economic dimensions of the protestant churches and voluntary societies remain unanswered”. Now I recognize Clark was looking into consumerism, and finding how consumer Evangelicalism seems to sway the movement and that lends to my theory as well that Evangelicalism is a living, breathing movement.
So Nature vs. Nurture? Is the nature of Evangelicalism nurtured? I know I have experienced my journey in Evangelicalism as just that…a journey. Culture eats strategy for lunch is a phrase that we revisited in Oxford, and I wonder if this is also true for Evangelicalism? Evangelicalism came out of culture…. culture is because of influence of Evangelicalism, which one? Both? It sure feels true in America as we watch this whirlwind in action with our culture as reflected so often in politics. My husband and I have been through our own evangelical journey, where it seems the church has been swept to and fro in the culture winds. When we found ourselves in these cultural winds as Pastors it was hard to know that at times education was a barrier and at times it brought enlightenment to our faith. The distance between those leading the way in the church and those who attend are the flock of the church seems to be growing further and further apart. In the end for us, we found ourselves drawn to history and liturgy that is older than a movement, though I recognize that they too at one time were a movement themselves. In embracing liturgy, we are (not that everyone has to feel this way) grabbing a thread that seems to run deeper into the test of time.
I unfortunately have seen some subtle abuses through some of the pillars of evangelicalism. Actually, I think it’s the truth for all religions. Our time in Oxford talking so much about how leaders derail has really impacted me, as I am so tired of hearing about leaders who derail. I’ve had my questions and doubts be dismissed as a “lack of faith” or as cynicism. When does a dissenting voice go off rails themselves and when does it become threatening so systems of power within and outside of the church label it so it can be set aside? This reading has brought me more questions than answers and I look forward to our discussion as a Doctoral group! Below I thought I’d give some words from the book mentioned The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority in the Church by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen, these words are meant to be a check for those of us in leadership as we continue to teach the gospel:
“ Does the “good news” you are hearing, or preaching, bring you to life and spiritual health, or does it not?
If the message you are hearing or preaching does not lift weights off people, set people free, and reconnect people to the true source of life — then is it the gospel?
If it is not the gospel, what will it do to its hearers?
We believe that the effect of trying to live under any message that is not the authentic “good news” from God will not be merely neutral. The effects will be harmful.” 
 Bebbington, David. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. (London: Routledge, 2005). Pg. 3.
 Bebbington, pg 3.
 Ibid, pg.4
Clark, Jason. Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship. (London School of Theology, 2018) pg 55.
Johnson, David (David W.), and Jeffrey. VanVonderen. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. (Minneapolis, Minn: Bethany House Publishers, 1991.) pg 168.