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

The Nature of Religion

Written by: on October 6, 2023

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”. [1]  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”. [2]  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”[3].  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”[4].  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.” [5]

[1] Bebbington, David. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. (London: Routledge, 2005). Pg. 3.

[2] Bebbington, pg 3.

[3] Ibid, pg.4

[4]Clark, Jason. Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship. (London School of Theology, 2018) pg 55.

[5]Johnson, David (David W.), and Jeffrey. VanVonderen. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. (Minneapolis, Minn: Bethany House Publishers, 1991.) pg 168.

About the Author


Jana Dluehosh

Jana serves as a Spiritual Care Supervisor for Signature Hospice in Portland, OR. She chairs the corporate Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee as well as presents and consults with chronically ill patients on addressing Quality of Life versus and alongside Medical treatment. She has trained as a World Religions and Enneagram Spiritual Director through an Anam Cara apprenticeship through the Sacred Art of Living center in Bend, OR. Jana utilizes a Celtic Spirituality approach toward life as a way to find common ground with diverse populations and faith traditions. She has mentored nursing students for several years at the University of Portland in a class called Theological Perspectives on Suffering and Death, and has taught in the Graduate Counseling program at Portland Seminary in the Trauma Certificate program on Grief.

6 responses to “The Nature of Religion”

  1. Cathy Glei says:

    Thank you for sharing Jana! The questions people have need space to be shared. A great place where I have found comfort sharing has been in community groups. It is a place where people gather, read scripture, ask questions, pray, and mutually encourage one another in each one’s faith journeys. Followers need spaces like this. What venues have you found valuable for sharing your questions about faith? God? Scripture?

    • mm Jana Dluehosh says:

      Good question Cathy. I sometimes fail to give myself some credit as a Christian and as a mom, that even though our last church closed down in the pandemic we have been part of the same small group that meets monthly for the last 8 years! That’s no small thing! We totally doubt, wrestle, vent and continue to show up for each other. I also have met a squad of women in my hip hop dance class who have the greatest understanding of hospitality and community more than most! Most of them are actually far more conservative in their faith than me, but we connect and do true community and show up for each other! Thank you for asking Cathi (oh and of course starting with our time at Truth coffee in Cape Town, I’ve been allowed to ask questions with my peer group! What a gift.

  2. Kally Elliott says:

    “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?” I wonder when such a voice is prophetic. I think often, not always, but often, dissenting voices are pointing out the broken systems and pointing us to a better way. Knowing you Jana, your voice has been prophetic in the religious circles you were part of.

    • mm Jana Dluehosh says:

      Thank you Kally. I believe the same in you. Oh to be prophetic and to walk the fine line of speaking into the space and dissenting so much that it’s cynical. I’m finding myself being able to find that line easier then before and my heart softening because of my cohort:)

  3. mm Russell Chun says:

    “Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.” – Plato

    “When you are finished changing, you are finished”. – Benjamin Franklin

    You wrote, “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” I forget where did that come from? I will have to remember that as GoodSports International moves into the Christian culture of Ukraine.

    Never have been a leader in the church, I seemed to have missed the fall of the word “evangelical.” As I read through the quadrilateral, I was happy to have a place to hang my spiritual hat on (I like hats).

    In my simplistic view I added the scriptures to his four points to make sense to me.

    • Crucicentrism (or Christocentrism) – Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” & Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” & Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
    • Conversionism – Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” & Romans 10:13: “For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”
    • Biblicism – 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
    • Activism – Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

    Thanks for your thoughts on derailed leaders. I was talking to Todd about my first chaplain who is in prison for having sex with his adopted Korean Daughter.

    As a new Christian (age 33) this taught me that pastors are sinful humans too. Within the first 10 years of my faith walk, most of my married mentors were divorced.

    “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

    Ain’t that the truth.


  4. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Aint that the truth! Perhaps the derailment is also on those of us who place the “leaders” so high up on rails? or Pedestals! They have longer to fall, more to injure and have more collateral damage:(. When will we stop celebrating our leaders? What is our responsibility as the global church to uphold our leaders and scaffold them before the even get to the edge and long before they fall? We do that for our church bell towers? Why are we not doing that for our pastors?

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