DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Job Well Done

Written by: on January 17, 2019

I love the feeling I get after a job well done. It’s like you know you’ve accomplished something good and worthwhile. I think you can sense that in the work of others too. When you look at a good painting, like Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, you just get the feeling of fulfilled accomplishment. I believe Bebbington’s work in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain is much more than just a personal accomplishment. It’s a cultural stalwart of religious history. As I read it, I just kept thinking, “This truly is a job well done”.

 

Up until Bebbington’s writings, there had not been a recent general scholarly study on the evangelical faith, despite it’s importance in British History[1] Bebbington goes to great lengths to not just define evangelicalism, but to point out it’s many historical, societal, and political contributions throughout it’s development. In fact, Bebbington’s work is so seminal, he is credited with a renowned definition of “evangelical” that has become known as the “Bebbington quadrilateral”[2]. Evangelicalism, as he defines it, finds it’s footing in four main areas, “‘conversionism’, ‘activism’, ‘biblicism’, and ‘crucicentrism'”[3]. Bebbington also seeks to explore the Evangelical faith that was shaped by its environment[4]. He points out that Evangelicalism even threatened to divide community life as the “plebeian population of the eighteenth century”[5] knew it to be.

 

One of the subjects I found surprisingly interesting was Bebbingtons writings on the 1851 Religious Census. Situated in the chapter on The Growth of the World: Evangelicals and Society in the Nineteenth Century, Bebbington uses census data to walk through the growth and decline of the evangelical movement, as well as how church attendance denoted social classes and structures[6]. At the time of the census, half of the available adult population could be found in a church[7]. In fact, most of the attendance was significantly higher for rural areas and small towns, versus urban areas[8]. Furthermore, “this feature of churchgoing was so marked that it is sometimes suggested that the working classes abstained from Christian worship all together”[9].  Bebbington concludes that a significant factor in the non-churchgoing folks was poverty[10]. In fact, he quotes  R.F. Horton, who noted that “It was symptomatic of the barriers to church attendance erected by what a leading Congregational minister called ‘the English caste system'”[11].

 

If I’m looking at a general spread across the American religious systems, I would venture a guess that what Bebbington was alluding to in the nineteenth century is probably not that different from today. According to the 2018 Religious census conducted by the Pew Research Center, 58% of those who self select as Evangelical protestants attend church at least once a week[12]. When you consider weekly attendance of those who make less than $30,000 annually, that figure drops to 35%[13]. When you break it down geographically, only 22% of adults living in the West and 13% in the Northeast consider themselves Evangelical Protestants, compared to the 34% in the South[14].

 

Despite this books first publishing in 1989, about subject matter relating back England in 1851, it doesn’t look too different from America in 2019. I hope Bebbington feels that 30 years later, his work still resonates with the Evangelical church today, which indeed, is a job well done.

_____

[1] Robert Clausem, “Book Review,” American Historical Review 96, no 1 (February 1991): 165

[2] Michael Watts, “Book Review,” The English Historical Review 107, no 424 (July 1992): 747-748

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

[4] Ibid., preface

[5] Ibid., 23

[6] Ibid., 107

[7] Ibid., 106

[8] Ibid., 107

[9] Ibid., 110

[10] Ibid., 111

[11] Ibid., 112

[12] “Attendance at Religious Services”, Religious Landscape Study, Pew Research Forum, accessed Jan. 17, 2019, http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/attendance-at-religious-services/

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

9 responses to “A Job Well Done”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Thanks for the great post Karen. I like the comparison of today’s Evangelicals to that in the book. The money connection is very interesting and worth pursuing more. I wonder if the geographical connection has more to do with the settlement of America from the East to the West. The ethos of the south is “we don’t change our tradition” one has to look no further than the Confederate flag issue that is still a hot topic today, but it seems the rest of the country tends to change with the trends more readily. Bebbington does a great job showing how Evangelicism changed with the culture and I wonder it Evangelicism in America has not and remained more “Southern” in nature rather than having a Spirit nature.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Mario – excellent points. I do think we see so much polarization in our country, and it just so happens that most of those “poles” live on opposite ends of the country. There is much that Bebbington remarks about urbanization too. I do think it would be interesting to compare our urban centers to the ones of Bebbington’s day!

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Karen, you make some great observations about the similarities between the 1851 Religious census and the 2018 religious census. I think it is interesting that people in some regions do not self-identify with the term “evangelical”. I think a lot has to do with the perception of an evangelical, true or untrue. Unfortunately, the term evangelical has come to be associated with bigotry and narrow-mindedness in the minds of many. I think it is important that we make sure we are showing the love of Jesus Christ in all that we do and rejecting evil at all cost. This is the only way the term evangelical can be redeemed.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      I agree with you, Mary. As you commented on someone else’s post (I can’t remember who now!), I think most people would just refer to themselves as Christians. However, some of the students I work with are even hesitant to use that term. All I know is that no matter how you classify yourself, if you are a follower of Jesus, we have to do better.

  3. I agree with you Karen about a job well done by Bebbington. This is a masterpiece of research work and there is so much knowledge that Bebbington has added about Evangelicalism. I am glad I got the opportunity to read the book.

  4. mm Sean Dean says:

    Karen, I wonder about the results of the 2018 religious census. There’s a large body of literature debating the value of surveys that allow people to self-select their descriptor. Several other surveys recently have shown large numbers of people who call themselves Evangelical are largely separated from the historical definition of Evangelicalism in terms of belief. I’m not trying to dispute your conclusion, but I wonder if a lot of people are calling themselves Evangelical because they’ve been taught that it’s somehow wrong to be anything else. I wonder if, particularly in the U.S., if we’ve allowed the term Evangelical to so intermix with Christian culture that for some Christian and Evangelical are one and the same.

  5. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I find it both interesting and unsurprising that there is an economic link to church attendance. When I think of the different churches I’ve pastored, work patterns always need to be taken into account. People working in hospitals are juggling day/night shift schedules. Farmers have seasons their attendance is higher than others. Retail workers struggle to find family time, so often are resistent to giving up a Sunday morning if that is there only opportunity to connect with their kids. The level of physical strain on the body is also a factor. Folks doing manual labour are often so worn out from the week, that they physically need rest. An additional challenge to church membership can be when there is an expectation to be part of a small group or volunteer through the week. If church attendance results in more expectations being placed on you, you might let it go all together. And yet one of the strengths of the early church was economic diversity. How do you see us reclaiming that? And what adjustments in how we minister could we make?

  6. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Karen. Reading your post reminded me of a recent statistic I was told by our missions director. Through population growth, even with all of the missions work of the last hundred years, the number of people who profess Christianity is still the same, one-third of the globe. The Church must take to heart the statistics of those in poverty as that is a part of the population that must be first on our minds.

  7. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Nice post, Karen. I appreciated your clarification of Bebbington’s conclusion that a significant factor in the non-churchgoing folks was poverty”. Then, comparing it to today’s religious systems was enlightening. Utilizing percentages creates additional validity to your philosophy. Thank you for sharing. Very solid post!

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