Global Evangelicalism is a survey of the emergence and spread of the evangelical movement throughout the world. In the Introduction, Mark Noll admits to the elusive nature of the task this book sets out to accomplish. The reason this is elusive is that the evangelical movement has never been an organization in itself, but has overlapped various denominations (every?) and has crossed every border imaginable. Still, this task requires a working definition, which Noll sets out to accomplish in the broadest of terms, with substantial help from Bebbington’s four essential ingredients of evangelicalism. Noll’s definition is more of a sketch than a definition, but it’s grounded nonetheless in its historical interpretation, “the good news of Jesus Christ for all people.”
From here, Noll summarizes Bebbington’s understanding of the rise and spread of evangelicalism from Great Britain and beyond, and then each following chapter sketches the spread of evangelicalism through each region around the globe.
What strikes me is the gap between what evangelicalism is meant to be (was it ever intended to be?) in the simplest of terms, compared to what it is perceived to be (and has become in part) by mainstream Western media. “Warm-hearted” and “evangelical” do not coexist the mainstream consciousness (or in today’s secular mind). Evangelicals are perceived as being a judgmental, right-wing extremist, homophobic, etc. We have been hearing this for decades now, and it is numbing the ears of many of us who call ourselves “evangelical” but do not identify so much with a MAGA way of seeing the world.
Perhaps part of the problem is that evangelicalism in the West has mostly ignored the global witness of our sisters and brothers who show us a different kind of evangelicalism that is more consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the way of the emergence of the first Christians. For instance, the evangelicalism in Latin American and many other parts of the Southern hemisphere is largely about liberation and freedom from oppressive powers and rulers. It is consistent with openness and inclusion, diversity and belonging.
While many of my colleagues have chosen to abandon the term “evangelical” for themselves so as not to be associated with people who are not “like-minded,” I have not chosen the same path for myself. For one thing, if Jesus did not want to associate with people who were not “like-minded,” there would not have been a cross to bear. To be exclusive is to not be evangelical. Even more, I believe in the good news of Jesus Christ for all people. If we do not make room, at least in the United States, for both “conservative” and “progressive” leaning “evangelicalism,” there will be no strength to speak truth to power because it will have submitted to the authority of the State to define and control.
One deliberate practice of mine is to challenge frequent misuse of the term. It’s always interesting to hear people’s response when you ask them the question, “What is an evangelical?” Now there is an opportunity to help educate and broaden perspective.