Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard have compiled a book with the help of authors from various continents to review the globalizing pathway that evangelicalism has taken in the past two hundred years. My area of interest is focused on the intersection of wealth and faith, and those of you reading my posts know I can’t help paying attention whenever money is raised as a topic. One’s economic state often greatly influences faith development and practice, and if we read carefully we can also find threads of the economy weaving their way through the emergence of evangelicalism in the world.
Richard Pierard’s essay on globalization and evangelicalism zeros in on the linkage. He states, “[T]here is historically a close link between the rise of modern capitalism and Calvinistic forms of Protestantism…. Calvinism (in Weber’s view) reinforced and ignited capitalism as an expensive, international force… Calvinism produced both character and anxiety – it produced sober, serious, and disciplined people who worked hard and, anxious to demonstrate to themselves that they were among God’s chosen people, they accumulated wealth as a sign that reassured them that they were among the elect.”
We’ve been over this ground before in reading Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The traditionally Protestant nations of northern Europe (Germany, Holland, England, Scandinavia, etc.) advance distinctly and more rapidly towards capitalistic economies than do the Catholic southern European nations (Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, etc.). Even today the southern European nations are the poorer cousins in the European Union.
As wealth accumulates, philanthropy emerges. Sarah Williams, in her essay on “Evangelicals and Gender” in the same book, reveals how philanthropy begins to shape evangelical action in the world during the Victorian Age. “[P]hilanthropic involvement itself changed both women and men, making them aware of middle-class selfishness, stimulating them to question their value system and that of their family, and prompting heart search as to how one could in fact justify staying at home when there was so much evil in the world and so much healing and caring to be given.” She cites the emergence of evangelical social betterment agencies as a key fruit of evangelical piety.
Her research is supported by D.W. Bebbington, who demonstrates how evangelicals of this and subsequent generations did not shy away from social engagement – Hannah More and her tracts obligating action for the poor, John Wesley’s generosity toward those in need, education and literacy efforts by the National Society of the Church of England, and prison reform by Elizabeth Fry are only a few examples of how evangelicals impacted society.
As a missionary in Colombia in the early 90s, I saw how evangelical churches began to thrive along with movements in Latin American societies towards neoliberal economies integrated into the global order. Both happened simultaneously with Catholics abandoning their traditions, and Latin American governments (largely) abandoning socialism – Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba excepted. Now, charismatic health-and-wealth megachurches are the norm in most Latin American cities, and pastors regularly run for government office supported by their flocks.
What is lacking in Lewis and Pierard’s work is analysis on the outcome of faith that is so tightly linked with an economic system. It seems strangely coincidental to me that we are witnessing the downside of this integration with both capitalism and evangelicalism seeming to flounder in the West. Movements of nationalism and popular revolt against globalization, from Brexit to les gilets jaunes to MAGA, and at the same time evangelicals discredited through political allegiances and young people abandoning church attendance in droves.
These global trends also bring a critique to evangelical philanthropy which has often leans into becoming a transactional interchange rather than a coming together in love and service. Daniel Bell in The Economy of Desire states how this postmodern reality impacts giving: “[P]hilanthropy severs giving from mutuality. While it may meet some needs – of the giver first and foremost but, hopefully, of the recipients as well – it does not build community. It does not create, extend, or renew human relations beyond the capitalist form.”
Lewis and Pierard’s book, while it provides an interesting overview of evangelicalism’s rise throughout the world often seems more concerned with demonstrating how it has expanded into many cultures worldwide. It fails to reveal how the focus on individuality and rationalization (“the immanent frame”) within both capitalism and evangelical faith contribute to its inherent weaknesses. We are missing coming together in community and rooted in Christ’s love of mutual surrender, service and love.
 Donald M. Lewis, “Globalization, Religion and Evangelicalism”, in Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 69.
 Sarah Williams, “Evangelicals and Gender”, in Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 293.
 Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. (London: Routledge, 2002), 70.
 Ibid., 70.
 Ibid., 124.
 Ibid., 120.
 Bell, Daniel M. The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World. (Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic, 2012), 203.