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Evangelicalism in Modern Britain – a review

Written by: on January 19, 2017

I took the opportunity to read this book over Christmas and the New Year. I was taking some time off after the busy Christmas period and went away for a few days with family and friends. On New Year’s Day, we visited a small Anglican church in a Dartmoor village in the middle of Devon. It was freezing cold and there were about eight people, all in their seventies and eighties, in attendance. We doubled the congregation.

I felt a couple of emotions as I participated in this choral evensong. One was admiration for these old Christians, worshipping in their tradition, their breath billowing through the cold air of this ancient chapel. Another emotion was melancholy or sadness. This once thriving church and community appeared now to be dying, reduced to a rump of Octogenarians. In a few years, churches like this will be no more. Many have disappeared, or been converted into homes or carpet warehouses over recent decades.

What I enjoyed about the book was the sense of the big picture; the major movements of Christianity over the past 300 years in Britain. It is interesting to see just how much of British culture and history has been affected and influenced and shaped by Christianity, and in particular the golden century of evangelicalism leading up to the First World War.

I have lived through the latter sections of the book, the Restoration movement, the house churches, charismatic renewals, the third wave of Pentecostalism, the new churches and so on. It is interesting and helpful to step back and to see the bigger picture, the different streams and the overall direction of travel.

Part of my research work is considering the role of Pentecostalism, and my own particular denomination, which is 100 years old, in this bigger evangelical picture. It is helpful to see it through this framework and to consider the cultural, social and historical waters in which we have, and continue to swim.

This past weekend I spoke about Jesus’ parable about new wine and new wineskins. It is an interesting time to be an evangelical Christian. There is much change and uncertainty. Within this cohort, even, we have diametrically opposed views on several areas of doctrine and belief.

What is encouraging, as I think back to that dying Dartmoor chapel and the changing nature of Christianity within Britain, and the world, is that God continues to build his church and fulfil his purposes on earth. I am not sure what the new wineskins will look like, but they will come – as will God’s kingdom.

 

 

About the Author

Geoff Lee

7 responses to “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain – a review”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    “This past weekend I spoke about Jesus’ parable about new wine and new wineskins.”
    Geoff, your comments mean so much since you do live in Britain and you have lived through the changes of the late twentieth, early twenty-first century. The story of the Dartmoor chapel is sad, but your optimism is encouraging.
    We do live in exciting times. The Holy Spirit does seem to be moving. I have often wondered though why people in history didn’t have the spiritual experiences (in the numbers we do now) until the Pentecostal movement?
    In your research have you come across any reason why the Holy Spirit wasn’t given the emphasis He gets now?
    Just curious.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Geoff: Living through, as you say, the last part of Bebbington’s book highlights the changes in the church. It feels like the church is changing faster than ever before—but that might be my age getting in the way. In spite of all of the changes, many of them good; I agree: “…God continues to build his church and fulfil his purposes on earth. Thanks for the insightful post!

  3. Yes I agree, it is interesting to see how much Christianity has influenced world beliefs and views. I was also interested in how much culture has influenced Christianity which has not always be observed by Christians. And when it is, it is often referred to how Christianity is getting “watered down” as it blends with its’ surrounding culture. Speaking of, I had the chance to read the book you referred to me for my work, the Blue Parakeet book and really enjoyed it. That book is a great example of making Christianity become more culturally relevant and reading the bible in cultural context. I happened to read it on my trip over to Thailand so it was a good prep for my visit.

  4. It is great to read the posting of one who resides in Britain and has first-hand knowledge of its political climate and Christian movements.
    It is awesome that the millennials are coming to their own in their relationship with Christ. They have their own expression of love, worship, the deliverance of the word, and praise. It maybe different from our tradition but I believe its genuine just as the introduction of gospel singing, musical instruments, and charismatic praise.

  5. Geoff I agree that it is sad to see churches like that fade away. Some of the churches I grew up attending have dissolved. The memories are all that is left. Some of the building are being used by another congregation that may or may not be of the same denomination. Others have burned down or turned into an expensive corner duplex.

    The silver lining of this for me is that each of those churches were used to reach their communities for the duration of time they were allotted. They played a vital role in the mission of God being manifested on Earth. I love how God continues to use his people throughout every movement and era. Time is eternal in Him and therefore He transcends it so does His purpose for His people 🙂

  6. Thank you for your unique perspective, Geoff. I have felt that same ennui sitting in churches I went to as a child, or churches in small communities where larger churches with more exciting programs have drawn members away. It’s hard to watch them wither but, you’re right, God continues to grow the church as we are faithful to the gospel.

  7. mm Katy Lines says:

    Geoff– Your voice in our cohort is so important as our lone Brit! And especially in helping us understand the story that Bebbington tells. You live in this context and have grown up with both a State Church and a variety of other churches and the relationship between the two; a context none of us Americans are familiar with.

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