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Is Evangelicalism a Good Thing?

Written by: on January 11, 2018

In D.W. Bebbington’s work, “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, the author works diligently to present the history of Evangelicalism through the past 200 plus years. Early on, Bebbington defines the movement now being termed “evangelicalism” was best understood to mean, “of the gospel.”[1] With this thought in mind, Bebbington begins to build a thorough, though sometimes scattered, history of this particular theological movement and its leaders. Furthermore, famed clergy figures such as Wesley, Stott and Spurgeon demonstrate the roles and, maybe more importantly, obstacles that such a broadly-interpreted religious movement had on church growth.

Though this source demonstrates its apt use of historical sources and religious figures, there is a concern that there is almost a doctrinal corruption of the analysis given by Bebbington[2]. The author seems to focus primarily on the Methodist and Baptists areas of concentration of this discussion, but to some extent fails to demonstrate the real impact this study may have on various other denominations throughout his discussion as emphatically. Whether it was intentional or accidental, occasional complimentary comments are assigned to certain religious groups and speakers; such as the “C.H. Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.” Does a bias on such a topic, taint the readers ability to see the information accurately?

The real issue with the text that I personally connected with was the realization that the very movement itself had so many varied and ever-changing aspects to it, that it seems nearly impossible to give any real classification to it for clarification. So many different groups seemed to identify themselves amongst the evangelicals, and yet, there was still so many different disputes between the groups. Preachers protested other preachers, churches failed to accept other churches, and individuals could be completely ostracized from a church family because of either their beliefs or the extent of their acts of faith. As I saw the various areas of faith that were discussed, I could not help but wonder how our own group of classmates would classify themselves or each other. By many classifications, I could easily identify myself as being an “evangelical”, but I also saw areas that I would struggle identifying other churches in the same light. As a member of the “church of Christ,” we have always been considered among the more conservative types in the religious community; we have no musical instruments, we take the Lord’s Supper every week, hold that baptism is one of the necessary steps for salvation, have a belief that faith is an action word that is required to hold to working for God, just to name a few. When held next to other religious Christian groups, I know that there are a number of areas that would cause protest and division amongst my classmates, and cannot help but wonder how far those obstacles could drive us apart. The reality of what I saw through Bebbington’s work is that the evangelical identity seemed almost more adept at separating God’s people than it did to unite them.

Though I am a strong endorser for the necessity of baptism, I believe there is probably only one issue that I am ever more devoted to teaching, and that is the issue of the divine nature of Scripture and the necessity for holding to its integrity. There was a comment made by Bebbington concerning his discussion on “Biblicism”; in it he quotes an early Methodist preacher as saying, “I made the Bible my god.”[3] I could not help but wonder if this was how I sort of felt about my own devotion to Scripture. In John 1:1, the bible reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This very verse has always held for me the importance of the Word of God. I know that though the context is referencing Christ Himself, it still puts into perspective the association between Scripture and its connection to God. My belief in this factor would actually create a divisive barrier between myself and other religious scholars; but is that a good thing? Do the various Christian organizations embrace our divisions today or feel ashamed about them? Should we be so eager to disqualify one other, or at the other end of the spectrum, should we too easily accept one other? How do we cling to our foundations of faith and still maintain the command for unity that we find in the Bible? My fear is that more we search to cling to some movement or theological tactic, we fail to embrace the true example of Christian unity and integrity. I believe I know the answer to fix this dilemma, however, sadly, I fear we have become so aggressive about our divisions and theologies; we have come to embrace those more than embracing Scripture. Bebbington’s seems to demonstrate this reality without intending to by repeatedly showing the divisions rather than the unifying efforts of evangelicalism.

 

Bibliography

Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge Pulblishing, 1989.

Szabados, Adam. szabadosadam.hu. n.d. http://szabadosadam.hu/divinity/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/BEBBINGTON.pdf (accessed January 10, 2018).

 

 

[1] Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge Pulblishing, 1989. P 1.

[2] Szabados, Adam. szabadosadam.hu. n.d. http://szabadosadam.hu/divinity/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/BEBBINGTON.pdf (accessed January 10, 2018).

[3] Bebbington 1989, p 12.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

10 responses to “Is Evangelicalism a Good Thing?”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Shawn,

    Very interesting dialog, especially your pondering, “I could not help but wonder how our own group of classmates would classify themselves or each other.”

    I will stick my neck out and respond. I definitely consider myself an Evangelical, especially on the Scripture issue. In fact, I would consider myself a literal interpreter of Scripture, not a figurative one. For instance, I believe there is a hell, that Moses saw a burning bush, that the events in Scripture happened just as the Word said they did. Are you a literal interpreter?

    You and I may differ some on issues of salvation through baptism, or on the frequency of taking communion, but I do not think we are as far apart as we may seem. But then again, the more I think about it, maybe we as a Cohort are…especially on the social issues of our day…

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Praise the Lord that there is always rooms for some grace in our relationships with each other on some topics. There is a reality for my own faith that reveals that just because I go to a very conservative church, does not mean that I believe Christianity is always that strict. However, my desire to hold myself to a certain standard may sometimes come across wrong to others.

  2. Great post Shawn! I appreciated your honesty and candor about your beliefs and your denomination and how they may differ from others. I agree that the authority of scripture needs to be paramount since it is our only real source of truth. I also believe that as we read the Bible and learn about how Jesus lived and treated the marginalized people of society, we must take notice and follow His example to the best of our ability.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I agree completely Jake, however I also believe we must be sure to define the difference between ministry and conformity. The entire purpose of who we are is to entice others away from the darkness…not join them in it.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Shawn, You emphasize a really good point. Much of this has brought more division into the body of Christ. I liken this to the idea of independent churches. The heart was to be all inclusive and accept anyone for and attract anyone from any denomination background. This however I think has split the church to not just denominations, but splinter cells totally removed from what major movements are doing, except what is the currently popular in Christianity.

    Perhaps this is not all bad though. after all, Paul and Barnabas separated ways but in my opinion, scripture does not give a clear leaning as to which person was at fault. Perhaps God wanted the gospels sent to two locations instead of one. Is it simply enough to say, “it takes all types of churches to reach all types of people”?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Actually Kyle, Galatians 2 covers one potential scenario regarding Barnabas in that he was going back to some of the old Jewish ways and Paul was not happy about it. I am not sure if this was the dividing point, but it still presents a discussion based on our reading. How often do we revert back, progress too far forward, or even just change completely to a point that those who used to be a religious peers now find it difficult to see things the same as we do? We have gotten so adept at division that I’m not sure that most people see it as a problem anymore.

  4. mm M Webb says:

    Shawn,

    After reading your post I was a little sad. Not with your critical analysis, but because you demonstrate the success of the evil one who divides Christians. We might call is doctrinal differences, divisions, and interpretations but in the end, they are nothing more than well devised Satanic schemes to disrupt, divide, and destroy the believers in Christ Jesus.

    I found a new article out on Bebbington, 25 years after publishing his book on the evangelical movement, that basically says his conclusions hold water. His fourfold characteristics on evangelicalism; Bible, cross, conversion, and activism still form the basis for evangelicals.1
    I like taking the 10,000 foot view of evangelicalism, it helps me see over the horizon of many of the challenges that you describe in your post.

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    1 David W. Bebbington. “The Evangelical Quadrilateral: A Response.” Fides Et Historia 47, no. 1 (2015): 87-96.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I just hate to see the expanse that is Christianity today. I would so love to see one giant church on the corner where we all loved God’s Word and embraced it together. Wouldn’t it be splendid if we could truly just try to place only God’s will as our measure of acceptability?

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Shawn,
    I have long held one of the things that we as Christians do that probably brings sadness to our God is our constant bickering and fighting amongst denominations. As I read our book this week I saw it played out as you said “Preachers protested other preachers, churches failed to accept other churches, and individuals could be completely ostracized from a church family because of either their beliefs or the extent of their acts of faith.” What a sad thing, don’t you think to separate from a brother or sister in Christ because we so vehemently hang to our denomination?

    Jason

    • Shawn Hart says:

      We call it faith, but sadly, sometimes I believe it is just pride and selfishness. I had a friend that was going to church with us for years, who came up one day and said, “I think I am going to start my own church.” At first I thought he was kidding, but he just decided that he really wanted a church with a musical instrument, but did not really trust any of the other churches around to go there. Did he leave over godliness or personal preference. I know we all want to get something out of our worship, but we must remember that part of our worship is our fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. How do we give up such a great gift so easily?

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