Recently I passed a local church, you know the type…..or maybe you don’t because you don’t live in the South. (For those of you not from the South or familiar with the full breadth and depth of the term let me help you. The South is not a geographic direction or location but, rather a region of the United States. According to Britannica.com The “South is also the most idiosyncratic with respect to national norms—or slowest to accept them.” Welcome to my world.) The sign on the church had this lovely quote; “O Come All Ye Faithless”. I am pretty sure that is not how the old carole goes. “Merry Christmas world. Let me introduce you to Christianity all of you immoral, misguided, lost souls driving by on your way to hell. If you want some real faith come in here cause we have it and you don’t.” I had to stop. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Who was this sign written to and what did those who posted it hope to achieve by displaying it for all passersby? Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism, has become “in essence, a business–which makes evangelistic Christians into salespeople for their worldview, which then becomes simply a product they’re pushing at prospective customers, who will–they hope–then go on to purchase the product by adopting that worldview.” If it is somehow possible to get everyone to see the world like ‘we’ do and think like ‘us’, the world would be a better place. Whatever happened to ‘Go and make disciples’? When did this shift into ‘Go and make converts to your way of thinking’?
Reading Bebbington’s history of ‘Evangelicalism in Modern Britain’ goes some way in explaining both the foundations of the movement as it is and some of the underlying impetus for the apparent reactionary positions within the contemporary movement. As a product of the Enlightenment, using sound argument to persuade non-believers of the reasonableness of the faith became the norm. In addition, this use of persuasion became part and parcel of the missions movement as ‘right’ thinking Westerners felt called to enter the ‘lost’ regions of the world to bring with them both faith and ‘civilization’. The four qualities Bebbington highlights that are unique to the Evangelical movement demonstrate the priorities that remain evident today. It is also interesting to recognize that Evangelicalism has traditionally attracted the influential and powerful. As Bebbington points out; “Evangelicalism was rarely the religion of the poorest and outcast.” It appears that the most recent US presidential elections confirm that this remains the case. In coming to grips with the historical foundations of the movement we are offered an opportunity to discern how that has guided the Church on its current trajectory and what the future ramifications of such might be.
Where does all that leave the movement now? It seems from my church sign that many within Evangelicalism are desperately attempting to retain adherents and ongoing cultural influence that appears to be waning. Interestingly, Bebbington also points out that the cultural influence of Christianity was also decreasing during the age of Evangelicalism. It seems that the zeal with which certain sectors of the church currently attempt to attract adherents to their communities began long before the idea of ‘The Nones’ was described by Barna et al. Thus, the issues facing the church today of declining attendance and cultural influence are neither new nor a reason to panic. How familiar does this sound? “…the otherworldly preoccupations of the churches were too distant from the needs of day-to-day living.” It could have been pulled from the latest news magazine or blog, but is in reference to Christianity in the early 20th century. Yet, here we are more than a century later, panic stricken that Christianity in the West might be gone in a generation. Perhaps the greater fear and stronger motivation to retain influence, is economic; that the Christian corporate and financial structures dependent upon numerous and generous adherents will collapse without the people and programs on which they rely. I am not convinced retaining these structures is a high priority of God.
The adaptability of the Evangelical movement from its inception in the early 18th century demonstrates a penchant to adjust to a changing climate while retaining much of the core that set it apart. There is much good about the Evangelical movement. Many aspects of it have sustained the Church and helped spread the Good News of Jesus to all parts of the world. It must also be recognized that there remain aspects of the movement which undermine the essence of the Gospel, particularly in the call to make disciples of Jesus and not converts of a particular way of thinking. As we seek to understand the contemporary church and utilize it to meaningfully connect with our current culture, it would be beneficial if Evangelicals were able to recapture the good foundations of the movement by seeking to adapt the 4 core tenets, and represent the Gospel to the current generation with all the urgency and vigor of those early leaders. Sequestering ourselves from the wider culture and calling all of the ‘faithless’ to join us in our communities of isolation all seems antithetical to the Jesus found in the Gospels and nothing at all like the fervor demonstrated early on in the Evangelical movement.
 O’Neill, William O., and Wilfred Owen. “Explore Encyclopedia Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica. January 5, 2018. Accessed January 10, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/.
 Cassidy, Captain. “Evangelicalism Is Now Officially Recognized as a Tainted Brand.” Patheos. January 10, 2018. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.patheos.com/.
 Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge, 2005. P. 42
 Ibid P. 3
 Ibid. P. 25
 Ibid. P. 76
 Ibid P. 114
 Brown, Stewart J. “Review: Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s.” The Scottish Historical Review 71, no. 191/192, Parts 1 & 2 (April 01, 1992): 246-48. Accessed January 10, 2018. JSTOR.