In light of Still Alice, a movie of a young woman (50 years old, it’s all relative) recognizing that she’s moving into Alzheimers, I’m concerned that I’m losing my mind. I bought two of the same book, one paperback “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain” and one Kindle version. Why? I don’t know. Thus, I begin my reading with a fear of growing older faster than I want, while also frustratingly angry, in light of our consumerism conversation last week, about spending money on both items. But alas, God smiles. My world is presently surrounded by evangelicalism physically (a book), technologically (a Kindle version), and personally (childhood and adult practice). In reading Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, I have some answers as to why I am the way I am; apparently I need more than one reminder. I’m born in and from the evangelical world that began in Britain. “We evangelicals are Bible people” – John Stott. My family, the Evangelicals, is to be celebrated as a gift. It’s my history. Growing old and history aren’t that bad, it just means there will be frustration from time to time.
Bebbington argues that evangelicalism “has been a vital force in modern Britain,” resulting not only in its impact on the world politically and socially, but also for the whole of Christianity, beginning in the 1730s. Evangelicals are “self-consciously distinctive and unitary.” Delineating the unifying factors, conversionism, activism, biblicism, crucicentrism, he also articulates the adaptability of evangelicals to stay sensitive to the “flux of events” Truly a remarkable historian (76 pages of notes), he lays out his thesis that a new and purposeful Christian movement happened with evangelicals, providing an identity that begins first with Wesleyan Methodists and diffusing across various denominations.
New? I wonder if evangelicalism can adequately articulate her identity as something fresh and previously non-defined. Or was it simply a new morphed understanding against the backdrop of the Reformation? Similar to a teenager who needs to self-differentiate in order to develop into a mature adult, there is a period of rebelling against that which was, in order to frame that which will be. Certainly Bebbington’s four factors consolidate the essence of evangelicalism, allowing for the diversity in unity, but it would seem the character of evangelicalism begins earlier than the 1730s. Arguments by some say that evangelicalism is actually the truest Christianity of the New Testament, recovered by the Reformation, reinforced by the Puritans, and awakened in 1730 (J.I. Packer and John Stott) Interesting to consider.
Beyond that argument, rather than focusing and deciding on where and when evangelicalism started, I find the beauty in evangelicalism through the simplicity of its qualifying features. They allow for flexibility in responding to society. The interplay of the four factors allows for freedom and conviction to hold onto truths that unite: Christ, scripture, and demonstrating faith in a new life. How that is lived out varies as long as the “Christian ideal…imitate[s] the lives of Christlike people” While allowing for the ongoing transformation of the Spirit, evangelicals can live in a place of imagination:
…those [most likely referencing evangelicals] who practice theology must become less preoccupied
with the world that produced Scripture and learn how to live in the world Scripture produces. This
will be a matter of imagination, and perhaps of leaping.”
My entire paper last semester was on the beauty of the unity of the church that can allow for diversity, using an analogy of a tree. Through the imaginings of what is and could be as a church, evangelicals reflect the growth from the trunk and its roots of what’s central to doctrine while allowing for a variety of expressions.
Evangelicals can risk what may be non-essentials, by holding onto the essentials. The pliability allows evangelicals to consider what God has next as they continue to adapt to an ever-changing world, while staying true to what Dr. Brian Harris calls “Passionate Purity.” At the core of evangelicalism comes a desire to live true in all aspects of faith whether in prayer, preaching, or vocation.
Realistically, the argument for the definitions of the essentials continues to differentiate rather than draw evangelicals together. Rightly so, theology and doctrine need to continue in conversation. However, as Bebbington demonstrates in his four factors, perhaps the identity of being an evangelical could be focused less upon what we are not, to what we are and could be into the future. As Harris concludes, “Perhaps we could theologise in such a way that our diverse constituencies capture a vision of what it might mean to be missional communities of invitation, welcome, and embrace.”
And by the way, if you know of someone who needs the book, let me know. I have an extra. J
 David W Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: a History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1989), 4.
 Ibid, 276.
 Ibid, ix.
 Ibid, 271.
 Brian Harris, “Beyond Bebbington: The Quest for Evangelical Identity in a Postmodern Era” (paper presented at Staff meeting for Department of Christian Thought and History, Australian College of Theology, Australia, 2007), accessed February 12, 2015, http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/churchman/122-03_201.pdf, 202.
 Bebbington, 37.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, “Imaging the World Scripture Imagines,” in Theology and Scriptural Imagination, ed. L. Gregory Johns and James J. Buckley (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 3.
 Harris, 213.
 Ibid, 213.