Fulcrum Book Review of The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism

Gordon Kuhrt reviews this book which tracks the global journey of Evangelicalism

The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism - the age of Billy Graham and John Stott by Brian Stanley (IVP, 2013, 283pp,hb £19.99)

by Gordon Kuhrt

This is the fifth (and final) volume in the series A History of Evangelicalism – people, movements and ideas in the English-speaking world, and covers the 1940s to the 1990s. The series editors are David Bebbington and Mark Noll, names which inspire confidence. The editors themselves contributed volumes 1 (1730s-1790s) and 3 (1840s-1890s). Brian Stanley is a fine choice for this final period. He is Professor of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Centre for the study of World Christianity.

To guide readers through this period of history is a particularly demanding task for two reasons – firstly, because, although the series is explicitly focussed on the English-speaking world, the second half of the 20thC saw the globalization of the English language and, as the title indicates, the global diffusion of Evangelical movements largely originating in the UK and USA. Thus the author has an almost world-wide remit. Secondly, writing history experienced by many people still alive and to within a decade of writing presents special challenges of analysis and discernment. Your reviewer was born at the beginning of the era, and knew/knows many of the UK people mentioned.

I welcome the book with enthusiasm. It is clearly written, judicious in judgement and generous in assessment. It will advance understanding of recent evangelicalism’s roots, history, controversies and expansion.

Chapter 1 provides an excellent summary of the situation at the middle of the 20thC. A group of conservative evangelicals agreed to take the intellectual commitment to biblical studies and theological apologetic with greater seriousness. The radical movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s resulted in liberal congregations and ordinands dwindling rapidly. The global diffusion of evangelicalism resulted from modern communications, anglophone education, influences from the majority world and church growth theory, and the growth of Pentecostalism.

Chapter 2 clarifies the different strands – evangelical, conservative evangelical and fundamentalist. Stanley claims “the contours of evangelical identity have been to a greater or lesser extent fluid throughout the history of the movement” (p27). It may well be that the apparent unity of the ‘60s was not as firm as it may have appeared. The US developments included “the new evangelicalism”, Fuller Seminary, Billy Graham’s strategy of generous cooperation and the magazine Christianity Today. The UK developments included the growing leadership of John Stott, the Church of England Newspaper, the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Keele in 1967, the (separatist) influence of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the scholarly influences of the Christian Brethren (notably Prof FF Bruce).

Chapter 3 is about Mission, Evangelism and Revival – especially the remarkable international ministry of Billy Graham. The work of the World Evangelical Fellowship is illustrated by consideration of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, the East Africa revival, Scripture Union and West Africa.

Chapter 4 is Scholarship, the Bible and Preaching. The revival of evangelical scholarship is well documented, including the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research and its library/study centre in Cambridge. Stanley is right that evangelical biblical scholars have made a greater impact in NT studies, but with respect to the OT we must note the substantial contributions of John Goldingay. The debates on the nature of biblical inspiration, and the primarily American controversies on inerrancy are covered. Finally, there is a section on the renewal of expository preaching encouraged in their different ways by Lloyd-Jones and Stott.

Chapter 5 is entitled Defending the Faith in a changing cultural climate. Younger UK readers may be surprised by sections on van Til, EJ Carnell, Carl Henry and Francis Schaeffer followed by consideration of Alvin Plantinga, Lesslie Newbigin and CS Lewis. Although Alister McGrath is mentioned several times, there is no mention of his important contributions to science/faith issues, natural theology and intellectual history. This book was probably in the press when McGrath’s two major studies on CS Lewis were recently published. One of the delightful ironies of recent church history is the enthusiastic adoption by evangelicals of Lewis and Newbigin – the former a High Anglican, the latter spending much of his life with the SCM, the WCC, and (after missionary and episcopal ministry in the Church of South India) not always comfortably in the English URC.

Chapter 6 is on Christian Mission and Social Justice. The re-awakening of evangelical social concern has been a major issue at Lausanne Congresses (starting in 1966) and strongly represented by able theologians and activists from the majority world – Rene Padilla, Samuel Escobar, Orlando Costas and John Gatu. The final drafting of the influential Lausanne Covenant was one of John Stott’s great achievements – though its interpretation continues to be contested.

Chapter 7 tracks the development of the new Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The different strands include concern for healing and other spiritual gifts, revival, spiritual renewal and liberated worship. Attention is given to some dimensions from Asia, Africa and South America.

Chapter 8 is entitled Hermeneutics, Gender and Sexual Ethics. There have been many points of disagreement amongst evangelicals through the decades. But in the latter 20thC, there has been growing debate about how the Bible is to be interpreted and used today. In particular, what is the role of the Holy Spirit’s work not only in the text but also in the hearer/reader today? These debates have complex and contested relevance for discussions about women in (church) leadership and the moral status of homosexual practice. This is an excellent introduction and background to the complex current issues.

The final Chapter 9 is headed Diffusion or Disintegration. Geographical diffusion has clearly been global and remarkable. Has there been a doctrinal diffusion which renders the title “evangelical” theologically unstable and incapable of definition? Stanley reminds us that such assertions were made in the 1950s (and indeed earlier in the 1910s and 1830s). Some evangelicals have been attracted by more catholic traditions, and others adopt the phrase or ethos “post-evangelical”. Stanley helpfully warns that assessments should not “focus exclusively on academic theological arguments and neglect the evidence of spirituality and church life”.

The book is completed by a detailed Bibliography and Index, and beautifully produced.

The Venerable Dr Gordon W Kuhrt was Archdeacon of Lewisham, and then Director of Ministry for the Archbishops’ Council 1996-2006

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