Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century

(Paperback - May 2004)
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Christianity Reborn provides the first transnational in-depth analysis of the global expansion of evangelical Protestantism during the past century. While the growth of evangelical Christianity in the non-Western world has already been documented, the significance of this book lies in its scholarly treatment of that phenomenon. Written by prominent historians of religion, these chapters explore the expansion of evangelical (including charismatic) Christianity in non-English-speaking lands, with special reference to dynamic indigenous responses. The range of locations covered includes western and southern Africa, eastern and southern Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. The concluding essay provides a sociological account of evangelicalism's success, highlighting its ability to create a multiplicity of faith communities suited to very different ethnic, racial, and geographical regions. At a time of great interest in the growth of Christianity in the non-Western world, this volume makes an important contribution to our understanding of what may be another turning point in the historical development of evangelical faith. Contributors: Marthinus L. Daneel Allan K. Davidson Paul Freston Robert Eric Frykenberg Jehu J. Hanciles Philip Yuen-sang Leung Donald M. Lewis David Martin Mark A. Noll Brian Stanley W. R. Ward


  • SKU: 9780802824837
  • SKU10: 0802824838
  • Title: Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century
  • Series: Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Paperback)
  • Qty Remaining Online: 80
  • Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
  • Date Published: May 2004
  • Pages: 324
  • Weight lbs: 1.09
  • Dimensions: 9.30" L x 6.22" W x 0.90" H
  • Features: Table of Contents, Price on Product, Index, Bibliography
  • Themes: Theometrics | Academic;
  • Awards: 2005 Christianity Today Book Award (Award of Merit - Missions/Global Affairs)
  • Category: MISSIONS
  • Subject: Christian Ministry - Evangelism

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

Evangelical Identity in the Eighteenth Century


The title which I have been given might well be thought otiose, for it is an orthodoxy among many of us that the whole matter was clarified long ago by our good friend David Bebbington; indeed the famous Bebbington Quadrilateral has become the most quoted sentence in the whole literature and was for long virtually the only beacon the suffering student had to distinguish men walking like trees in the gloom (Mark 8:24). The beacon illuminated the four marks of evangelical religion: "conversionism, the belief that lives needed to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and what may be called crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross." None of these marks would in itself distinguish an evangelical from a great range of other Christians, but where all four were found together in one time and place a new religious movement or party might be identified; and conveniently enough that was in the 1730s, precisely when Lewis's Dictionary of Evangelical Biography was to begin. My thankless assignment is to have another look at a guide to the undergrowth that has served so many so well. Unlike David Bebbington I want to elicit not the continuities but some of the discontinuities in evangelical history, ways in which the marks of evangelical identity opened the door to globalization but laid up problems for the future.

Look first at the dates. When Donald Lewis and I were discussing the planning of the dictionary, we were in agreement that its scope would have to be limited to the English-speaking enterprise if it was to be feasible at all; there was no suggestion that evangelicalism was defined by this consideration of feasibility. Moreover, even if the definition is to be an Anglophone one, the 1730s are the time when revivalism does not indeed begin, but commences a continuous history. But no one, I think, would wish to equate revivalism and evangelicalism. Finally we want if we can to get a definition of evangelicalism in terms of its inner religious content rather than from the outside; the Bebbington Quadrilateral approaches mostly from the outside. Thus the New Birth was one of the standard counters of the mystics among the contemporaries of the early evangelicals, and it was not respect for the Bible per se which was peculiar to the evangelicals, but their determination to put a copy in the hands of every literate Christian. It is said that the original Luther Bible cost the equivalent of half a cow and was clearly not meant for the masses; even in the eighteenth century only 300,000 Bibles and parts of Bibles were printed at Wittenberg, while three million were produced at Halle; and even before the Halle presses began to roll Spener had established a distinguishing mark of the stiffer sort of evangelicals, that they brought their Bibles to meetings in order to follow the readings and check the texts. This quirk of evangelical correctness lasted until the Fall of Man in the last generation, when some evangelicals developed a postmodern conviction that it was utterlypassé to expect even students to hold a book of any kind when the bright light of the overhead projector was at hand. Moreover, if Spener, having proposed "to spread word of God more richly among us," did not go into the publishing business, he did get around the limitations of the Lutheran lectionary readings by pressing daily Bible readings for the heads of families, by establishing public Bible reading classes for those not able to read, and, most dramatic of all, by establishing class meetings after the pattern of 1 Corinthians 14, where members of the congregation, under the direction of the preacher, should read and expound the Scriptures in public. Finally, if a definition of evangelicalism from the outside were wanted, it would be simpler and more inclusive to replace the Bebbington Quadrilateral with a Ward Watchtower and define eighteenth-century evangelicals as those who felt spiritually bound to create Orphan Houses. But it is not external definitions that we need, and here the difficulties arise.

The result of exhaustive and often acrimonious discussions in Germany has been to leave no doubt that what became the Pietist party derived from Lutheran Orthodoxy, or at any rate that wing of it known as the "movement for piety" whose fountain-head was Arndt. Our definition of evangelical identity has somehow to embrace this party, if only because eighteenth-century evangelicals did so in a way that the modern commentators have not. Whether it is Jonathan Edwards including them as pioneers of the final consummation, or Wesley declaring himself "thoroughly convinced it might be of more service to the cause of religion were I barely to translate his Gnomon Novi Testamenti [of "that great light of the Christian world" Bengel] than to write many volumes upon it," or even Bengel himself acclaiming Arndt and Spener as the first and second angels of the Apocalypse (he himself being the third), there is no mistaking the sense of international kinship among the innovators in the evangelical world for some two generations before the conventional dates of the beginning of the revival. The differences between Spener and the Orthodox milieu from which he sprang amount to two, one internal and one external: the internal factor was his eschatology, succinctly portrayed as his "hope of better times," and his patronage of informal, small group religion, the collegium pietatis or class meeting, which had hitherto been taboo in the Lutheran tradition but henceforth was perhaps the most enduring external mark of the whole evangelical tradition. There was a degree of paradox in all this. Spener was aiming at a program for the renewal of a decayed church establishment, and had rather wearied of his class meetings before he went to Berlin at the end of his career; but the essence of what he wanted was stumbled upon almost of necessity by heads of families in the Protestant farm kitchens of Silesia, Austria, and Salzburg where there was now no Protestant church to revive; and it caught on too in some of the Reformed churches, especially in Germany, where a variety of small meetings had existed, usually for purposes other than the mutual edification and conversion envisaged by Spener. Moreover, Spener's gatherings marked a new turn in religious strategy. What had always been understood by reform had been action from above by the state; and although Spener was not under the extreme pressure to get results quickly experienced by those who became revivalists, he knew he could no longer wait for state action. Reform as traditionally understood had involved the public disciplining of the irreligious; Spener's scheme was to improve those who were religious virtuosi in the sense that they were prepared to do more than their churches required as a minimum, and to do it not for their own sake but for the well-being of the establishment as a whole. There was indeed rather less ambiguity about whether holiness was a public or a private virtue in the Spenerite collegium pietatis than there was about the Wesleyan class meeting. And it is significant that when the revivalists came along, they everywhere made a beeline for the little groups of religious virtuosi who, though excluded from traditional ecclesiastical history by virtue of their informality, acted as the sort of leaven Spener had envisaged.

As Davidson pointed out years ago, the inflation which had overtaken millennial logic in America by the time of the War of Independence simply eliminated the problem of state which Spener was trying to circumvent, by assuming (for example) that there would be no need for standing armies when regenerate kings put aside their dreams of aggrandisement. There was, therefore, a fitness in the fact that Spener was distinguished doctrinally from the Lutheran Orthodox by a turn in eschatology. At the end of his life Luther had lived in the expectation of an imminent Last Judgment that would be ushered in by the fall of Rome and the defeat of the Turks, and in radical Protestantism the expectation of an earthly millennial kingdom remained vigorous. This notion was rejected for Lutheran Orthodoxy by Article 17 of the Confession of Augsburg, and the Münster troubles of 1535 had given no inducement to change that view. By the later-seventeenth century the Lutheran Orthodox were trying to sustain a belief in the imminence of the end, and to use it as a scourge of conscience; they disappointed many by perpetually deferring the end, and especially the radicals whose hopes of imminent earthly fulfillment had revived during the Thirty Years War. In the mid-seventies, however, Spener adopted what became famously known as "the hope of better times." In this view the end would not come until all God's promises to the church had been fulfilled. The scourge to conscience now was not that repentance tomorrow might be too late, but that it was possible in the power of the Spirit to make a real improvement in the state of the church; and the millennial question gave particular urgency to one special field of study. One of the signs of the end according to Romans 11 was to be the conversion of the Jews, and one of the extraordinary features of the history of seventeenth-century Lutheran Orthodoxy was that it gave itself to rabbinic studies with an intensity paralleled at no other time. Spener followed a train of other Lutheran theologians over to the Reformed world at Basel to improve his expertise in Hebrew and Hebraic studies. And, as Senior of Frankfurt with a major Jewish ghetto on his doorstep, he concluded that the great obstacle to the conversion of the Jews was the decayed state of the church. Here the exercise of the general spiritual priesthood, the deferment of the Last Days, and the cultivation of the largest domestic mission field of the church hung rationally together.

So far, so good. But to postpone the Last Day did not solve for Spener a problem which Christian orthodoxy had long carried within itself, and which was pointed out almost at once by the Petersens, husband and wife, whom Spener married, and supported against church hostility; it was also explored by the little group of English Behmenists led by Pordage, Bromley, and Jane Leade. One side of Christian doctrine had generally maintained an original sympathy between man and the universe: man was the microcosm as well as the image of God, and it was the sin of man which destroyed this harmony and left the whole creation groaning after redemption. When therefore God's purposes were accomplished among men, there should also be a "restoration of all things" to their original sympathy. The Western churches, however, had always fought against this conclusion in the interests of legal justice. At the consummation of all things not only should there not be a general restoration of sympathy, but even the race of men should be finally and eternally divided into the redeemed devoted to the adoration of God, and the damned sentenced to eternal punishment. But this involved a logical problem which orthodoxy and in the end much of evangelicalism expended considerable energy in ignoring. What were the relations of these two kingdoms of men? Either they knew nothing of each other or they knew something of each other. The first assumption would imply that the redeemed would know God only as eternal love, and not as justice. The damned would know God solely as justice. But the story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) suggested that the damned had some perception of the kingdom of bliss, and the Latin fathers heavily worked the idea that this was an essential part of their punishment. To make this more bearable it was suggested that the saved were spared the view. In short in the end the triumph of justice in Western theology destroyed the humanity of men; even the redeemed were robbed of obligation to love their enemies and to have sympathy with them, let alone the rest of creation. When Petersen and his wife embarked on questions of this kind, the church speedily got rid of them. But Spener's eschatology and Petersen's restorationism had a deep influence in Württemberg. Bengel put the one on a sounder biblical basis, and it came home to roost in John Wesley; Oetinger endeavored to solve the problems of the other with a large dose of mysticism and created a map of knowledge which was very inaccessible but was not rivaled by any later evangelical.

Meanwhile, were the Last Days nearer or farther away in the Reformed tradition? The Reformed tradition had been vexed by a curious mixture of vagueness and precision. Calvin had been embarrassed by the speculative use made of eschatology by the Catholics, and by the apocalyptic use of it by the radicals; indeed, he went so far as to say that even if Paul had known by special revelation the date of the Last Day, he would still have had to affirm to his flock human ignorance of it, to guard them from a sense of false security and unholy curiosity. J. H. Olsted (1588-1638) defended the premillennialism of the Early Church Fathers and looked forward to the binding of Satan; this would allow the Church peace for a thousand years, and permit the conversion of multitudes. There would be a victorious struggle with Gog and Magog, and the millennium could be expected in 1694. Later in the century many of the northern Reformed churches went over to the federal doctrines of Coccejus which were the real domain of eschatology. He divided the history of the Kingdom of God since the ascension into seven periods. The sixth would be a period of judgment and purification of the people of God during the Thirty Years War, and the seventh, heralded by the imminent seventh trumpet, would see the general conversion of the peoples, and would wind up with the return of Christ in glory and the general resurrection and judgment. (Coccejus was not interested in the restoration of all things.)

So much ink has been spilt in the study of the eschatological ideas of Puritans on both sides of the Atlantic that it is not necessary to repeat much here. The Westminster Confession maintained the usual Orthodox stance of keeping a grip upon conscience by insisting that the time of the end was unknown but might be imminent, and Cotton Mather, believing to the end that the Second Coming was imminent, postponed it continually but always to a date just around the corner. What he would not have was Mede's belief that Gog and Magog, who would harass the saints in the end, would originate in America. Baxter too spent the last years of his life trying to resolve the question whether Christ would return to inaugurate the millennial rule of his saints in the imminent future.



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