Thursday, 29 May 2008

'Fundamentalist' and 'evangelical' as Terms of Public Discourse

There is an interesting (and good) article on Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in the public sphere by Christopher Watkin in the latest issue of the Cambridge Papers over at the Jubilee Centre. You can read the article here.

Watkin begins the essay with these lines below.

'Question: What do British Parliamentarians most frequently associate with 'evangelicals'? 

Answer: Evangelicals are those who oppose the use of condoms. 

Shocked?  Perhaps not if you're a regular newspaper reader or television viewer.

Bothered?  You should be if you would describe yourself using this term.'


Monday, 26 May 2008

The Emergence of Evangelicalism

I thought the first post should be dedicated to the appearance of a recent book evaluating David's descriptive definition of Evangelicalism: The Emergence of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nottingham: IVP, 2008) edited by Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart. (You can find information on it here, here and here). Unfortunately--for all you US based folks--it is only available in the UK at the moment.
The Emergence of Evangelicalism is, as its subtitle suggests, a book which explores the continuity between the religion of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the evangelical religion that emerged in the eighteenth century. A whopping 18 scholars on both sides of the Atlantic contribute essays to the book. At the heart of the book is the question, 'Did Evangelicalism predate the eighteenth century?' This question was the title of an article by one of the editors (Kenneth Stewart) which appeared in the Evangelical Quarterly 77:2 (2005): 135-153 (it is available on ATLA Religion Database in pdf format for all of you who are, like myself, occasionally too lazy to go to the library!) The central question of the book is a good one, but it is not the first and only question concerning the adequacy of David's quadrilateral. Several other books have questioned the sufficiency of the quadrilateral (see Andrew Atherstone's recent work on Charles Golightly). One of David's former students, Timothy Larsen, has flagged up one of the problems with the quadrilateral: it assumes certain contextual information. He comments:
'For example, if no context is made explicit, an argument could be made that St Francis of Assisi was an evangelical. St. Francis, after all, had a clear, dramatic conversion experience; he was so committed to activism that he pioneered friars out itinerating amongst the people, preaching the gospel, and ministering to physical needs rather than being cloistered monks; his biblicism was so thorough that his Rule was made up mostly of straight quotations from Scripture; his crucicentrism was so profound that it reached its culmination in the stigmata.' (T. Larsen in The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 2.)

Yet, no other definition of evangelicalism comes close to rivaling the scholarly acceptance of David's quadrilateral. I think many people get hung up on the descriptive/prescriptive qualifications when examining the definition as it is configured in the quadrilateral. As historians, we are not (or should not be) attempting to place a prescriptive framework on the past. We hypothesize but then look for data which will make or break our hypothesis. My own thought on the quadrilateral is that although it possesses a few minor cracks, it is a solid descriptive definition of Evangelicalism.