Monday, 27 October 2008

An Interview with David W. Bebbington

Neil Dickson, the convener of the Brethren Archivists and Historians Network and editor of the Brethren Historical Review, interviewed Bebbington in early 2003 concerning the state of the historiography of evangelicalism. You can read the entire interview here.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Given the emergence of this new evangelical historiography, what do you see as its strengths?

...But another strength of this evangelical historiography is its strong insistence that you must not only look at religion per se, but you must look at religion in its total setting, look at religion in the setting of society. You must be willing to engage in class analysis of people who went to church. You look at religion in terms of its setting in the world of ideas, so you see theology as part an evolving intellectual pattern, which can be analysed in terms of the history of ideas. What that means is that the evangelical movement is set within its real context, how people really lived in the social and intellectual world of their times. There must be no artificial segregation between the sacred and the profane which was not part of the reality of people’s experience at the time.

Dickson: If we can turn to your own writing for a moment, you have claimed that the defining characteristics of evangelicalism are conversionism, crucicentricism, activism and biblicism. How well do you think the recent literature has sustained what has sometimes been called the ‘Bebbington quadrilateral’? Do you see it as in need of revision or do you still stand by what you wrote fourteen years ago or so?
Bebbington: If you’re writing about anything, you have to know the thing you’re writing about, so there was a need for some sort of definition of what evangelicalism is. The most obvious way of defining it is to take definitions current at a particular point in the past time, and use the way in which people defined the movement at the time. If a person is described as an evangelical, then the person is an evangelical. However, that obvious method does not work. That is because at any one point in time, some people claimed to be evangelicals and other people said they weren’t! And that’s true not just on the liberal side but also on the fundamentalist side. In the inter-war period in Britain, there were lots of liberal evangelicals who insisted that they were evangelical, but conservative evangelicals said they weren’t! And there were some fundamentalist evangelicals, who were very insistent they were the only evangelicals, but some liberal evangelicals said they were not evangelicals. So there are exclusions. You therefore have to have some supra-historical criteriology for determining who you are supposed to be studying. The way to do that is through some model of characteristics built up over space and time which provides a common essential core. That’s what the model of four characteristics is designed to do. It does reflect reality, I think, in large measure from the 1730s right up to the present day, in the western world generally, and therefore I am inclined still to defend it. If you don’t have it, you’ve got to have something that is its equivalent, and I’ve seen no better.
Let me suggest one or two ways in which people have proposed its improvement. One way is to add individualism as a fifth characteristic. I don’t agree with that because a very large number of evangelicals have been extraordinarily communitarian—communitarian in the sense that they’ve placed enormous emphasis on the centrality of the family in Christian nurture, transmitting the faith down the generations, in their emphasis on the Christian church itself. A lot of evangelicals have placed as much emphasis on the doctrine of the church at some times and in some places as many so-called High Churchmen. After all, Edward Irving was an evangelical—he came up with the Catholic Apostolic Church and you can’t get a more elaborate ecclesiology than that…
Dickson: The Brethren too.
Bebbington: Absolutely! Brethren ecclesiology is fundamental to their existence and that’s not just a matter of theory. It’s also a matter of practice—mutual support and mutually acknowledged leadership is of the essence of Brethrenism. So I don’t think you can get away with individualism as being a defining characteristic because a lot of evangelicals have not been.
Another objection that people have made is: well surely some Roman Catholics fit the definition. I’m very happy with that. If Roman Catholics fit the definition, then I’m happy to call them evangelical Catholics. What is more, a lot of Catholics are themselves these days happy to call themselves evangelical Catholics, and if they’re happy I certainly don’t want to deny them the privilege of using the term. There’s even an organisation based in Dublin which is called Evangelical Catholics. They accept these four emphases as being distinctive and important, at the core of their faith.
The third objection that’s been raised is: well aren’t you allowing some evangelicals to be heretics if they fit that typology of four characteristics? Couldn’t they actually deny some aspects of Christology, for example, and still under your definition be evangelical? Well my answer to that is, yes again I accept this impeachment. There are such things as heretical evangelicals. The most obvious instance are the Oneness Pentecostals in the Appalachians of the United States. They actually began by engaging in a distinctive baptismal practice—that is to say baptising in the name of Jesus only—and because their theology is largely determined by that practice, they came up with a sort of Jesus Unitarianism, accepting only that the second person of the Trinity is God,. There’s no distinct first person, there’s no distinct third person. Now that is heresy according to Christian tradition, the councils of the Christian faith, and in the last resort I would say, the Gospel of John. Nevertheless, the Oneness Pentecostals, like almost all Pentecostals, fit the fourfold typology. I’m not prepared, therefore, to say that they are anything other than evangelicals, but I do want to say that they are heretical. I’m therefore perfectly prepared to admit the category of heretical evangelical—it’s not surprising, for there are heretical High Churchmen, there are heretical Roman Catholics and so on.
So, so long as you accept that there are those qualifications that can be made because of the nature of reality, I’m very happy with the quadrilateral still.

Friday, 24 October 2008

David's Itinerary for the end of October and early November

David will be giving a lecture on Evangelical Theology in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries to the Methodist Missionary Society History Project in Birmingham on Monday and Tuesday, 27-28 October 2008. The title of the conference is Did They Believe and Teach Our Doctrines?: Theological Thought and Conviction in Methodist Missions.

In addition to this event David will be delivering the Hughey Lectures at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, 3-5 November 2008. The theme of the lectures is 'Baptists and Revival.'

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

David Bebbington's Curriculum Vitae

I had second thoughts about publishing this post. The reason being that David does not like to advertise his achievements. In a world where self-promotion is second nature to most of us, David does not like to attract attention to himself.

This post, however, should be viewed as an aide to our own historical and theological research, not as an advertisement for David's achievements. So, please see Bebbington's curriculum vitae here.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Congrats to Cullen Clark

Congrats on the completion of your MRes dissertation!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Young, Restless and Reformed: A British Perspective--Guest Blogger

Dr. David Ceri Jones, lecturer in History at Aberystwyth University in Wales, has kindly agreed to be a guest blogger for us. His post is a reflective piece on Colin Hansen's book Young, Restless and Reformed: A Journalists Journey With the New Calvinists (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008). David is a contributor to the Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in Britain Project, and is currently writing a history of Calvinistic Methodism in England and Wales during the eighteenth century which will be published by the University of Wales Press in early 2010.

In addition, David is working on a critical edition of Whitefield's correspondence with Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh. This work is being undertaken with the help and partnership of IMEMS and The Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University.

Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless and Reformed: A Journalists Journey with the New Calvinists (Wheaton, Ill; Crossway Books, 2008) has already generated considerable debate and discussion on the blogosphere. Charting the resurgence of Reformed convictions in the United States associated with names such as John Piper, the Calvinist Charismatic C. J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries, Al Mohler the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mark Driscoll of the phenomenal Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Hansen has written a wonderfully evocative and sympathetic portrayal that disabuses readers of many of the popular misconceptions of Calvinism. The emphasis throughout the book is on the life-transforming impact that the discovery of Reformed theology has had on a whole range of individuals. While John Piper is very much the father-figure of the movement, he’s the one individual that links all of the others, Jonathan Edwards, is never far away either! The New Calvinists are predominantly young, passionately committed to Scripture and the centrality of preaching; they are thorough-going five-point Calvinists, embrace the best of modern worship music, are culturally engaged, missional and socially aware.
However, the book has received a relatively lukewarm reception in Britain. Apart from Erroll Hulse’s hope that the resurgence might be the precursor to another Great Awakening [Evangelicals Now, (October, 2008)], most British commentators have bemoaned the movement’s almost exclusive focus on the Five Points; the Calvinism of this new generation is not yet your grandfather’s Calvinism as one British reviewer has put it [see here]. Another reviewer [see here], with a complete lack of historical nuance, has gone so far as to claim that this is actually the third wave of Calvinist renewal in the twentieth century; the first being associated with the founding of Westminster Seminary, the Grand Rapids publishers, the Free Church of Scotland and the irascible practically Hyper-Calvinist A. W. Pink of all people! The second wave was that led by Jim Packer and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In one of the most revealing comments from a British perspective, Jim Packer comments that the Reformed recovery during the 1950s and 1960s was something of a false dawn, swept away by the charismatic renewal with its emphasis on experience rather than theology. Those who carried on the legacy of Packer and Lloyd-Jones tended to lack their breadth of vision and personal magnanimity, and their positive work was hi-jacked by those who made commitment to Calvinism a badge of honour and retreated to the kind of Reformed ghettos that John Piper talks about in this book.
Some of the individuals which figure in this book are becoming better known on this side of the Atlantic. Despite receiving a frosty reception from some at the Banner of Truth conference in the early 1990s, John Piper is now a frequent visitor to Britain. C. J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries have outposts in Britain, and are in some respects closely akin to the New Frontiers Churches. Mark Driscoll has recently visited Britain, although it maybe that many from the Reformed community would find his style of preaching off-putting, which would be a great pity. But over and above this the American New Calvinists have much to teach Reformed Christians in Britain, and a sober consideration of some of the reasons for their success might pay dividends for Reformed Churches in Britain. One of the most remarkable features of the churches which Hansen visits is their sheer size. Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis having over 4,000 members, Mars Hill, 6,000, Mahaney’s Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, 3,000, to say nothing of the 6,000 15-24 year olds who attend the New Attitude Conferences or the 40,000 students who gathered in Memphis to listen to Piper on ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’. By contrast most Reformed churches in Britain are small and embattled. Many either hark back to a perceived golden age, whether that be the 1950s, 1859, the 1730s or even further back. Others have circled the wagons in the hope of revival and better days ahead.
The genius of the Reformers was that they were always reforming, and it may be that some of these new vibrant and culturally relevant expressions of reformed theology in the twenty-first century are actually much more faithful to the spirit of the Reformers and Puritans than many of their latter day champions in Britain would care to admit! The challenge of the New Calvinist resurgence in the United States is that many are looking for something deeper than the personality-driven, entertainment-obsessed faddishness that blights much contemporary evangelicalism. Reformed Christians in Britain could do worse than follow Mark Driscoll’s example and become missional Christians, taking their Calvinism and dressing it in new twenty-first century clothes, not to make Jesus relevant, but to show he is already relevant’. Who knows, there might then be a Reformed resurgence on this side of the Atlantic as well.
David Ceri Jones
Aberystwyth University

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

More on the Emergence of Evangelicalism

John Wolffe, Professor of Religious History in the Open University, weighs in (Tell Me, Where Was Evangelicalism Bred?) on The Emergence of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities edited by Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart.

Wolffe's thoughts: the main argument of the book is overstated. He writes,

As Bebbington points out, despite its length, the book’s coverage is limited in its denominational range, being focused on Presbyterian and Nonconformist dimensions, and giving relatively little attention to Methodism, which was a central expression of Evangelicalism. Indeed, the treatment of Anglican Evangelicals is also skewed, more attention being given to Calvinists such as Newton and Toplady than to Arminians such as Wesley, who was surely far too pivotal to early Evangelicalism to be dismissed as a "deviation"'.