Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism

On my flights home from Boston I finished reading Brian Stanley's The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott. This is the latest book in the "History of Evangelicalism" series with IVP Academic.

Stanley's book narrates the spread of evangelical Christianity in North America, Great Britain, and Australasia, highlighting the movement's key leaders and events. After an introductory chapter as an overview of the book, chapter two details the differences between fundamentalists and evangelicals around the mid-twentieth century with attention given to individuals such as Carl F. H. Henry, Harold J. Ockenga, Harold Lindsell, and Charles E. Fuller within the context of the rise of Billy Graham's ministry and the support he received from J. Howard Pew. Chapter one also chronicles the founding of Christianity Today and Fuller Theological Seminary as key events at this time.

While much of this information has been previously discussed in books such as Joel Carpenter's Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of Fundamentalism and George Marsden's Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, Stanley offers a fascinating comparison between American and British evangelicalism. We find out, for instance, that very few Christians in Britain wanted to form separatist groups, with most wanting to stay within the fold the established churches in England and Scotland.

In this second chapter, I found Stanley's analysis of the disproportional influence of the Plymouth Brethren on evangelicalism in Britain very interesting as well. Regent College doesn't advertise this fact, but it was founded by people like James Houston and Ward Gasque, a student of the Brethren biblical scholar F. F. Bruce, all of whom were Brethren (the current president of Regent College, Rod Wilson and the theologian John Stackhouse, were also raised Brethren).

The third chapter is about the global dissemination of evangelicalism that occurred after mid-century. There is an interesting section on the globalization of Billy Graham's ministry, which gives greater details regarding his involvement in various countries outside the U.S.

Chapter four gives an overview of some of the theological debates among evangelicals. This chapter has some really insightful material on the formation of Tyndale House in England, F. F. Bruce's scholarship, how British evangelicals have successfully infiltrated major research universities (as opposed to American evangelicals), the importance of The New Bible Commentary, disputes over the term inerrancy, and the revival of expository preaching led by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott.

Chapter five offers another theological perspective of evangelicalism, this time concentrating on the apologetic tone during the latter half of the twentieth century. Attention is given to Cornelius Van Til, Edward J. Carnell, Carl F. H. Henry, Francis Schaeffer, Alvin Plantinga, Lesslie Newbigin, and C. S. Lewis as key apologists of the movement.

Chapter six focuses on the issue of social justice within Christian mission and on the importnace of the 1974 Lausanne conference. Stanley explains the origins of the Lausanne Congress, the new evangelicals in Latin America, Africa and Asias, the initial skepticism of British evangelicalism towards Lausanne, the various debates among participants at the conference, and the significant role that John Stott played in drafting the Lausanne Covenant.

Chapter seven summarizes the history and tremendous impact that Pentecostalism has had had on global evangelicalism. Stanley begins by detailing the revival of divine healing that took place nationally, the sacramental nature of the charismatic movement, and key moments in history, such as the Toronto Blessing.

Chapter eight is about different hermeneutic expressions within evangelical Christian as well as issues tied to gender, sexuality, and ethics.  Stanley analyzes the place of women within evangelical churches and debates on how to interpret female involvement in worship services in light of various biblical texts. There is mention also of the differences between egalitarians and complementarians. The final sections of the chapter deal with the subject of homosexuality and differing Christian viewpoints.

The last chapter raises questions on where evangelicalism is going in terms of its trajectory. Stanley identifies trends from the middle to the end of the twentieth century, the significance of the charismatic movement going forward, and "post-evangelicalism" vs. "post-conservativism."

Overall, Stanley provides more evidence of the extremely diverse nature of evangelicalism. He shows that it is impossible to describe evangelicals as having unanimous opinions on biblical interpretation, missions, theology, interaction with culture, and the work of the Holy Spirit. One of the aspects of the book that I was most impressed with was Stanley's interaction with the current literature. Even though The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism is hot off the press, Stanley made significant room to appraise recent books such as Andrew Atherstone's and David Ceri Jones's edited volume, Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones (2011), Alister Chapman's Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (2012), and Tim Grass's F. F. Bruce: A Life (2011). Stanley's The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism is an excellent contribution to IVP's "History of Evangelicalism" series, and should be read by anyone wanting a good summary of the last fifty years of the movement.

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