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American Evangelicalism Assessed from U.K

June 8, 2007

David Bebbington, professor of history at the University of Stirling and recent author of The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon And Moody has written an excellent article assessing American Evangelicalism through the lens of five recent books on the subject (see titles below).

In addition to the helpful book reviews, Bebbington notes that, contrary to these volumes, Evangelicalism is not a mere American phenomenon. It relies heavily upon certain British influences including have been swayed by the New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce, the theologian J. I. Packer, and the Christian statesman John Stott, non-evangelical apologist C.S. Lewis, and recently Alpha Course pioneer Nicky Gumble.

Of particular interest is Bebbington’s observation that American evangelicalism is much more political than British evangelicalism. With the shadows of John Owen, William Wilberforce and the like, one wonders if Bebbington is dismissing the political influence in Britain too quickly? Then again, he may be thinking of recent evangelicalism. Regardless, the American brand is perceived as heavily political, and in my opinion, as long as evangelicals to not baptize a political party and are equally good citizens as politicians, that can be very good.

His closing remarks on the 20th century version of American evanglicalism are helpful. Consider all the talk about America being or becoming a post-Christian nation, alongside Bebbington’s following comments:

“It is highly significant that in the 2006 Baylor survey more people in the same mainline denominations embraced the label “Evangelical” than did those regarded by the investigators as belonging to evangelical bodies. The 20th century witnessed far less interruption of the evangelical tradition than the usual emphasis on fundamentalism would suggest.”

“Evangelicalism has been and remains an emphatically global force, with characteristics that outcrop in every land under the sun, and it would be a mistake to suppose that it ever has been uniquely American. Yet its American expression, for all its accommodation to various currents in the modern life of the nation, has been and remains unusually successful.”

America–Evangelical, Christian, or Post-Christian. What are your thoughts?

Monique El-Faizy, God and Country: How Evangelicals have become America’s New Mainstream (Bloomsbury, 2006).

Richard Kyle, Evangelicalism: An Americanized Christianity (Transaction, 2006).

Sam Reimer, Evangelicals and the Continental Divide: The Conservative Protestant Subculture in Canada and the United States (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 2003).

Jeffery L. Sheler, Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America (Viking, 2006).

Douglas A. Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement (BakerAcademic, 2005).

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