Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The age of Billy Graham and John
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THIS is the fifth and final
volume in IVP's scholarly history of the Evangelical movement.
Brian Stanley is a distinguished church historian at Edinburgh
University, and this is an account of Evangelicalism since 1945
which is both erudite and readable.
Anyone with an interest in
the Evangelical tradition would enjoy it, partly because it is
largely written in terms of the leading personalities concerned.
The downside is that the theological analysis is comparatively
weak, with little or no discussion, for example, of the part that
different theologies of atonement have played in the evolution of
Evangelicalism has always
been a contested concept, and the fluid contours of Evangelical
identity have become even more evident in recent decades. As the
Evangelical tradition has grown and broadened, it has become less
stable, and today the global floodtide of Evangelical-ism can
resemble a delta, as the single stream of the river breaks down
into divergent channels.
Terminology is fluid, too.
Stanley skilfully pilots the reader through the different meanings
of fundamentalism on different sides of the Atlantic, and the
various interpretations of such terms as "infallible" or "inerrant"
as applied to the Bible.
Allied to this, there are
choices over theological method. The more revelation is regarded in
propositional terms, the greater the inclination towards the view
that it can be proved by logic that Evangelical theology is true,
and other approaches are false. That the rationalism of more
conservative Evangelicalism can produce a rather unattractive and
critical spirituality is not explored, but might well have been.
Generally in this volume, the spirituality of Evangelicalism is
The less propositional
approach that locates an Evangelical claim to truth in the innate
plausibility of the gospel as experienced in the life of the Church
is exemplified here by Lesslie Newbigin and C. S. Lewis, whose
underlying, and traditional, theological orthodoxy awards them the
badge of being Evangelicals. Karl Barth lurks in the background,
not quite deserving a place in the Evangelical firmament because he
recast too many Evangelical commonplaces. For Lewis, in particular,
logic could not be enough to draw people to faith. Imagination was
equally necessary, in order to enter the mysterious Narnian world
where God is incarnate, and suffers with us.
Stanley draws out the
significance of the hermeneutical movement for Evangelicalism, as
exemplified by Anthony Thiselton's seminal work. He illustrates the
issues with particularly perceptive accounts of the way in which
different Evangelical writers have wrestled with the issues of the
ordination of women and homosexuality. Do hermeneutical insights
represent potential solutions, or are they merely a Trojan horse to
smuggle a new liberalism into the Evangelical camp? Is a
post-Evangelical still to be regarded as an Evangelical? For
Stanley the answer is yes, provided that he or she is inspired by
the same "convertive piety" that animated early Methodism.
Sometimes, in the life of the Church, things do seem to turn full
Is the Pentecostal
resurgence in recent decades to be viewed as an aspect of
Evangelicalism? Stanley addresses but doesn't quite answer this
question, which perhaps needs a separate treatment. Analogous
questions arise in relation to the inculturation of Evangelicalism
in Africa and elsewhere. Much African Christianity bears the
imprint of Western Evangelicalism, but it is also very different,
sometimes baff- lingly so to Western Evangelicals.
The impact of Billy Graham's
crusades a generation ago are fully treated. He seems to have
catalysed much of the subsequent revival of wider Evangelicalism,
although today his impact seems rather muted. It is interesting to
be reminded that Michael Ramsey denounced him as a heretic; perhaps
Graham's success is illustrated by the fact that today such a
remark would seem somewhat ludicrous. But Graham's impact, while
global, was not universal, and was particularly limited in Africa,
where cultural patterns are much more communal and less
individualistic than in many other cultures.
The fact that so much of the
history narrated here is the history of competing, and of
individual leaders, often American, provokes a final reflection
from this reviewer. A history of Anglo-Catholicism would be very
different in character. Did the Reformation, for all its energy and
purchase on the truth of the gospel, unleash a never-ending
proliferation of denominations and sects? Does it lack the
ecclesial infrastructure, the givenness of the ordained ministry
and sacramental life, which should help to safeguard the Church
Stanley does not discuss in
any detail the fissiparous nature of Evangelicalism, the results of
which he so eloquently lays before us, but for the future of
Evangelicalism this will surely be a crucial question.
Dr Forster is the Bishop of Chester.