A Short History of Global Evangelicalism
Mark Hutchinson and John Wolffe
Cambridge University Press £60 (hbk); £19.99 (pbk)
(978-0-521-76945-7 hbk) (978-0-521-74605-2 pbk)
Church Times Bookshop £54; £18 (Use code
MARK HUTCHINSON and John Wolffe have written an impressive
account of Evangelicalism. They trace the movement's history from
its appearance in the 18th century as an in- formal tendency in
Northern European, not-ably British, and American Protestantism to
its current reality as a diverse worldwide movement that has been
notably successful in resisting secularising forces in the West,
and flourishes mightily in the riotously religious Majority World,
where the largest concentrations of Evangelicals are found
This may be A Short History, but it rests on
formidably wide and deep scholarship. The drawback of the "short"
formula is that very few historical events can be treated fully in
the text, such as the story of Pandita Rambai's work in social
reform and evangelism in India. The advantage of a "short history"
is that the broad historical sweep of development can be made
clear, in spite of the chronic contradictions between different
parts of the movement on theological, organisational, political,
regional, and even stylistic criteria.
The book begins with a lucid exposition of the competing
definitions of "Evangelicalism", and ends with two valuable late
chapters, one on the size and distribution of the movement today
(usefully comparing the probably inflated figures of the World
Christian Encyclopedia with other data), and a "Conclusion"
that summarises what the authors see as most significant in this
The authors recount the progress of the movement from revival in
Massachusetts in the 1730s and the emergence of Methodism in
Britain, through Revivals, Awakenings, and institutional and
extra-institutional initiatives, to the transnational global
movement of the present day. They chart the evolution of
volunteering, and the early missionary emphasis that carried
Evangelicalism to the élites as well as the poor of the West, and
into the imperial territories of the Western powers, particularly
the British Empire.
They differentiate the strands of Evangelicalism that emphasise
the experiential from those emphasising doctrinal formulae; and
those that engaged in social-welfare work, and were decisive
contributors, for example, to the anti-slavery movement and the
emancipation of women, from those that privileged the spiritual
goals of the Kingdom above social activism. They pay particular
attention to the movement's indigenisation in the mission
territories during the 19th century as the prelude to its further
global spread, and trace the continuing distinctiveness of its
local character and its transnational development as twin responses
to the opportunities and challenges of global modernity.
Evangelicals are "at their best" as a minority "leavening the
lump". When they become politically and socially dominant, in
Victorian England or in the United States of the Bush presidencies,
their influence tends to be fleeting, because their disparate
visions pull in contrary directions.
The recent status of Evangelicals as the favourite "hated Other"
of contemporary secularists comes from a skewed assessment of this
rich and various movement. It has certainly had its obscurantist
and anti-modern corners, but has also been responsible for widely
admired developments, from pioneer education and welfare
initiatives to a recent part in running NGOs that fill in the
functions of failed African states. This text will make it harder
to sustain one-dimensional anti-Evangelical prejudices in
Bernice Martin is Emeritus Reader in Sociology at the
University of London.