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Evangelicalism: A very short introduction by John G. Stackhouse, Jr

by
13 January 2023

Alexander Faludy looks at the complexity of Evangelical distinctions

EVANGELICALISM today is arguably the most influential strand in Anglicanism. That is, in part, perhaps because of its ties to a dynamic cross-denominational culture that resources it. In Evangelicalism: A very short introduction, John G. Stackhouse provides an accessible and yet rigorous entrée to that thought-world.

The sketch offered of the 18th-century Evangelical Revival’s roots in English puritanism and Continental pietism is accomplished, as is the characterisation of Evangelicalism phenomenologically under six “heads”. For the author, these are, respectively: Trinitarian, biblicist, conversionist, missional, populist, and pragmatic.

Stackhouse destabilises tropes about Evangelicalism, including ready identification with colonialism and women’s subjugation. The truth is immensely varied and difficult to stereotype. The relationship with colonialism and racial politics varied tremendously between North America, Africa, and India. Evangelical activity, domestic and foreign, afforded women positions of leadership denied them in society before the mid-20th century. Women’s involvement in para-church organisations presents intriguing parallels to Catholic women’s experience in religious orders.

The book excels in exploring the tensions characterising Evangelicalism. Stackhouse frames Evangelicalism as, paradoxically, both a product of modernity (especially apropos of mass communications) and especially vulnerable to its dislocations. He gives a nuanced view of how responses to historical criticism and scientific understanding generated complex differentiation among Evangelicals — not simply between them and others.

The book has internal tensions especially regarding Evangelicalism’s linkage with fundamentalism. The latter sometimes appears as a foil to “true” Evangelicalism, sometimes as an integral subset — analogous to Pentecostalism.

Stackhouse’s articulation of later Evangelicalism’s relationship with Reformation Protestantism is patchy. The Scofield Reference Bible’s printing (1909) of study notes alongside sacred text is described here as an “innovation”. The practice, however, has a long history in Anglophone printing, dating back to the Geneva Bible (1560).

Evangelicalism has sometimes defined itself as “basic Christianity” — as in the title of an influential 1958 book by John Stott. Fittingly, Stackhouse closes by observing that, today, Evangelicalism’s challenge remains “the same which has faced every authentic Christian in every time and place: to seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, rather than settling for, and even celebrating, a pale, narrow approximation”.


The Revd Alexander Faludy is a freelance journalist based in Budapest.

 

Evangelicalism: A very short introduction
John G. Stackhouse, Jr
OUP £8.99
978-0190079680
Church Times Bookshop £8.09

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