09 May 2009

Evangelicalism - A Historical Study

One piece of history that I have been studying lately is the birth, growth and theology of Evangelicalism. I've read a few books and numerous articles. Early on, late C17 to early C18, Mark Noll tells us of some transformations that took place in practical religion in his book, The Rise of Evangelicalism. These transformations seemed to involve several tendencies:

-Christian faith redefined from correct doctrine to correct living
-A shift from godly order as the church's concern to godly fellowship
-A change "from authoritative interpretation of Scripture originating with ecclesiastical elites toward lay and more democratic appropriation of the Bible"
-A move from obedience to expression
-Music performed by disciplined musicians to music "as a shared expression of the people"
-"From preaching as learned learned discourses about God toward preaching as impassioned appeals for "closing with Christ'"
(page 52)

At least some of these sound famaliar don't they?

This history fascinates me as just the very term itself, Evangelicalism, is pregnant with meaning. I don't care for the term as I often associate it with all that is wrong with the church today. Perhaps I take that feeling too far but I tend to agree with Darrell Hart that the term should no longer embraced. I look forward to continuing this study of church history that surrounds the people and events in Evangelicalism. Any thoughts?

5 comments:

ReformedChristian said...

Hi Russ,

Did Noll's book talk about its development in the UK or just the USA? In the uk it was originally used of the Anglicans like John Newtown, Wilberforce and the Clapham sect types. Before that it was used to describe Lutherans.
I understand that the word evangelical has stretched too far but it is a wonderful word loaded with meaning and history that as true evangelicals we should try to keep. That said I am in the running for a post with a church that is trying to drop the word evangelical because no-one outside the church understands the term.

Shalom
Stephen

Reformed Renegade said...

Yes, and so have some of the other books I've read. For me, though, I have to agree with D.G. Hart who'd like to drop the term. It means so many good things but so many bad things as well. My backgound has the word pointing to all that's bad in Christianity, Revivalism (not revival which is good), Conversionism, ingnorance of true & sound doctrine. When people tell me they are an Evangelical I'd like them to define it for me. Of course, this is all my own prejudice but the evolution of the term has resulted in its meaning different things to different folks.

Great pic of you and your daughter.
All my best to you and your family.

Scrape said...

Just some thoughts on the points you listed. We need to be careful about defining proper Christianity as stalled in the 17th century.

-Christian faith redefined from correct doctrine to correct livingArguably, it should involve both.

-A shift from godly order as the church's concern to godly fellowshipHere I'm going to go with both again. Fellowship is certainly a concern in the NT church.

-A change "from authoritative interpretation of Scripture originating with ecclesiastical elites toward lay and more democratic appropriation of the Bible"I'm a proponent of educated pastors as well, yet at the same time, even Dr. Frame makes good arguments for the case that we overly emphasize pastoral education.

-A move from obedience to expressionOk.


-Music performed by disciplined musicians to music "as a shared expression of the people"Well, I could certainly see working toward a congregation where all worshipers are more disciplined and devoted to their music, yet at the same time, I don't think we want to leave the musical focus on a group of performers.

-"From preaching as learned learned discourses about God toward preaching as impassioned appeals for "closing with Christ'" I don't know what "closing with Christ" means ;-) so you got me there.

Reformed Renegade said...

Yes, I think the Noll and I would agree with you. He was pointing out, however, the changes, not making a judgment call on whether they were right or wrong (at least not at this point). "Closing with Christ" refers to "conversionism", i.e., getting 'em saved - altar calls and so forth.

Scrape said...

Gotcha.

I think my experiences with Frame et al now have me over-sensitized to some of how we view the larger church as Reformed folks.