Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: The Advent of Evangelicalism edited by Haykin and Stewart

The following review was submitted to me by Don Palmer, Sr. Pastor of Forest Brook Community Church, just east of Toronto, Canada. I am very grateful for Don's perspective and help with reviewing some of the books sent to us. I, too, have enjoyed and benefited from this book and commend his comments to you.

Michael Haykin & Kenneth Stewart, eds. The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities. Forward by Timothy George. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008, Paperback 432 pp.

At first glance Haykin and Stewart’s edited analytical essays on David Bebbington’s 1989 work, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1960s, is rather daunting. But moving into the various analyses from a selection of different scholars’ perspectives proved both profitable and interesting.

Now, some twenty years after publication, Bebbington’s work is considered a classic. His study and analysis of evangelical movement, thought and doctrine as influenced by Enlightenment philosophy is considered by some a “seminal study of great importance.” Because of the importance of Bebbington’s study a second look is worthwhile. Thus Haykin and Stewart’s edited volume is both timely and valuable. Every contributor goes to great lengths to examine various aspects of Bebbington’s thesis. Did evangelicalism begin in the mid-eighteenth century? Just how influential, if at all, were Enlightenment philosophers on Christian theology and practice? Can the evangelical movement truly be characterized by Bebbington’s “quadralateral” elements: biblicist, conversionist, cruciform, and activist?

These and other issues are brought to the forefront for analysis as each contributor examines one or more of the elements and attempts to answer the question: Did evangelicalism begin in the mid-eighteenth century and can it be typified by these four elements? The manner in which each contributor approached his topic proved interesting and fully worthwhile both from a historical standpoint but also from a theological perspective. Each contributor assists in bringing precision to Bebbington’s thesis, but, even more so, gives sharper focus to the time period and preceding factors.

To answer these questions and bring precision to the issue, The Advent of Evangelicalism is very nicely organized into four sections (it’s own “quadralateral” if you will): an Introduction, geographical/regional perspectives, an analysis of eras, and finally a doctrinal (or theological) analysis of evangelicalism. In each case the contributor is quite thorough, given the subject limitations, in his analysis providing copious quotations and bibliographical references. Thus, we’re given a broad viewpoint of the evangelical movement both synchronically and diachronically. This was very helpful in that the reader is given a better understanding of the evangelical movement not only in a particular country but also throughout time.

The main theme in Bebbington’s work was that Enlightenment thought and its philosophers heavily influenced evangelicals. Of particular interest was the contributor’s discussion on theological diversity and continuity within the period and their understanding of thought and theology as it related to the Enlightenment. This discussion was very beneficial to those of us who normally do not study the movement or evolution of theological thought from one century to another. Most helpful was the analysis of various denominational distinctions and how they may or may not have been influenced by enlightenment ideas. For example John Coffey notes that the differences were more a matter of “degree” and “even the politics of evangelicalism owed much to Puritanism.”

The Advent of Evangelicalism gives us a better understanding of ecclesiastical history not only during the 18th century but also of the time leading up to it. Examining the subject from a broader chronological perspective, regional differences, and theological standpoints was very beneficial. But, in another sense, the work is also comforting. The reader is given a better understanding that historically and theologically evangelicalism’s roots are not necessarily tainted with humanistic Enlightenment as we may be led to believe. Rather, the roots from which evangelicals are born are from sound theological thought emanating from centuries prior as the Holy Spirit worked in and through his Church in time and events.

Don Palmer lives in Toronto, is the Sr. Pastor of Forest Brook Community Church, and is completing MDiv studies through Tyndale College & Seminary.