Since Internet Monk designates itself as “Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness,” it is important from time to time to recall what we mean by “evangelical.” Over at Jesus Creed today, Scot McKnight reviews a new book about Dallas Willard that includes a helpful sketch of evangelicalism, both in terms of its emphases and its historical developments.
The standard template for identifying evangelical beliefs has been David Bebbington’s fourfold description:
Evangelicalism is thus described as a faith that involves:
- making a personal decision of faith in Christ
- serving in evangelism and mission
- being grounded in the Bible (I would add — in literal readings of the Bible)
- emphasizing salvation through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus
In various periods of history, one or more of these emphases has tended to take center stage. McKnight thinks #1 is front and center today, while others would stress #3.
Furthermore, there is a historical path that we may trace with regard to evangelicalism’s movements. Here I list some of the stages McKnight notes and add some emphases of my own:
- From First to Second Awakenings: there was a theological move from salvation as God’s sovereign act to an emphasis on salvation as a transaction involving human decision.
- From the mid-1800’s forward: a move in eschatology from amillennial and postmillennial teachings to premillennialism and dispensationalism. This really ramped up in the mid-20th century with the formation of the state of Israel.
- In the late 1800’s there began an impressive mobilization of students and churches for foreign missions which led to tens of thousands of missionaries going to the field and the start of hundreds of fundamental/evangelical mission organizations.
- From the late 1800’s to the mid-19th century, fundamentalism broke away from higher critical Bible interpretation and liberal theology, forming its own organizations and separating itself especially from mainline institutions of higher learning as well as mainline denominations.
- Neo-evangelicalism began to reengage with culture and higher learning in the middle years of the 20th century and split with fundamentalist teaching and institutions. N-E also maintained much closer ties with mainline Protestant denominations and was more ecumenical in spirit and practice.
- In the post-war period many evangelical parachurch groups developed, including high school and college campus ministries and those which focused on military personnel.
- The “Jesus Movement” of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s began introducing unprecedented levels of contemporary culture and music into the church, as well as an updated version of Pentecostalism known as the “charismatic movement,” which emphasized individual spiritual experience. The combination of spiritual vitality and cultural engagement meant that “Evangelicalism” was on the verge of becoming a culture of its own, with its own media, publishing, and retail outlets.
- The social upheavals of that same period led to the rise of the Religious Right. Hardcore fundamentalists withdrew even further from society, but some joined with evangelicals in reentering the public sector through political involvement and newfound media savvy. The term “Evangelical” became more and more identified as a term that described those who held conservative political positions.
- At the same time there was the rise of the Church Growth movement, which morphed into the Seeker-Church movement. McKnight describes it well: “The Baby Boomer Church Growth Movement, rooting itself in folks like Finney and Moody, sought to combine social sciences, heart felt needs, charismatic personalities, and upbeat church services to create current American megachurches. Seeker churches then used marketing skills to make it happen.”
This, in a nutshell, describes the historical development of what we call “evangelicalism” today.
Post-evangelicalism, then, consists of those who, in McKnight’s words, offered a “prophetic critique” of where evangelicalism has come. In a set of posts in August 2010, we identified three of the major streams of post-evangelicalism:
- Neo-Calvinist movements
- Emerging movements
- Ancient-Future movements
In his current post, Scot McKnight also talks about a “Spiritual Formation” movement, led by such teachers as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard.
When reading this, it is important to remember that we are primarily looking at evangelicalism as it has developed in the United States. However, it is probably true to say that the U.S. experience has had a significant influence over the way these kinds of churches have developed in the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, today we should also note that “evangelical” movements have rapidly expanded and are continuing to grow in Africa, South America, and in places like South Korea. The future will reveal what forms evangelicalism will take in a global marketplace.