This, the third volume in the “A History of Evangelicalism” series, outlines the exciting nineteenth century developments within Christianity. Bebbington provides four marks that identified evangelicals: their belief in the inspiration and final authority of the Bible, the centrality of the cross and the substitutionary death of Christ, conversion of the lost by faith alone, and activism—an urgency to spread the message of Christ throughout the world.
As a result of these characteristics there was a remarkable unity among evangelicals. Even amidst the diversity of doctrinal opinion and philosophical differences, there was a commonality focused around the gospel. Nevertheless, intramural battles were often volatile. For one thing, Western society was shifting from the “age of reason” (the Enlightenment) to Romanticism with its minimizing of reason and focusing on will, spirit, emotion and imagination (pp. 148, 162-166). It was also the era in which Calvinism began to decay and was rapidly being replaced by Arminianism in many circles (pp. 133-137). In addition, there were numerous movements, each with its unique doctrinal emphasis. For example, we see the birth of the Holiness movement, Keswicks, Pentecostalism, an increasing emphasis and interest in Roman Catholic practices and doctrines, and the renewed popularity of premillennialism (pp. 190-196).
The most troubling aspect of the times was the planting of the seeds of liberalism. While liberal views were first presented in ways that seemed compatible with evangelicalism (p. 259), incompatibility was evident as the century wore on. Under attack were such essential doctrines as the Fatherhood of God, the atonement, Hell, exclusivism, inspiration of Scripture and the biblical account of creation (pp. 162-183). It would not be until the turn of the next century that these seeds would come to fruition, but the ground had been prepared during the late 1800s.
On a more positive note, this was the age in which the great push for missions began, and it was a time of great innovation as numerous organizations were founded to spread the good news. Methodologies were developed, many of which are still in use today. There was a great fervor for the Lord and evangelicals had much influence, yet it was a time of turbulence and change.
I believe Bebbington does a fine job tying all these threads together. Any reader of the book will have a better understanding of the roots of evangelicalism and their effects on us today.