The Expansion of Evangelicalism, the Age of Wilberforce, More, Chalmers and Finney by John Wolffe

This is the second volume in the five volume series, “A History of Evangelicalism,” and covers the history of evangelicalism from the 1790s to the 1840s. Wolffe, professor of religious history at The Open University in England, chooses to discuss the movement of evangelicalism during this period by tracing various historic threads which helped shape Christianity in the English-speaking world. These threads include revivals and revivalism, the place of women within the church (a number of influential women are discussed), evangelicalism’s affect on society, especially the slavery issues and abolition, and attempts at unity as the evangelical church became more diverse and increasingly splintered. Not everyone will be pleased with this approach as so many things outside these threads are neglected but, in fairness, with any attempt at covering 50 years of evangelical history in 250 pages the author is forced to choose some elements and ignore others. Overall, Wolffe does an admirable job. He obviously is well-read on his subject and contributes much to our understanding of the expansion of the evangelical movement.

One disappointment common to most modern church history literature is the lack of an in-depth discussion of theological issues. For example, one of the most predominate figures of this era was Charles Finney. Wolffe says much about Finney’s influence, revivals, introduction of “new measures” and even his stance on slavery, but nothing much is said about his theological views, some of them unusual and outside the realm of orthodoxy, which had strong influence on the evangelical movement of his time. I would have loved to have read more on these types of theological matters; nevertheless, The Expansion of Evangelicalism is a fine contribution to the understanding of Christian life of the early nineteenth century.

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