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The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody
Inter-varsity Press / 2005 / Hardcover
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Third in a proposed 5-volume series that traces the fascinating history of evangelicals over a 300-year period. Focusing on the key individuals, events, and organizations that shaped the movement during the industrialization of the West, Bebbington's study examines the widening divide between rich and poor; theology; and issues of gender, warfare, and science. 300 pages, hardcover from InterVarsity.
Honored in 2006 as a "Year's Best Book for Preachers" by Preaching magazine. The word evangelical is widely used and widely misunderstood. Where did evangelicals come from? How did their influence become so widespread throughout the world? This book continues a compelling series of books charting the course of English-speaking evangelicalism over the last three hundred years. Evangelical culture at the end of the nineteenth century is set against the backdrop of imperial maneuverings in Great Britain and populist uprisings in the United States. Meanwhile, the industrialized West begins to enjoy the fruits of the Industrial Revolution, as British and American commerce become unstoppable forces on economies worldwide. The rising tide of respectability that accompanied the affluence of the late nineteenth century West exercised great influence over religion. The plight of those who shared little in the abundance of the period likewise stirred the Christian conscience of some, turning them ultimately toward a social gospel. Better communication, together with widespread education, meant that the latest news and novel ideas spread rapidly. Evangelicals knew what was happening among their fellow believers on the other side of the globe and were often swayed by their opinions or inspired by their schemes. Already during the later nineteenth century, evangelicalism was contributing in a major way to globalization. Theology, hymnody, gender, warfare, politics and science are all taken into consideration in this sweeping discussion of a critical period in religious history, but the focus of The Dominance of Evangelicalism is on the landmark individuals, events and organizations that shaped the story of a high-water mark of this vibrant Christian movement.
David W. Bebbington (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is professor of history at the University of Stirling in Scotland and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. His principal research interests are in the history of politics, religion and society in Britain from the eighteenth to the twentieth century and in the history of the global evangelical movement. His recent books include (1989), (1992), (1993) and (2000). He has edited (1988), (1994), (2000), (2002) and (2003).
The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody is book three of a five-part series on the history of evangelicalism. The author, David Bebbington, is a professor of history who has focused much of his life studying British evangelicalism and culture during the last three centuries.
If you are looking for a biographical account of Spurgeon & Moody, along with a sketch of their times, this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you want to read a thorough account of broad evangelical trends from the 1840s to the 1890s and are comfortable with a 'thick' read, then there is much to interest you in this book. Bebbington gives a survey of the movements of evangelicalism during that time, their effects on culture, and the degree to which culture may have influenced the development of evangelical theology and action.
Though not a popular-level writer like the secular historical works of Stephen Ambrose and David McCollough, Bebbington provides a great deal of helpful information on Christianity in that day. At times, you may wish that he was more clear about certain trends being unbiblical and outside the pale of what is genuinely evangelical, for at the outset he defines 'evangelical' as (1) holding to a strong allegiance to the Bible, (2) attached to the cross and substitionary atonement, (3) concerned for personal conversion and regeneration, and (4) active, to the point of often being activists. However, as he proceeds to unfold history, the groups he ranks within the context of 'evangelical' appear separate from these four marks and no mention is made of the discrepancy.
Bebbington's knowledge of that time period runs deep. It is too bad that there is not more analysis and evaluation within this volume to help the reader better understand the strengths and weaknesses that developed within evangelicalism in that time. Mark Noll, Iain Murray, S.M. Houghton, and David Wells are all good, if different, examples of how history can be analyzed and learned from. Bebbington's book provides ample information, with perhaps a slight emphasis on the sociological, as compared to the aforementioned authors, and largely leaves it to the reader to read critically and thoughtfully. John Pleasnick, Christian Book Previews.com
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