Book Review: The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism

Thank-you to Bob Trube for sharing reviews from Bob on Books with the Emerging Scholars Network Blog! His post on The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott by Brian Stanley (InterVarsity Press, 2013) comes at an apt time to provide background to “Evangelicals” as we prayerfully consider NY Times: Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy. ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director, Emerging Scholars Network

The title of The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott proposes an ambitious project and I am impressed with how well Brian Stanley [professor of world Christianity and director of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh School of Divinity] pulls this off in under 250 pages of text. While focusing on the evangelical landscape in the U.S. and U.K.(hence Graham and Stott), he gives us a helpful overview of the global spread of the evangelical movement from 1945 to the year 2000.

He opens with exploring the dynamics of this period–communications, the spread of evangelicalism in the English-speaking world, and the growing evangelical influence of the majority world. He then goes back to the beginning of this period and explores the differentiation of evangelical from fundamentalist in its US, British, Canadian and Australian forms, marked most notably in the US with the establishment of Christianity Today as the print organ of the forming evangelical consensus.

John Stott (left) and Billy Graham (right) enjoying one-another’s company.

The next chapter on missions, evangelism, and revival focuses on the development of Billy Graham’s global ministry, the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of India, and the East Africa Revival, and finally the work of Scripture Union in Africa. “Scholarship, the Bible, and Preaching” focuses on the beginnings of an evangelical effort to engage the biblical scholarship of the day and produce scholarly work consonant with an evangelical view of scripture, including the New Bible Commentary. Stanley explores the British controversy over inspiration and the later American one centered around Fuller Seminary over the issue of inerrancy. The chapter concludes with profiling the development of expository preaching as an expression of evangelical biblical conviction in the ministries of Martyn Lloyd Jones, John R. W. Stott, and James Montgomery Boice.

Chapter 5 profiles the major evangelical apologists of the period beginning with Cornelius Van Til, Carl F.H. Henry, Edward J Carnell, Francis Schaeffer, and Leslie Newbigin. He also cites the philosophical work of Alvin Plantinga, and the appropriation by evangelicals of High Church Anglican C.S. Lewis, whose approach to the Bible was anything but evangelical. Chapter 6 explores the history of world missions consultations and the increasing social justice emphasis beginning from a bare mention at Berlin 1966, to a greater majority world presence and emphasis at Lausanne 1974 and the increasing integration of evangelism and social justice efforts since.

John Stott speaking with two students

Chapter 7 covers the global spread of pentecostalism and that rapid growth of pentecostal movements in the majority world. This often gets short shrift in Western contexts but is critical to understanding global evangelicalism. Then the book concludes with raising the disturbing question of whether evangelicalism is simply diffusing, or in fact disintegrating as a cohesive movement with a coherent theological stance. The book ends with the provocative idea that this may not be something decided in the West but in the Majority world.

I found this book a fascinating overview of this decisive period–how decisive, the next 50 years may tell. It makes one give thanks again for the vision and character of so many profiled in this book, notably John Stott and Billy Graham, but also many other scholars, pastors, evangelists and missionaries of this period. At the same time, I think the book shows evidence of, but fails to diagnose the critical issue of the lack of consensus with regard to what is meant by the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy (or infallibility, or trustworthiness) of the Bible that was oft fought over and also the source of an interpretive pluralism that could lead to disintegration of this movement. Does final authority lie with the individual interpreter, within “interpretive communities”, in the tradition of biblical interpretation?

This is an issue discussed at length in Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (reviewed here). Perhaps an exploration of this issue in detail would move beyond the descriptive character of this work and yet this issue is important in what seems a growing movement of frustrated evangelicals to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. That being said, Stanley has given us a masterful overview of the development of evangelicalism up to the turn of the century.

Does final authority lie with the individual interpreter, within “interpretive communities”, in the tradition of biblical interpretation?

Note 1: Also posted as Review: The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott on Bob on Books (Bob Trube. 6/11/2014). Yes, Tom enjoyed adding and takes full responsibility for the links and pictures in the ESN Blog version. Furthermore, he encourages the reader to offer recommendations of additional links to learn about significant characters and movements mentioned in Bob’s review.

Note 2: All photos of John R. W. Stott are courtesy of Langham Partnership International.

Update: 6/12/2014, 4:05 pm. Inclusion of link to review of Worthen’s Apostles of Reason.

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Bob Trube

Bob Trube is Associate Director of Faculty Ministry/Emerging Scholars Network, and Senior Area Director for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministry team in the Ohio Valley (Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania). He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.

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