Bebbington Thesis

Bebbington Thesis-19
Secondly, a marked dividing line thereby separates today’s Reformed evangelical Christianity from the Christianity of the Reformers and Puritans.And, thirdly, as Garry Williams argues in this book, out the Arminianism of Wesley and the Calvinism of Whitefield would have an equal claim to be integral and foundational to the new movement.

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Space does not permit a full examination of the contents of The emergence of evangelicalism here.

I have selected just two contributions of particular significance.

They define evangelicalism as a movement that has four distinctive features – a conviction that lives need to be changed by conversion; a parallel conviction that the gospel requires Christians to be actively living by and testifying to that gospel; a high view of Scripture; and a central emphasis upon the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

These four features are often expressed in four rather ugly words: ‘conversionism’, ‘activism’, ‘biblicism’, and ‘crucicentrism’.

As assurance came more easily during the eighteenth century, Bebbington argued, so Christians became more confident and more active in the propagation of the faith.

They dared to engage in evangelistic and missionary enterprises that played little part in the life and thinking of seventeenth-century Puritans. In the first instance, if the thesis is correct, the movement to which evangelicals now belong must be characterised as something new, a movement which arose barely 300 years ago on the back of Enlightenment thought.

Robert Strivens, principal of London Theological Seminary, reviews a book that takes issue with the current historical consensus on evangelicalism.

Most historians have been clear about this question, in their own minds at least, for the last 20 years.

Thus Whitefield’s evangelicalism was ‘deeply rooted in the Reformation’.

Reformation roots But, Coffey argues, in fairness to Bebbington it needs to be recognised there were new features in eighteenth-century evangelicalism, particularly in the evangelicals’ language of ‘revival’ (they desired, experienced, and looked forward to more of it) and the use by some of them of innovative methods to promote the old religion.


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