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.
Dr Bebbington’s thesis not only describes these as the main features of evangelicalism, but also argues that they mark evangelicalism as a new movement.
Evangelicalism proper, according to Bebbington, began in Christian history at the time of the eighteenth-century revival under Whitefield and Wesley and those associated with them.
Puritans were extremely active in promoting the gospel through writing, catechising, preaching and counselling.
An emphasis on subjective experience, optimism and desire for unity amongst Christians, all of which Bebbington attributes to Enlightenment influences, were evident in seventeenth-century Puritanism.
Readers who want to know more should buy the book for themselves – it is essential reading for anyone interested in these important issues.
He accepts that Enlightenment attitudes did have an influence on evangelicalism.
The optimistic view of human nature, fostered by the Enlightenment, was the complete opposite of the doctrine of the fallenness of man and hopelessness of his condition, preached by evangelicals.
Furthermore, Haykin questions the view that seventeenth-century Puritans had little interest in mission.