Bebbington Thesis

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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.

Many historians, and scholars working in related fields, now take for granted that this is the best way of understanding and defining what evangelicalism is.

This particular approach was first posited by David Bebbington, Professor of History at the University of Stirling, in his influential book, Evangelicalism in modern Britain: A history from the 1730s to the 1980s, published in 1989.

Revelation Haykin says, however, that there are vital areas where the evangelicals opposed Enlightenment ideas.

The evangelical view of Scripture as God’s revelation to man and the ultimate foundation of true spiritual knowledge is radically opposed to the Enlightenment emphasis upon human reason as the touchstone of what can be known.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’.Enlightenment thought Moreover, tied to this theory – particularly its ‘activism’ aspect – was the idea that under the influence of Enlightenment thought, the assurance of salvation given in the eighteenth-century revival had been something relatively easy to obtain.This contrasted with the seventeenth century, when assurance was regarded as something attained only by a few and that after much inward struggle.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.And it is not as obvious as Bebbington maintains that an understanding of assurance, and the ease or difficulty with which assurance was attained, differed markedly between the centuries.The book also includes a response to these arguments by David Bebbington himself.John Coffey disputes Bebbington’s ‘strong discontinuity’ thesis.While warning against a simplistic, homogenised view of Puritanism, he argues that activism can also be demonstrated in the Puritans of the seventeenth-century.


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