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Fall 2018 · Vol. 47 No. 2 · pp. 278–281 

Book Review

The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott

Brian Stanley. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013. 283 pages.

Reviewed by Andrew Dyck

In The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism, British church historian Brian Stanley gives a detailed account of evangelicalism from 1945 to 2000. He shows how evangelicalism has diffused globally, so that evangelicals in the majority world are now the movement’s dominant influence. Evangelicalism has also, however, become diffuse in its convictions, leading to the bigger question: “Can evangelicalism survive the twenty-first century?” {279}

Stanley’s book is the fifth in a series that traces the people, movements, and ideas of evangelicalism in the English-speaking world from the eighteenth century to the present. Each author considers evangelicalism on the basis of the four distinguishing marks identified by the series editor, David Bebbington: biblicism, conversionism, crucicentrism, and activism. Strikingly, each author addresses evangelicalism’s fluidity and diversity.

After explaining why this book has a more global scope than the rest of the series, Stanley presents the emergence of the evangelical movement in America during the 1940s as an intentionally moderate alternative to fundamentalism (and liberalism). Conservative evangelicalism emerged more gradually in Great Britain, where many evangelicals remained within “mixed” denominations (e.g., the Anglican Church). In Canada, early evangelicals were often anti-Catholic more than anti-fundamentalist.

Billy Graham was the face of the new evangelicals, giving the movement a global and ecumenical scope. Stanley suggests that Graham’s impact in raising evangelicalism’s profile was greater than his evangelistic impact. Stanley also highlights evangelistic and revival movements in India and Africa—movements unknown to many North Americans.

The revival of systematic expository preaching and the emergence of conservative biblical scholarship were key among evangelicals in the West. Contentious debates about Scripture’s authority and inspiration divided them. Some supported Harold Lindsell’s insistence that the Holy Spirit had inspired the very words of the Bible—words that are inerrant. Others, like F. F. Bruce, argued instead that the Spirit inspired the writers (and readers) of Scripture and that the Bible’s purpose is inerrant. In the majority world, however, evangelicals were not debating the Bible’s authority. Bombarded by war, poverty, and drought, these believers were facing the question of whether divine salvation is primarily prosperity in this world.

According to Stanley, Western evangelicals with a Calvinist bent responded to their Enlightenment cultures not only with modernist techniques of studying the Bible but also with modernist, propositional arguments for defending the faith. However, Lesslie Newbigin, after three decades in India, called Westerners to rely on Christ’s body, the church, as the superior basis for biblical authority and apologetics. C. S. Lewis offered another alternative to propositions—namely, a powerful blend of logic and imagination embodied in stories.

Stanley then highlights three recent developments among English-speaking evangelicals. Supported by John Stott, evangelical leaders from the majority world caused the Lausanne movement to recognize the {280} necessity of including social justice ministries in the church’s mission. Women such as Agnes Sanford and Kathryn Khulman were instrumental in the spread of Pentecostalism. This emphasis is seen in the signs and wonders movements, the charismatic movement among mainline churches, the Alpha course, new music for worship, authoritarian “anointed” leaders (akin to Catholic hierarchies), and the exponential growth of Pentecostal-style churches throughout the non-Western world. Finally, personal experience and an appreciation for the hermeneutical process—which goes beyond merely ascertaining the biblical author’s original intent—became more prominent in the ways evangelicals interpreted the Scripture. As a result, by 2000 most evangelical leaders with theological training supported the leadership and ordination of women. At the same time, however, most evangelicals still held to the historic Christian understandings of homosexual relationships.

Stanley draws his book to a stark conclusion by asserting that modernist theological arguments buttressing Scripture’s authority will not secure the viability of evangelicalism. Instead, as post-conservatives like Stanley Grenz and N.T. Wright have written, evangelicals need a transformative spirituality grounded in the church, along with a robust eschatology. For Stanley, the future of global evangelicalism depends on whether evangelicals will avoid the crude theology of expecting Christ’s victory to provide primarily blessings of health and wealth in this world. Evangelicals must hold to a Bible-centered, holistic gospel in which the cross is central—thereby clarifying the church’s ethics—and in which Christ’s victory “over the powers of darkness [grounds] a biblical eschatology that recognizes that the full establishment of the kingdom of God is still to come” (247).

Stanley acquits himself well as a church historian. His sources are extensive—demonstrating, for instance, that the seeker model, church growth theory, ecumenism, signs and wonders movement, and ordination of women all have roots in the majority world. He presents a vast sweep of material clearly and concisely. He offers critiques with the subtlety befitting a historian. Undoubtedly aided by his location in Britain, he not only avoids over-emphasizing the American experience but shows the indebtedness of American evangelicals to others around the world.

I have only a few quibbles with Stanley’s work. He sometimes refers to evangelical leaders who are largely unknown in North America, without saying much about them. This unfamiliarity bolsters his argument about the global spread of evangelicalism but does too little to dispel North American ignorance about the movement’s leaders abroad. Also, few women are featured in Stanley’s work, although this may simply reflect the restrictions that evangelicals have long placed around leadership. And Stanley writes little about African-Americans beyond commenting {281} on their preaching and civil rights leaders. Even though many African-American evangelicals do not self-identify as “evangelicals,” their experiences warrant in-depth exploration.

Readers with an ear to recent Mennonite Brethren history will quickly realize that nearly all the debates and developments among English-speaking evangelicals have also shaped Mennonite Brethren churches, which have become more leader-centric in their governance, and continue to wrestle with charismatic and Reformed influences and with social justice ministries. Mennonite Brethren national and international missions (e.g., Multiply) now function at arm’s length from the denomination, illustrating Stanley’s observation that most Western denominational missions have become marginalized. Canadian Mennonite Brethren are still debating how to study and interpret Scripture, as evidenced by the hermeneutical focus of the 2019 Equip Study Conference.

I recommend Stanley’s book not only to scholars but especially to pastors and church leaders because it inspires humility. Leaders immersed in congregational and denominational life can easily see their challenges as unique. In reality, most challenges are common to the larger church. Moreover, faithful responses to those challenges are often found outside one’s own church tradition, culture, and continent. North American evangelicals should give thanks for the gifts they receive from outside their bubble and anticipate greater gifts in the future. According to Stanley, evangelicals in the majority world who seek to live faithfully to the gospel revealed in Jesus and presented in the Bible will do more than address the challenges of their own contexts. They will keep evangelicalism alive globally and will offer leaders, insights, and practices that can renew Western evangelicalism—if we will have the humility to receive.

Andrew Dyck
Assistant Professor of Christian Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry
MB Seminary at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, MB

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