about us | contact | for sale   congregations

Evangelism - Myers Mott Maggay Linthicum        


How History Changed Evangelicals  

This page is excerpted from the "The Surprising History of Evangelicalism"  by Robert Linthicum.  For the 
complete paper on  evangelicals William Wilberforce, Jonathon Blanchard and Charles Finney , see the end of this page for ordering information.

This examination of the origins of the evangelical movement seems very much at odds with contemporary evangelicalism.  How could a movement so grounded in working for social justice change into a movement that seems privatistic, pietistic and isolated from life?  Church historians are well aware of this phenomenon, and have even coined a term for it – the Great Reversal!  What caused the Great Reversal? ...

All three phenomena – evolution, communism and higher criticism – were birthed in Europe in the middle of the 19th century.  But these theories took close to 50 years to reach the shores of the United States.  When they arrived, however, it was as if a critical hurricane had gained landfall! ...

Those battling the new ideas created the discipline of “apologetics” – seeking to defend Christianity before its cultured despisers.  Those who went on the defensive sought to define clearly the fundamental beliefs of evangelical faith and simply refused to believe any concept that differed with those beliefs. ... The result, however, for the evangelical movement, was devastating because it turned the movement into a defensive movement, isolating itself from the attacks of the world.  Rather than seeking the world’s transformation, over the years they became refugees from a hostile world.            

The second force that caused the Great Reversal from a socially activist 19th-century evangelical faith to an isolationist 20th century faith was a profound theological shift. ...Thus it was that evangelicals not only began to doubt their all-out effort to reform society.  They began to question the theology on which that action was built. ...From about 1880 through 1910, a massive switch occurred in the evangelical community, in which depression caused by seeing worsening urban conditions and escalating poverty was translated into an embrace of the new pre-millennial teachings that proclaimed, “Don’t worry with how bad the world is becoming”. ...

The third factor that thrust the evangelical church into a protectionist, isolated existence was that the constituency of evangelical Christianity changed.  For the century from 1830 to 1930, a striking phenomenon occurred within evangelicalism. ...And slowly, they moved into the middle class, became increasingly fiscally and politically conservative.  And they sent their children on to college and perhaps even to graduate schools.  And they began to build and manage significant wealth. ...This is why the evangelical movement has changed so radically in the 20th century, losing its roots as a movement designed to be engaged in public life on behalf of the oppressed.   It has become escapist to the inevitable hostility of society.  It has embraced a theology that allows it to avoid social responsibility.  Its constituency has changed to represent the self-interests of the middle class.  ...

But what makes evangelicals change?  What makes them reclaim their roots in social reform?  What makes them become engaged in sometimes uncomfortable and confrontive public life? I think it takes three things.  The first is that of building significant relationships with them. ... Second, they will get engaged if there is a cause that is compelling enough for them to join.  Evangelicals are naturally compassionate people. ... But third – and this is the crucial point -- it takes biblical reflection.  Remember that evangelicals are first, last and always, people of the Word.  They are grounded in scripture as their ultimate authority.

 To order by phone, fax, mail or email, contact: Sue Wier , PUT Business and Sales Office , Mailbox #44, 25101 Bear Valley Road , Tehachapi, CA  93561-8311 Phone: (661) 821-0656  Fax: (661) 821-0676 Email: putoffice@surfbest.net

Return to Homepage

  CSCO, P.O. Box 60123, Dayton, OH 45406; email:cscocbco@aol.com phone:508-799-7726