I read 2 books this month, both of which were very good, but in very different ways. One was a fascnating historical / theological read, and the other one very encouraging if you can get into Puritan turns of phrases.
The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism
Covering post-WWII to the present, “The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” presents a panorama view of how evangelicalism has grown and changed from a largely Western, North Atlantic movement to a broader, more diverse global movement. I greatly appreciated the scope of this book, providing balanced coverage of not only North American, but also British and Commonwealth evangelicalism, as well as other places in the world where English is used in Christian discourse. This was a pleasant change from many books about evangelicalism that are American-centric.
I learned in greater depth about later 20th century leaders and authors that I had only heard about in passing, and was not very familiar with. I particularly enjoyed reading about 1) how evangelicalism developed differently in Britain compared to the United States, 2) the watershed significance of the 1974 Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism, and 3) the tension between evangelicals (largely from the U.S.) who sought a narrow focus on “soul-winning” and those (largely from Latin America) who sought a more holistic definition of mission as applied to other areas of life and society.
An important theme which the author discusses at various points in the book, especially in relation to the hugely significant Pentecostal-charismatic movement, is the increasingly divergent streams of evangelicalism in the early 21st century that bring into question whether it is still possible (if it ever was) to identify a common core of beliefs which define evangelicals. As regards evangelical identity, there is a big question mark as to whether or not the authority of the Bible (sola scriptura) will continue to be a hallmark of evangelicalism. There are strong movements in many places around the world where following the leading of the Spirit as mediated through personal experience is prioritized over Scripture, and in many cases syncretized with an emphasis on this worldly health, wealth, and blessing as the core of the Christian life. This is true particularly in areas of Asia and Africa where animism has an important role in the background and worldview of Christian adherents. However, the author believes that reports of evangelicalism’s demise are premature and the movement as a whole has displayed an historical resilience and ability to redefine and refocus its center over the course of different eras. It is difficult to say where evangelicalism is headed, but this book provides a good overview of where evangelicalism has been during the last 70 years.
“The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” is book 5 in is a series on the "History of Evangelicalism: People, Movements and Ideas in the English-Speaking World"
The Bruised Reed
I have been encouraged recently, listening to an audiobook of "The Bruised Reed" by Richard Sibbes, who expounds the passage from Isaiah that a bruised reed Christ does not break and a smoldering wick he does not extinguish. If there is a glimmer of true faith in someone, even if there is much weakness, confusion, and sin, God does not cast them aside, but seek to fan to flame that smoldering wick. In reality, that is hard to see in people (including ourselves) sometimes, but that it the hope that we have to hang on to because we know that God is merciful. The author does expounds this same theme in a number of different ways, and my overall takeaway from the book was to be encouraged that when I am weak, struggling, needing to repent again for sin, God does not abandon me. It is not possible for any person to be more merciful and gracious that God is. A key thought that has stuck with me from this book is, “God has more mercy towards us than we have sin."