- The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott by Brian Stanley
Brian Stanley, professor of world Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, provides a solid overview of both the advance of evangelical Protestantism around the world in the past half-century and of the key issues that have divided the movement to the point of “diffusion or [possible] disintegration” (p. 235).
The advance has been led by world-renowned evangelists like Billy Graham, a missions movement that has remained centered on evangelism, a small host of scholars who have defended conservative biblical positions, and Pentecostal strains of Christianity that have proved enormously attractive in the majority world. The primary issue that has both united and threatened to divide evangelicals is the question of how to define the authority of scripture and, once defined, how to interpret it in a rapidly changing world. This question has led to both profound and petty quarrels over inerrancy (as scholars and pastors lose jobs over the smallest deviation from orthodoxy) and to larger questions dealing with female leadership, homosexual relationships, and—most threatening in Stanley’s view—the challenge to biblical primacy by Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity that seems to exalt the direct influence of the Spirit over the ancient text. [End Page 582]
Stanley’s text will be most useful to those already familiar with the story and to scholars looking for a quick reference to names, movements, and places. Stanley’s scholarship is vast and well summarized, and his work will provide a useful jumping-off point for those interested in a deeper inquiry. Those new to the story will likely find Stanley’s approach daunting, however, as it often assumes an “Inside Baseball” quality. Names and places can go by in a bewildering blur.
This is top-down history—a history of leaders and their quarrels, meetings, position papers, and alliances. Such men—and the list is largely men—do, of course, have influence, but the reader is rarely given a glimpse into the pews, or provided the stories or even statistics to flesh the story out on the ground. One of Stanley’s most interesting chapters, “Christian Mission and Social Justice,” provides a good example. The chapter focuses almost exclusively on the Lausanne meeting in 1974—the back-room machinations in the years beforehand and the passionate challenge delivered by spokesmen from Latin America, Africa, and Asia to reorient the movement toward social justice. The story is well researched and genuinely fascinating. Undoubtedly, Lausanne had a profound impact on evangelical leaders. But in the pews? Certainly, at least from an American perspective today, a chapter dealing with the evangelical approach to social justice would have to be written from a very different starting point.
One can imagine a completely different approach to this story, written from the bottom up, and focused on connecting the history of evangelicalism in the second half of the twentieth century more to the external history and culture of the period rather than to internal debates. The movement of evangelicals in the United States virtually wholesale into the Republican Party, where they now form the solid base of a radicalized conservatism, would have to be a major chapter in the story, a political movement that receives scarcely a mention in Stanley’s monograph. The reaction by young evangelicals to the stances taken by their elders are threatening to demonstrate, for example, that Stanley’s pages on the battle over homosexuality, although they present fascinating exegetical and hermeneutical arguments, are, even with a publication date of 2013, already out of date.
In Stanley’s last sentence, he notes that the battle over evangelicalism’s future is currently being fought “not primarily in the lecture rooms of North American seminaries but in the shanty towns, urban slums and villages of Africa, Asia and Latin...