The Future of Evangelicalism

The Futures of Evangelicalism is a compendium of eleven essays. A number of authors have been asked to cover Theology and the Futures of Evangelicalism, Evangelicalism and the Church, Biblical Interpretation, Biblical Theology, Future Trends in Mission, Ethics, a Christian World-view, Spirituality, Philosophy, the Charismatic Movement and the future for Pentecostal/Charismatic Evangelicals and a final chapter on Politics. They consider their impact on evangelicalism, or to put it another way, how evangelicalism had or should impact them in the 21st century. Howard Marshall chips in from Aberdeen on Biblical Interpretation and Nigel Scotland – despite his name – adds his contribution from the south of England and gives insight into the influence of the Charismatic Movement. This is followed by the acclaimed writer on all things Pentecostal, Jonathan Ruthven. He assesses how the Charismatic movement – old and new – has radicalised evangelical theology and practice. These chapters are vital for such a book for the face of evangelicalism has shifted markedly in the last fifty years largely due to the Pentecostal/charismatic axis, and give way to a final and necessary essay on politics.

As with all compendia the essays vary in quality but each one deserves serious consideration. The line up is far from exclusively British, hence my reference to Ruthven. Adding to the international flavour, Eugene Peterson climbs the heights of creative exposition in a chapter on Evangelical Spirituality, which, if it stood alone, redeems the price of the book. If evangelicalism loses out here it loses everywhere, and surrenders to a cerebral theology akin to the Pharisaism of Jesus' time – a movement that though orthodox in belief failed to recognise God incarnate. Peterson pitches in with a creative and incisive contrast from John’s Gospel between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, maintaining his incredible ability to bring out what is obvious but possibly had missed the reader’s attention.

Christopher Wright, formerly of All Nations Christian College (and now of the Langham Trust) leans well on his exceptional skills in expounding the Old Testament and convincingly demonstrates the welding of evangelicalism to mission with persuasiveness and insights akin to Peterson.

The toughest chapter is contributed by Graham Goldsworhy on biblical theology. It demands careful study especially when we are informed ‘the diachronic approach emphasised the longitudinal ‘through time’ dimensions and raised the issue of continuity or non continuity of the various theological expressions’. I guess it will be some time before Selwyn Hughes quotes that in Every day with Jesus! But Goldsworthy is right in digging deep and making out the claim – evangelicalism and biblical theology belong to each other.

Why study such a book as this? Editor Craig Bartholomew in an opening shot points out that that ‘evangelicalism is the largest and most actively committed form of Christianity in the west’. But he believes the future could be in doubt. Today he argues ‘is certainly a time to reflect, a time for evangelicals to assess the route we have come and the gains made'. Unapologetic for the deliberate plural in the book’s title, Bartholomew reckons such is the scope and diversity of the subject matter ‘we must not contemplate one uniform future – there may be diverse futures.’ Let him who disagrees purchase and digest the book.

Strong points: It's timely – it hits at key features confronting the modern church, has a variety of styles – it makes you think.

Weak points: A final summation would have been helpful – it's not the best book to take on a beach - they could have asked one of my faculty to contribute!