A Sketch of Christian Spirituality: From the Patristic Period to the Evangelical Era (Part 5 of 5)

Evangelical Spirituality

Ian Randall—currently Director of the Institute of Baptist and Anabaptist studies of International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague, Czech Republic—has written a book titled What a Friend We Have in Jesus: The Evangelical Tradition, a fine and succinct study on evangelical spirituality. Randall’s book is part of the Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series, which seeks to publish first-rate volumes that provide quality introductions to some of the main traditions of Christian spirituality. In this discourse, focusing mainly on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Randall explores the origins of evangelical spirituality and its key themes.

Randall has rightly noted: “Although evangelicalism emerged in [the Evangelical Revival of] the eighteenth century [in Great Britain], it had strong links with the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and the English Puritan movement of the seventeenth century.”[1] The evangelicals adopted the basic tenets of the Reformation; and like Calvin and the Puritans, they underscored the importance of holy living as the outworking of their faith. This is why evangelical spirituality is more akin to Protestant spirituality rather than to Catholic spirituality.

David Bebbington, in his classic work—Evangelicalism in Modern Britain—asserts that evangelicalism is “a new phenomenon of the eighteenth century” that emphasizes four distinctive features: “conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism.”[2] Bebbington’s assertion suggests that evangelical spirituality is characterized by personal conversion, outworking of the gospel, devotion to Scripture, and the cross of Christ. Later Bebbington’s concept of evangelicalism came to be known as the Bebbington quadrilateral, a standard term among historians. In What A Friend We Have in Jesus, Randall discusses more elements of evangelical spirituality: conversion, Bible, sacraments, prayer and praise, the Cross, the Holy Spirit and holiness, the fellowship of the believers, missions, and the last times. And for Randall, the “central theme of this strand of spirituality is a personal relationship with Christ.”

Against the backdrop of England between the First and Second World Wars, Randall pinpoints four major strands of evangelical spirituality: “Keswick holiness, the Wesleyan tradition, Reformed approaches and Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality.”[3] Keswick[4] holiness, also known as the Higher Life movement, teaches that Christians can experience “entire sanctification,” or “Christian perfection.” This teaching was of course also present in the Wesleyan tradition; however, the Keswick tradition was less radical compared to the Wesleyan. Reformed evangelical spirituality, while stressing the need for personal holiness, rejects the doctrine of perfectionism. The Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality is to some extent a resurrected Quakerism. It gives too much emphasis on the work of the Spirit with less scriptural content; it is based more on emotions than on faith.

Although Randall gives special attention to British evangelicalism in which John Wesley and George Whitefield stand out as the main characters, he includes American evangelicalism. The primary American figure here is Jonathan Edwards who, according to Randall, is the principal shaper of American evangelical spirituality.

 

Concluding Observation

The renaissance of interest in the subject of Christian spirituality is noteworthy. Just in the past decade, scores of books on Christian spirituality have been published. In fact, in 2009, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, became the first Protestant seminary to offer a PhD in Biblical Spirituality. This fact shows that a revived concern for spirituality exists even in the world of academics.


[1] Ian Randall, What A Friend We Have In Jesus: The Evangelical Tradition (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2005), 16.

[2] David W. Bebbington, Evangelicals in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (1989; reprint, London: Routledge, 1993), 2, 4.

[3] Randall, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, 20.

[4] Keswick is a name of a market town in Cumbria, England where the movement became well-known.

Advertisements
Evangelical Evangelical Spirituality George Whitefield John Wesley Jonathan Edwards Spirituality

Jonathan Edwards’ Prayer Request Written to George Whitefield

Writing from Northampton, Massachusetts on December 14, 1740, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) told his fellow preacher of the gospel—George Whitefield (1714-1770) about the revival at Northampton and asked him to pray for him. Edwards’ prayer request is noteworthy:

Rev. and Dear Sir,

I have joyful tidings to send you concerning the state of religion in this place. It has been gradually reviving and prevailing more and more, ever since you [were] here. Religion [becomes] abundantly more the subject of conversation; other things that seemed to impede it, are for the present laid aside. I have reason to think that a considerable number of our young people, some of them children, have already been savingly brought home to Christ. I hope salvation has come to this house since you [were] in it, with respect to one, if not more, of my children. The Spirit of God seems to be at work with others of the family. That blessed work seems now to be going on in this place, especially amongst those that are young.

And as God seems to have succeeded your labors amongst us, and prayers for us, I desire your fervent prayers for us may yet be continued, that God would not be to us as a wayfaring man, that turns aside to tarry but for a night, but that he would more and more pour out his Spirit upon us, and no more depart from us; and for me in particular, that I may be filled with his Spirit, and may become fervent, as a flame of fire in my work, and may be abundantly succeeded, and that it would please God, however unworthy I am, to improve me as an instrument of his glory, and advancing the kingdom of Christ.[1]

 


      [1] Jonathan Edwards, “Letter to the Reverend George Whitefield,” in Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn, vol. 16 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Harry S. Stout (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 87 (highlights mine).

George Whitefield Jonathan Edwards Prayer

“[O]n the errands of angels sent:” The Evangelistic Piety of George Whitefield

In his 19th-century poetic tribute entitled “The Preacher,” John Greenleaf Whittier called George Whitefield “a homeless pilgrim with dubious name / blown about by the winds of fame.”[1]  This fame on both sides of the Atlantic provided Whitefield with a unique platform for preaching the Gospel in his day.  He seemingly seized every opportunity, preaching over 18,000 sermons over the course of his life while traveling frequently between England, America, and Scotland.  Whittier’s poem, while recognizing that Whitefield was not without his faults, summarizes his ministry well with these words: “Up and down the world he went / A John the Baptist crying, Repent!”[2]  Beneath Whitefield’s fiery passion and inexhaustible energy for the Great Commission was an evangelistic piety built upon Calvinistic theology and evangelical convictions about the nature of God and man.  This paper will examine Whitefield’s piety as it relates to his zeal for evangelism through the lens of his life and theology.  The goal is to provide an evaluative summary of the spirituality of a man who lived, in Whittier’s words, as if he were “on the errands of angels sent.”[3]

 

The article is by Matt Haste, a Ph.D. student in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. He lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with his wife, Cheyenne, and son, Haddon, where he serves as the Adult Discipleship Pastor at Living Hope Baptist Church. To read his entire article, click  here.


 

[1] John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Preacher,” [on-line]; accessed 18 April 2011; available from  http://www.readbookonline.net, 7798.htm; Internet.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Evangelism George Whitefield Piety Spirituality

The revived Puritan: The spirituality of George Whitefield (1714-1770)

In 1835 Francis Alexander Cox (1783-1853) and James Hoby (1788-1871), two
prominent English Baptists who were visiting fellow Baptists in the United States,
made a side trip to Newburyport, Massachusetts, to view the tomb of George
Whitefield. The “grand itinerant” had died on September 30, 1770, at the home of
Jonathan Parsons (1705-1776), pastor of the town’s First Presbyterian Church, also
known as Old South. He had been interred two days later in a vault below what is now
the centre aisle of this church, where, along with the coffins of Parsons and another
pastor of the church, Joseph Prince (d.1791), his remains were on display all through
the nineteenth century. In fact, it was not until 1932 that the coffin in which
Whitefield’s remains lay was covered over with a slate slab.

 

The article is by Michael A. G. Haykin, currently Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Click here to read his entire article.

George Whitefield Piety Puritan Spirituality