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.

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Evangelical Evangelical Spirituality George Whitefield John Wesley Jonathan Edwards Spirituality

“Where shall my wondering soul begin?”: A Historical and Theological Analysis

“Where shall my wondering soul begin?”:

A Historical and Theological Analysis[1]

 

Born on December 18, 1707 in Epworth, England, Charles Wesley grew up in an Anglican family. In 1726, he entered Christ Church College at Oxford University, where he received his BA (1730) and MA (1733). It was here in 1729 that he led the so-called “Holy Club,” a religious organization that promoted piety through a systematic study of the Bible. Yet, at this time he was not saved.

In 1735, still unconverted, Wesley was ordained priest in the Anglican Church. That same year he and his brother John (1703-1791) journeyed to the newly found colony of Georgia to start a mission work among the Indians. Their mission being unsuccessful compelled them to sail back to England. Despite this failure, however, this mission trip became memorable to the brothers. It was during this period that they met the Moravians, who made a profound impact on them conversion and on their passion for hymns.

On May 21, 1738, while living in England, Charles Wesley experienced evangelical conversion, which he expressed this way: “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.”[2] Two days after his conversion, he wrote a song which he called “an hymn upon my conversion.”[3] It is generally believed that this conversion hymn, the first of numerous hymns that he wrote, was “Where shall my wondering soul begin?” What follows is a historical and theological analysis of this hymn, the original title of which was “Christ the Friend of Sinner.”

 

To continue reading the article, see Brian G. Najapfour, ‘“Where shall my wondering soul begin?’: A Historical and Theological Analysis,” Puritan Reformed Journal 3, no. 2 (July 2011): 291-298.


        [1] The quote is taken from the first line of the hymn whose title is also: “Where shall my wondering soul begin?” For my biographical sketch of Charles, I am indebted to J. R. Tyson, “Wesley, Charles,” in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, eds. Timothy Larsen, David Bebbington, and Mark A. Noll (Leicester and Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 710-12.

        [2] The Journal of Charles Wesley (1707-1788), entry date, May 21, 1738; available from http://wesley.nnu.edu/charles-wesley/the-journal-of-charles-wesley-1707-1788/the-journal-of-charles-wesley-may-1-august-31-1738/ ; Internet; accessed 14 October  2010.

        [3] The Journal of Charles Wesley (1707-1788), entry date, May 23, 1738; available from ibid.

Charles Wesley Hymns John Wesley