Mark Noll's The Rise of Evangelicalsim: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleysrecently won a 2005 CT book award. In it, Noll traces the early influences and the surprising growth of a movement of individuals seeking true religion. Noll is the McManis professor of Christian thought, and co-founder and director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, at Wheaton College. He spoke with CT online assistant editor Rob Moll.
What were some of the early influences on evangelicalism?
Evangelical Christianity in the 18th century represented something new but not in the sense of a creation out of nothing. There were very strong tributaries that led into early evangelicalism. Of those tributaries, three were most important. The Anglican background as a form of Reformation Protestantism was critical, particularly the four movements within Anglicanism that had stressed the value of small groups meeting together to encourage people in ethical living. These reforming societies were sponsored and defended quite strongly by John Wesley's father. It's that movement out of which the Wesleys themselves emerged.
The second strand is a more distinctly reformed or Calvinistic Protestantism in the Puritan movement and then more generally in the dissenting churches of Britain. This was a movement that broke with Anglicanism on questions of church order, but kept the sheer, broad, reformation Protestant inheritance that stressed more greatly the Calvinist distinctives of the sovereignty of God in salvation, the apprehension of Christian assurance through the work of the Holy Spirit, and other Calvinistic emphases from the Reformation. This was a strand that was very important with Jonathan Edwards in America and with George Whitefield ...