Biblical scholars and systematic theologians usually grab the headlines during contemporary debates over evangelical identity. Church historians are called to testify as even-handed observers who place the debate in context. But this context itself is often the stuff of legendary dispute among historians. David Bebbington's Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, published in 1989, has set the terms of theological discourse by describing the historical context from which the modern movement emerged. In time for the book's 20th anniversary, a team of renowned scholars has published The Advent of Evangelicalism, where they reflect on Bebbington's vast influence and challenge several of his most controversial claims.
Reviewers have described Evangelicalism in Modern Britain with the common buzzwords that denote a must-read volume, such as "classic" and "magisterial." As Timothy Larsen notes in his chapter on the book's reception history, Bebbington's quadrilateral has become a standard definition of evangelicalism. Even Christianity Today, considered an authority on the movement for decades before Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, frequently appeals to the marks of biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism. Indeed, Larsen concludes that Bebbington's four pillars "have no rival anywhere near as influential or popular and are unlikely to be replaced by an alternative structure any time soon."
But the quadrilateral is practically a side note to one simple, straightforward sentence by Bebbington that has stirred much controversy: "Evangelical religion is a popular Protestant movement that has existed in Britain since the 1730s." Bebbington goes so far as to argue that the transatlantic revival of this period "represents a ...1