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How Old is Evangelicalism? William Andrew Tooley

posted by Scot McKnight

 How Old Is Evangelicalism? 
Andrew Tooley

There is a dustup these days about the origins
of evangelicalism: is it to be traced to the Reformation or to the 18th
Century? (Never mind that many just say it goes back to the New
Testament itself!) 
Andy Tooley, a friend of ours and this blog, is a student of
David Bebbington, who is Britain’s leading light on the history of
evangelicalism, and currently works for the Institute for the Study of
American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. He wrote a niece piece on evangelicalism and emerging (link here). Bebbington anchors
evangelicalism (as we now know it) in the 18th Century where some major
influences reshaped Protestantism. Recently some scholars put
Bebbington’s theories to the test. Thanks to Andy for this post.

 
In a recent review of Michael Haykin and Ken Stewart’s edited volume
entitled The Advent of Evangelicalism, editor at large Collin Hansen at Christianity Today rightly observes that some sixteen authors
discuss several problems with David Bebbington’s descriptive framework in the
book.  What Hansen does not point out,
however, is that nearly all of the contributors end their examinations
by confirming the relative soundness of the quadrilateral and, most
importantly, affirming Bebbington’s thesis that evangelicalism was a
new movement that emerged in the eighteenth-century. 

[The now well-known Bebbington quadrilateral is that evangelicalism is
characterized by Bible, cross, conversion, and active Christian living.]
 
Interestingly, and revealingly, Hansen also chooses to grant authority
to a contributor who is not widely recognized to be an expert on the
topic on which he has chosen to write.

He then incorrectly suggests
that this contributor makes the strongest argument as to why evangelicalism is
not an eighteenth-century innovation
.

 
Hansen emphasizes this, I believe, because both he and this
contributor are interested in shoring up Reformed theology and a
particular type of Reformed Evangelicalism, a trait they share with the
editors of the book.

In the penultimate
paragraph of Hansen’s review he lists a series of “ifs” with which I
disagree. Why is Evangelicalism less credible if it is not completely
rooted in the Reformation? 
Why also is it less credible if it happens to be more deeply
rooted in the various Enlightenment movements of the 18th century than
one would like or have thought? 
Perhaps my failure to agree with Hansen on these “what if”
scenarios stems from my belief that the mixing of culture, in this case
the English and Scottish enlightenments, with Christian belief and
practice is not only inevitable, but it possesses the potential to
bring vitality to Christianity.

And I believe this mixture that characterized the emergence of Evangelicalism during the Great Awakenings of the 18th century did indeed bring a new vitality to Protestant Christianity as it became much more focused on activism through
a devotion to missions.

There is, of course, much more to be said, but Hansen’s review presents its readers with an incorrect picture of Evangelicalism and the dangers facing it if it is indeed an 18th Century innovation.



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John Coffey

posted July 13, 2009 at 3:23 am


As a contributor to the book myself, I think that Andrew gauges it better than the CT reviewer. Nearly all the contributors affirm the value of Bebbington’s quadrilateral as a handy short-hand definition of Evangelicalism (i.e. it is Bible-based, Cross-centred, conversionist and activist/missional). Moreover, while some of us think that Bebbington overplayed Evangelicalism’s debt to the Enlightenment and the degree of its novelty, all the historians writing in the book (as opposed to several of the theologians!) accept that something new and distinctive was emerging in the 1730s and 1740s, and constitutes a significant adaptation of evangelical Protestantism to a new cultural environment. So if the book modifies the Bebbington thesis, it doesn’t (on my reading, and Andy’s) represent a full-frontal assault on it. On balance, the contributors (esp the trained historians) are pretty sympathetic to Bebbington. I felt that one or two of the Reformed theologians writing for the book had an axe to grind.
Finally, as one reviewer pointed out, the volume has very little on the Wesleys and their followers, who constituted an absolutely crucial stream of Evangelicalism from its beginnings. They were, of course, Arminian, which makes some Reformed folk nervous, but it’s impossible to deny their extraordinary spiritual and evangelistic vigour. Arminian (as opposed to Calvinistic) Methodism was arguably the single greatest movement within 19thC Evangelicalism, just as Pentecostalism (in many ways its outgrowth) was in the 20th. The narrowly Reformed reading of Evangelicalism simply can’t accommodate these two movements. That’s one major reason why it won’t convince historians.



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Rick Cruse

posted July 13, 2009 at 7:04 am


I was struck by this statement in the posting: “Perhaps my failure to agree with Hansen on these “what if” scenarios stems from my belief that the mixing of culture, in this case the English and Scottish enlightenments, with Christian belief and practice is not only inevitable, but it possesses the potential to bring vitality to Christianity.”
Having worked cross-culturally for nearly 25 years, I’ve seen (and heard and read about) two realities in missions: a Western-formed and culturally-Western experienced evangelicalism imposed on other cultures truly VERSUS Christian belief/practice that is influenced by and authentically incarnated in non-Western cultures (by non-Western followers of Christ). Guess which paradigm has more impact, more vitality, more local ownership!!!
It appears that many Reform writers/pastors want to attribute to the Reformation an “infallibility of influence, understanding and insight” that rightly belongs to the Scriptures and the immediate work of the Holy Spirit as they encounter new cultures.
I’m no Reformation specialist, so feel free to correct me. Wasn’t Calvin re-thinking and editing his Institutes from the time of their initial publication to the time of his death? If so (and I am weak on the historicity of these comments), wouldn’t it be safe to suggest that Calvin himself might well be aghast today at the status and Scripture-like authority granted to his writings by folks today?



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cas

posted July 13, 2009 at 8:45 am


Helpful post and links. Thanks.



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Rick

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:10 am


Interesting post. (Although I can’t get the Hansen CT link to work).
Dr. Coffey-
Thanks for your clarification, especially regarding the Wesleys.
Andrew-
You bring up some good points, although I am not completely clear on your connection between the Enlightenment and missions.
Also, you correctly bring up the faulty under-reporting of certain people and groups from the Evangelical discussion in Haykin/Stewart book (as Dr. Coffey also pointed out).
However, you seem to do the same in your Evangelical/EC paper. You leave out many that are in the overall Emerging discussion. You only mention those more in the “Emergent” side of the discussion, while leaving out such figures as Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, one Scot McKnight, and (dare I say it?) Mark Driscoll.
So there is a question of overlap. There are circumstances in history when portions of a certain group (movement, discussion, etc…) fall under the umbrella of another group, but not fully. A possible example would be the Anglican Church. Are they “Protestant”, or are they a “3rd way” between Protestantism and Rom Catholicism? In Anglicanism, you could argue that you could find elements of both.
Likewise, are there elements of Emerging that are Evangelical, yet some elements that are not?
Finally, are there elements of non-Reformed types that are Evangelical, yet elements that are not? Example- are oneness Pentecostals evangelicals (based on Bebbington’s model)?



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Rick

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:12 am


slight correction to my earlier comment- “3rd way” should read “middle way”.



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Steve Lutz

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:24 am


I haven’t read the book or Hansen’s review. I am Reformed by conviction, but would agree that you can’t draw a straight line from modern evangelicalism or even the Great Awakening back to the Reformation.
On the one hand, you had the absolute phenomenon of George Whitefield preaching a Calvinistic soteriology all over Britain and the colonies. You had Jonathan Edwards, who seemed to be writing more on the Awakening as it was happening than anyone. One of his central theses in seeking to explain the Awakening was that it was a recovery of Calvinist doctrine. Another was that of the personal and subjective experience of the Holy Spirit–which he often described in Lockean terminology (showing his synthesis of what was happening intellectually across the pond with his thoroughly biblical, Reformed framework).
On the other hand, you had the Wesleys and their Arminianism and the enduring movement they launched. The Awakening could be seen as an explosion of evangelicalism and as such it encapsulated several of the streams which would ebb and flow over the next few centuries.
If some authors seek to draw straight lines from the Reformation to evangelicalism, it seems they are indeed reading very selectively. The history of evangelicalism is not the story of the triumph of Reformed doctrine. Part of the allure of Spurgeon, for example, is that he is such a lonely voice proclaiming Calvinism, especially at the beginning and end of his ministry.
As someone who is Reformed, I see no problem in granting the roles of other movements in Christendom. In fact, to ignore the others would rob us neo-Calvinists of an aspect of our own narrative that we treasure: our ongoing struggle for theological supremacy, as noble, often marginalized, and oft-misunderstood underdogs.
To those of you outside the Reformed camp, if it seems its defenders are perhaps too eager to emphasize their contributions, I would submit that we likely see this as a necessary corrective. For 500 years, people have been trying to sweep Calvinism under the rug as an outdated, abominable doctrine. Perhaps we can be forgiven this zeal during a season when we appear to be on the ascendancy.



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RJS

posted July 13, 2009 at 9:56 am


Any Christian – Calvinist, Arminian, Anglican, Baptist, … whoever (even RC or EO) who treasures something like this has priorities messed up.
… rob us neo-Calvinists of an aspect of our own narrative that we treasure: our ongoing struggle for theological supremacy, as noble, often marginalized, and oft-misunderstood underdogs.
Frankly I am convinced that denominalization and such struggle for theological supremacy is rooted in sin and the fall. If God exists, if he is in fact the God revealed in scripture, if we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, if we follow God – Father, Son, and Spirit – we must acknowledge that the power of the Spirit is active throughout the church, not just our little wing of it. We must also acknowledge that the Scripture is not crystal clear on the details and the doctrines of every sect fighting for “theological supremacy” involves as much reading in as reading out.
I will not identify myself as Calvinist or Arminian or similar distinction because the only thing of which I am certain is that all get much right and many things dead wrong.
Shouldn’t we take the entire Bible, the history of the people of God, and follow?



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John Coffey

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:31 am


RJS – I read Steve’s remark as self-aware and self-deprecating. He knows that Calvinists have usually portrayed themselves as noble underdogs, though some are now saying, ‘We’re the original/true Evangelicals, and we’re taking back our land!’. Both stories – like so much confessional history – tend to reinforce a sense of superiority. What we need is a humble and honest church history, one that frankly confesses the failings of our own traditions, as well as their glories, and assesses other traditions with fairness and accuracy. Mark Noll’s books are a model in that respect.



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RJS

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:44 am


John,
I reread Steve’s comment and overreacted on intent.
But in part I react because the attitude of a “fight for theological supremacy” is far too common. Frankly I don’t think God cares if our theology (in these details) is partially right or completely right. The theological essentials are quite limited.
We can have all knowledge and give all possessions away to feed the poor – but without love both amount to nothing.



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Steve Lutz

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:46 am


John Coffey–thank you and yes, that’s what i was going for.
Folks like Josh Harris have advocated for “humble orthodoxy” at Acts 29 events (gasp). An honest reading of history will give any theological position plenty to be humbled by.
RJS–I’m afraid that discarding theological labels, while sounding somehow more pure and faithful, is ultimately not possible and even unhelpful. Those who have done this in the past with any rigor have landed in someone else’s theological camp, even if they didn’t know. There’s nothing new under the sun, after all, and we have to call ideas something in order to have a conversation. The answer isn’t to do away with labels, but to learn to interact humbly within and without our theological camps.
I’ll add that Calvinist/Reformed folks, with our doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s depravity, should be leading the way in humility. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.



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RJS

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:57 am


Steve,
I don’t think we discard all labels and opinions. And I think we must wrestle with scripture trying to discern the story of God and his interaction with his creation and creatures. I am certainly in favor of an intellectually rigorous approach to our faith. But I think that we must hold most of our “distinctives” loosely and be broadly accepting of other views. The only thing that I am certain of is that many of my opinions here are wrong. I just don’t know which ones. I am equally certain that everyone else is wrong on a substantial percentage – because the range of position and the strengths of the arguments are so varied.
But most significantly I don’t think that God has been silent and absent in most of the church throughout most of history. And this becomes the inescapable conclusion if the distinctives are in fact essential – and perhaps even if they are very important at all.



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joanne

posted July 13, 2009 at 11:45 am


sometimes i think we tend to make our movement THE original restoration of the gospel. It becomes primary. I think God has been moving in various segments of the church since the beginning.



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Andy

posted July 13, 2009 at 12:16 pm


Rick,
so i wrote a nice response to your queries and they got erased somehow! just letting you know i’ll reply this afternoon.
andy tooley



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Patrick

posted July 13, 2009 at 6:49 pm


Steve #10 and RJS #11 – sounding pretty close coming from different angles. I’m around there too. Seems to me that if evangelicals are to live up to their name should not the question ‘how old is evangelicalism?’ remain a fairly narrow academic point of debate and interest – and certainly not be a basis by which to bolster theological credentials?
That’s not to say tracing historical developments is not fascinating and important (heck I teach in an evangelical college). But should not all evangelicals be able to agree that Bebbington’s quadrilateral captures the heart of NT belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ? If it does not, then evangelicalism is a busted flush.
I recall a quote from John Stott ‘evangelicalism is New Testament Christianity, true, original and pure’ (from memory, probably not 100% accurate but something along those lines). While a postmodern may cringe at such apparently exclusive certainty, Stott was simply saying that evangelicals at their best try to teach and live out NT faith in the here and now and believe this can be done, even if always imperfectly.
Therefore any subset of the evangelical ‘movement’ that privileges its own historical / theological narrative has lost touch with the heartbeat of what it is to ‘be evangelical’.



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Patrick

posted July 13, 2009 at 6:50 pm


Steve #10 and RJS #11 – sounding pretty close coming from different angles. I’m around there too. Seems to me that if evangelicals are to live up to their name should not the question ‘how old is evangelicalism?’ remain a fairly narrow academic point of debate and interest – and certainly not be a basis by which to bolster theological credentials?
That’s not to say tracing historical developments is not fascinating and important (heck I teach in an evangelical college). But should not all evangelicals be able to agree that Bebbington’s quadrilateral captures the heart of NT belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ? If it does not, then evangelicalism is a busted flush.
I recall a quote from John Stott ‘evangelicalism is New Testament Christianity, true, original and pure’ (from memory, probably not 100% accurate but something along those lines). While a postmodern may cringe at such apparently exclusive certainty, Stott was simply saying that evangelicals at their best try to teach and live out NT faith in the here and now and believe this can be done, even if always imperfectly.
Therefore any subset of the evangelical ‘movement’ that privileges its own historical / theological narrative has lost touch with the heartbeat of what it is to ‘be evangelical’.



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Patrick

posted July 13, 2009 at 6:53 pm


sorry for duplicate post – first time said internal server error ..



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Ken Stewart

posted July 13, 2009 at 10:26 pm


Andrew Tooley makes some interesting points in taking up Collin Hansen’s recent CTweb remarks on _The Advent of Evangelicalism_. But he also muddies the waters in certain respects. Let me offer a few clarifications:
1. The degree of concurrence between Advent contributors and David Bebbington. Andrew is right to say that almost all accepted the fitness of the quadrilateral, but mistaken to suggest that there was general agreement that evangelicalism was a “new movement” in the eighteenth century.(A more accurate paraphrase would have been “it was granted that an existing evangelicalism took on some new features in the eighteenth century”). The point of dispute was primarily Bebbington’s assertion that “evangelical religion began in 1730″, i.e. a question of time of origin. Bebbington’s own concluding chapter allowed that the time of origin now needs to be moved back at least decades from 1730.
2. The omission of a Methodist perspective. Bebbington himself noted this in his concluding chapter. He now knows (though he did not know this at the time of his writing) that this was inadvertent, rather than by design. A notable Methodist writer had to leave our project because of a health crisis in his family; we failed in several attempts to replace him. Meanwhile, we did include a Lutheran, numerous Baptists, at least three Anglicans, two Presbyterians and some Independent evangelicals. Not a particularly stacked deck!
3. The zeroing in on a particular chapter and a particular contributor by Collin Hansen (and Andrew Tooley). Numerous reviewers have chosen to focus in on one writer or another; it is understandable when there were sixteen to choose from. One wants to take a representative slice and extrapolate from there. But before anyone further impugns this particular chapter and writer, please note that a careful reading will show that the paper, by a writer with impeccable Oxford theological credentials, first saw daylight at Tyndale House, Cambridge. Furthermore, some will find it interesting to note that a recently published OUP 2009 volume, Stephen Hampton’s _Anti-Arminians: The Anglican Reformed Tradition from Charles II to George I_ goes far to demonstrate that a strong Reformed theological position was kept alive in the CofE in the period leading to 1730. Thus, the argument for Reformed theological continuity in England is now proportionately stronger than when that essay was written.
Meanwhile, thanks for the attention paid to _Advent of Evangelicalism_ on this blog.
Ken Stewart



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John Coffey

posted July 14, 2009 at 2:12 am


The one thing I’d add to Ken’s helpful points is a comment on Scot’s initial question: is Evangelicalism to be traced to the Reformation or the 18thC? Clearly the correct answer is not an either/or. ‘The Advent of Evangelicalism’ is good at tracing the Reformation roots of modern Evangelicalism, but various contributors also stress its vital 18thC sources. As Doug Sweeney once put it, ‘Evangelicalism is orthodox Protestantism with an 18th-century twist’.
Much of the argument is about the twist – what was it, how dramatic was it, and where did it come from? Some historians underplay the twist, others overplay it. But the crucial conceptual twist is surely the new notion of ‘revival’ – outpourings of the spirit. You just can’t understand modern popular Evangelicalism – or its offspring Pentecostalism – without that crucial concept. And the new conceptualisation of God’s work in salvation history fostered dramatic new innovations in method – itinerant mass evangelism being the most obvious. Whitefield and Wesley are the first of a kind – the precursors (and inspiration) for figures like Finney, Moody, Billy Graham and Reinhard Bonnke. So David Bebbington is right insofar as there really was a crucial twist in the 18thC – the argument is over how we should characterise it.



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Ken Stewart

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:21 am


John Coffey:
Pleasant to encounter you on this list! About your point about the newness of revival in the eighteenth century, I want to agree with you to a point – and that is that itineration by persons like the Wesleys and Whitefield becomes a larger factor than previously. In the American scene, it has been argued for some time that Whitefield’s itineration was the common factor in joining together regional awakenings into one ‘whole’.
But on the other hand: itineration itself was not new. Some early eighteenth century Congregationalists were at it before W&W. Seventeenth century Quakers were known for it. And it is an under-reported factor in the age of Reformation. Calvin’s contemporaries Farel and Viret were both known for it – sometimes preaching outdoors to thousands at a time. Early Tudor Reformers did the same.
And ‘seasons’ of revival, both in the evangelistic sense – and in the awakening of slumbering churches – were features of Protestant church life going back to approximately 1600, associated especially with Ulster, the west of Scotland and (in late century)New England. These things are gathered together in John Gillies’ discursive book, _Historical Accounts of Revival_.
So while there was a difference in the eighteenth century, was this difference perhaps mainly a difference of magnitude?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:26 am


Ken, your term “magnitude” is significant in that I find that sort of shift in historical events sometimes to be the defining element. Take, for instance, baptism with John and Jesus and the Christians. While some point to baptism prior to John, and the evidence is not entirely clear but one could point to lustrations at Qumran, and while it would be overstepping the evidence to say that John “invented” baptism, there is no question about the magnitude issue.
And that magnitude was such that it became a defining element of identity from John onwards.
Might that be the case with the revival and the experience of revivalistic conversion?



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Patrick

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:48 am


Scot, and could the same ‘magnitude’ idea apply to Pentecostalism in the 20th C? And this will undoubtedly apply (or already is) to new developments in the 21st C.
Bebbington’s descriptors are very broad categories – rightly in my view, because to try to narrow definitions down (whether theological or historical) often leads to ‘defining out’ those with whom you disagree. Which seems to be part of what the ‘dustup’ you mention is about?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 14, 2009 at 8:34 am


Patrick, good point. Yes, Pentecostalism may well prove to be its own new shift. Well, it’s over 100 years old now already and it is clearly a variant on evangelicalism’s revivalism.



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John Coffey

posted July 14, 2009 at 9:22 am


Ken – thanks for the stimulating points. Difference of magnitude and scale is one thing, conceptual shifts are another. To me it seems really significant that modern Evangelicalism from the 18thC onwards popularizes the language of ‘revival’, ‘awakening’ and ‘outpourings of the Spirit’. This new conceptualisation of religious experience changes things. It opens up new possibilities (ones that wouldn’t have pleased Luther or Calvin) and prepares the way for populist experiential movements like Pentecostalism. So Jonathan Edwards and Co have a lot to answer for, even if they didn’t foresee it! They really did innovate, even as they remained profoundly shaped by Reformation Protestantism.



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Ken Stewart

posted July 14, 2009 at 9:47 am


John:
I have recently done a study on the etymology of the vocabulary of “revival” utilizing the Oxford English Dictionary and its American counterpart, the Dictionary of American English. You will know that such dictionaries trace historical usage by actual citation. What emerges does not especially support the thesis that a new idea arises in and around 1730.
The first documentable usage of the term ‘revival’ is dated to Cotton Mather in 1702. In recommending Edwards _Narrative of Surprizing Conversions_ to an English readership in 1737, Isaac Watts and John Guyse use older terminology such as “effusion of the Spirit” to describe the events Edwards narrated.
The OED and DOAE suggest that it is really in the early nineteenth century that the vocabulary of revival, revivalist, and revivalism “take off”. To the extent that this is true, our modern conceptions (which tend to emphasize a continuity between Wesley, Whitefield and Edwards and all that follows)seem to involve a kind of telescoping-down of a complexity which ought to be taken more seriously. George Whitefield is not merely precursor to D.L. Moody and Billy Graham.
But having said this, I want to grant that theological reflection and writing about revival seems to be taken seriously for the first time after 1730, and that is something which draws a line of sorts between what has preceded and what follows. It is not the occurrence of revival but the framework (or as you say, conceptualization)which undergoes alteration. Yet to make the early eighteenth century developments to be just “of a piece” with nineteenth century revivalism is seriously mistaken.



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John Coffey

posted July 14, 2009 at 11:01 am


That’s helpful, Ken. We need more of these etymological studies to trace conceptual shifts. And I’m sure you’re right that there is significant conceptual movement between the 1730s and the early 19thC. As always with historical accounts, it’s the challenge of striking the balance between acknowledging continuity and registering change, whether between the 17th and the 18thC, or the 18th and the 19thC.
Good to see the book generating discussion.



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John Coffey

posted July 14, 2009 at 11:18 am


Incidentally, Ken – it’s worth looking at Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. What one notices there is a clustering of Evangelical titles on the ‘revival’ of religion in the 1730s/40s and again from the late 1770s onwards.



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