Monday, January 02, 2006

Evangelicalism and Culture

Yesterday, I started reading Transforming Keswick: The Keswick Convention Past, Present and Future by Charles Price and Ian Randall. I was given the book about a year ago from someone who thought I would find it interesting. I wasn't sure what to make of this when it happened. Knowing the person involved and how I disagreed with him on some pretty fundamental issues, I rather suspected there was some 'agenda' behind the gift. Is that too cynical?! Nevertheless, the book has been quite interesting so far.

The Keswick Convention seems to have been spawned out of the 19th century holiness movement propogated by the Wesleyan Methodists, though Keswick's doctrine of sanctification differed from theirs. It tapped into a desire for a deeper spiritual experience and a 'higher life' of consecration to Christ.

In passing, Price and Randall make the following observation on the interaction of evangelicalism with the world:
The historian David Bebbington in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain makes a case for evangelicalism being a branch of Christendom that is particularly susceptible to the influence of the culture of the day, being 'moulded and remoulded by its environment'. Writing of the inception of the Keswick Convention he states that the holiness movement was an expression of the permeation of evangelicalism by Romantic thought. The sensibility of the age, he argues, lay behind the new spiritual language.
Romanticism was a 19th century artistic and intellectual movement which was characterised by strong emotion and individual experience. One can see the parallel with the holiness movement of evangelicals!

As you might guess, Bebbington is an incompletely read book on my bookshelf, so I cannot yet check his reasoning, but it is quite a stark statement: evangelicalism is particularly susceptible to the influence of the culture of the day!

Is this true? If so, why is it true? What stops other 'branches of Christendom' from being so susceptible? What about the modern day? The consumerism of modernity leading to pick'n'mix, shopping-trolley Christianity? The nihilism of postmodernism leading to a loss of confidence in knowing where truth lies?

OK. Amateur cultural comment over.

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