The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism

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Andrew Atherstone, David Ceri Jones
  • New York, NY: 
    , July
     302 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Studies on evangelicalism have proliferated over the last four decades. Works like George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980), David Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain (1989), Randall Balmer’s Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (1989), Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s Righteous Discontent (1993), Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994), and Kate Bowler’s Blessed (2013) have shown the diversity in evangelical identity, thought, and influence. Additional works on evangelical theology and monographs on evangelical movements abound between the printings (and reprintings) of these major contributions. Is there a need for another book on evangelicalism?

The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism, edited by Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones, answers with a resounding “yes.” It opens by disrupting the usual questions addressed in surveys of evangelicalism. Whereas many other volumes consider the “what” of evangelicalism, this book considers the “where” of evangelicalism. Themes emerge from studying evangelicalism’s history as a global movement. Contests by and among self-described evangelicals over the Bible, the crucifixion of Jesus, spirituality, revival, end times, race, gender, culture, and money show evangelicalism’s primary concerns and the variety of interpretations of these themes among followers. The book is not a precise answer to the question who are the evangelicals? but a rather stunning answer to the question what are the historical themes of evangelicalism?       

Chapter 1 evaluates the numerous battles over evangelical identity, focusing on various evangelical boundaries and demonstrating the difficulty of defining exactly what evangelicals believe and who, exactly, evangelicals are. Chapters 2 and 3 examine theologies of the Bible and the cross, respectively, again showing the variety of interpretations in different communities. Chapter 4 approaches evangelical spirituality, considering inner conversion and outward proclamation, especially in English evangelicalism’s early movements. Chapter 5 surveys evangelical revivals, putting forth revival paradigms that emerge from different locations and movements. Chapters 6 through 8 explore evangelicalism’s relationship with other traditions—namely Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Islam—observing the fascinating conflicts between, converts from, or utilitarian alliances by evangelicals and these faith communities. Chapters 9 and 10 study missions in the Atlantic North and Global South, particularly the values directing domestic missions and the evangelical historiography of foreign missions, respectively. Evangelical eschatologies are highlighted in chapter 11, and variations in exegeting Biblical prophecy are noted. Chapters 12 and 13 review race and gender. The former demonstrates that the history of race in evangelicalism is not limited to racial discrimination but includes abolitionists, anti-racists, and significant evangelicals of color. The latter proposes a spectrum of ideas about gender across evangelical history. Culture and the arts are central to chapter 14, particularly those produced and consumed by evangelicals. Chapter 15 considers money and business in evangelicalism, especially the relationship between economics and evangelical values. The final chapter evaluates and projects the migration of evangelicalism out of the West and into the Global East and South. Pentecostal and charismatic evangelicalism are the central movements considered in this chapter.

The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism makes three contributions to the study of evangelicalism. First, it is accessible. This one-volume companion presents an examination of the history of evangelicalism  that is less time-consuming, though no less robust,  than the recent five-volume History of Evangelicalism series from InterVarsity Press. Given its purpose as a research companion, it is very useful alongside the extensive research of the latter’s volumes. Each chapter is twenty pages or fewer and extensively footnoted, allowing for a brief, informative survey with many additional resources to discover. The second contribution is originality. Where other studies are structured around central figures (such as the IVP series) or theological commitments (such as the The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology), this study focuses on themes in evangelicalism’s history. For example, in Peter J. Morden’s chapter on spirituality, themes of piety, assurance, biblicism, prayer, the cross, holiness, and mission are studied through various preachers, hymn writers, and theologians in evangelicalism’s first few centuries. By examining  these themes, disparate evangelical interpretations and contests emerge, such as the controversies of the Keswick Convention. Lastly, this book is a critical overview of evangelicalism as a historical phenomenon. It adds breadth to the field’s already well-researched theological depth, demonstrating how evangelicalism is diverse and contested. For example, Mark S. Sweetnam’s chapter on the end of the world shows how evangelicalism has promoted both postmillennial and premillennial eschatology in the wake of political and social concerns. Furthermore, the book evaluates evangelicalism within the broader history of the Christian church and religion generally. It fills a gap by historically examining evangelicalism’s relationships with Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Islam beyond the early and contemporary quarrels over theology or national security.

While these contributions make the volume an essential companion for research on evangelical history, it is not without its shortcomings. Despite its global view, it is still the work of a homogeneous group of white scholars from the US, the UK, and Australia. Additionally, of the sixteen chapters, only one was contributed by a woman. Finally, conspicuously missing is significant reflection on evangelicalism and Judaism and Israel. This is an odd oversight, given that the topics of evangelicalism and Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Islam receive entire chapters, and that Israel has played such a prominent role in evangelical political engagement. No overview is given of either Israel or Judaism in evangelical history beyond a few pages on dispensationalism in the chapter on the Last Days. This gives the impression that Israel is merely an eschatological focus for some evangelicals. A chapter on evangelicalism’s theological difference with Judaism as well as the diversity of views on Israel and modern geopolitics would have been insightful.

Despite these critiques, The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism is a rich resource. Those interested in substantial analysis of major figures in evangelical history will be better served by the numerous other volumes referenced in the work, but there is no finer companion for the study of evangelicalism’s global and historical themes than this. The focus on the variety of interpretations and global emphases is timely, especially in an American cultural moment in which evangelicalism and conservative politics are increasingly conflated. The book provides evidence of how such changes are ubiquitous in the history of evangelicalism, and, if history continues to repeat, of how evangelicalism will continue to evolve.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Alex Gunter Parrish is a doctoral student in the History of Christianity at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and a postgraduate assistant at Manchester Wesley Research Centre.

Date of Review: 
January 5, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Andrew Atherstone is Latimer Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He is author of Archbishop Justin Welby: Risk-taker and Reconciler (2014) and co-editor of Evangelicalism and the Church of England in the Twentieth Century (2014).

David Ceri Jones is Reader in Welsh and Atlantic History and Head of the Department of History and Welsh History at Aberystwyth University. He is co-editor of George Whitefield: Life, Context, and Legacy (2016), and Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in the United Kingdom in the Twentieth Century (2013).


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