Book Review - Evangelicalism Divided
If evangelicals wish to take stock of where they are now and what the future of the church holds, they must look to the past and understand from where it is they have come. Evangelicalism Divided by Iain Murray, would be a perfect place to start, for it is a record of the changes that took place in the American and British churches in the years 1950 to 2000. It records the rise of influences and influencers that ultimately changed the course of evangelicalism.
The book begins with an examination of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and the theology of experience that influenced so many. The God of Schleiermacher was a mere man, and one who bore little resemblance to the God of the Bible. To defend God against criticism, Schleiermacher redefined Christianity as mere subjectivity and not an objective Truth. This stunning departure from Scripture provides a foundation for many beliefs that later gained prominence in evangelicalism.
Having set the scene, Murray begins to examine many of the men and organizations that have directly shaped contemporary evangelicalism. He speaks of Billy Graham, J.I. Packer, John Stott and organizations such as Inter Varsity. While he is unafraid to name names, he avoids slander and conjecture, always speaking in love and always providing ample support for his claims. He writes about controversies in the Church of England during the sixties, about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). He writes also of controversy regarding how we ought to define a Christian and how we ought to define the church. Having thoroughly examined the modern history of evangelicalism, he raises questions and concerns about the present. The general conclusions he reaches are as follows:
- The history of the new evangelicalism has shown how difficult it is to remedy the faults of one position without falling into dangers at the opposite extreme.
- A great deal of the confusion which has divided evangelicalism has been related to the question, “Who is a Christian?”
- The church cannot succeed in the same way in which political parties may succeed.
- The period of history confirms the painful fact that there can be serious differences of belief and consequent controversies among true Christians.
- The history of this period shows how hard it is for leaders to look in different directions at once.
- The struggles and hopes of Christians are not to be understood in terms of the present and the temporal.
In short, Murray concludes that evangelicalism, as we know it today, has been unduly influenced by Schleiermacher. What is particularly amazing is that so few evangelical leaders know or care.
While this is sobering, we should not be discouraged or dismayed. Murray concludes, “At almost all times in history the kingdom of God has appeared to be in confusion to the outward eye. It is faith in the promises of God which provides a different perspective. The Holy Spirit assures us that infinite wisdom and love are presently directing the life of the church and that eternity will be witness to their success when a multitude which no man can number will be glorified with Christ” (page 317).
This book is fascinating, disturbing and critically important. I hope many evangelical pastors and leaders turn to this book to help them understand where evangelicals have come from so they can make necessary course corrections to lead where we need to go next. I give this book my recommendation.