Evangelicals and Evangelicalisms: Contested Identities

Authored by: Andrew Atherstone , David Ceri Jones

The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism

Print publication date:  July  2018
Online publication date:  July  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472438928
eBook ISBN: 9781315613604
Adobe ISBN:


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During the early days of the revivals led by George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers in the middle decades of the eighteenth century, use of the term ‘evangelical’ was relatively rare. Whitefield, the highest profile leader of the revivals in their first decade, although an Anglican clergyman, was reluctant to engage in too much defining of the new movement. ‘My one design’, he wrote in 1740, ‘is to bring poor souls to Jesus Christ’. 1 To this end he preached a pared down message: I am determined, he wrote in his journal, to ‘preach the new birth and the power of godliness, and not to insist so much on the form’. 2 While he was not averse to theological controversy when he felt it was necessary, Whitefield’s determination ‘to preach the simple gospel, to all who are willing to hear me, of whatever denomination’, 3 was characteristic of his desire to focus on the practicalities of soul winning rather than the intricacies of theological disputing. When he came under pressure to support one ecclesiastical party or another, Whitefield blamed the Devil, who ‘turns himself into an angel of light & stirs up God’s Children to tempt me to come over to some particular party . .. From those who would turn Religion into a Party, Good Lord deliver my soul.’ 4 For Whitefield the evangelical movement was a broad tent, at the heart of which was a shared experience of the new birth. 5 Any diversion from that he regarded as a distraction.

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