Friday, 19 June 2009

The final Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism conference

This past week I've been in London at the final Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism symposium, this time at the very plush Royal Foundation of St Katherine in not quite so sallubrious east London! This time we were thinking about contemporary expressions of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism.
We kicked off with a super session from Brian Stanley, the newly appointed Professor of Global Christianity in Edinburgh. He took issue with Rob Warner's thesis (see his Reinventing English Evangelicalism, 1966-2001 (Paternoster, 2007) that there was a tangible rightwards shift in British evangelicalism in the mid-twentieth century, and painted a much more complex picture. He divided the period into three phases, a more fundamentalistic post war phase; a second phase corresponding to the long 1960s, which saw the broadening of evangelical horizons, particularly among Anglican evangelicals, and a third phase down to the present which has seen the proliferation of kinds of evangelicalism, making simple generalisations and definitions much more difficult. Unsurprisingly, his paper included a welcome global perspective, showing how it was often influences from outside Britain, Billy Graham, the East African revival, gobal ecumenism, which proved key. His final volume in the IVP History of Evangelicalism series is eagerly anticipated.
We then had two shorter papers; one on the influence of the American post-modern theologian Stanley Grenz, the second an intriguing oral history study of attitudes to scriptures in two contrasting anonymous evangelical congregations.
Our evening session was led by Mark Noll, who provided us with an extremely rich paper comparing British and American Evangelicalism since World War II. Perhaps his biggest insight was his comment that prior to WWII most evangelicals were primarily concerned with maintaining tradition, while in the post war decades the emphasis shifted toward engaging the culture, led by an entreprenurial Evangelicalism, no longer hung-up on some of the same issues as its Fundamentalist forebears. Present day evangelicals, almost universally attempt a deliberate adaptation to the norms of contemporary culture. Noll argued that its best that we jettison the word fundamentalism altogether, and suggested that to talk of British fundamentalism was 'ridiculous'!
For me the highlight of the conference was Alister Chapman's paper on John Stott; in a beautifully crafted paper he charted Stott's development from being an out and out Fundamentalist at Cambridge in the 1950s, through his broadening sympathies during the 1960s, and his embrace, not openly I guess, of a much more open evangelical stance by the 1990s.
Slightly disappointing was Sebastian Fath's paper on the Isle of Lewis, probably the most Christian part of western Europe. Based on his own extensive field work, Fath painted a picture of the island as the last bastion of Protestant Fundamentalism, but I didn't really think that he grappled sufficiently with the islands' Calvinist identity. Aren't evangelicals on Lewis really much older school Calvinists, keen to defend a very different Calvinist religious hegemony? The real nature of the 1950s Lewis revival might also have been explored a bit more, particuarly the appeal of the Arminian Duncan Campbell!
All in all this was an excellent gathering; as always it was great to renew friendships again. There's one further project meeting in London during December which will be a one day conference specifically for a wider public audience. The keynote speaker will be Alister McGrath, who'll be talking about evangelicals, fundamentalists and science. I'll advertise more details in due course.


mark said...

Are any of these papers published? Is there anywhere I could read them?

David Ceri Jones said...

No not yet Mark. There should be a book of essays from the project in due course though.