Article

Evangelicalism

Richard Gibson and Timothy Larsen

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0071
Evangelicalism

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Evangelicalism is an international Christian movement that arose from impulses of revival and renewal in 18th-century Protestantism. The Victorian period has been labeled the high-water mark of evangelicalism in Britain, as evangelical beliefs and practices then profoundly influenced British domestic and colonial life, thought, and policy. From its beginnings in open-air preaching to audiences of multiple Protestant traditions, evangelicalism has never been confined to a specific national church or denomination, although it has occasioned many (most notably for the Victorian context, Methodist ones). The most influential definition of evangelicalism has been offered by the historian David Bebbington. The Bebbington quadrilateral identifies four distinguishing marks of the movement: conversionism, biblicism, activism, and crucicentrism. That is to say, evangelicals emphasize the importance of a conversion experience, the authority of the Bible, the need to enact faith in the world, and the centrality of Christ’s death on the cross to the message of the Gospel. Timothy Larsen’s definition (nicknamed the “Larsen pentagon”) has augmented Bebbington’s by acknowledging the evangelical emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Larsen underlines, furthermore, evangelicalism’s standing within Protestant orthodoxy as well as, more specifically, a living tradition of global networks that reach back to the era of Wesley and Whitefield and forward to world Christianity. Within the field of literary studies, scholars have often concentrated on writers for whom evangelicalism represented a stage later transcended or overcome (as in the biography of Marian Evans) or whose depictions of evangelicals were generally critical (such as those of Dickens or Thackeray). Recent scholarship, however, has shown that evangelicalism was a movement of depth, complexity, and variety in Victorian England. Evangelicals were active participants in Victorian print culture, not only publishing theological works but also novels, poems, and children’s literature. Evangelicals also edited journals and operated tract societies and presses. This recent scholarship has also suggested several promising lines for future scholarly research on this topic, including neglected genres—such as missionary writing, biblical commentaries, science writing, and sermons—and once-prominent but now forgotten figures in the Victorian literary scene, particularly female writers and editors.

Article.  8673 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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