Bebbington’s Four Points of Evangelicalism
From his series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey refers to D.W. Bebbington’s four points of evangelicalism.
The British scholar D.W. Bebbington suggested that Evangelicalism essentially has four points. It is disappointing, but we have to live with that. He suggested, first of all, that it is characteristic of Evangelicalism that they are committed to the Bible, they are committed to the authority of the Bible, they’re committed to the distribution of the Bible, and they’re committed to the teaching of the Bible. That certainly would be true and helpful and key to any historic sense of the word ‘evangelical.’
Secondly, he said, evangelicals are cross-centered. When it comes to theology, they want to focus on Jesus and on his saving work on the cross. That’s at the very heart of what they are, of what they talk about, of the message that they need to get across to people. It is a cross-centered theology.
Thirdly, he says evangelicals are very concerned about conversion. From the Bible, they focus on the cross, and the message of the cross should lead to changed hearts and changed lives. That’s a great passion of evangelicals, to see conversions, to see people brought to faith, to see people brought out of darkness into life. That is a characteristic and essential element of Evangelicalism.
Fourthly, he says characteristic of Evangelicalism is a kind of activism. They are at work; they want to be busy about advancing the cause of Christ as they see it. They are busy in evangelism, both corporate kinds of evangelism and individual kinds of evangelism. They are busy in missions; they are busy in moral reform and voluntary cooperation and educational activities. There is a busyness and activity about Evangelicalism, and that is essential to who they are and how they ought to be understood.
Others have suggested that to those four elements, a fifth might be added, and that would be that Evangelicalism has displayed a remarkable adaptability to the cultures in which it has found itself. When people look at Evangelicalism in the late 18th and on into the 19th century, they often find a very rational spirit to Evangelicalism as it seeks to speak to a rather rational age. Now some have suggested in the latter part of the 20th century, when Western culture seems to become less rational, perhaps more irrational or at least more feeling oriented, Evangelicalism too has become more feeling oriented. So, that would suggest there is an adaptability to Evangelicalism that is crucial to its character.