Reflections on evangelicalism and social class

Here is my final installment of notes from David Smith’s address at the Reaching the Unreached conference in which he provides some contemporary reflections and questions arising from his look at the history of evangelicalism and social class.

There are a number of key differences between the 19th century and where we are today.

1. The working-class that emerged in the 19th century and gained social and political rights in the 20th century has largely been replaced by an under-class that have rarely known work and have little hope. They do not have the aspirations of the 19th century working-class. John Matthews, a minister in poor area of  Glasgow, says powerlessness best describes these areas. They are the communities of the left-behind. He calls areas like the one in which he ministers ‘wrecked communities’.

2. Immigration has brought religious pluralism. Our training must now include an engagement with Islam. But immigration also brought into our cities southern Christianity (Christianity from Asia, Africa and Latin America). We need a dialogue with Christians from the South whose Christianity has not been filtered through the Enlightenment.

3. We need a global vision so we see the connection between urbanisation in the UK and globalisation.

Smith concluded by suggesting some of the questions that arise from our history.

1. Is the gospel an a-political message with no relevance to social and cultural life so that those with access to power and wealth have nothing to fear from gospel proclamation?

2. In view of the divisions between evangelicals in the 19th century, how do we avoid reading the Bible with lenses that distort its meaning and empty it of its prophetic power?

3. How do we ensure the church becomes a new community transcending the divisions of a fallen world instead of merely reflecting them.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:18-20)

If you want to pursue the themes in these notes then a warmly recommend David’s book, Transforming the World? The Social Impact of British Evangelicalism purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. In the next few days I’ll post a review of the book that I originally had published in the journal Themelios.


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