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REVIEW OF THE DISRUPTION OF EVANGELICALISM

06/01/2017

REVIEW OF
GEOFFREY TRELOAR’S THE DISRUPTION OF EVANGELICALISM: (THE AGE OF TORREY, MOTT, McPHERSON AND HAMMOND); [THE HISTORY OF EVANGELICALISM SERIES]; IVP; 2016

In the fourth of the five volume series chronicling the history of worldwide evangelicalism, Australian church historian Geoffrey Treloar gives us a new perspective on the break-up of evangelicalism in the early 20th century. He breaks down his history this way:

Fin de sičcle (1900-1914)
Evangelicals at War (1914-1918)
Evangelicalism at the Crossroads (1919-circa 1940)

Most historians lay down a pattern of evangelical dominance in late 19th century America only to be followed by a great polarity and split between “fundamentalists” and “modernists”. Treloar tries to show it was not that simple—a simple either/or. Rather there was (in Professor Treloar’s taxonomy) a broad center with various kinds of liberals and conservatives. In downplaying the liberal/conservative split as not the only explanation, Treloar brings in a broad spectrum of evangelicals not normally touted as important to the period.

Aimee Semple McPherson and T. C. Hammond come to mind as two examples of characters not usually included as examples of evangelicals but usually as eccentrics (Pentecostal McPherson) or doctrinal outlyers (Calvinist Hammond). One reviewer described Hammond
as ‘little-known’ but in both Ireland and Australia, he was a powerhouse for theological and spiritual reformation. In 1994, Banner of Truth published Warren Nelson’s T. C. HAMMOND(His Legacy in Ireland and Australia). Perhaps because the stage is usually filled with American and British authors we overlook those men and women who lived and ministered
in the broader English speaking world.

‘Sister Aimee’ as she was known has also been the
subject of three recent (1993, 1994 and 2009) biographies. Her spiritual and ecclesiastical
wanderings are well chronicled but usually not considered essential to understand the evangelical movement. Treloar makes sure we see her as part of the growing mosaic that evangelicalism had become. In entrepreneur driven America, people were free to invent
their own religion (Jeheovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Shakers, et al.) and ordain themselves as God’s anointed spokesman for today.

Treloar’s illumination of evangelical attitudes toward and participation in the ‘Great War’, the ‘War to End All Wars’, aka World War I, shows how people thought, lived, theologized and died during this period. Evangelicals in England, France, Germany, Canada and the USA all weighed in and went to war. He also shows how evangelicals did not give up on holiness and over-emphasize politics but sought to live lives worthy of the Master that would be salt and light in their generation.

Treloar’s work is certainly not the last word, nor does it pretend to be, on early 20th century evangelicalism, but it does open up new vistas that can be explored by other historians, following us his leads.

STEVE MARTIN
31 years a pastor in Atlanta
National Coordinator, Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA)
Dean of Students, IRBS Theological Seminary; Texas
WWW.THELOGCOLLEGE.WORDPRESS.COM

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