Friday, June 2, 2017

Book Write-Up: The Disruption of Evangelicalism, by Geoffrey R. Treloar

Geoffrey R. Treloar.  The Disruption of Evangelicalism: The Age of Torrey, Mott, McPherson, and Hammond.  IVP Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

The Disruption of Evangelicalism is Volume 4 of the “History of Evangelicalism” series.  This volume covers evangelicalism from the time shortly before World War I, to the time shortly before the onset of World War II.  It looks at evangelicalism in the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

As I read this book, I was comparing it to another book that I read: Gary Dorrien’s The Making of American Liberal Theology (1805-1900).  What made Dorrien’s book satisfying was that it went deeply into the biographical background and ideas of liberal thinkers.  Geoffrey Treloar’s book covered a lot more territory, but it did not have as much depth.  It relayed different evangelical perspectives at a surface level.  While it included anecdotes about evangelical thinkers and personalities, they usually focused on a surface-level, brief description of their ideas rather than offering details about their personal backgrounds or characteristics.

There were exceptions to this characterization.  R.A. Torrey was contrasted with D.L. Moody, with Torrey looking more methodical, intellectual, and focused on hell than Moody was.  Geoffrey Treloar also shares that Torrey was active in social justice until he decided to devote more time to trying to save souls.  The brief anecdote about the suffragette who gave up the feminist cause to proclaim the imminent Second Coming of Christ was also interesting.  The stories about World War I and its effect on evangelicals had more of a personal element.  Treloar provided some background information about Aimee Semple McPherson, but he devoted most of that discussion to explaining how she fit and did not fit the religious trends of the time, and what exactly she did that made her a success.

Reading this book was more like eating a lot of tasty snacks than eating a satisfying meal.  There were a lot of interesting discussions in this book.  That discussion of McPherson was one of them.  The book was also helpful in that it communicated the different evangelical positions on socialism, the social Gospel, sanctification, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the nature of Scripture, World War I and its aftermath, the League of Nations, prohibition, the New Deal, and the rise of totalitarian states in Germany, Italy and Russia.  There were conservative and there were liberal evangelicals, and yet, as Treloar demonstrates, there were plenty of times when theological conservatives ventured into territory that would be considered politically liberal.  In its breadth, the book covered material that would probably be absent from a lot of histories of Christianity, such as evangelicals’ struggle with the question of where the souls of unsaved casualties of war went after their death.  The book also mentioned the series Evangelicalism, which was a liberal evangelical version of the famous Fundamentals.

While the discussions of the different positions were surface-level, they were clear: one could understand what the different evangelical thinkers believed and why.  The discussions about the nature of Scripture were not as good as other discussions in the book.  While the book talked about the attempts of centrist and liberal evangelicals to incorporate historical-criticism into their view of Scripture, there was some unclarity about how exactly they did so.  Treloar tried to explain this, for he mentioned such considerations as progressive revelation.  Perhaps examples of their usage of the historical-critical method in a religious or homiletical setting would have clarified their stance on the issue.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

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