Blog Entry

Charles Spurgeon - The Quintessential Evangelical

By Phillip Ort Feb 25, 2019

“The Evangelicals of Britain have been neglected.”[1]

 

            When David Bebbington penned those words in the introduction to his work, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, they rang true. In Bebbington’s context, choice figures such as William Wilberforce or Lord Shaftesbury were remembered for their social reforms, while evangelicals as a whole seemed to have vanished in the mists of time.[2] Accordingly, Bebbington sought to “fill the gap by providing an overall survey of the movement.”[3]

 

            However, he quickly realized the daunting scale of his task. In surveying the movement rather than individuals he discovered that Evangelicalism was both “self-consciously distinctive,” and yet “unitary.”[4] Indeed, the grand movement could “not be equated with any single Christian denomination.”[5]

 

            But, how could a “self-consciously distinctive” movement be united? What common cause could unify the Nonconformists? What could bring the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, and the like together again? For David Bebbington the answer lay in key shared doctrines and convictions.[6]

 

            Doctrinally, Bebbington discovered that evangelicals united around cornerstone-grade truths like “Original Sin, Justification by Faith, and the New Birth.”[7] Furthermore, this theological truth-cluster had historical roots. Years prior, Matthew Henry expressed the same view with his “3 R’s,” “ruin, redemption, and regeneration.”[8]

 

            What made Bebbington’s work an essential piece of evangelical historiography was his identification of four key evangelical convictions: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism. Since his work’s publication in 1989, these convictions, the “Bebbington Quadrilateral,” have become the textbook rubric for studying and identifying evangelicals.

 

            When Bebbington surveyed his context he was right to assert that Britain has forgotten her evangelical heritage, but America has not, at least not yet. Indeed, America has certainly not forgotten Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

 

            Even to this day, Spurgeon’s writings continue to circulate en masse while blog after blog proliferate on the internet. The “Prince of Preachers” once famously said “I would fling shadow through eternal ages if I could,”[9] and it appears that his shadow remains today. Indeed, it was because of his legacy that Carl F. H. Henry, once called Spurgeon “one of evangelical Christianity’s immortals.”[10]

 

            This “boy preacher of the fens” who was once reckoned a “nine-days wonder,”[11] not only became “immortal” in Henry’s words, but also the exemplar par excellance of Evangelicalism. In what follows, we contend that Charles Haddon Spurgeon focused the varied rays of evangelical conviction into a white-hot beam which shines even to this day.

 

            The following articles will demonstrate Charles Spurgeon to be the quintessential evangelical through an examination of Evangelicalism’s four key convictions. The first conviction to be examined will be conversionism, or as Bebbington stated “the belief that lives need to be changed.”[12] The second will be activism, or “the expression of the gospel in effort.”[13] The third will be biblicism, or having “a particular regard for the Bible.”[14] The fourth, and final conviction, will be crucicentrism, or “a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.”[15] Indeed, while Bebbington stated his points modestly, the following examination will show that Charles Spurgeon was the embodiment of evangelical virtue.

 


Phillip Ort serves at the Director of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City where he is also pursuing a Master of Divinity degree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Unwin Hyman Ltd, 1989; London and New York: Routledge, 2005), 8.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 9.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid., 15.

[7] Ibid., 16. See also, Life of Ann Okely, quoted by J. Walsh, “The Cambridge Methodists,” in P. Brooks, ed., Christian Spirituality: Essays in Honour of Gordon Rupp (London: S. C. M. Press, 1975), 258.

[8]  R. W. Dale, The Old Evangelicalism and the New (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1889), 13.

[9] W. A. Fullerton, C. H. Spurgeon: A Biography (London: Williams and Norgate, 1920), 181.

[10] Carl F. H. Henry in the foreword to Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1992).

[11] Autobiography 2:55.

[12] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 16.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.