Short History of Global Evangelicalism coverThis is a brief summary of Mark Hutchinson and John Wolffe’s A Short History of Global Evangelicalism, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

To our knowledge, this is the only historical treatment of global evangelicalism’s beginnings to the present.  It summarizes much pre-existing research on evangelicals, the history of which began in earnest in the 1970s. is sharing this because we think (1) evangelicalism is not understood by both secular historians and evangelicals themselves, (2) it is especially important for all Evangelicals to know this wider context and (3) be familiar, at least in part, with the latest scholarship.  Evangelicalism is still a living, and dynamic movement!  And knowing our history helps us be more a part of it, learn from it, and see more what God’s been doing!

 We’ve done our best to faithfully represent the views of the authors, however, if we have faltered or failed, please do us the great service and let us know.  When resources allow, we will also have this material vetted by evangelical historians.

chapter-by-chapter summary  •  How Western Historians have thought of evangelicalism  •  ‘Evangelicalism:’ usage and definitions  •  Notes on the history told by Hutchinson and Wolffe


Hutchinson and Wolffe divide evangelical world history into these segments:

Origins to 1790s1790s to 1840s1840s to 1870s1870s to 19141900s to 19451945 to 1970s1970s to 2010
“The Surprising
Work of God’
(chapter 2)
for the Kingdom”
(chapter 3)
“The Kingdom
Enlarged and
(chapter 4)
“A New Global
Spiritual Unity”
(chapter 5)
“Fighting Wars
and Engaging
(chapter 6)
“Towards Global
(chapter 7)
(chapter 9)


Hutchinson and Wolffe are Australian and British historians respectively, their perspective is that evangelicalism has always been:

  • A global movement
    Regardless of where one places the origins of evangelicalism,  in Continental Europe, in Jonathan Edwards’ America or in John Wesley’s experience in London, evangelicalism has always been a trans-national phenomena.
  • A popular movement
    Though especially with people on the margins, people of every strata have been attracted to evangelicalism.  Evangelicalism’s strength at empowering individualized and group experiences, building up communities and institutions were seen to attract everyone from slaves to William Wilberforce’s aristocratic set.
  • A movement about revival of the Christian faith
    Actual revival events ignited evangelicalism and have been happening ever since!  Evangelicals have also been trying to revive Christianity within the pre-existing institutions of Christianity and in countries all around the world.
  • Engaged with the world
    In order to be a credible witness to the world, one must be engaged in it—and while it’s looked different depending on locale, time and context, evangelicalism’s done just that.

    • Evangelicalism’s ability to unite for the sake of missions, revivals, and various causes had a lasting influence in the world in the areas of human rights (aboltion of the slave trade), politics (US presidential candidates mention God), social welfare (child labor laws), international relations (positions on Israel, missionary expansion, communism), education (Sunday school programs were sometimes the first and only educational programs for people in the far reaches of the colonies).
    • It’s interactions with modernity reflected a certain pragmatism and a recognized a higher calling to witness to the world.
      While it critiqued modernity’s rising secularism, evangelicalism also adopted and used many of modernity’s advancements in technology, transportation, communication, entertainments, etc.
    • Evangelicals have made tremendous contributions to the world.

      “In human rights, politics, the arts, social welfare, international relations, science, indeed most of the cornerstones of the modern world, evangelicals have made a contribution and continue to do so. From public rhetoric expressing concern for the poor to the banners and bunting of political conventions so reminiscent of revival crusades, evangelicalism has left its cultural mark.  More important to international discourse, however, has been the tendency to name a problem as an opportunity for solution and wider transformation.” (276-7)

Evangelicalism strength is its adaptability to the cultures around it. 

“It was part of the evangelical genius…that with the Bible in hand and Holy Spirit in mind, a reflected biblical vision of the future could be worked up out of the ground almost anywhere.”  (276)


Evangelicalism’s main tensions—evident since the beginning:

  • Theology and experience: With what theological framework do you understand a new experience, a personal relationship with God?
    • Since the very beginning, there’s been always been a tension between the Calvinists and the holiness Arminians who pragmatically took on the name that others gave them: “Methodists.”
  • Old or new wineskins: do you stay in existing church structures or make new ones or do both?
  • Evangelical scholarship
  • Transnational tensions

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