My Love-Hate Relationship with Evangelical Spirituality

I have been reading some stuff on 18th C evangelicalism. I seem to have a love-hate relationship with the spirituality I find there. At times I feel so inspired. They took God very seriously, there was a real affection and passion in their faith. In many ways they put modern charismatics to shame. Such deep devotion! Such zeal! Such love of scripture!(Obviously I am generalising here)

And yet ... at times they seem so stern (and not just the Calvinists - Wesleyans could be more than a tad scarey) and so inclined to induce depressive bouts of wallowing in guilt. It is hard, for instance, to read Jonathan Edwards' influential biography of David Brainerd (in which the subject was presented as a paradigm of godly devotion) without feeling sorry for the poor chap (Brainerd, that is). He seemed to fluctuate from one day to the next - from the heights of ecstacsy to the depths of spiritual depression. He was like a spiritual yo yo. I don't know how much I want to see him a role model. Yes, I have a lot to learn from Brainerd - he was an amazing man. But he was also a man who, or so it seems to me, needed some help. Surely God does not want us in such constant psychological turmoil! I don't see that model presented in the New Testament. Calvinism has warmed up a few degrees since those serious days.

But I am the heir to such a spiritual tradition. And I am proud to be. These evangelicals were men and women of faith, hope and love. They may have got a whole bunch of stuff out of balance but they got a whole bunch more spot on. And I think I have more to learn from them than I have to reject. I don't want to be exactly like they were (I'm not sure I'd get on well with all of them) but I want to learn to be who I should be in the light of who they were.

Perhaps we are right to both love and hate the spirituality of our ancestors as we seek to walk in the ways of the Lord today.


Jason B. Hood said…

I just finished Harry Stout's bio of Whitefield and came away with a similar reaction. I'm enormously grateful for his fervor...but I'm not sure I'm going to recommend to all the young single guys I know that they try to find a wife who is not attractive enough or engaging enough to distract them from gospel ministry.

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