Book Review: The Evangelicals, by Christopher Catherwood
The definition of who is an Evangelical is actually quite simple. If you believe the Bible to be inspired and inerrant, that Jesus was the Son of God, that you need to have a born-again experience to go to Heaven, and that you should share your faith with others, chances are you are an Evangelical. But despite this simple definition, a perennial problem for Evangelicals in America is how misunderstood they are by the populace in general, and the media in particular. With an eye to clearing up some of this misunderstanding, Christopher Catherwood recently released an informative little book entitled, appropriately enough, The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Where They Are, And Their Politics. Catherwood’s work is a quick read—only 162 pages—that provides a good overview the defining characteristics of Evangelicalism. While those looking for an in-depth analysis of Evangelicalism should look elsewhere, The Evangelicals will help the beginner understand some of the distinctives of Evangelicalism.
One of the main focuses for Catherwood is to show the key doctrines of the faith to which Evangelicals hold. Utilizing several different sources (including the Lausanne Covenant, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students’ statement of faith, and a sample of a British and American church’s respective vision statements) Catherwood paints a broad picture of what it means to be an Evangelical. Evangelicals have always been united around key doctrine, so it is important for someone attempting to understand Evangelicalism to recognize what those doctrines are. In this area The Evangelicals is a very beneficial read. However, one should keep in mind that Catherwood is writing from a Reformed perspective, so while he tries to maintain a balance in presentation, he does represent a particular slice of Evangelicals, not Evangelicalism in its entirety.
Which brings us to the second caveat American readers should keep in mind. Catherwood is writing from England, and therefore reflects certain biases in his presentation despite his best efforts to understand American Evangelicalism. At points he can seem a little anti-American, and he is anti-George W. Bush throughout (I think he’s a little late to that party). For example, Catherwood goes to great lengths to describe how Bush damaged the world’s perception of Evangelicalism, which is certainly true in some sectors of the globe. But he makes very little of the former President’s AIDs relief funding to Africa, something the author clearly supports.
As far as “where Evangelicals are,” Catherwood does a fine job of building off the work of Philip Jenkins and others, showing how the epicenter of Evangelicalism has been moving to the Global South for the past few decades, an often under-appreciated reality for those of us in America (Jenkins’ work, The Next Christendom is required reading for anyone interested in this phenomenon).
Catherwood also includes a chapter on the eschatological (end-times) beliefs of Evangelicals. While it may seem out of place to give so much print space to this topic, it actually fits quite nicely with Catherwood’s theme. Views of the end-times are often one of the most misunderstood facets of Evangelicalism, even by Evangelicals themselves. Catherwood’s presentation of this aspect of theology is, once again, a good overview for someone attempting to become acquainted with Evangelicalism.
Overall, this quick read is a good introduction on Evangelicalism. In places it may lack depth or nuance, something I’m sure the author could have added had he desired. But that weakness is also the book’s biggest strength. The Evangelicals does not get bogged down or overly academic. I highly recommend the work for anyone who is a beginner on the topic, or anyone seeking a quick refresher on one of the dominant strains of religion in the world today.