In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evangelicalism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Biographies of Prominent Figures
  • Faith, Doubt, and Conversion
  • Politics
  • Social Reform
  • Theology
  • Bible
  • Congregational Life and Worship
  • Science
  • Women
  • Anti-Catholicism
  • Culture and Society
  • Empire
  • Publishing

Victorian Literature Evangelicalism
Richard Gibson, Timothy Larsen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0071


Evangelicalism is an international Christian movement that arose from impulses of revival and renewal in 18th-century Protestantism. The Victorian period has been labeled the high-water mark of evangelicalism in Britain, as evangelical beliefs and practices then profoundly influenced British domestic and colonial life, thought, and policy. From its beginnings in open-air preaching to audiences of multiple Protestant traditions, evangelicalism has never been confined to a specific national church or denomination, although it has occasioned many (most notably for the Victorian context, Methodist ones). The most influential definition of evangelicalism has been offered by the historian David Bebbington. The Bebbington quadrilateral identifies four distinguishing marks of the movement: conversionism, biblicism, activism, and crucicentrism. That is to say, evangelicals emphasize the importance of a conversion experience, the authority of the Bible, the need to enact faith in the world, and the centrality of Christ’s death on the cross to the message of the Gospel. Timothy Larsen’s definition (nicknamed the “Larsen pentagon”) has augmented Bebbington’s by acknowledging the evangelical emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Larsen underlines, furthermore, evangelicalism’s standing within Protestant orthodoxy as well as, more specifically, a living tradition of global networks that reach back to the era of Wesley and Whitefield and forward to world Christianity. Within the field of literary studies, scholars have often concentrated on writers for whom evangelicalism represented a stage later transcended or overcome (as in the biography of Marian Evans) or whose depictions of evangelicals were generally critical (such as those of Dickens or Thackeray). Recent scholarship, however, has shown that evangelicalism was a movement of depth, complexity, and variety in Victorian England. Evangelicals were active participants in Victorian print culture, not only publishing theological works but also novels, poems, and children’s literature. Evangelicals also edited journals and operated tract societies and presses. This recent scholarship has also suggested several promising lines for future scholarly research on this topic, including neglected genres—such as missionary writing, biblical commentaries, science writing, and sermons—and once-prominent but now forgotten figures in the Victorian literary scene, particularly female writers and editors.

General Overviews

No one should write about evangelicalism, especially in Britain, without being aware of Bebbington 1993. Wolffe 2007 and Bebbington 2005 are companion volumes in the same series; together, they offer non-specialists a reliable narrative of the evangelical movement in the 19th century. Smith 2008, Larsen 2007, Lovegrove 2002, and Robbins 1990 suggest the variety of ways of conceptualizing and approaching evangelicalism within the period. Carwardine 2006 is important reading for those concerned with the transatlantic nature of evangelicalism in the 19th century.

  • Bebbington, D. W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge, 1993.

    This is the indispensable, definitive study of the movement in Britain, which also coined the standard definition of evangelicalism. It is excellent at mapping connections with intellectual history, including the ways that 19th-century evangelicalism reflected Romanticism.

  • Bebbington, David W. The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005.

    Represents an accessible account for non-specialists of Victorian evangelicalism by a leading scholar in the field. It sets British evangelicalism in the wider context of the movement throughout the English-speaking world.

  • Carwardine, Richard. Transatlantic Revivalism: Popular Evangelicalism in Britain and America, 1790–1865. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2006.

    This is the most important study of the revivalist strand in evangelicalism. It is particularly important for the ways that the movements in North America and Britain cross-pollinated.

  • Larsen, Timothy. “Defining and Locating Evangelicalism.” In The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology. Edited by Timothy Larsen and Daniel Treier, 1–14. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521846986.001

    For anyone who is confused about what exactly evangelical means and who is and is not a part of the evangelical movement, the best place to start is with this introductory essay.

  • Lovegrove, Deryck, ed. The Rise of the Laity in Evangelical Protestantism. London: Routledge, 2002.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203166505

    This collection contains focused essays by leading scholars. It is particularly useful for those wanting to move behind clerical representations to see the way that the activism of congregants drives and shapes the movement.

  • Robbins, Keith, ed. Protestant Evangelicalism: Britain, Ireland, Germany and America, c. 1750–c. 1950. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.

    This volume contains specialist essays by an array of experts in the field. As a Festschrift for W. R. Ward and a publication of the Ecclesiastical History Society, it can be seen as an authoritative snapshot of evangelical studies.

  • Smith, Mark, ed. British Evangelical Identities Past and Present: Aspects of the History and Sociology of Evangelicalism in Britain and Ireland. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008.

    Outside of the oeuvre of David Bebbington (who himself has an essay in this volume), this is the best place to start for orientation regarding British evangelicalism. Its diversity includes essays on Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, black evangelicals, marriage, and masculinity.

  • Wolffe, John. The Expansion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Wilberforce, Chalmers and Finney. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007.

    In the same series as Bebbington 2005, this is also an accessible account for nonspecialists. This one is focused on the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th.

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