Conservative Evangelicalism in Britain

For conservative theological views within Christianity, see Conservative Christianity (disambiguation)

Conservative Evangelicalism is a term used in Britain to describe a theological movement found within Evangelical Protestant Christianity. The term is used more often in the first sense,[1] but conservative evangelicals would themselves tend to use it in the second.[2]

Conservative evangelicals are sometimes called Fundamentalists[3] but typically reject that label and are keen to maintain their distinct identity, which is more Reformed.[4] In this sense, Conservative Evangelicalism can be thought to be distinct from Liberal Evangelicalism, Open Evangelicalism and Charismatic Evangelicalism.[5] Some conservative evangelical groups oppose women ministers or women preachers in mixed congregations.


Before the Second World War

By the 1930s, the term "conservative evangelical" was being used in distinction to "liberal evangelical". The points of distinction largely being that while liberal evangelicals "maintain some of the other typical evangelical emphases, do not maintain, and often repudiate, the total reliability of the Bible and usually do not preach substitutionary atonement, even if they stress the cross in a doctrinally undefined way."[6] Movements such as the Anglican Evangelical Group Movement and the Student Christian Movement could be described as Liberal Evangelical, the former organisation glad of the title "Liberal Evangelical". Organisations such as the Bible Churchman's Missionary Society and the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelicals Unions (now UCCF) were distinctively Conservative Evangelical in the Anglican and university spheres respectively.[7]

The Conservative Evangelical movement was small and as such largely defensive, in part because "In academic circles it was almost universally assumed that a CE view of the Bible was dead."[8] The Keswick Convention, which would later have a very significant role in the shaping of Conservative Evangelicalism in the UK was a small outpost of Evangelicalism still thoroughly committed to the sufficiency and authority of the Bible.[9]


A key event in the development of British conservative evangelicalism was the 1966 National Assembly of Evangelicals, a convention organised by the Evangelical Alliance. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made an unexpected call for evangelicals to unite together as evangelicals and no longer within their "mixed" denominations. This view was motivated by a belief that true Christian fellowship requires evangelical views on central topics such as the atonement and the inspiration of Scripture. The meeting was chaired by Anglican evangelical John Stott. Lloyd Jones and Stott were the two leading figures within the conservative evangelical movement at that time, Lloyd Jones being a key figure to many in the Free Churches and Stott likewise amongst evangelical Anglicans. The two leaders clashed spectacularly as Stott, though not down as a speaker that night, used his role to urge Anglican clergy not to make any rash decisions, saying that Lloyd-Jones' opinion went against history and the Bible.

The following year saw the first National Evangelical Anglican Congress, which was held at Keele University. At this conference, largely due to Stott's influence, evangelical Anglicans committed themselves to full participation in the Church of England, rejecting the separationist approach proposed by Lloyd-Jones.[10]

These two conferences effectively fixed the direction of a large part of the British evangelical community. Although there is an ongoing debate as to the exact nature of Lloyd-Jones's views, they undoubtedly caused the two groupings to adopt diametrically opposed positions. These positions, and the resulting split, continue largely unchanged to this day.[11]


From the war up until the 1960s Conservative Evangelicals had been less of a distinct group within Evangelicalism than they had before the war. The contributions, during the war, of CS Lewis to the Evangelical cause helped to blend the lines between Conservative Evangelicals and others committed to Evangelical distinctives from outside the movement. The stand taken by Stott and Lloyd-Jones against the Liberalization of Christianity in the 60s, meant that the biggest disagreements between Evangelicals were over how to maintain Evangelical distinctives in the light of the increasing shift of the major denominations toward Liberalism. However, there were distinctions and disagreements within Evangelicalism that went beyond this. With the dawn of the 70s Evangelicals "were less united than they had been on church policies and on some theological issues."[8] One of the most significant of which was the rise of the relatively young Charismatic movement, which saw the importation of some of what had previously been Pentecostal distinctives into the other mainline Protestant denominations (but at this stage, largely within the Evangelical constituency). The impact of this movement was so large that "By the 1970s, it was said, the majority of younger evangelicals in the Church of England were charismatic in outlook."[12]

The Conservative Evangelical movement can now be said to have a clearer definition over against Charismaticism. But the two movements could never be clearly separated as "Many congregations included a charismatic element... This was partly because the more extreme groups tended to leave and form their own congregations, and partly because a charismatic element was more often accepted as a possible constituent of a broader fellowship, even by those who did not share its emphases."[13]


Affiliations and groups

  • Reform is an association of conservative evangelical Anglican churches
  • The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches is a British association of mostly conservative evangelical churches
  • Affinity is another British association of mostly conservative evangelical churches
  • Some Anglican churches are conservative evangelical.
  • Some Baptist churches are conservative evangelical; often they are independent or part of smaller denominations (e.g. the Grace Baptists) as they see the main Baptist associations as being compromised.

Publications and publishing houses

Theological colleges


Notable figures in the movement



See also

Christianity portal



External links

  • Clayton TV - Bible based TV resources to train and encourage Christians
  • GraceNet UK - contains a large directory of conservative evangelical churches
  • The Latimer Trust - Conservative evangelical thinktank
  • Association Of Grace Baptist Churches (South East)
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