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Title: "God has a plan for your life" : Personalized Life Providence (PLP) in postwar American evangelicalism
Author: Thomas, Amber Robin
ISNI:       0000 0004 7654 5410
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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Based largely upon popular periodicals, archival materials, conference addresses, and mass-market books, this thesis combines intellectual and cultural history to explore how the meaning behind the evangelical commonplace, "God has a plan for your life," changed in post-World War II America, ultimately exchanging an ethos of self-denial for self-fulfillment by the early 1980s. The term "Personalized Life Providence" (PLP) is proposed for the integration of three Reformation-rooted ideas-vocation, providence, and discernment-into the discussion of finding God's plan for one's life. Chapter one sketches the Anglo- American development of these concepts from the Puritan era to the early twentieth century, as they intersected with Common Sense philosophy, "Higher Life" teaching, the student-missionary movement, and inter-war fundamentalism. Chapter two begins the analysis of PLP's dissemination throughout Chicago-centered evangelical student-parachurch organizations in the 1940s. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Youth for Christ conflated PLP with personal holiness and, after the war, a resurgent American foreign-missionary movement, as displayed particularly in the texts of IVCF's Urbana conferences. Chapter three focuses on Henrietta Mears, Christian Education Director of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California. Mears's Sunday-School publications and college ministry reveal PLP's embrace of irenic neo-evangelicalism in the 1950s, coupled with a revised discernment process. Chapter four identifies the emergence of the "gospel of God's plan" from Mears's protégés, specifically Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright, Presbyterian minister Richard Halverson, and evangelist Billy Graham. Epitomized by the phrase, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," the first of Bright's Four Spiritual Laws, this gospel resonated with the religious revival, anti-Communist rhetoric, and psychological emphasis on self-actualization pervading American culture from 1947 to 1965. Chapter five argues that anti-Western sentiments in the1960s eroded PLP's evocation of missionary sacrifice in neo-evangelical circles. YFC encouraged teenagers to pursue culturally influential professions rather than traditional evangelism, while IVCF promulgated inconsistent teaching on discerning a foreign-missionary call in revolutionary times. Chapter six explores PLP's relationship to the widespread cultural shift toward self-fulfillment in the 1970s, as reflected both in evolving teaching on women's roles, career choice, and missionary service, and in PLP books styled after mass-market, self-help literature.
Supervisor: Stanley, Brian ; Newman, Mark Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Evangelicalism ; postwar America ; providence ; vocation ; discernment ; cultural change ; Intervarsity ; Campus Crusade ; Youth for Christ ; God's will ; God's plan ; Henrietta Mears