Thank you for visiting my new web page. I have a horror of self-promotion so I have long resisted the idea of a website! I ask myself: would St. Paul have kept one? Or Jesus, for that matter? I have overcome my scruples in the hope that this may help me to be of better service to others, even if it comes with the risk of being seen as self-serving.
I serve as Professor of Church History at Regent College, a theological college with affiliated status with the University of British Columbia, and located at the main entrance to the University.
I did a Master of Christian Studies degree at Regent College in the mid-1970s before working on my D.Phil. at Oxford University (1978) where my work on Victorian evangelicalism was supervised by Dr. Peter Hinchliff, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, and chaplain of Balliol College.
Upon completion of my doctorate in 1981, I was invited to join the full-time faculty at Regent College. I am deeply grateful to have been on faculty at Regent College for four decades now. It has been a joy to get to know some of the brightest minds in the Christian world, to have been befriended by them and to work alongside them. Regent, I believe, has been the best possible place for me to flourish as a scholar and as a human being. I have taught students from around the world and now have treasured friends among our alumni in dozens of countries. I have been deeply blessed by an abundance of deep, long-lasting and sustaining friendships and I work hard to nurture them by keeping in touch with many.
As an academic, I specialize in the history of evangelicalism in the Victorian era. My first major book was a substantial revision and expansion of my doctoral thesis which was published as Lighten Their Darkness: The Evangelical Mission to Working-Class London, 1828-1860 (hardback edition, Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985; reprinted in a paperback edition by Paternoster in 2001). The research was begun in 1978 at a time when there was relatively little written on British evangelicalism in the middle third of the nineteenth century, so I had the joy of being an explorer of virgin territory of an influential religious world. It became clear to me that what the evangelicals were doing in the slums of London was enormously important in shaping popular attitudes to religion and instilling a basic knowledge of the Christian faith among people often surprisingly ignorant of the faith. While historians had been obsessed as to what John Keble might have said to John Henry Newman as they strode across the Oriel Quad, the “great unwashed” were being evangelized and catechized by humble, self-sacrificing lay evangelists who had not made it into the history books. Many historians had dismissed evangelicalism as a movement in decline and had spent far more time exploring figures of much “higher” forms of churchmanship. My book title Lighten Their Darkness was as much a reference to the enlightening of historians as it was of the work of enlightening the urban poor.
In the mid-1980s I was approached by a British historian suggesting to me that I undertake to revive a project that had been begun in the 1950s under the leadership of Professor Andrew Walls. Professor Walls and other scholars were convinced of something that few academics believed in: the ongoing significance of the evangelical movement as it had been birthed in the early 18th century, and the world-transforming impact that it had exerted. The stalled project was known as the Dictionary of the Earlier Evangelical Movement. Several hundred articles had been written by gifted scholars, but the project had languished as Professor Walls moved to teach in Africa and take up other responsibilities. The challenge for historians wanting to study evangelical history was that there was no single source which one could turn to that provided comprehensive biographical coverage of the significant players in the movement throughout the globally expanding English-speaking world. After considering the suggestion, I decided that the project was important and that such a resource would be invaluable to future historians and thought that my talents might be well suited to pull it off. I went to Scotland to discuss the project with Professor Walls, and consulted with other key historians: including John Walsh at Oxford University; David Hempton then at Queen’s University, Belfast; David Bebbington at the University of Stirling; and my friend, John Wolffe, whom I had known when he was an undergraduate at Oxford, and was by then at the Open University in England. I was also personally mentored in taking on the project by Professor W. Reginald Ward after his retirement from the University of Durham. After ascertaining its importance I began to assemble a team of about 35 experts throughout the English-speaking world who helped to identify key figures in their areas of expertise.
I also undertook the unenviable task of raising a lot of money to enable this to happen; then with the help of my specialist editors recruited about 350 historians from around the world to ask them to work with me in identifying about 3500 different figures, assessing which historians had the expertise to do entries in specific areas (geographic, denominational, etc.) and then commissioned the writing of the articles (All before the age of the internet!). And, of course, I had to assemble a team of full-time assistants to commission, edit and proof the submissions. The project took ten years of concentrated work. In 1995 Basil Blackwell published the results: The Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography: 1730-1860 in two volumes; it was reprinted in 2001 by Hendrickson Publishers as simply The Dictionary of Evangelical Biography.
Over the following fifteen years, much of my time was spent in academic administration as I served as Regent College’s academic dean from 2003-2009. Along the way, I have managed to edit several books. I served for many years as the editor of Crux, an academic publication produced by Regent. In 1990 With Heart, Mind, and Strength: The Best of 'Crux': 1979-1989, Vol. 1 (Credo Publishing, Vancouver, 1990) appeared. Six years later I co-edited with Alister McGrath a Festschrift for my colleague, J.I. Packer, under the title Doing Theology for the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996). In 2004 I organized a major conference on Anglicanism at Regent College which resulted in another edited volume: The Future Shape of Anglican Ministry (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2004).
I also kept busy working on history as well. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s I was greatly helped by a series of conferences organized by Mark Noll, George Rawlyk, and other leading historians. We had several major consultations – one held in Sydney, Australia, another with two groups of historians meeting simultaneously in Cambridge and in New Zealand, linked by the internet. Another important conference happened at Cambridge University. A book that emerged out of the Cambridge conference organized by Dr. Brian Stanley, then the head of the Currents in World Christianity Project, was Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the 20th Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 2005). A second co-edited book arose from the same group of historians and appeared in 2014: Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, editors, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).
In the early 2000s, I began to work on a book focusing on Lord Shaftesbury, the leading social reformer of Victorian Britain, and the most prominent evangelical Anglican layman of his era. My thought was to write a book about Victorian evangelicalism using the three lenses of: evangelicals and power; evangelicals and identity; and evangelicals and culture. Given Shaftesbury’s love for – almost obsession with – the Jews, I thought that I would write a chapter of about 25 pages on his attitude toward the Jews. While I was working on this I came across the advice of a British novelist who said that there were a few topics on which one should never express an opinion in writing, and one of those was anything to do with Jews or Judaism. They were topics far too controversial to handle! I had to ignore the advice because the more I worked on the topic, the more interesting it became, and more questions kept me delving into Shaftesbury’s philo-Semitism and Christian Zionism. In the end, the 25-page chapter turned into about 350 pages. Like Topsy, it simply “growed.” I had to finally put down my pen.
I approached Cambridge University Press about publishing with them and was informed that Cambridge did not publish books that people wrote – it commissioned books which it thought needed to be written. However, the topic seemed to the editors to be of sufficient interest that they agreed to break with their convention and send it out to three reviewers. The work appeared as The Origins of Christian Zionism: Lord Shaftesbury and Evangelical Support for a Jewish Homeland (Cambridge, England: CUP, 2009). Central to my argument was the controversial proposal that Victorian evangelicals rejected the traditional “Teaching of Contempt” toward the Jews that had characterized so much of European Christianity in the middle ages, and had sought to replace it with a Philo-Semitic teaching which I termed a “Teaching of Esteem.” The book was well-received by the academic community, but my Christian Zionist friends were especially enthusiastic readers of it because it helped them to understand the long history of their own movement.
Since 2010 my focus has oscillated between Victorian evangelicalism and Christian Zionism. My next major book was In Darkest London: The Manuscript Diary of Joseph M. Oppenheimer, City Missionary (Vancouver: Regent College Press, 2018). I had come across Oppenheimer’s hand-written journal when re-writing my doctoral thesis for publication and included a chapter on it in Lighten Their Darkness. The hand-written notebook which he kept between September 1861 and April 1862 is a fascinating window into life in one of London’s poorest and most dangerous “rookeries” (or slums as North Americans call them). Oppenheimer was a particularly interesting observer in that he was a German-Jewish convert to Christianity, fluent in three languages and able to establish close relations with many people in the rookeries (among them hostile Irish Catholics, indifferent Jews and the occasional prostitute).
Alongside the work on Oppenheimer, I decided that there was no resource which tracked the history of Christian Zionism from its origins in the 16th century right down to today in a way that understood Christian theology and tried to make sense of the Christian Zionist worldview. Exploring this topic has required my reading well beyond my comfort zone on many occasions. InterVarsity Press Academic will release the new book A Short History of Christian Zionism: From the Reformation to Today in August of this year. We will see what the critics say, but it has received a very positive reception from the dozen or so scholars who helped me by reading and critiquing the whole work.
A very different project has kept me busy over the last three years or so. Several years ago I suggested to J.I. Packer (one of evangelicalism’s most widely read theologians) that it would be helpful to many if he would consider publishing his lectures on Anglican History and Theology for a wider public. He agreed to do so if I would work with him on the project. His publisher, Crossway Publishing, was keen on the idea so I had them transcribe the two sets of recordings we had of the entire course, and they hired a professional editor to merge the results into a single typescript. I then went through the whole work and made suggestions for changes, made a few of my own contributions and then Jim read the whole work and made his corrections. In the end, because of his failing eyesight, his wife, Kit, read the entire manuscript to him yet again and she noted further changes that I incorporated into the text to make it authentically “Packerish.” Jim had a dense but clear and distinctive writing style and often said of himself: “Packer by name, Packer by nature.” The work is about to appear from Crossway as The Anglican Heritage, which will be the last contribution to the very large Packer corpus!
My current writing project is very different from anything else I have attempted. I am researching the life of “Bob” Munro, a Scottish born Baptist minister who spent most of his adult life as an itinerant evangelist in Canada and the United States. He was a colourful character, a man passionate about life, and about his faith. Using family archives, personal letters, reminiscences by him and his family, some audio recordings of his talks, newspaper stories, and sections of books that talk about his varied ministries, I am trying to piece together the life of a man who had a remarkable impact on so many during his lifetime.
In the past ten years or so I have developed a particular interest in the life of the Christian pastor from a historical perspective and have developed and taught a course entitled “The Christian Pastor in Historical Perspective.” This has opened a rich but generally neglected field of research and writing and it has led to my being approached by a number of pastors to be their spiritual companion as they navigate the shoals of pastoral ministry. I was invited by a young pastor friend to work with him in establishing an annual retreat with pastors on the east coast of the United States, and for the past seven years have hosted a similar three-day retreat for pastors in western Canada – a group of about 20 working pastors, which has been a great source of joy and encouragement to many.
Beyond my life as a historian and teacher, I have served for twenty-five years as the lay secretary of Regent’s Anglican Studies Program working closely with my friend and colleague, the late J.I. Packer. I am a member of St. Peter’s Fireside Anglican Church in Vancouver and serve on its leadership team (again in a lay capacity). I live with my wife in Vancouver and have three married adult children and one grandchild. Being a husband, father and friend are what constitute my primary identity – after, of course, being a (genuinely flawed!) follower of Jesus Christ.
The Lewis family would like all the visitors of this website to know that Dr. Donald Munro Lewis passed away on Tuesday, October 19, 2021 in Vancouver, BC, of a sudden and unexpected cardiac arrest. He was seventy-one. The memorial service was conducted at The Tenth Church, Vancouver on Saturday, November 6, 2021.