This volume is the first to be published in a five-volume series, two of which are planned to cover the twentieth century. Much of it is concerned with the institutional history of the various traditions, which will probably only interest readers of this Journal insofar as it sheds light on the ways in which those traditions did (or did not) reflect material theological differences between them. Almost inevitably with a multi-authored book of this kind it can be easy for particular issues to slip between the cracks. Three chapters are specifically devoted to theological topics: first, a typically concise and readable analysis by Mark Noll of issues concerning the Bible and scriptural interpretation; secondly, a more general treatment of theology by David Bebbington, which covers the legacy of the Enlightenment, the ways in which it affected Calvinism (primarily in North America, rather than Scotland) and Arminianism (principally Methodism), and the influence of Romanticism and evangelicalism; thirdly, a chapter on preaching which focuses on lectures and advice given by senior ministers to those beginning, since even a snapshot of what ordinary members of congregations heard week by week would be a mammoth task. The curious reader, however, may learn more from Densil Morgan’s lively and wide-ranging account of spirituality, worship, and the spiritual life. This is in the final section on congregational life, but it is more subtle theologically. There never has been a satisfactory history of the theology of the dissenting traditions in the nineteenth century; and this book for all its merits does not make good that deficiency, given the other issues that it necessarily has to cover. Indeed a piecemeal approach to the subject was probably never likely to do so. Thus, apart from Densil Morgan’s pages on worship, there is no collective treatment of sacramental theology, but only short sections in other chapters, not usually those on the major traditions. In the discussion of the changing interpretation of Scripture, attention is focused on the extent to which it made more or less credible the theological account of humanity and its creation, rather than, for example, the way in which it illuminated the understanding of the Church. The fact that nineteenth-century dissenters found it easier to continue to attack the Roman Catholic Church theologically saved them the trouble of engaging with the Anglicans from whom they supposedly dissented. This theme would have been worth studying further. How far was establishment a theological, as well as a political, question? The assumption seems to be that it was political, but Thomas Chalmers might have taken a different view. Even the ‘moderation’ of ‘Calvinism’ only shifted the dividing line between those who were saved and those who were not away from election by God to a human subjectivism; it did not raise more radical questions about the possibility of human judgements on the dividing line altogether. This uncertainty about the appropriate theological agenda for such a book is reflected by the linking of Unitarians with Presbyterians in Part I on Britain and Ireland, and with Shakers and Quakers in Part II on North America. That not only leaves the theology taught in the Presbyterian Church of England entirely untouched; more significantly, it tends to obscure the fact that in its origins Unitarianism was based on a literal understanding of ‘sola scriptura’, not Enlightenment progressivism. Perhaps the fact that nineteenth-century Unitarians seemed happier than other dissenting traditions with set liturgies was due to their Anglican inheritance. All this suggests that the time is ripe for a new way of writing historical theology. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
Journal of Theological Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 1, 2018
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