- Early Evangelicalism: A Global Intellectual History, 1670–1789
This fine work authored by W. R.Ward, the Emeritus Professor of Modern History at the University of Durham, represents an outstanding analysis of the broad-ranging evangelicalism of the post-Reformation era. The author spans the globe from Central Europe to the Americas in his discussions of the varied types of evangelicals with a special emphasis on pietism.
Professor Ward takes particular interest in the eighteenth century, showing that evangelical leaders were particularly adept in responding to the intellectual [End Page 315] challenges to the faith. By the end of the century, however, the movement grew in such a diverse manner, that they could no longer speak as one. By the nineteenth century their internal feuding reached such heights that they lost their intellectual high ground.
Ward sets the stage for the development of pietism with a detailed discussion of Johann Arndt (1585-1621), whose influential Four (later Six) Books of Christianity (1605) laid the groundwork for much of the future of the movement. This work went through ninety-five editions up to 1740 in virtually every European language. Most of the major pietist leaders wrote introductions to this work showing its widespread use. Arndt drew on mystical tradition in outlining the steps toward union with God. It is particularly intriguing that Arndt explicitly pointed to Paracelsus and the Cabbala as important sources of his own work.
The author then delves into pietism proper with extensive sections on Philipp Jakob Spener and August Hermann Francke, pointing to their reliance on mystical theology. He also includes full chapters on Zinzendorf and Wesley also showing the importance of their mystic roots. A helpful chapter of the Reformed tradition in Britain and America centers mostly on important Christian leaders such as John Bunyan and Richard Baxter in England and Increase and Cotton Mather and Solomon Stoddard in New England. The author also devotes an entire chapter to Jonathan Edwards and his revivalism. In his analysis of the Reformed churches on the continent, he points out that Reformed orthodoxy was strongly influenced by pietism and major Reformed figures began to advocate an enlightened form of orthodoxy that stripped such controversial doctrines as predestination from theological debate. They turned away from the more highly systematized systems of their predecessors and elevated practice over theory and speculation in theology.
It would have been helpful if the author had presented a comprehensive definition of evangelical. This is a particularly slippery term that can mean many different things to different people. Since the majority of the book focuses on pietism, it seems that he believes that it was an essential element of evangelicalism as a whole. Furthermore, he is correct that by the nineteenth century, many divisions did develop among Protestants, but such divisions were also present in the seventeenth century. The disputes between the Arminians and the Calvinists were particularly vituperative, and many of the Reformed leaders that I have studied viewed the Remonstrants with such disdain that they questioned their eternal standing before God. It makes sense that once one accepts the concept of sola scriptura, eventually it would be impossible to maintain all the various kinds of "evangelical" thought under one roof. However, I would maintain that many elements of unity remained among them even by the end of the eighteenth century. Separation occurred when secondary issues were elevated to primary status. Hence the evangelicals spanned the gamut as they do today on many doctrines [End Page 316] while generally maintaining an essential unity on the fundamental articles of the faith. [End Page 317]