on July 2, 2005
I am a scientist with an interest in church history, not a professional historian. But in my limited view, this is an important book. Covering the period of 1740 to 1795, it is the first of a five volume series edited by Noll on the history of evangelicalism. It appears to be a scholarly treatment of a topic of which I knew relatively little.
I knew something about Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys but, if nothing else, this book was worth reading to learn the striking story of William McCulloch, "a somewhat colourless parish minister" in the village of Cambuslang, just outside Glasgow. Despite John Wesley's view that Scots were a people that "hear much, know everything, and feel nothing", MuCulloch appears to have been a dedicated pastor who loved his parishioners and they reciprocated by responding to his preaching. At communion time in 1742 a reawakening broke out in this village that changed the course of the Scottish Kirk. I wish I had known William McCulloch.
I am struck by Noll's description of how this movement, refusing to be constrained by socioeconomic barriers, spread to every stratum of society, including the slaves of the Caribbean and North America. Noll's distinction of how this resulted in Abolition in England while having a different result in the United States is thought provoking and distressing.
There is an excellent index that allows one to return to the historical details that one rapidly forgets. But the most striking portion of this book is the last chapter. One of the important topics Noll treats here is the role of hymnody in this movement. Noll shows how central the place of singing was to this movement and how those hymns that were most enduring and which were embraced by people across the theological spectrum differed from the large body of hymns of the period. One of the most attractive stories is how John Wesley and Augustus Toplady tried to do theological battle by writing polemical hymn texts. But the people of both their respective camps enthusiastically adopted the warring hymns of both authors and today we join them in singing "Rock of Ages" and "O for a thousand tongues."
Then there is the Introduction and the Afterword, but I will never tell the punch line! Buy your own copy of this very reasonably priced book. It will be a satisfying read and you will undoubtedly return to it many times. I impatiently await the second volume.
I've always admired Mark Noll as one of the foremost historians in the evangelical community. His scholarship is balanced, his judgments are nuanced, and his work is meticulous. What he hasn't been in the past is interesting and fun to read.
That has changed with this compelling first volume in a five volume series on evangelical history. Mark discusses the three antecedents of American and British evangelicalism: Pietism, Calvinism, and high church Anglicanism. He highlights influential works by Cotton mather and Jacob Spener, and he depicts the spiritual lethargic landscape in the days prior to the Northampton revival of 1734.
He then discusses the powerful ministries of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John and Charles Wesley. He shows how evangelicalism was shaped by what God did through their preaching and writing. He underscores epochal sermons by Edwards on justification, and Whitefield's inspiring extemporaneous sermons that took the colonies by storm.
This is a fast reading book which holds your attention from the very first page. I had a hard time wading through some of Mark Noll's other books (America's God was tough reading, History of Christianity in the US and Canada was somewhat tough as well, but this one is right up there with Doug Sweeney's American Evangelical Movement. Thumbs up!!!
on November 1, 2012
'Aaa, aa, aa, aa, aa, LE, EE, LU, UU, IA/MADE LIKE HIM, LIKE HIM WE RISE/Aaa, aa, aa, aa, aa, LE, EE, LU, UU, IA/
OURS THE CROSS, THE GRAVE, THE SKIES
Aaa, aa, aa, aa, aa, LE, EE, LU, UU, IA'
Charles and John Wesley wrote "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" in 1739 and is usually sung every single Easter Service, at least in all protestant denominations. I have so many fond memories of singing this hymn and a million others of the Wesley brothers in the various protestant denominational churches I've belonged to and visited. The last chapter of this historical book is dedicated to the hymnody which was dominated by the Wesleys, particularly Charles, and which characterized the century in which they lived and worked. This book is the first book of 5 under the title of "A History of Evangelicalism: People, Movements, and Ideas in the English-Speaking World". Since this book is a history book, and since most, like me, will not be familiar with a lot of people mentioned in it, it's not so easy to read, especially in the beginning. The last book of this 5 part collection covers the times of Billy Graham and hence should be infinitely easier to read since most people know quite a bit about his work having seen and heard him in person.
But our ancestors in America, 300 years ago, certainly had heard of Edwards, of course the Wesleys, and especially of George Whitefield. George Whitefield was incredibly influential as Mark Noll explains in the Introduction in this book. The British born George Whitefield traveled and preached in 7 of the 13 colonies and to at least half of the population of those seven. For those Americans who still doubt that this country was ever a Christian nation, the historical, written records scream the truth. Just think and do the math. If just George Whitefield had also preached in the other 6 colonies and had drawn the same crowds, at least half of the U.S. population was devout Christians who would travel dirt roads by foot or horseback, hundreds of miles just to hear someone speak the gospel message. And that also means that with the math that Mark Noll does mention in the 7 colonies, ONE FOURTH OF AMERICA'S POPULATION could be described as Christian. That's amazing and is a number which CANNOT be disputed. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and cannot wait to eventually read the whole 5 part series.
Mark Noll also in his Introduction, as he has done in his other books, defines what being an evangelical Christian is, particularly in the 18th century. He lists 5 things on pages 16 and 17, but the most important points are that evangelicals recognize that the Bible, G-d's word is the primary source material for believers, being the very words of G-d, that our salvation comes only from Christ's one time death on the cross, and that humankind is not justified before G-d because of anything that we do in our lives, but simply and solely on our faith in Christ. I highly recommend this entire series.
Mark Noll is a professor of Theology and has taught at Wheaton, Gordon Conwell and Harvard Divinity School. Gordon Conwell is well known by evangelicals from Massachusetts, having been founded by several evangelicals, most notably the Reverend Billy Graham.
on August 14, 2010
One of various authors delivering a five volume series titled A History of Evangelicalism: People, Movements, and Ideas in the English-Speaking World, Mark Noll published the first volume with his book The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys. Focusing primarily on the prominent leaders from 1730's to the 1790's, Noll seeks to discuss the contributing factors and people that led to the rise of evangelicalism. With the skill of a seasoned author and accomplished historian, Noll sets the bar high for the series with this work suitable for use by seminarians yet still accessible for the average reader desiring to know more about this aspect of church history.
As one might expect, Noll's first order of business in his introduction is to provide a framework of common beliefs held by evangelicals from the 1730's to this present day. Noll calls these core commitments that serve to identify a large kin network of churches, societies, books and periodicals, and personal networks that allows for both flexibility and focus in the five volume series. These familiar commitments are conversion, the Bible and the fact that all spiritual truth is found in its pages, service to God primarily through evangelism and missions, and the sufficiency of Christ's death in providing atonement for sin (18 - 19).
In his first two chapters, Noll skillfully details developments across Europe and the colonies in what became America and the movement towards what is referred to as "religion of the heart (52) while careful to note that these elements had always been present but their proliferation led directly to evangelicalism (53). Pietism, Calvinism, and High-Church Anglicanism all play roles in the development of evangelicalism and Noll spends a sufficient amount of time demonstrating how each influence is part of the character of the emerging movement.
In his fifth chapter, Noll provide a critical assessment of explanations of why evangelical revivals broke out in the 1730's and 1740's. He argues that these explanations are only sufficient in specific situations or regions and fail to explain the overall rise of evangelicalism. Noll goes on to state that became clear is the desire for revival was more important that the actual revival itself (136 - 37). Noll also notes that the early leaders were excellent communicators and were rather young most being in their 20's as evangelicalism developed. Noll also briefly touches on the importance of human agency in the development of evangelicalism (141 - 42).
A great deal of time is spent on the development and later diversification of the movement before a rather lengthy conclusion. According to Noll, evangelicalism was never as much about changing the world as it was about changing the self or creating spiritual communities where changes people could grow in grace (262). It did not go unnoticed that more women than men were attracted to early evangelicalism. Anglicans, Moravians, Baptists and Methodists to varying degrees encouraged women to give testimony about their faith and join men in sitting in judgment on the rest (263 - 64).
Noll's generous footnotes and select bibliography is certainly a wealth of resources that should excite the serious student interested in delving deeper into this period of church history. Though scholarly, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys is an enjoyable read that should not intimidate the casual reader or layperson interested in the origins of evangelicalism specifically or church history in general. At times Noll does seem to get more focused on the ancillary historical details and key leaders when time may have been better spent giving a few paragraphs discussing the common people whose lives were changed a bit more. Still, Noll set out to focus on the leaders and events that led to the rise of evangelicalism. With that goal in mind, it is easy to conclude that Noll accomplished what he set out to do in this book. As an introduction to Noll's work for this reader, it served to both inform and whet the appetite to explore his other works as well as the additional volumes in the series.
on August 25, 2010
What exactly does it mean to be 'evangelical'? Today the term is so disputed that it is even being called irrelevant. Others prefer to call themselves 'post-evangelical'. Roger Olson (whose writings, while I do not agree with him, I enjoy) has written that the term "evangelical" is an essentially contested concept without boundaries. This is in contrast to David Bebbington's classic view that there are four key ingredients to evangelicalism - conversion; focus on the Bible; life of service for God; Christ's death as the crucial matter in providing atonement.
Mark Noll and this book, would disagree with Roger Olson, and side towards David Beggington. The Rise Of Evangelicalism is the first of five books which will examine the development of evangelicalism through the ages. This volume looks at it's beginnings (1730's - 1790's)
Noll shows us that evangelicalism came out of a convergence of three main movements - the Anglicanism; the puritan movement (which did not think the established church was reformed enough) and European pietism. Profiling Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley, Noll shows how one of the key elements (and boundaries) of evangelicalism and the Revivals experienced at this time was the emphasis and proclamation of the new birth found in Christ Jesus and the power of godliness & individual transformation.
This book is not just a helpful introduction to the roots of evangelicalism and what evangelicalism looked like, but it is also a wonderful introduction to the key men who were instrumental during the great revival of the 18th century. Noll's scholarly and well written style makes this an enjoyable and informative read. One additional feature of this book is the wonderful bibliography at the back of the book.