Tom SCHWANDA, ed. The Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality: The Age of Edwards, Newton, and Whitefield. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2016. pp. 336. $39.95. ISBN: 978-08091-0621-9. Reviewed by Richard STEELE, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA 98119.
This new addition to the Classics of Western Spirituality series (now numbering 129 volumes) provides us with a wonderful overview of “Evangelical spirituality” from the long eighteenth century. Selections from forty-seven different authors are included, the earliest of whom, Isaac Watts, was born in 1674, and the latest of whom, William Carey, died in 1834. Doctrinally, most of the authors were Calvinists, though from a wide array of church bodies (Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Independent and Calvinistic Methodist); but a handful of leading Arminian Methodists, including Francis Asbury and John Fletcher, and two Moravians, Nicholas Zinzendorf and Augustus Spangenburg, are also represented. (John and Charles Wesley are given no space here, having long ago been accorded a volume of their own in the CWS series.) Ethnically, most were British or North American, though one African (Olaudah Equiano), two African Americans (Richard Allen and Phyllis Wheatley), one Native American (Samson Occam), and the two German Moravians, are included. Eleven of the authors were women, many of whom, including Selina Hastings, Mary Bosanquet Fletcher and Hannah More, achieved considerable literary and socio-cultural prominence in their day. Collectively, these texts reflect the demographic and theological diversity within the transatlantic Evangelical world of that age. They also exemplify the wide variety of literary genres favored by eighteenth century Evangelicals: letters, diaries, hymns, poems, sermons, biblical commentaries, theological treatises, devotional manuals and memoranda for self-examination.
Editor Schwanda has organized these writings into six “thematic categories,” which delineate the dominant concerns of Evangelical Christianity—then as now. These include new life in Christ, the Holy Spirit, Scripture, spiritual practices, love for God and love for neighbor. Each category gets a chapter of about forty pages in length, though as Schwanda rightly notes, many of his selections might equally well be classified under several of his categories.
Schwanda controls his material with a light editorial touch, allowing his authors to speak for themselves, but offering relatively little in the way of historical orientation and theological interpretation. In his seventeen-page volume introduction, he situates eighteenth century Evangelical spiritualities in the broader context of British and Continental Protestantism. But he doesn’t tell us much about the complex ways in which those spiritualities stood in reaction to the dominant currents of Enlightenment thought. He furnishes helpful thumbnail biographies of his chosen authors, along with citations to longer reference works, and he gives a lucid one-page introduction to each of his six chapters, identifying the overarching thematic unity of the diverse texts assembled therein. But he doesn’t make much attempt to explain how his authors drew upon and disputed with each other, a fact which suggests that the Evangelical movement, for all its demographic diversity and literary variety, was more theologically harmonious than it really was. Schwanda, of course, knows better, but his overriding objective is to differentiate “vital piety” or “true religion,” as espoused by Evangelicals generally, from state-church establishmentarianism and the icy orthodoxy of Protestant scholasticism. Fair enough, though the family resemblances within the movement somewhat overshadow the doctrinal particularities and distinctive spiritual practices of the different Evangelical groups.
Schwanda’s volume may be compared with the older and bulkier anthology edited by David Lyle Jeffrey, A Burning and a Shining Light: English Spirituality in the Age of Wesley (Eerdmans, 1987). Eight of the thirteen authors included in Jeffrey’s collection—Isaac Watts, Phillip Doddridge, George Whitefield, John Fletcher, John Newton, William Cowper, Hannah More and William Wilberforce—are also included in Schwanda’s, though there is little if any duplication of specific texts. But the organization of the two volumes is quite different. Jeffrey places all of the texts by a single author together, and arranges the authors in chronological sequence by birth year, whereas Schwanda organizes his texts by topics, with works by the same author often appearing in several different chapters. Moreover, Jeffrey’s collection is restricted to English authors, whereas Schwanda’s authors are considerably more diverse with respect to provenance, ethnicity and gender. Thus, for purposes of classroom instruction, Jeffrey’s book would work better in a course devoted to the historical development of eighteenth century British Christianity and society, say, in tandem with Roy Porter’s English Society in the Eighteenth Century (Penguin, 1990) or J. C. D. Clark’s English Society 1660-1832 (Cambridge, 2000), whereas Schwanda’s book, along with Frank Whaling’s John and Charles Wesley: Selected Writings and Hymns (Paulist, 1981) and Mark Noll’s The Rise of Evangelicalism (InterVarsity, 2003) would suit a course comparing and contrasting the dominant theologies of eighteenth century transatlantic Evangelicalism and the various forms of church life embodying them.