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David Martin

Whatever Happened to Methodism?

Evangelicalism flourishes. But can it overcome the inner contradictions brought about by its success?

This is an important and also an unusual book, because it combines an authoritative and superbly annotated summation of historical and sociological work about American evangelical Christianity with what amounts to "A Devout and Serious Call" to fellow evangelicals, especially in the United States. As a summation it will be essential reading for myriad courses where its subject figures. As a "call" it offers a theological reading of the political implications of the gospel which reminds me of Cromwell's exasperated appeal to the Scottish Puritans in 1650: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be wrong."

A conscientious reviewer has to deal with both of these aspects separately. Responding to the implicit comparative history and sociology of evangelicalism is relatively easy, and my way of doing so is to run some of Noll's themes through my personal experience of how they have played in Britain. However, once one comes to his discussion of Canada one finds that an interesting case for comparison, intermediate between the United States and Britain, is also used as an example for American evangelicals to follow. Thereafter the heart of the book is Noll's account of how theological norms could and should inform Christian political theory and practice. This is a very distinct kind of intellectual enterprise, obliging me to engage both as sociologist and as theologian. The change of gear is palpable.

There is another important matter which bears on the tenor of what follows. It is clear from several indications that Noll is exercised by the question "Whatever happened to Methodism?", though he only offers an explicit response to it in the chapter on Canada. So, I treat that question as the hidden issue behind the whole book. After all, the revivals and awakenings so specially characteristic of English-speaking peoples, most influentially in the contrasting cases of Britain and the United States, amounted to a dramatic conversion and expenditure of ...

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