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John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion
Frank M. Turner
Yale University Press, 2002
752 pp., $52.50
"At No Time Conspicuous, as a Party, for Talent or Learning"
If asked to identify the most influential theologian of the past two centuries, I suspect that few American Protestants would think of John Henry Newman. A few might be familiar with Newman's classic work, The Idea of a University, and its important contribution to the debate over the nature of higher education. Others might have dipped into his justifiably famous—and intriguing—autobiography, the Apologia pro vita sua, or recalled fondly his evocative hymn, "Lead Kindly Light." Some might even identify him with the ubiquitous "Newman Centers" that dot the campuses of American universities. Relatively few American Protestants, however, have studied Newman's important theological or devotional writings, or come to appreciate his enduring influence upon the life and theology of the Roman Catholic Church, especially through the unprecedented reforms of the Second Vatican Council—"Newman's Council," as it is sometimes called.
Newman was born in 1801 into a conventional, middle-class family of broad Anglican sympathies. Other than his adolescent conversion to evangelical Christianity, there was little about his early life that would suggest the extraordinary events that lay ahead. Much more influential for his spiritual and intellectual formation were the years he spent at Oxford, especially his election to a coveted Oriel Fellowship, through which he gained access to a coterie of remarkably devout and catholic-minded intellectuals, theologians, and poets. Around this time, Newman's evangelicalism (as he put it) "gradually faded away," though in a number of ways it continued to influence his outlook on a number of topics. After a brief flirtation with unbelief, Newman was attracted increasingly to the "Apostolical" tradition of the early Fathers. One of the most important expressions of this transformation occurred in 1833. In that year, Newman, John Keble, and Hurrell Froude formed the nucleus of the celebrated Oxford Movement, which set about restoring to prominence the ...