Christianity in Action: The International History of the Salvation Army

By Piehl, Mel | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Christianity in Action: The International History of the Salvation Army


Piehl, Mel, The Catholic Historical Review


Christianity in Action: The International History of the Salvation Army. By Henry Gariepy. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. 2009. Pp. xvi, 286. $25.00. ISBN 978-0-802-84841-3.)

Few organizations in the world enjoy more widespread recognition than the Salvation Army. Almost all Americans are familiar with its ubiquitous street-corner bell-ringing, especially at Christmas time, and with its long history of social service, including its "soup kitchens" and other ministries to those in need. A prominent advertising agency recently rated the Army's redshield logo as one of the ten most instantly recognizable "brand names" in the world.

What is not quite so widely understood, however, is that the Salvation Army is not simply a religiously motivated social service organization, but has always been, since its American founding in 1880, a freestanding Protestant Christian denomination. Religiously, it belongs firmly to the family of "holiness" churches that emerged from Methodism in the late-nineteenth century, and as such it retains much in common within other similar denominations, often with "Holiness" or "Wesleyan" as part of their name.

However, more than most such denominations of similar or equal size, the Army's flamboyant beginnings, its genius for spectacular public relations, and its highly visible place in American life make its history of considerable intrinsic interest to religious historians and a potentially rich subject for scholarly interpretation. Moreover, the Army's strong social and religious conservatism, and its longtime affinity with powerful private and governmental institutions, are especially deserving of full, fair, and careful analysis.

Colonel Henry Gariepy's Christianity in Action is not such a study. Rather, it is a celebratory, pious institutional history by the longtime chief editor of the Army's official publication The War Cry and a faculty member of its "Officer Training College" (what more conventional denominations label a seminary). The book's foreword by the commanding general of the church's international headquarters in London and its jacket endorsements by other prominent Salvationist officers (i. …

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