Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Eucharistic Theology of the American Holy Fairs

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Eucharistic Theology of the American Holy Fairs

Article excerpt

The Eucharistic Theology of the American Holy Fairs. By Kimberly Bracken Long. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. xiii + 198 pp. $25.00 (paper).

It is dangerous to project current perceptions-even caricatures- about Christian traditions backward in history. For instance, given the image of present-day Presbyterians as solidly middle-class, respectable, and Word-dominated in their worship, who would guess that two hundred years ago they approached the Lord's Supper driven by romantic images of union with Christ at the table? An exploration of this aspect of eucharistic theology for early American Presbyterians is the contribution of Kimberly Bracken Longs new book.

Long's book is in the line of recent historical works, especially Leigh Eric Schmidt's Holy Fairs, that seek to reestablish early Presbyterian camp meetings for what they actually were-Presbyterian sacramental "fairs"-and to show their continuity with earlier fairs in Scotland. Sharing the strength of Schmidt's earlier work, Long moves it forward by exploring more fully one aspect of these sacramental festivals: the meaning of communion for early Presbyterians. By focusing on romantic imagery for the sacrament, her book explains why these meetings were such intense affairs.

This book is a conservative revision of the author's doctoral dissertation at Drew University. The two share much of the same structure and material although Long has included some new sections in the book, such as considering Theodore Beza's (Calvin's successor at Geneva) use of the Song of Songs. Writing in a clear style, Long first develops the history of the images of mystical union and spiritual marriage with Christ, especially from the Middle Ages forward. Of particular concern is the use of this imagery-especially as it might be attached to the eucharist-in the early Reformed tradition, as well as in a few other contemporaneous Protestant traditions. The book continues with a section that looks at three critical shapers of this eucharistic piety for Americans: James McGready, Gilbert Tennent, and John Willison. Long concludes with a historical summary and suggestions for ongoing pastoral implications.

One strength in Longs work is her attentiveness to primary materials, especially sermons and catechetical writings. While her main text runs 144 pages, she includes 28 pages of material in the appendices, mainly from hard-to-access sermons of Gilbert Tennent. Longs bibliography goes an additional nine pages, including thirty-eight entries for primary materials.

The fact that early Presbyterians approached the Lords Supper with intense desire for Christ, framed in erotic and romantic images, will be a major surprise for many, and this insight is the primary contribution that Long makes. …

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