Church, Sacrament, and American Democracy: The Social and Political Dimensions of John Williamson Nevin's Theology of Incarnation

By Yrigoyen, Charles; Borneman, Adam S. | Church History, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Church, Sacrament, and American Democracy: The Social and Political Dimensions of John Williamson Nevin's Theology of Incarnation


Yrigoyen, Charles, Borneman, Adam S., Church History


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For a few decades there has been a resurgent interest in the Mercersburg Theology, the nineteenth-century anti-revivalist, liturgical movement in the German Reformed Church in the United States, led by theologian John Williamson Nevin (1803-1886) and theologian-historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893). One piece of evidence is the Mercersburg Society, founded in 1983, to explore and promote the major tenets of the movement. The society holds an annual convocation, publishes a journal, and maintains a website (www.mercersburgsociety.org) with basic information about Mercersburg's leaders, recommendations on secondary sources, and original texts of the movement's principal periodical The Mercersburg Review . Further interest in Mercersburg is fostered by a projected thirteen-volume series of documents with commentary which will appear over several years.

The volume by Presbyterian pastor-scholar Adam S. Borneman is one of the latest studies to deal with Mercersburg matters, especially John Williamson Nevin's social and political views. Borneman correctly states that insufficient attention has been paid to the socio-political context of Nevin's thought in light of his ecclesiology, understanding of history, and redemptive exclusivity founded on the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the author asserts that studies of Nevin's Christology, ecclesiology, and sacramentology have been inattentive to the political implications of his writings, including his views on the role of the nation in antebellum America. This work aims to rectify these shortcomings.

Borneman opens his study with a discussion of the major national developments that influenced Nevin--disestablishment, democratization, emergence of the modern American two-party political system, second Great Awakening revivalism, benevolent societies, slavery, and others. He focuses on the more important theological intellects who worked with Nevin or engaged him in debate--Charles Hodge, the Transcendentalists, Horace Bushnell, Orestes Brownson, and Nevin's Mercersburg partner Philip Schaff. …

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