Heart Religion, Evangelical Piety in England and Ireland, 1690-1850

By Gibson, William | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2018 | Go to article overview

Heart Religion, Evangelical Piety in England and Ireland, 1690-1850


Gibson, William, Anglican and Episcopal History


Heart Religion, Evangelical Piety in England and Ireland, 1690-1850. Edited by John Coffey. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016, Pp xiii, 232. $105.00.)

This important collection of essays arose from a conference at the Queen Mary University of London, Dr. Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies in 2011. The idea of heart religion owes a good deal to three major studies, by Ted Campbell, Bruce Hindmarsh, and Phyllis Mack in 1991, 2005 and 2008 respectively. Together they traced the character of heart religion as a phenomenon and showed its roots in, and connections with, wider trends in Protestant spirituality. Their work represents the backdrop against which the more detailed and focused essays in this collection can be viewed. As John Coffey's introduction makes clear, contemporary critics of heart religion saw it as an abandonment of objectivity of church and confession in favor of subjectivity and what he calls "individual interiority." Yet, as Coffey argues, this change was not stark or sudden but could be subtle and gradual. This was not therefore a process of abandonment of detachment in favor of fervor which separated seventeenth and eighteenth-century religion. In fact, devotional literature from Thomas Cranmer to John Wesley argued for introspection, and the move to natural theology in the eighteenth century suggested that objective ideas in Christianity remained strong. Yet pietism, Methodism (both Wesleyan and Calvinistic), and evangelicalism, more widely became associated with religion of the heart in the period covered by this book.

The chapters in the book consider three major themes: the sources of heart religion, the expressions of heart religion, and the ways in which it remained important into the nineteenth century. An earlier generation of historians, including John Walsh, Geoffrey Nuttall, and Reg Ward, tended to treat eighteenthcentury evangelicalism as the product of Anglican high churchmanship, enlightenment thinking, and continental pietism. But in his essay John Coffey shows how important Puritan influences were and David Ceri Jones similarly shows how George Whitefield drew on a tradition which reached back to Joseph Alleine and John Owen. Patricia Ward demonstrates how strong were Roman Catholic influences, from Thomas â Kempis to Jeanne Guyon and Francois Feneion. And Daniel Brunner also shows the impact of Lutheran Pietism in the form of Anthony William Boehm- whose "anglicized pietistic theology" became a staple of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK). Isabel Rivers' essay indicates that Wesley's debt to William Law has perhaps been overstated and that Wesley distanced himself from Law's mysticism. Equally his adaptation of some Catholic texts means that we cannot be unreserved in treating Wesley as a source of Catholic ingredients in heart religion.

One striking feature of Rivers' study is her identification of how "forgiving" evangelical writers were of one another-a contrast to the tendency to regard them as splenetic and fissiparous. …

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