Revivalism and Social Reform
256 Pages

Revivalism and Social Reform



This is an important work, which should be read by anyone who is trying to understand nineteenth-century America. It will be of especial interest to students of church history, intellectual history, and social reform.
Henry Lee Swint, 'Mississippi Valley Historical Review'
This is a brilliant study, full of stimulating suggestions, rich bibliographical leads, and well-chosen quotations. A chief feature of the work, which won the Brewer prize for 1955, is its apt and extensive documentation. The author has industriously ranged through mountains of books, periodicals, and fugitive materials, and competently supported his well-written narrative with illuminating footnotes, which happily and helpfully appear where they belong at the foot of each - and almost every - page. Hence his judgments are backed by impressive scholarship.
Robert T. Handy, 'Church History'
So many historians have tracked the trail of the American revivalists that it is difficult for anyone to discover something new about that trail. Timothy Smith claimed to discover that they were more oriented towards social reform than their critics saw them to be. He backed up, with solid documentation, his claim that they were, in their own way, fathers of the Social Gospel. His book represented one of those rare moments in the study of American church history: the development of an original thesis, one worthy of the argument which it has during the past decade inspired and survived.
Martin E. Marty



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Published 09 November 2004
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EAN13 9781725212794
Language English
Document size 50 MB

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Wipf and Stock Publishers 199 W 8th Ave, Suite 3 Eugene, OR 97401 Revivalism and Social Reform By Smith, Timothy L. Copyright©1957 by Smith, Timothy L. ISBN: 1-59244-998-0 Publication date 11/9/2004 Previously published by Abingdon Press, 1957
Nearly fifty years have passed since the first edition of Timothy L. Smith's pioneering book,AmericanRevivalism and Social Reform: Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil WarAlthough, was first published. Smith's study was greeted with remarkable enthusiasm by its early reviewers, few could have imagined the enormous impact that it would eventually have on the study of American religious history. Smith's basic argument is deceptively simple: namely, that America's mid-nineteenth century religious revivals, reinforced by a passionate quest for personal and corporate holiness, unleashed a veritable flood tide of evangelical social activity—mobilizing tens of thousands of new recruits for the battles against slavery, poverty, and greed. Drawing upon an incredibly broad range of sources, from local newspapers and magazines to sermons and tracts, Smith's "startling new thesis" not only transformed the historical understanding of nineteenth century American religious history but it also spawned scores of masters and doctoral dissertations, dozens of academic and popular articles, and a number of scholarly books. Among the most important of these was Norris Magnuson's outstanding doctoral thesis, supervised by Timothy Smith and later published under the titleEvangelical SocialSalvation in the Slums: Work, 1865-1920. I was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary when I first discovered Smith's work. A new Harper Torchbooks edition ofRevivalism and Social Reform had just been published and my supervisor, Professor Lefferts A. Loetscher, suggested that I might find it of interest. Reading Revivalism and Social ReformNot only did it changeaffected me deeply. my thinking about much of American religious history but it also opened the way for a wonderful friendship with its author. Like many in my generation, I had simply assumed that the evangelical tradition, in which I was raised and with which I continue to remain happily identified, had given relatively little attention to issues of social justice.Revivalism and Social Reform,however, changed my perspective. With massive documentation, careful analysis, and clear prose, Smith convinced me that throughout the nineteenth century, evangelical Christians had been deeply involved in social reform.
Far from abandoning their longstanding commitment to sound theology, biblical authority, personal holiness, and the missionary mandate, these nineteenth century evangelicals came to believe that it was precisely because of those commitments that they were obligated, to borrow the words of the prophet Micah, to "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly" with their God. Indeed, it was their love of the Bible—with its repeated instructions to care for the poor and needy, to be honest in business dealings, to look after widows and orphans, to treat the neighbor as one might wish to be treated—that made so many evangelical Christians willing to risk their lives and their fortunes in their quest to fight injustice, to reform prisons, to care for the needy and to rid the nation of the scourge of slavery. Christians have suffered mightily over the centuries in their efforts to preserve "the faith once delivered to the saints." But their deep desire to obey the Scriptures, asRevivalism and Social Reformclearly so demonstrates, has also been for many believers a powerful engine for change and an enormous motivation for social reform. Fascinated by the possible implications of Smith's conclusions, I began to wonder if his basic thesis might be helpful in understanding the period of American religious history (namely, the early nineteenth century) on which my own studies with Professor Loetscher had been focused. I was aware, of course, of the enormous social changes throughout the British Empire that had accompanied the work of John Wesley, George Whitefield, and William Wilberforce. Furthermore, my own examination of the life and ministry of Charles G. Finney seemed to suggest that many of the same dynamics were at work here in America. With little more than these hunches in hand, however, I had the temerity to write to Professor Smith and ask if he might be willing to take me on as a doctoral student. Professor Smith's positive response, and the willingness of the university to accept my application, was the beginning of a long and wonderful friendship. Tim and his gracious wife Anne welcomed me—as they did each of their doctoral students—into their lives and their home as if I had been a member of their family. They also invited me to join their circle of friends, a group of senior and junior scholars that became my first professional network. For several years, the Smiths hosted the Hopkins/ Harwichport Seminar on American Religious History, a unique gathering of established scholars and their doctoral students for times of intense discussion and conversation. Many of those students are now senior scholars themselves, teaching in a variety of institutions around the world.
Under Professor Smith's watchful eye—and sharp editorial pencil—scores of doctoral theses were completed. Many of these, as was true of my own, grew out of his work onRevivalism and Social Reform. Despite the careful scrutiny it has received, by his own students as well as others, Smith's thesis has held up remarkably well. When the Johns Hopkins Press published a new edition of the book in 1980, they asked Professor Smith to write a fresh "afterword" in which he was asked to reflect on "the debates generated by the volume" over the twenty-five years since it was written. Among Professor Smith's reflections are some words I shall always treasure: "What I should have seen while doing the research for this book but did not," Smith wrote, was how early a "millennialist expectation took root. The logical and chronological sequence I laid out was as follows: revivalism, reinforced by a perfectionist ethic of salvation, pressed Christians toward social duty, including the emancipation of the slaves; the rhetoric of the appeals for social reform—for a nation whose 'alabaster cities' would celebrate justice and love beneath 'purple mountain majesties'—renewed the ancient biblical vision of the peaceable kingdom." But I "learned a few years ago from one of my former graduate students, Garth Rosell," Smith continued, that such millennial hopes "were more a cause than a consequence of perfectionist and socially volatile revivalism." Indeed, the "vision of a righteous republic," he concluded, "lay at the root of the movements for radical social reform in this nation, in Great Britain, and around the world." Since the basic thesis ofRevivalism and Social Reformnow is widely accepted in the academy, it is surprising that so few general readers seem to be aware of evangelicalism's long history of social reform. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, literally tens of thousands of evangelical Christians, on both sides of the Atlantic, sought to apply the teachings of the Bible to every arena of life. With a passion seldom seen in our own day, they threw themselves with energy and commitment into the task of cleaning up the hospitals, reforming the prisons, providing food and clothing for the poor, protecting the children from the brutal practices of the workplace, promoting Christian missions at home and abroad, distributing the Bible to a needy world and, most especially, bringing an end to the tragic evil of slavery. Now that his most important book is back in print, appropriately published as a companion volume toSalvation in the Slums, the important
study by Norris Magnuson, one of Smith's most gifted students, perhaps it will inspire a whole new generation—as it inspired mine many years ago—to take up the task of understanding more fully and addressing more adequately the social and intellectual challenges of our own time.
Garth M. Rosell, Ph.D. Professor of Church History Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary 130 Essex Street So. Hamilton, Massachusetts 01982 978-646-4139 <> February 1, 2005