This book addresses several dimensions of the transformation of English Nonconformity over the course of an important century in its history. It begins with the question of education for ministry, considering the activities undertaken by four major evangelical traditions (Congregationalist, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian) to establish theological colleges for this purpose, and then takes up the complex three-way relationship of ministry/churches/colleges that evolved from these activities. As author Dale Johnson illustrates, this evolution came to have significant implications for the Nonconformist engagement with its message and with the culture at large. These implications are investigated in chapters on the changing perception or understanding of ministry itself, religious authority, theological questions (such as the doctrines of God and the atonement), and religious identity. In Johnson's exploration of these issues, conversations about these topics are located primarily in addresses at denominational meetings, conferences that took up specific questions, and representative religious and theological publications of the day that participated in key debates or advocated contentious positions. While attending to some important denominational differences, The Changing Shape of English Nonconformity, 1825-1925 focuses on the representative discussion of these topics across the whole spectrum of evangelical Nonconformity rather than on specific denominational traditions. Johnson maintains that too many interpretations of nineteenth-century Nonconformity, especially those that deal with aspects of the theological discussion within these traditions, have tended to depict such developments as occasions of decline from earlier phases of evangelical vitality and appeal. This book instead argues that it is more appropriate to assess these Nonconformist developments as a collective, necessary, and deeply serious effort to come to terms with modernity and, further, to retain a responsible understanding of what it meant to be evangelical. It also shows these developments to be part of a larger schema through which Nonconformity assumed a more prominent place in the English culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
What is the purpose of theology for the church? Systematic theology provides an inroad into this question by offering both a method for doing theology and an explanation for the purpose of that method. However, system is itself the product of a specific understanding of knowledge grounded in rational demonstration of facts. This study attempts to address the historical debate over when systematic theology began. Much of the debate is centered on the definition of system and revolves around the use, or lack thereof, of external philosophical categories or language. Specific historical figures have been selected to serve as illustrations of how theological prolegomena functioned in works prior to and following the influence of Enlightenment thought. In the early chapters it will be seen that theology was neither totally saturated with, nor totally devoid of, external philosophical reference points or programmatic intentions. On the contrary, both external points of reference and programmatic intentions have played a role in theology since the church's inception. In other words, certain elements of system (e.g., logic, non-contradiction, organization) have played a role in theological investigation and construction since, at least, the second century. The last two chapters of this study demonstrate that these may not be the same influences that have marked post-Enlightenment systematics. One of the primary characteristics of pre-Enlightenment theology is its intentional focus on the life of the church. Theology, like the Scriptures, was often written for specific circumstances. Enlightenment influences significantly changed the intentions of much of theology in that theological knowledge was studied and displayed for the sake of knowledge itself. The church no longer mattered, or was at best an afterthought, in the realm of what is now seen as the domain of academic theology.
This is a series of four substantial volumes designed to demonstrate the range of interests of the several Protestant Nonconformist traditions from the time of their Separatist harbingers in the 16th century to the end of the 20th century. It represents a major project of the Association of Denominational Historical Societies and Cognate Libraries. of such topics as theology, philosophy, worship, socio-political concerns, and so on. Prepared by a team of 12 editors, all of whom are expert in their areas, and drawn from a number of the relevant traditions, it should provide a much needed comprehensive view of Nonconformity, told largely in the words of those whose story it is. Nonconformity. Through contemporary writings it provides a lively insight into the life and thought of the Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, Unitarians and other groups that formed pieces in the diverse mosaic of the 19th-century chapels. Each aspect of Nonconformity has an introductory discussion, which includes a guide to the secondary literature on the subject, and each passage from a primary source is put in context.