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John Williamson Nevin: High-Church Calvinist (American Reformed Biographies) [Hardcover]

By D. G. Hart (Author)
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Item description for John Williamson Nevin: High-Church Calvinist (American Reformed Biographies) by D. G. Hart...

Nevin (18031886) taught at Mercersburg Seminary when he wrote The Anxious Bench (1843) and The Mystical Presence (1846), volumes dealing with revivalism and the Lords Supper, respectively. The last ten years have seen a revival of interest in this theologian, who was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and who substituted for Hodge during his two-year study-leave in Europe.

Publishers Description
Makes the case that Nevin's (1829-1893) assessments, ideas, and arguments were relevant to the church, not only in his age, but also in ours.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: P & R Publishing
Pages   271
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.28" Width: 6.28" Height: 1"
Weight:   1.22 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Aug 5, 2005
Publisher   P & R Publishing
Series  American Reformed Biography  
Series Number  2  
ISBN  0875526624  
ISBN13  9780875526621  

Availability  0 units.

More About D. G. Hart

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! D. G. Hart is professor of church history and academic dean at Westminster Seminary in California.

D. G. Hart currently resides in Philadelphia, in the state of Pennsylvania. D. G. Hart has an academic affiliation as follows - Westminster Theological Seminary.

D. G. Hart has published or released items in the following series...
  1. American Intellectual Culture (Hardcover)

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1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Religious
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism > Calvinist
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism > Presbyterian
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Protestant

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Reviews - What do customers think about John Williamson Nevin: High-Church Calvinist (American Reformed Biographies)?

Takes you to the edge of the cliff, but no more  Feb 12, 2007
Thesis of the book: John Williamson Nevin's high church Calvinism attempted to steer a middle path between the individualism of 19C Presbyterianism while avoiding the tyranny of Rome. His view of the sacraments necessitates a higher view of the church.

Summary and Critical Points: DG Hart's style is straightfoward and the narrative flows smoothly. Given the thesis, he accomplished his task while suggesting that Nevin's sacramentology can provide a more robust ecclesiology for the American Church. I can criticise Hart for only taking us to the edge of the cliff, but no further. I would have liked to see more detail on how Nevin's view of the Supper affects his Calvinist soteriology. Hart also had a few irrelevant and poorly argued comments at the end of the book on why the church shouldn't transform culture. Other than that, a worthy read. Now for the review.

Abstract of Hart's Bio on Nevin

Nevin's life is seen as a tension between the historical claims of the Roman Catholic Church on one hand and the energy of the Protestant Reformation on the other hand. The Incarnation was central to Nevin's Christology and Ecclesiology. His was a sacramental theology that shaped all else: his view of the church, his view of history and most importantly, his view of the Lord's Supper (207). Nevin battled for the recapturing of the Church's past. For Nevin, taking the claims of the early church seriously, and seeking the unity of the church as opposed to sectarianism, raised several problems: what does one do about the Roman Catholic Church?

Nevin on the Church
According to Hart, "The Church, in other words, was the manifestation in the natural world of the resurrected Christ, literally and supernaturally the body of Christ" (75). There was an objective character to the church. Among other things, this precluded revivalism and the use of an "anxious bench." Over against the anxious bench, which constituted Nevin's first foray into polemics (see pp. 88-103), Nevin proposed catechical instruction. Teaching the catechism, unlike the altar call, saw salvation as "new life emanating from union with Christ" (97). The channel of conversion should flow through the family, not the anxious bench.

Nevin on Salvation
Nevin anticipated the debate regarding union with Christ vs. imputation of Christ's righteousness (interestingly, Hart doesn't interact with this debate). Salvation, for Nevin, was corporate and organic and was mediated by the church. Discussion regarding Nevin's soteriology necessarily brings up his sacramentology. Standing in the Calvinian tradition, the sacrament is a sign and a seal embodying the actual presence of grace "and the very life of the Lord Jesus Christ himself" (118). When the believer partakes of the Supper, the body and blood of Christ from heaven is supernaturally communicated to him and he receives life in a new way (119). It is a "mystical union" where Christ communicates his own life and soul substantially to the believer.

Nevin on History
This constituted the crisis in Nevin's life: how to respond to Roman apologetics? To his credit he never became Roman Catholic, but he never gave a credible reason for not doing so. Nevin's argumentation regarding this point often broke down. He resorted, if Hart's representation is accurate, to simplistic generalizations and occasional special pleading in favor of Rome. He saw the Puritans [which Puritans? JBA] as simplistic "me and my bible" Christians ignoring the rich testimony of the Church while Roman Catholics had almost everything right historically, but erred on papal assertions to infallibility. No wonder he nearly went to Rome! Nevin was correct to see the church as a growing, organic body in union with Christ. This point alone, if further developed, should have persuaded him that Rome was not an option. Nevin himself was aware that Rome's position theoretically denied the possibility of improvement within the church. Since the church's teaching is by definition infallible, what's new to learn? The best Nevin did to this arena is urge apologists to incorporate more of the early and Medieval church into their apologetics.

Nevin: Apologist for the Reformed Doctrine of the Church  Feb 24, 2006
In America, the concept of the "covenant" has degenerated into what the popular mind views as a "contract", a vertical arrangement of preference and convenience.

In popular reformed theology, this devolution has reduced the church to little more than a voluntary association, presbyterian style, and worship as a devotional governed by Robert's Rules of Order.

For Nevin, covenant cannot be conceived apart from the God who speaks visibly through the sacraments. For Nevin,the Church is nothing less than the historical manifestation of the Body of Christ in direct union and communion with her Risen, Glorified Lord. Worship therefore is not governed by earthly rules of Puritan propriety and procedure but rather "God's Service" where God calls man into His presence and ministers to man through Word and Sacrament, Prayer and Praise.

"Reformed" ecclesiology without Nevin's view of the covenant is bound to degenerate into sectarianism and, ultimately, become a humanistic enterprise in search of "new methods" to ape the life only the Risen Christ can impart: the catechetical system versus the "Anxious Bench".

For his (and Schaff's) efforts, so-called "reformed theologians" have slandered him with the label "Romanist" while themselves embracing positions that would render Calvin unable to be ordained in their presbyteries due to his view of the sacraments which Nevin called the "reformed" church to return to (in his work on the "Mystical Presence").

This excellent biography should be read by all those who are aghast at the shallowness of modern "reformed" worship and church life and who seek an alternative. Nevin - through this work - shows the way to a "unified field theory" of reformed ecclesiology.

It is for his heirs to follow his lead! Start here!
Fresh Air for the Burned Out Soul  Nov 10, 2005
This is Dr. Hart at his best. In his biography on J. Gresham Machen, "Defending the Faith", Hart showed great gifts in being able to take a religious historical person and "tease out" of his writings and life the significance of the man for his time. And it is in this teasing out that Hart so effectively makes the person alive for today, showing how the subject's actions and thought are important for the modern church.

John Williamson Nevin, a much neglected (and maligned) character in the history of American Reformed thought here comes alive in this wonderful history of the man's life and defense of his thought. In IVP's "New Dictionary of Theology", Dr. Clair Davis' article on the Mercersburg Theology would lead one to believe the Nevin was "too sympathetic to Roman Catholicism" and that his theology was "the American version of English Anglo-Catholicism". This would cause any Reformed Christian to pause before adopting Nevin as his personal hero of the faith. But Hart's treatment (really, a defense) of Nevin is balanced and shows that while the Mercersburg theologian had a high view of the church and was an ecumenicist, he wasn't so High Church and wasn't such an ecumenicist that he watered down Protestant distinctives so as to compromises essential difference between the Reformation and Rome (such as justification by faith alone).

In fact, Hart is clear in pointing out that Nevin's high view of the Lord's Supper was in much closer conformity with the early Reformers (such as John Calvin) then their American counterpoints. Even Charles Hodge himself suffered from a too "Puritanic" view of the Lord's Supper which differed significantly from Calvin's.

So, far from advocating a quasi-Roman Catholic view of the Eucharist, Nevin was actually seeking to recover the old traditional Reformed view. This is, of course, a breath of fresh air for us American Protestants who have fallen under the spell of fundamentalist pietism which says that true piety in the Christian life comes not through the church and her ordinances, but apart from the church. On this pietistic view, the truly devote Christian is one who doesn't need the church to grow in grace; he can do it on his own and by himself - he and his bible.

Nevin, and Hart, recover for us a churchly piety. That is to say, a piety that is centered in Christ and the means of grace which he has given to his flock through the ordinances and officers of the church. Christ gave to us as gifts the ministry for the building up of the church.

This book comes highly recommended for both scholarship (it is one of the few recent studies on Nevin and will prove useful - especially the bibliographic essay - to anyone studying American Protestant thought in general, and Nevin in particular) and for edification (it is an encouragement for Christians to come once again to their mother, the church, for nourishment and grace for their Christian pilgrimage). In addition, historians and ministers would do well to consider seriously Hart's provocative challenge on re-periodization set forth in the last half dozen pages or so. In fact, this reviewer can not emphasize enough the importance of reading the concluding chapter all the way through, for here we receive the "pay off" of everything that preceded it.

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