John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion by Frank M. Turner, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion

John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion

by Frank M. Turner

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One of the most controversial religious figures of the nineteenth century, John Henry Newman (1801–1890) began his career as a priest in the Church of England but converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. He became a cardinal in 1879.

Between 1833 and 1845 Newman, now best known for his autobiographical Apologia Pro Vita Sua and The Idea of


One of the most controversial religious figures of the nineteenth century, John Henry Newman (1801–1890) began his career as a priest in the Church of England but converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. He became a cardinal in 1879.

Between 1833 and 1845 Newman, now best known for his autobiographical Apologia Pro Vita Sua and The Idea of a University, was the aggressive leader of the Tractarian Movement within Oxford University. Newman, along with John Keble, Richard Hurrell Froude, and E. B. Pusey, launched an uncompromising battle against the dominance of evangelicalism in early Victorian religious life. By 1845 Newman’s radically outspoken views had earned him censure from Oxford authorities and sharp criticism from the English bishops.

Departing from previous interpretations, Turner portrays Newman as a disruptive and confused schismatic conducting a radical religious experiment. Turner demonstrates that Newman’s passage to Rome largely resulted from family quarrels, thwarted university ambitions, the inability to control his followers, and his desire to live in a community of celibate males.

Editorial Reviews

National Review
Turner's beautiful writing bears the brush of one who...spent a long time with writers of a neo-Ciceronian age...
Publishers Weekly
Cardinal John Henry Newman is an intellectual icon to many Catholics, particularly those who gather on college campuses in the "Newman Centers" that bear the famous convert's name. Turner, a Yale University history professor, dispels some of the aura that has collected around Newman over the years by examining his earlier life and writings, which reveal an intense antipathy toward the evangelical Protestantism of the day and its influence on the Church of England. In this weighty work, Turner focuses largely on "Tracts for the Times," which Newman and his circle of colleagues began publishing in 1833 in an effort to challenge Anglicanism by seeking to recover parts of the ancient Catholic faith that had been lost. Later, however, their writings had the unintended effect of drawing many of the so-called "Tractarians" into the Roman Catholic Church. Turner suggests strongly that Newman's religious character and his own eventual conversion to Catholicism in 1845 were less the result of a natural progression toward Rome and more due to "contingency after contingency," including the departure of his own followers and his rejection by the Church of England. Indeed, he writes, the Newman found in his later spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua, is hardly the same Newman of the Tractarian period. Turner's work is unlikely to sway Newman devotees and those promoting his cause for sainthood, but it is absorbing nonetheless and certainly will attract readers with a bent for revisionism. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A complex leader in the early 19th-century Church of England and at Oxford, John Henry Newman (1801-90) converted to Catholicism in 1845, became a cardinal in 1879, and is currently being considered for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Turner (history, Yale; editor, Newman's The Idea of a University) describes Newman's years with the Church of England and Oxford with persuasive, documented research. Departing from previous interpretations, he shows Newman to be a controversial leader of followers at odds with what he saw as strong evangelicalism in the Church of England. His extreme rhetoric left him rejected both at Oxford and by high churchmen. Lectures, sermons, and correspondence give insight into his private judgments, whereby he recognized the collapse of his cause, which led to his conversion to Roman Catholicism. Turner shows Newman to be a champion of the authority of religious tradition and points to Newman's own writing to illustrate the idea of a dynamic Christian truth. Newman's concept of "development"-that the Christian truth was incomplete and constantly changing-provides for a truth that substantially transforms itself over the ages. This provocative text is recommended for academic and large libraries.-George Westerlund, formerly with Providence P.L.

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The Challenge to Evangelical Religion

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2002 Frank M. Turner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-09251-6

Chapter One

The Evangelical Impulse

EVANGELICAL PROTESTANT religion was the most dynamic force within North Atlantic Christianity from the middle of the eighteenth century through at least the middle of the nineteenth. In many of the cultures originally touched by that evangelical faith its influence lingered, often reasserting itself well into the twentieth century and beyond. David Hempton has perceptively commented, "Religious cultures are not static, nor are they isolated from their social setting, rather they are made and remade by the people who live them, and therefore hardly ever conform to the fixed boundaries commentators have designed for them." Such was certainly true of the evangelical impulse which was simultaneously always in a state of being and in a state of becoming. Evangelicalism in its various transmutations in different locations over the decades manifested a considerable degree of continuity and consistency. Yet like the broader contemporary Christianity of which it was a part, evangelicalism also proved to be an evolving entity, with its adherents choosing different theological, social, and political emphases at particular moments andpursuing different tactics in different locales. Recognizing both the consistent and the dynamic elements of evangelical religion is thus essential for its historical analysis and for that of the Tractarians who challenged it.

The Tractarians initially encountered a broad heritage of mainstream evangelical faith and practice dating from the middle of the previous century and institutionalized among the several Methodist connections, the Dissenting denominations, most of which were then expanding, and evangelically minded clergy and laymen active and influential within the Church of England, as well as within a wide variety of religious, missionary, and reform societies and a vast literature of sermons, tracts, journals, devotional manuals, and biblical commentaries. By the late 1820s, however, the Tractarians confronted more recently emerged evangelical groups, often with roots in Scotland, who embraced a more literalist approach to the Bible, novel modes of interpreting prophecy, virulent anti-Catholicism, and charismatic ministries. These new evangelicals had been quick to distinguish themselves from such older evangelicals as Charles Simeon of Cambridge, who saw the novel tendencies as displaying "an ultra-Evangelical taste." Tractarian writers often collapsed these new strains of evangelicalism-which were influencing politically active Dissenters as they achieved unprecedented political influence-and the more moderate establishment evangelicals into a single entity that they denounced as "ultra-Protestantism."


The point of origin of the evangelical impulse appears to lie among early-eighteenth-century continental pietists who saw Protestantism under siege as Roman Catholicism began to exert a new sway in their midst. About the same time revivals occurred in the Connecticut River valley of New England, and the news of those occurrences, spreading among a network of other American congregations and as later recalled and recounted by local pastors and historians, fostered the belief that a general awakening had taken place. English Protestants, especially among the Dissenters, had connections with both the Moravians and the Americans, as did, somewhat later, Wesley and Whitfield. Thereafter, evangelical religion established a presence in Britain, commencing in 1739 with the rise of Methodism, then extending itself further into the world of the Dissenting denominations and the Scottish Church, as well as into important pockets of influence in the Church of England. British evangelical religion, which burst upon the public scene in the heat of field revivals, had by the close of the eighteenth century achieved relatively stable theological and organizational contours as well as social respectability, notably in the Clapham Sect, whose number included William Wilberforce, Henry Venn, Hannah More, James Fitzjames Stephen, and Henry Thornton. Furthermore, between Wesley's death in 1791 and the passage of the Reform Bill in 1832 evangelical religion enjoyed a period of steady, if frequently fractious, expansion and consolidation, especially outside the established church.

Evangelicals sought to realize what they termed vital or serious or true Christianity over "nominal Christianity." The former presupposed a strong personal religious experience of faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and the determination to conduct one's life in the light of that experience and the reading of Scripture. Although some early Methodist leaders, most particularly the Wesleys, came from high-church backgrounds with an emphasis on personal holiness, proponents of evangelical religion among both clergy and laity generally stressed the preaching of the Gospel in its fullness, meaning primarily the message of repentance and justification by faith in Christ's atonement, only after which followed good works. Theirs was also a faith grounded in Scripture and in a conviction of the capacity of all Christians to read and study Scripture. In all these respects the evangelical faith was a religion of the heart. One of its most famous and influential devotional manuals, written by Hannah More, was entitled Practical Piety; or, The Influence of the Religion of the Heart on the Conduct of Life (1811).

Evangelical Christianity, however, extended itself well beyond the confines of believers' personal piety or their personal church or chapel. Evangelicals often sought Christian fellowship and possible religious cooperation across denominational lines with believers of similar outlooks and values. In addition to the institutional churches, evangelicals looked to the family, Sunday schools, private prayer meetings, and a host of voluntary societies characterized by pan-Protestant memberships to further the work of vital Christianity in the world. Life among evangelical Christians was rarely simple, and division and conflict could arise at almost any moment. For much of the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth, evangelical Christians usually agreed to disagree or to carry out their disputes with civility, but the possibility of incivility, harsh theological polemics, organizational strife, and schism always lurked within the evangelical fold. In particular, evangelicals in the Church of England disapproved of the harsh political attacks on that institution and the vigorous demands for its disestablishment originating from evangelical Dissenters.

These diverse but more or less well defined elements of religious doctrine, piety, and organization, which resided within but extended beyond the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and the various Dissenting and Methodist chapels, embodied what both Alan Gilbert and Mark Smith have termed an "evangelical consensus" in early Victorian Britain. Scholars attempting to outline that broad evangelical consensus, however, have often unwittingly tended to conceal the protean character of evangelical faith, the potential for which perhaps lay inherent in its revivalist origins but was no less grounded in its open-ended approach to Scripture and ecclesiology. For example, the four characteristics that D. W. Bebbington has associated with evangelical religion-conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism-received different emphasis at different times, and, as he himself points out, received quite different interpretations over the years. Consequently, evangelical religion could display shifting faces depending on which element or elements prevailed at a given moment. Elizabeth Jay has distinguished between "the essential" and "the non-essential" evangelical doctrines. The essential included original sin, conversion, justification by faith, and the authority of the Bible, while the nonessential embraced eternal punishment, millenarianism, special providence, and assurance. In fact, however, during certain decades the doctrines that Jay considered nonessential proved absolutely essential to various evangelically minded Christians whose commitment to those doctrines led them into conflict with other evangelicals.

Both David Newsome and Sheridan Gilley have described the evangelical departures of the 1820s and 1830s-into stricter biblical literalism, pre-millenialism, charismatic ministries, prophesyings, and denominational secessions-which so stirred the Tractarians, as a "crisis" in the evangelical movement. This presumed crisis, which coincided with the deaths of the Clapham leaders and the vast changes in English political-religious structures, actually more nearly represented still one more stage in an ongoing, self-generated transformation of evangelical beliefs and institutions that dated from the origins of the movement. From the 1730s onward evangelical religion had repeatedly reshaped itself; the emergence of the politically well-connected, self-publicizing Clapham Sect was only one of the most influential of those transformations. What has appeared as the "crisis" of the late 1820s actually represents the intrusion upon the more respectable upper-class London, Oxford, and Cambridge religious circles of radical religious ideas and practices that had previously manifested themselves with much complexity among evangelical religionists in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, as well as among English Methodists and Dissenters. Rather than being seen as new, eccentric, or extreme, these non-Clapham forces need to be understood as representing elements of evangelical religious life already present by the late eighteenth century in various provincial locales and among metropolitan working-class congregations but now beginning to appear among respectable London religious groups.


Commencing in the 1720s, English Dissenting ministers, as well as Jonathan Edwards in New England, had begun to write about the necessity of preaching a direct, simple message of faith in Christ for salvation while simultaneously exploring new methods of preaching that would touch the heart or the affections, producing a new heart and a sense of being washed over by the love of God and being inculcated with the love of the Holy Spirit. These spokesmen for an affectionate religion had defined the chief function of the minister as that of preaching particular doctrines in a fashion designed to lead the congregation to achieve particular subjective religious experiences. As Isaac Watts once urged his fellow Dissenting ministers, "Contrive all lively, forcible, and penetrating forms of speech, to make your words powerful and impressive on the hearts of your hearers, when light is first let into the mind. Practice all the awful and solemn ways of address to the conscience, all the soft and tender influences on the heart. Try all methods to rouse and awaken the cold, the stupid, the sleepy race of sinners; learn all the language of holy jealousy and terror, to aright the presumptuous; all the compassionate and encouraging manners of speaking, to comfort, encourage, and direct the awakened, the penitent, the willing, and the humble; all the winning and engaging modes of discourse and expostulation, to constrain the hearts of every character to attend." Thus from its earliest days evangelicalism, though a profoundly laicized religion, validated the status of those ministers who preached a religion of the heart by transforming them into the vessel whereby God spoke to convict the sinner of sin and to bring the sinner to repentance. Such preaching of salvation through faith in Christ became the chief vehicle for evangelical revival from that time onward in Dissenting, Methodist, Church of England, and Church of Scotland settings.

This message began to assume a somewhat different emphasis in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with stricter meditation directed toward the actual blood sacrifice of Christ on Calvary and the atonement achieved thereby. By that time concepts of the atonement actually covered a reasonably wide spectrum. Some evangelicals pointed to Christ's having restored divine law to a proper balance, others stressed Christ's example of self-sacrificing love, but most emphasized Christ's loving substitution of himself for sinners. That is to say, evangelicals taught that God was reconciled to sinners (made "at one" with them) when the guilt and penalty that sinners had brought upon themselves for their violation of divine law was placed on Christ at the cross. The atonement, according to this view, was thus penal and substitutionary: Christ took the penalty that should have come to sinners, and he suffered and died in their place. Across the spectrum of evangelical opinion there was an emphasis on the perfection of Christ, as living a sinless life that did not deserve punishment and as dying a sinless death so that others might live. The resurrection of Christ provided the divine seal on the transaction, showing that the same Christ who had suffered for sinners had also triumphed over sin, death, and the devil. J. C. Philpot, an Oxford evangelical who eventually left the Church of England, captured this teaching in a single sentence when he asked, regarding non-evangelical clergy, "What description can they give of the entrance of the law into their conscience, bringing with it guilt, condemnation, and death, and of a deliverance by the inward revelation of Christ and the application of the 'blood of sprinkling'?"

In the context of preaching the Word, the doctrine of the atonement functioned as both truth and instrument because evangelicals believed that the preaching of the atonement in and of itself constituted the chief vehicle for achieving conversions. Thus the substitutionist atonement became the centerpiece of doctrine, devotion, and persuasion. According to evangelical preaching, faith in Christ's atonement for one's sin preceded good works-that is to say, sanctification followed upon justification by faith. Whether preached in fields, churches, chapels, barns, or cottages, the atonement for personal sins by Christ's sacrificial death constituted the vital center of the vital faith of evangelical Christianity from the late eighteenth century onward. Although in preaching the atonement it was possible to emphasize the depravity of humankind, its sinfulness, and utter unworthiness, most moderate evangelicals, while not rejecting such a view, tended to emphasize the love of God in Christ and the power of Christ's sacrifice. As Boyd Hilton has commented, "Enthusiasm for the Cross, rather than mere repression of one's own depravity, was the secret of moderate evangelical religion." The evangelical faith promised assurance of salvation to believers, and as time passed and allegiance to Calvinism waned, evangelicals became increasingly expansive in their understanding of the circle of those embraced by the power of the atonement. The Tractarians repeatedly identified both the evangelical doctrine of the atonement and the manner in which it figured so predominantly in contemporary evangelical preaching as the chief fault of what they often called "the modern system" of religion which they so decried. They were especially troubled by the evangelical belief that good works followed and need not precede justification by faith in Christ's atoning work.

For evangelicals, subjective, personal religious experience confirmed one's assurance or provided the grounds for inferring that one had actually placed faith in the atonement of Jesus and had received deliverance. Although many evangelical writers indicated from their own spiritual histories that the reading of Scripture and prayer could foster such experience, the more general tendency among evangelical Christians was to emphasize preaching, and most particularly the preaching of the atonement itself, as the vehicle for persuasion and conversion. Yet such preaching, and the resulting conversions, posed certain difficulties for thoughtful evangelical Christians. All of them agreed that at some point in one's life it was necessary for a person to place faith in Jesus Christ as atoning savior and that from that moment forward a life of practical piety must follow. They firmly rejected high-church theories of baptismal regeneration largely because they could see that numerous baptized people often led flagrantly sinful, irreligious lives.


Excerpted from JOHN HENRY NEWMAN by FRANK M. TURNER Copyright © 2002 by Frank M. Turner. Excerpted by permission.
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