Revivals, Baptists, and George Rawlyk
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Goodwin, Daniel C., ed. Revivals, Baptists, and George Rawlyk: A Memorial Volume. Baptist Heritage in Atlantic Canada v. 17. Wolfville, NS: Gaspereau Press, 2000. ISBN 0-9687292-0-7. Pp. 188. CA$15.00.

    Revivals, Baptists, and George Rawlyk is a volume of articles delivered at a conference held at Atlantic Baptist University in 1997 to honour the late Dr. George Alexander Rawlyk. It represents volume 17 in a series on the Baptist Heritage in Atlantic Canada.

    Chapter One, a personal note by Ron Noble, Rawlyk’s pastor of long-standing, provides an understandable and helpful introduction to the person of George Rawlyk. Yet the volume is not hagiographic. The contributors freely move beyond merely bestowing encomia to examine George Rawlyk’s "wrinkles." Readers discover that Rawlyk’s friendly critics think, for example, that he has not had a profound impact on American historiography, due in part to the revisionist nature of his work, a "fairly half-hearted" application of social scientific methodology, and "the Alline fixation" (Noll, pp.34-35; Moody, pp.72-73); that he essentially ignored the nineteenth century (Moody, p.70); that he misinterpreted Alline’s style as "stream of consciousness" when it had deeper, more reflective roots (Faber, p.78); and that Rawlyk was perhaps given to a shallow methodology which allowed his synthesis of others’ works to overshadow his own prodigious primary research (Bell, p.94; Moody, p.72).

    Such caveats aside, however, this volume remains an enthusiastic celebration of Rawlyk’s own life-work, much of which centred on the life of the eighteenth-century New Light preacher Henry Alline. In the second chapter, Mark Noll provides a finely crafted setting, arguing that Rawlyk’s agenda was a needed correction to an historiographical canon skewed in favour of larger organizations and more populous and politically significant jurisdictions. Rawlyk assisted the process by which the study of Canadian Evangelicalism has become academically respectable. The bibliographic information alone is worth the volume’s purchase price.

    Particularly impressive is the overall quality of the articles. Even allowing that this genre inevitably includes contributors of unequal ability, this is a remarkably consistent volume. One would not have been surprised if the "marquee" article by Noll had been followed by more pedestrian offerings, but this is not the case. The third chapter, Barry Moody’s insightful overview of Rawlyk’s career-long study of Alline, uses developments in that study to access and assess Rawlyk’s historiography. A deepening appreciation for both the social significance of personal religion, as well as the content of that faith, marked Rawlyk’s maturing scholarship, according to Moody.

    Benne Faber’s article (Chapter Four) advances a provocative thesis, but is not fully satisfying. The premise that Alline’s thought was rooted in more than a century’s worth of English mystical tradition, particularly the influence of Jacob Boehme, is restated a number of times but the article only partially answers the question of how this influence was mediated to Alline. To say that Alline was "distinctly" influenced by Boehme (p.87), or "indirectly" by way of William Law (pp.79-81), are more correct descriptions than "directly" (as Faber allows, p.88).

    The fifth offering is David Bell’s excellent chapter on the impact of Alline’s movement upon New Brunswick’s branch of the Christian Connexion, a restorationist group with ties to New England. He suggests that "belief in freedom of the will," "egalitarianism in worship," and "enthusiasm" were the on-going Allinite influences among the Free Christians (p.95). A solid and able historian, Bell qualifies his conclusions, especially in light of the sad fact that "the Free Christian Baptists...generated the most meagre denominational historiography of any major Maritime religious group" (p.94). Material not readily available in Canada, as well as a doctoral thesis completed after Bell’s presentation, would lead one to draw differing conclusions, but the article remains a helpful addition to the literature.

    Alline’s legacy among Maritime Baptist women is the theme of Lorraine Coops’ chapter. The need for more articles and monographs on the experiences of women is sufficient justification for inclusion of this piece, but Coops also engages a methodological issue. She carefully balances statements from the relatively more numerous public documents with sentiments expressed in private sources, in an attempt to overcome the handicap imposed by the relative paucity of documents which has resulted from a long-standing systematic devaluation of women’s stories.

    Robert Wilson, in the seventh chapter, outlines events leading to the 1947 genesis of the United Baptist Bible Training School, precursor to the Atlantic Baptist University. It is a useful contribution to a growing body of contextual studies of particular theological schools. Wilson traces the emergence of a conservative, but not separatist-Fundamentalist, school in a way which helps one understand better why Maritime Baptists did not follow the same painful route through division as their central and western Canadian brothers and sisters. The study avoids being merely laudatory, noting the tensions raised between Baptists in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by the school’s creation (p.136) and two crises through which the school successfully passed (pp.145f.).

    Rawlyk challenged many assumptions about the relationship of Canadian and American expressions of piety. In the eighth chapter, Samuel Reimer builds upon that tradition to raise the question of whether Canadian evangelicalism is more "irenic" than its American counterpart. After defining "irenic," Reimer uses social scientific research to assist him in drawing some fascinating conclusions. Depending on the class of issue, he argues rousingly, Canadians are sometimes more irenic than Americans, but when regional differences within the United States are taken into account, Canadians tend to be less irenic than evangelicals in the northern states of the union.

    The closing chapter, by Stephen Dempster, also has a more personal tone, having originated as a "devotional" offered during the 1997 conference. It is, however, more than a literary "bookend" to match Noble’s opening effort. Picking up threads of eschatology from a reading in Isaiah, Dempster argues that Rawlyk worked with one eye to challenging evangelicals not to acquiesce to society’s priorities. He reminds the reader that when Rawlyk preached, he often cited examples of "life-changing, life-transforming" actions by past Christians to urge current Christians to begin transforming culture around them.

    There are surprisingly few typographical errors for a volume of this size (cf. pp. 4, 11, 60), but there are a few minor quibbles to be made in passing. Was George Rawlyk born in 1934 (p.5) or 1935 (pp.4,18)? In addition, there were some technical "glitches" (e.g. the contents of Noll’s notes 15 and 16 are reversed, and "W. P. Whidden" [p.43] should read "H. P. Whidden").

    In summary, Revivals, Baptists and George Rawlyk is a remarkable volume in honour of a remarkable Canadian Christian historian, providing a valuable contribution to the study of Maritime Baptists. At a mere $15.00 per copy, there is no excuse not to have this volume on one’s bookshelf.

C. Mark Steinacher is a pastor and lecturer in church history, historiography, and ecclesiology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario.