I just finished reading Methodism and the Shaping of American Culture (edited by Nathan Hatch and John Wigger). This book is a compilation of ten essays written by various Methodist historians. Several of the essays were exceptional. Nathan Hatch writes an essay, “The Puzzle of American Methodism,” which points to the astonishing neglect of Methodism in American religious history. Hatch considers the reasons for this neglect and points to the important contribution that Methodism has to make to the understanding of religion in America.
David Hempton’s essay, “Methodist Growth in Transatlantic Perspective, ca.1770-1850,” provides a very helpful summary of much of the previous historiography of American Methodism. Hempton particularly interacts with E. P. Thompson’s work, offering an insightful critique. Hempton also looks at the European roots of American Methodism.
John H. Wigger’s essay , “Fighting Bees: Methodist Itinerants and the Dynamics of Methodist Growth, 1770-1820,” is an in-depth look at itinerancy in early American Methodism. If nothing else, one cannot help but notice the vast difference between the way itinerancy is understood today and the way it was understood then.
In “Consecrated Respectability: Phoebe Palmer and the Refinement of American Methodism,” Kathryn T. Long looks at the way in which Phoebe Palmer’s emphasis on holiness and entire sanctification sought to hold gentility and holiness in tension. Long compares Palmer’s understanding of sanctification to that of B. T. Roberts, for whom entire sanctification and wealth are clearly incompatible.
There are several other essay worth reading in this volume. Richard Carwardine’s essay “Methodists, Politics, and the Coming of the American Civil War,” helps one to better understand how Methodists engaged in politics in the period leading up to the Civil War. (I was particularly interested in his argument that the Methodist understanding of political engagement radically changed from Asbury’s lifetime to the mid-nineteenth century, to what he dubs a “Reformed public theology.”)
This collection of essays (as the title of the book suggests) helps the reader gain a better understanding of the way in which Methodism shaped American culture in its first one hundred years on American soil. For those who are interested in such an understanding, this is a worthwhile read.