Tuesday, 21 January 2014

William Gadsby - Bitesize Biography

William Gadsby represents all that is best in the 'Gospel Standard' wing of High Calvinist Baptists.
In this book historian Dr Ian Shaw outlines the basics of Gadsby's life, but clearly draws upon his fuller study of Gadsby and Manchester to concentrate more on the character of the man and his pastorate in the context of the period of the industrial revolution.  It is a great pity that that previous study of his contained in 'High Calvinists in Action: Calvinism and the City, Manchester and London 1810-1860,' first published by OUP in 2002, now costs a scandalous price new or secondhand.  But at least some of the material is reworked in this bitesize offering. It is recommended reading. As fair an assessment is given of Gadsby as can be expected from an author not of the same theological persuasion.  Many anecdotes are borrowed from B. A. Ramsbottom's major biography, and so we meet and cannot but like Gadsby for his generosity and respect him as a pastor fighting for his people.  He did not set out to be an activist, but when the welfare of his church was at stake he was willing to speak out and engage with the issues of the day.
Notably little is mentioned of Gadsby's writings, which filled two volumes - not bad for a man who could scarcely read his Bible when converted as a young man!  These writings reflect how fiercely he was assaulted by the adopters of Andrew Fuller's duty faith doctrine, and by 'antinomian-sniffers'.  Hopefully his Works will be reprinted in full in due course, but in the meantime CBO Publications have made some important portions available via our bookshop, and Gospel Standard Publications have produced a book of his sermons plus his very useful catechism.  I have blogged on this before.
At the very least this book gives a balance to much of the anti-Gadsby propaganda that has been put out over the years, and a new generation can benefit from an account of this godly man and perhaps come to appreciate his sovereign grace message - still preached today.

William Gadsby by Ian J Shaw is published by EP Books in their 'Bitesize Biography' series.  Cost £6.99. From us £6.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The New Calvinism Considered

To my knowledge this is the first 'critical but friendly' assessment of New Calvinism to appear in book form, and EP Books are once again to be commended for publishing it.  Jeremy Walker is an English Reformed Baptist pastor who has evidently engaged with this movement for some years and is able to provide a mature guide to it.  He recognises that he is dealing with a spectrum (his favourite word!) of views, originating in the USA in the mid-1980's.  These views centre around a fresh emphasis on Jonathan Edwards and Calvinistic theology.  This enthusiastic movement has experienced remarkable growth especially among younger evangelicals, yet has stood up against the 'seeker sensitive' megachurch phenomenon.  So far so good.
However, Walker has concerns over the direction of the movement at this point in time, as the founding Fathers begin to retire from the scene.  He is very respectful of things like evangelical zeal, and the joy of rediscovery of the puritans, for example, but rightly cautious of charismatic influences, modern worship styles, and the idea of the redemption of culture for Christ.  He notes that New Calvinism has no clearly confessional Reformed theology to underpin it and therefore it is amorphous and unpredictable.  I found it very interesting to learn of New Calvinistic influences on British evangelicalism - the FIEC, Affinity and WEST in particular.  It appears to have affected (infected?) a generation within the churches over here also via the effectiveness of modern media.
There is one evaluation which I would differ from on pp 74-83 - the section on holiness.  Walker is (rightly) concerned about the influence of New Covenant Theology, and the (negative) attitude towards the Moral Law.  He carefully argues that the seed of antinomianism is being sown under the guise of grace, and defends himself against the charge of legalism.  But in this latter he is not successful I think.  Being 'Dead to the law that we might be married to another' does not lead to worldliness.  It distinguishes the sheep from the goats: many may shelter under this doctrine in order to live as they like, but those who have truly received the Spirit 'by the hearing of faith' have, and cannot but have, the bent of their life after gospel precepts.
Overall this is a valuable book.  The list of 'Individuals of Note' is very helpful.  It is not exhaustive, but not exhausting either!
The New Calvinism Considered - A Personal and Pastoral Assessment by Jeremy Walker, published by EP Books, p/b, £6.99