Samples Religion Book Review – “Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America” by John H. Wigger (1998)

Book Review – “Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America” by John H. Wigger (1998)

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By 1830, the Methodist religion according to Wigger (1998) had become the largest religious denomination in the post-Revolution years of the Early American Republic. Review of this book shows a wide-range of the early Methodist expansion in the nation. Wigger (1998) makes it clear his intention in writing this book is not only to recover the records America’s early Methodists but also to interpret their lives through the explore their impact on the wider national culture. Doing so shows his focus draws on the abundant information from records and particularly journals left by the Methodist preachers. “Methodism was the most significant large-scale popular religious movement of the of the antebellum period” (Wiggins 190). The following explores what Wigger offers in (1998) “Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America” providing how the development of Methodism into an American mainstream force as well as a national wonder.

The author explains how the management of “a fundamental reformulation of Christianity in America: namely, making evangelical religion ‘more enthusiastic, individualistic, egalitarian, entrepreneurial, and lay oriented’ in a milieu, itself more democratic, less deferential and less hierarchical than that stranded on the far side of the Revolution” (Wiggins 7) and prodded their movement. The author discusses the Methodist discipline and where the movement formed its name as process for creating both personal order and its upward mobile appeal to the common people in the class meetings. The author examines the American rise of the Methodists and its remarkable growth during those years between the Revolution and the Civil War. The foundation of the success of the phenomenal hold the Methodists experienced lay in both its determination and how it appealed to the religious needs of the common citizen drawing members who “had a realistic expectation of improvement” (Wigger 11) coming to their lives. The Methodists took on the orthodox framework of the Calvinists that and according to Wiggins (1998) criticized the limitations on atonement and election by proving representative of an egalitarian and democratic attack on the clerical social and elite sustaining those characteristics. Four chapters provide the core of this intelligent analysis provided by Wigger (1998).

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Chapter Three address the organizational, forms of worship, and the type of preaching the Methodist movement practiced. Itinerate preachers was a characteristic of the connection that framed the evangelical methods of their ministry. Chapter Three shows the author focusing on how the constant crisscrossing and circulation of the itinerants throughout the country in from 1820 through to the beginning of the Civil War this networking method together. Reading this shows how the system was not that of a far-away priesthood. Instead these itinerant circuit riding preachers formed a tight-knit but informal kind of fellowship were of the same background and culture as those they served both socially and educationally allowing them using the vernacular when preaching. They expanded their territory as the population of America’s early republic as it fanned out (Wigger 1998).

The author provides evidence refuting any idea a hierarchy ruled from the top type of system with Asbury in control. Instead, Wigger (1998) prominently exposes his research findings as how the Methodists’ were a lay involved, grass-roots, yet a centralized national organization directing its human resources. This gave the movement a far reaching influence while maintaining a strong centralized foundation with a remarkable local flexibility. As preachers, the gifted yet inadequately educated young men of America’s early society were given a rare opportunity for achieving public acclaim not to mention an apprenticed form of education.

This itinerant system was not a success merely due to preachers’ ability for both easy and quick deployment but because these preachers were of the common stock of early America like the congregations they served. They spoke their language and personally understood the hopes and fears of their audiences thus shaping their spiritual message that met these needs. Typically, the only distinction between the Methodist preacher and his congregation was the space between speaker and listener. In other chapters the author describes the role of women as providing Methodism with its backbone because the majority of the membership was female but as importantly they had a pivotal role as “the movement’s primary community builders” (Wigger 159). Further Wigger concludes, “the disciplinary cases decided before quarterly meeting conferences of this period indicate that Methodists saw men as the more disorderly element in their midst” (169).

The above has successfully described the Methodism development into an American mainstream force as well as a national phenomenon during those post Revolution years through to the beginning of the Civil War. Review of the above discussion shows that pulling specific ideas from the five chapters got to center of the success of this religion due to its itinerary circuit preacher system, its treatment in acknowledging women as the backbone of its numbers, and the grass roots philosophy it exhibited in its use of the average American as the mainstay of its vernacular sermons to the common American. As a history book about a driving force in forming the American culture this is a book worth reading. As a novice in this scholastic endeavor it is obvious there is within these pages some more pressing and pragmatic offerings that may have more substance than what this review has prepared but at the same time this is an excellent opportunity for analysis through critical thinking this review has offered.

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