© Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion / Corporation canadienne des Sciences Religieuses
Revivals, Baptists and George Rawlyk: A Memorial Volume
Reviewed by: Phyllis D. Airhart
This collection of essays is a fitting memorial to George Rawlyk, at the time of his death one of Canada's leading historians. His early published work focussed on the Maritimes; his prominence as a historian reached new heights as he explored the phenomenon of revivalism; and his coming to terms with his own Baptist roots was at the heart of his identity as historian. These themes crisscross in the tributes, scholarly essays and sermons which comprise the book.
One of the highlights of the book is American historian Mark Noll's fine essay framed by two questions: whether Rawlyk has influenced American historians of the colonial period, and in what way might his work be used to interpret past developments in the United States. While noting Rawlyk's influence in shaping a coterie of younger Canadian scholars whose work benefited from his encouragement and support, he finds that his work has had only minimal impact on U.S. historians (a fate, as Noll notes, he shares with other historians writing primarily on Canadian subjects). Nevertheless, he contends that Rawlyk's insights hold much promise for American scholars, and outlines a number of aspects of his work they might find stimulating.
Not surprisingly most essays recapitulate and applaud Rawlyk's insights, but some extend and even challenge his interpretations. Barry Moody explores the fascinating relationship between Rawlyk and Henry Alline, the 18th-century revivalist featured in many of Rawlyk's studies of the evangelical tradition in Canada. In tracing how Rawlyk's presentation of Alline changed as he came to terms with his own religious beliefs, Moody analyzes Rawlyk's professional development as a historian and offers a methodological critique of his use of American models. Benne Faber's examination of the connections between the mystical theology of Jacob Boehme and Alline's approach to creation, incarnation and resurrection sheds light on the issue of Alline's uniqueness. D. G. Bell's answer to the question ``where did New Brunswick's Free Christian Baptist churches come from?'' differs from Rawlyk's, though his findings support Rawlyk's provocative thesis that British American evangelicalism was initially more radical than its post-revolutionary American counterpart.
Rawlyk broke new ground with his interest in the role which women played in New Light movements. Lorraine Coops's study of 34 Maritime women who served as missionaries in India picks up this theme, presenting the intensely emotional dimension of their religious experience as reminiscent of the Allinite tradition. The emotional tone of Canadian evangelicalism is also the subject of essays by Robert Wilson and Samuel Reimer, who use different methods to explore the validity of Rawlyk's conjecture that Canadians practice a more irenic and accommodating brand of evangelicalism than do their American counterparts. Wilson finds support for the theory in investigating the founding of the United Baptist Bible Training School, later relocated and renamed Atlantic Baptist University (and the site of the conference at which these papers were first presented). A very different method, involving a fascinating analysis of polling data brings Reimer to a similar, though more nuanced, conclusion. An opening tribute by Ronald Noble, minister of the church where Rawlyk was a longtime member, and a closing devotional by Stephen Dempster nicely complement the scholarly papers.
This is a volume which provides an interesting perspective on Rawlyk's life and work. One could wish for more care in editing when coming across missing words and irregular punctuation. But taken together, the essays provide evidence that Rawlyk's work will continue to prod and provoke historians, at least in Canada, as they tease out the implications of his interpretation of religious belief and behaviour. One can picture him smiling at that thought.