Thursday, March 1, 2012

Happy Birthday, J. W.

On this day, 183 years ago, John William McGarvey was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The son of an Irish immigrant, McGarvey would find himself at Bethany College studying at the feet of Alexander Campbell and baptized by W. K. Pendelton. This impressive pedigree would be the beginnings of an auspicious career as a preacher, author, educator, and controversialist. In addition to a tremendous body of extant literature, McGarvey would make his greatest impact on the movement through his long, at times tumultuous, relationship with the school that would eventually become Lexington Theological Seminary. Thus, while he spent much of his life outside his home state, it was in Kentucky where his influence was most keenly felt.

In honor of his birthday this month, and the incalculable impact he had on religion in his home state and on the Stone-Campbell Movement at large, I will be examining his Sermons Delivered in Louisville, Kentucky, preached in the summer of 1893 before the Broadway Church where McGarvey was temporarily employed. McGarvey compiled and published his collection of sermons only with great reluctance, and in part because he recognized "that some preachers whom we have known, and on whose lips we have hung almost entranced, have left behind them, when they departed this life, nothing but the faint remembrance of sermons which we should have been glad to read again and again, and which were worthy of being transmitted to many generations." He was humbly skeptical of any suggestion that he might be such a preacher, but history has proved that he is and has benefited greatly from his decision to add a compilation of his sermons to his impressive list of publications.

I will attempt to look at these sermons with a critical eye to their late nineteenth century setting, to uncover what McGarvey intends to be his themes and focus and how they arose in their historical milieu. In truth, however, the focus will be on drawing out these themes in order to understand and adapt them to the ongoing needs of contemporary Christian thought and practice. In this I seem to have McGarvey's approbation: "[My sermons] should...serve as a homiletical aid to such young preachers as can study them without imitating them." Whatever the rhetoric--then or now--it is critical to remember that the preaching of early Disciples was not about cold, scientific repetition. Their works were and continue to be living testaments to a vital faith which always merits study and often emulation.


The following is a list of entries for this series to be updated as they are posted:

On Scripture
On the Enormity of Sin
On Trust in God
On Repentance
On Baptism
On Providence

Addendum on Sin
Addendum on Providence

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