by Dana L. Roberts
This fascinating biography of A. T. Pierson reveals a man who melded action and reflection in ministry long before it had become a watchword for evangelical social action.
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 255 Jefferson Ave. S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49503, 2003, 322 pages, $32.00.
—Reviewed by Alice Mathews, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Historical memory sometimes plays tricks on later generations. Many Christians today, hearing the name A. T. Pierson, might respond, “WHO?” Some might recall him as a friend of D. L. Moody and A. J. Gordon. Few would be able to name his prodigious accomplishments or detail his profound influence on world missions, evangelical social concern and developing fundamentalism at the close of the nineteenth century. We thank missiologist Dana Robert for rescuing this remarkable Christian statesman from undeserved obscurity.
Pierson (1837-1911) was first a pastor whose parishes grew phenomenally under his powerful preaching and pastoral care. But his church work informed his developing social concern. Pierson was committed to effective ministries to the poor and marginalized as he attacked racism, classism and sexism. His determination to preach the word of God effectively led to study and later to writing and teaching in homiletics. His personal struggle with authentic spirituality led to his voice in the emerging Keswick movement. Beyond these involvements, in 1888 he was a key influence on the newly founded Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, which adopted his watchword, “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” He edited the leading missions journal, The Missionary Review of the World, from 1888 to 1911, in addition to authoring fifty books and hundreds of articles.
This fascinating biography of A. T. Pierson reveals a man who melded action and reflection in ministry long before it had become a watchword for evangelical social action. He believed that ministry informs study, and study informs ministry. With a core commitment to Scripture as God’s inerrant word, he moved wherever his intense study of the Bible led him. Robert skillfully portrays a fundamentalist who overturned stereotypes of fundamentalism in his own day and in ours.
This book is a compelling read for missiologists, for all historians of modern American church history, for pastors who care about growing their churches, and for those who care about preaching or outreach to marginalized communities. In this book we watch the maturing of a mind, a soul and a ministry. Readers can identify with Pierson’s weaknesses and learn from his struggles.
Those who would like to broaden their understanding of A. T. Pierson’s period may wish to read George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
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