Book Reviews -- By: Mark R. Stevenson
EMJ 15:2 (Winter 2006) p. 93
Searching for the True Church: Brethren and Evangelicals in Mid-Twentieth Century England By Roger N. Shuff, Carlisle, UK & Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005, 296 pages, paperback, $34.99.
This is a ground-breaking academic study in a number of ways and should be in the libraries of theological colleges everywhere. This is so even though it is essentially about one country and only a couple generations of the Brethren movement. It should also be of value to those who are interested in or influenced by English evangelicalism, including the many free church movements that have similarities with Brethren. The author is pastor of an evangelical congregation in England but was raised among the Exclusive Brethren before studying for pastoral ministry at Spurgeon’s College and then taking his doctorate through them. This book is based on that research and so includes the full and precise documentation that one would expect. But for those with any interest in the topic, it is not nearly so dull a read as this genre too often produces.
There are several distinctive features which make this book of interest not only for its content but also to serve as a model for dissertations on Brethren and other evangelicals in countries all around the world.
First, unlike many histories of particular groups, it regularly relates the group to its wider religious (in this case evangelical) context, as the sub-title promises. Indeed, it often even brings in the wider cultural context. Just as individuals function within groups, so groups function in a variety of ways within larger settings, and it is commendable when this is appropriately narrated. And Shuff, obviously hoping the book will be read by more than Brethren, is thoughtful enough to define and describe distinctive terms and practices (e.g. “assemblies” and “the breaking of bread”). The contribution of
EMJ 15:2 (Winter 2006) p. 94
Open Brethren to biblical study and scholarship and to the task of evangelism at home and abroad for the wider evangelical community was especially stressed.
Second, Shuff has researched and reported on all the distinct branches and sub-divisions of Brethrenism in England, and this is relatively rare for writings on the movement after its first generation or two. Since there is often a lot of moving about of people and ideas within a wider family, even when there have been bitter splits, it is a valuable service to avoid the easier path of researching just one branch.
Third, unlike most histories of the Brethren, even some scholarly ones that clearly reveal disdain for the factions other than one’s own, Shuff is to be...
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