John Williamson Nevin: The Christian ministry

Sam Hamstra, Marquette University


The Protestant doctrine of the pastoral ministry experienced a dramatic and multi-faceted transformation in antebellum American due to the powerful influence of American republicanism. One aspect of this process was the popular understanding of the necessity of the pastoral ministry. By the middle of the nineteenth century, most American Protestants no longer regarded the pastoral ministry as an essential and necessary part of the order of salvation. John Williamson Nevin (1803-1886) challenged this view, claiming that Protestantism had departed from its Reformed roots as a result of the influence of republicanism. He retrieved an alternative view that he believed was consistent with Protestantism's Reformation heritage. He taught that the pastoral ministry is a necessary medium in the order of salvation and that the properly installed pastor has a unique authority to study, interpret, and proclaim the truths of the Bible. The dissertation is broken into three major sections. The first chapter examines the influence of American republicanism on the Protestant doctrine of the pastoral ministry. It illustrates the traumatic impact of each tenet of republicanism on local congregations and their pastors. The second chapter examines the ecclesiology of Nevin. Its purpose is to establish the foundation from which Nevin builds his doctrine of the ministry. The third chapter examines Nevin's doctrine of the office of the ministry. It delineates Nevin's theological alternative to ecclesiastical republicanism. The debate between Nevin and the mainstream of nineteenth-century American Protestantism is a literary one. It is documented in the periodicals, tracts, and books of the time, in particular, the journal and magazine of the German Reformed Church, the Mercersburg Review and The Weekly Messenger. It also transcended these boundaries and is found in the pages of journals and magazines of Protestant denominations of the period. Nevin's thought is gleaned from the denominational magazines and theological journals of the period, as well as from published works on the theme.

Recommended Citation

Hamstra, Sam, "John Williamson Nevin: The Christian ministry" (1990). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9117347.