Friday, 26 December 2008

D. Densil Morgan - Wales and the Word

Review for the Baptist Quarterly forthcoming 2009.

D. Densil Morgan. 2008. Wales and the Word: Historical perspectives on religion and Welsh identity. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 978-0-7083-2121-8, x + 262 hb.

As an Englishman called to minister in Wales, I came to this masterful ‘insider’ study as an ‘friendly outsider’ seeking points of entry to the culture of my calling. In a collection of essays, some here in print for the first time, D. Densil Morgan traces the story of Welsh Dissent from the establishment of the first Baptist church in Ilston on the Gower peninsula in 1649, to the twenty-first century context of contemporary Welsh Baptist witness. On this journey of three-and-a-half centuries, Wales has seen change on the grand scale: from a predominantly rural and pastoral setting to growth, prosperity and industrialisation; from decline and social hardship to political independence and economic resurgence. These social changes have had their effects on the life of the church, and Morgan introduces his readers to some fascinating characters who have played their part in the ongoing story of change and adaptation within the Baptist churches of Wales.

Morgan shows how both the seventeenth century evangelist John Myles and the dramatic revivalist preacher Christmas Evans (1766-1838) left their enduring legacies in terms of both church growth and spiritual vitality, while Owen Thomas and Llewelyn Ioan Evans provided a depth of engagement with theological developments beyond Wales. Further essays chart the development of evangelicalism, the relationship between Baptist identity and Welsh national consciousness, the influence of Karl Barth, the spirituality of D. Gwenallt Jones, the legacy of Celtic Christianity, and an overview of recent historians of Welsh Protestant Nonconformity. The collection concludes with a reflection on ‘The essence of Welshness’ which brings the story up-to-date. Morgan remains realistic about the challenges facing contemporary Welsh Baptists, noting recent numerical decline and lamenting a ‘dearth of theological creativity in the churches’. However, through his account of those who have sought to equip and envision Welsh Baptists of previous generations, Morgan points to the everlasting gospel as a source of hope for those called to Welsh Baptist life in the twenty-first century.

No comments: