"Truth of any kind is food for the soul."

The Rev. Jesse Caswell, 1841

Friday, May 3, 2013

McGilvary & Presbyterian Revivalism

Often seen as a hero of the international missionary movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Daniel McGilvary has remained largely unknown in scholarly circles generally.  That is a loss for those engaged in the study of Thai church history and the study of the missionary role in Westernization in Siam.  It means we are left to our own devices to piece together his background and its relationship to his long missionary career in Siam.  Thus, David Bebbington, Victorian Religious Revivals: Culture and Piety in Local and Global Contexts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) comes as a very pleasant surprise. Bebbington devotes a whole chapter (Chapter Six, “Experience and Good Order: Presbyterian Revival in North Carolina”) to the 1857 revival that took place in Union Church, Moore County, North Carolina, which McGilvary was serving as pastor while waiting to be commissioned as a missionary to Siam.  He especially highlights the differences between Presbyterian revivalism and that of other more enthusiastic styles of frontier revivalism.  The Presbyterians were more restrained and put a strong emphasis on orderliness in their revivals.  The Union Church revival was certainly of that kind.

It is also good to see Bebbington making use of one of the key sources for 19th century Presbyterian missions in Siam's northern dependencies, The North Carolina Presbyterian.  McGilvary stayed in close touch with that publication even though it was published by the Southern Presbyterian Church, from which he had withdrawn at the beginning of the American Civil War.  As a result, it contains an invaluable record of northern Thai church history in the 19th century.

In sum, it is good to see the larger world of scholarship studying important figures in the history of the church in Thailand from other perspectives and in other contexts.  Their work can only enrich our understanding of the history of the church in Thailand.