Tuesday, September 29, 2015

First Evangelical in America?

Author Rick Kennedy offers The First American Evangelical, A Short Life of Cotton Mather, and his book on Cotton Mather is part of an Eerdmans series called the Library of Religious Biography, edited by Mark A. Noll and available at www.eerdmans.com. Kennedy says that Cotton Mather was "a family man, a pastor, and a scholar," and he is "warmly remembered by Benjamin Franklin as a generous man, eager to do good."

During those 16--1700s in Boston, Increase Mather was pastor of the North Church and his son Cotton was his associate. They worked together though they were very different personalities. Increase tended to be strict and sometimes preached "harsh" sermons while Cotton "was softer," and he preached "more about Heaven's call than God's judgment." He called for a Bible-oriented day-by-day relationship with a remarkably active and communicative God."

In those days, as churches were formed, the people wanted a meetinghouse for worship, and a home for their pastor where the pastor had an office in his home, not an office in the church, as we are used to now. People with concerns came to talk with the pastor in his home office, sharing his Bible and his library as they discussed  whatever their concerns were. Cotton Mather shared and modeled what he called "all day long faith." Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, prayer became an important part of it. He "took his role as shepherd of a flock very seriously, as he organized and led many neighborhood groups that met on a regular schedule."

What made him the first in a long tradition of evangelical scholar-pastors resulted from the circumstances, says Kennedy. While New England became ready for a broader, more moderate Protestantism, there were also many people with an "evangelical interest," who needed leadership. Cotton Mather was not shy and he offered himself  "for the role of leader" for the evangelical group. And so he was, until his death in 1728. For those who want more, there are several pages of bibliography with suggestions.

---Lois Sibley,