Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Phoebe Palmer

In a course on the Holy Spirit, we're currently being required to read both John Wesley and Phoebe Palmer for a weeks discussion on Pentecostalism. We United Methodists often forget that the thinking of John Wesley and Phoebe Palmer (along with some notable others, like Fletcher, Asbury, and Charles and Susanna Wesley) were extremely significant in shaping both 19th century Methodism and both the Holiness Movement and American revivalism. Later, these two movements, with deep and abiding ties to Methodism gave birth not only to Wesleyan-Holiness churches (like the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Salvation Army, the Church of God (Anderson), and others), but also to Pentecostalism (especially in its Holiness form exemplified by the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Church of God in Christ, and the Church of the Foursquare Gospel). In the later part of the Twentieth century, Pentecostalism reintroduced enthusiasm (though now modified from its early 19th century campmeeting days) to other Christians in the Charismatic movement.

All of these forces to affect American and global Christianity began as movements seeking the power of the Holy Spirit for abundant Christian living. Phoebe Palmer's Tuesday Meetings were extremely significant in shaping 19th century Methodism, and the Holiness movement declined in Methodism only shortly before the Methodist Church in North America began its statistical decline in percentage of the American population identifying as Methodist as well.

I'll lay out my cards: I'm not a "good" Holiness person, but I definitely identify with that part of the United Methodist tradition in many ways. Re-reading Phoebe Palmer's work for class this week, I realized how much my own reading and my education had caused me to speak about Christian faith and life in the language of Phoebe Palmer and the Wesleys -- not just John and Charles Wesley, but Phoebe Palmer means Methodism for me in a very important way! I agree with her exegetical argument for the ordination of women, I basically agree with her explanation of Christian perfection, and I've even been known to use the language of baptism by the Holy Spirit and to talk of Fire-baptized life in much the way she would. I've also learned to speak of the Cleansing Flood of Jesus' blood, largely from Phoebe Palmer and her family and friends (Phoebe Palmer Knapp and Fanny Crosby, especially).

I am convinced that rediscovering the vitality that made 19th century Methodism the most influential movement for evangelizing the United States needs to begin with a renewed focus on the distinctives of our Wesleyan heritage, both as exemplified in John and Charles Wesley's writings, and in Phoebe Palmer's work as well. If we want to live like Methodists, I'm convinced that first we need to learn how to talk like Methodists, and the seminal Methodist language derives from John and Charles, Phoebe Palmer, and their friends and students in what it means to be Methodist.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've never read Phoebe Palmer before. Maybe I should...

As far as editing goes, my mother will edit anything I write until the day she dies. It's just in her blood. You I will continue to hand things to hack, as well, so don't worry about being replaced. The more sets of eyes, the better.

Betty Newman said...

Neither have I heard of Phoebe Palmer. What book(s) would you recommend?

Betty

David said...

Unfortunately, the only collection of Phoebe Palmer material I know of is one by Thomas Oden that is currently out-of-print and very expensive. It's quite possible some of her pamphlets (such as "Tongues of Fire on the Daughters of God") are online somewhere, but I've looked to link to them and haven't found them yet.

Chris: Can you log-in with an identity, instead of as "anonymous?" Not that I'll be able to fix it if that's a problem, but I'm just curious.