Announcing the Mystical Presence

I am proud to announce that at last, the first volume of the Mercersburg Theology Study Series, which I am editing, John Williamson Nevin’s The Mystical Presence and the Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper (ed. Linden J. DeBie, foreword by Mark Noll), has now been published and is available to order.  

Encompassing the most comprehensive and (I hope) most reader-friendly edition of The Mystical Presence to date, and the first edition of the extraordinary essay “The Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper” in forty-five years, this “handsome new edition . . . deserves to be studied and savored by pastors and scholars alike” (George Hunsinger).  Indeed, this volume promises to be a valuable contribution to studies not merely of Mercersburg and nineteenth-century American theology, but of Reformed eucharistic theology more broadly, as Nevin’s study of the subject remains a classic after 150 years.  

(Tune in to Trinity Talk next week for an interview with me about my work on Mercersburg and this new volume)

The importance of this text, and of the new critical edition, have been hailed by prominent historians and theologians.  Mark Noll, author of America’s God, says in the foreword, 

“This is the first volume of what the organizers of this series plan as an extended edition of the works of John W. Nevin, of his colleagues at the Mercersburg Seminary in the 1840s and 1850s, and of some who in those same years objected to Mercersburg views.  For a clearer picture of the United States’ unduly neglected theological history of the period—as well as a most welcome stimulus to theological reflection in our own day–the edition is a godsend. . . . As readers of this volume will recognize immediately, John W. Nevin’s reflections on “the mystical presence” in the Lord’s Supper is a serious treatise about a perennially important Christian reality.  Its historical learning, biblical amplitude, dialectical skill, philosophical self-consciousness, and theological insight are all at or near the level of acumen displayed by contemporary European theologians who have been the object of much more extensive historical attention. . . . In a word, those who take seriously the works to be featured in this exciting new publishing enterprise are in for the right kind of historical education and the best kind of theological challenge.  May the announced later volumes come speedily, and may attentive readers multiply as they come forth.”

E. Brooks Holifield, author of Theology in America, concurs:

“John Williamson Nevin was one of the few nineteenth-century theologians whose works continue to exert influence on our own era. . . . This new edition by Linden J. DeBie and W. Bradford Littlejohn clarifies his importance by placing his work in its American context, showing his engagement with European theologians, and locating him in his own theological tradition.  Whether it is read in college or seminary classrooms, examined by scholars writing on Nevin and his times, or used in adult education programs, Nevin’s work will continue to make a mark, and this new edition brings to bear the latest scholarship on Nevin, nineteenth-century religion, and American religious traditions.”

Theologians Peter Leithart and Keith Mathison have also hailed the theological significance of these works for the project of Reformed theology today.  Leithart says, 

“Over a century ago, John Williamson Nevin planted an exotic seed in the ground of American Protestantism.  With his colleague Philip Schaff, Nevin cultivated a high-church, liturgical and sacramental Protestantism that starkly contrasted with and sharply challenged the populist revivalism around him.  The Mercersburg Theology sprouted but quickly withered.  By launching this excellent new edition of Nevin’s works, Brad Littlejohn and his colleagues give us hope that it is finally time for the dead seed to grow into a tree.  May it bear much fruit.”

 And Mathison declares,

“Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans was not the first bomb to fall on the playground of theologians. John Williamson Nevin’s The Mystical Presencehad a similar effect on the nineteenth-century American church. His appeal for a return to the sacramental views of the sixteenth-century Reformed confessions was a voice in the wilderness in an era of decidedly low-church sympathies. This wonderful new edition clearly reveals the relevance of Nevin’s controversial book in both his day and ours.” 


Please consider ordering a copy from Wipf and Stock today (or wait just a couple more weeks for it to be listed on Amazon as well).  This edition is also intended especially to provide a definitive edition for university and seminary libraries, so you may wish to encourage your librarian to purchase this and future volumes in the series.  

For more information on the Mercersburg theology, and on this project, please see our website (though you may wish to check back at the end of the month, after we’ve finished building and renovating it properly).

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