by Lincoln Mullen
|New York's churches 1845|
from Roberts, Evangelical Gotham
Evangelical Gotham is explicit in its debt to the concept of "crossing and dwelling" articulated by Thomas Tweed. Roberts makes this clear in his first chapter, where he writes about spiritual autobiographies at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. He takes a fresh approach to this topic by giving conversion narratives a meaning both in geographic and spiritual space. Evangelicals crossed religious boundaries by converting, but many of them did so at the same time that they were crossing the ocean or moving to the city. And once they arrived in New York, these newly converted evangelicals had to dwell not just in the city but also had to find a church or "community of faith" (27).
Geographic and spiritual space were thus experienced in mutually constitutive ways. This conjunction becomes a key to understanding much of the book, as does the emphasis on conversion. Conversion and other themes such as benevolence or reform recur throughout the book because they were perennial evangelical concerns. A real contribution of the book is the way that Roberts sets those concerns in relation to other questions such as denominational affiliation and worship practice. A key sentence comes in the conclusion, where he writes, "As denominational and sectarian choices proliferated, evangelicalism's appeal lay in the ease with which its small core of common principles could be incorporated into the matrix of beliefs and practices provided by them" (254). As any number of studies have told us, evangelicalism is a transdenominational movement focusing on conversion. Evangelical Gotham shows how people who held those evangelical convictions had to live them out in different churches competing within a single city. If most studies of evangelicalism are weighted towards crossing, then this book gives due emphasis to dwelling.