Book review: Two Williams and their Contemporaries by Peter W. Collins
REVIEWED BY IAIN TRAINOR*
For anyone interested in the history of The Salvation Army and the influences that impacted co-founder William Booth, this book is a must.
Written by retired Salvation Army officer Major Peter Collins, the book is a pleasant read that holds attention throughout the little over 400 pages. Before the reader assumes this is just a rehash of what has already been written, please be assured that is not the case.
The book reminds the reader that the Wesleyan tradition came about through difficult times. The writer makes it very clear that John Wesley’s heart was set to reinvigorate the Church of England with the Spirit of Holiness. The Methodist New Connexion, the Primitive Methodists, and other disparate groups struggled with theology and organisational form.
The inclusion of the theological stance and ministry of people like William Cooke, Charles Finney, James Caughey and the Fletchers gives insight into the life and times of great change not just in society but also in the Church and the role of the female ministry.
While anyone with a passion for Salvation Army history would understand why both William and Catherine are referred to as the founders, the treatise gives very little doubt about Catherine’s influence on William, and one wonders how The Salvation Army might have evolved had she lived.
With so much turmoil evidenced throughout the book, it does not take a genius to recognise the Spirit at work. Indeed, the progression from the East London Revival Union to the Christian Mission to The Salvation Army is one of God’s hand guiding, at times, very human individuals.
The book deals fairly with the Methodist New Connexion conferences and the seminal conference at Liverpool, which set an unequivocal course for Booth and what would become The Salvation Army.
If one were critical – not of the book, but the events – one might be perplexed at the reversal of direction taken by Booth. One of the most controversial points of contention in early Methodism was regarding the control Wesley exerted and the desire to broaden the organisational structure, yet in the organisation of The Salvation Army, Booth was totally autocratic. While vital for the effective development of Booth’s Army, one does wonder at the impact on strong-minded co-workers.
Collins spends considerable time outlining the internal conflicts that plagued the Methodists, and one wonders if the structure of The Christian Mission was modified to avoid such pointless, futile conflicts, which inevitably detracted from the soul-saving function of the organisation.
In conclusion, I would commend this work based on the significant insights it gives to the eventual development of The Salvation Army.
Two Williams and their Contemporaries is available from Salvationist Supplies by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Sydney Salvationist Supplies (1800 634 209) and Melbourne Salvation Army Supplies (1800 100 018). The prices are $50 (soft cover) and $65 (hard cover).
*Major Iain Trainor is a retired Salvation Army officer who lives in Western Australia