Catherine Booth: Laying the theological foundations of a
Lutterworth Press £17.50
THE Salvation Army is widely respected for its hands-on response
to the gospel message; and its uniformed members are instantly
recognisable. What is less well known is the Army's distinctive
theology, shaped largely by Catherine Booth, wife of the first
General. It is this that John Read examines in his book on
Catherine, which he subtitles Laying the theological
foundations of a radical movement.
While the Army is on friendly ecumenical terms with the Anglican
Church, its practices and teaching are very distinct, especially is
its approach to the sacraments. Catherine went so far as to argue
that the sacraments could become a dangerous substitute for true
religion, "a hindrance to the true religion of the heart". After
William stopped receiving the sacraments in 1883, it was Catherine
who strengthened her husband's resolve to turn a provisional
decision into a permanent practice. As Read puts it, she believed
in a sacramentality of a common human life, although she used the
language of holiness rather than sacrament to describe this life.
At the centre of her theology is her understanding of the doctrine
of holiness. Holiness is a perfection of intention, "an inward
transformation into the very likeness of Christ".
On many issues, Catherine's thinking was in advance of her
times, especially on questions of social injustice and the part
played by women. Her Christ-centred theology informed and shaped
radical views. Yet many contemporary Anglican readers will find the
theological debates that exercised her unfamiliar, in that they are
grounded in 18th- and 19th-century Nonconformist debate and
The book is thus one for those interested in the history of the
period rather than one to inform contemporary discourse, even
though the need for a Christ-like response to injustice and
inequality remains as relevant as ever.
Ted Harrison is a former BBC religious-affairs