Over the last few months, I’ve been locked up in libraries across this island gathering source material for my book, The Moral Reformation in Scotland, which will examine the ideas and influence of the moderate Episcopalians surrounding Archbishop Robert Leighton. I’m delighted to announce that I have just signed a book contract with Oxford University Press in the US for publication in the next few years.
The Moral Reformation argues that, after the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, Leighton and his friends developed a new, more practical piety for Scotland in response to what they saw as the failure of the established Presbyterian church to develop a divinity which met the pastoral needs of ordinary people. In their view, the Reformation had remodelled the Christian Church, but not the lives of Christians. This failure to encourage Christian practice produced divisions within society, which had caused the civil wars that ravished Britain and Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century. Leighton and his colleagues were die-hard Protestants but — intriguingly — they looked to Catholic mysticism to find a way to heal Britain’s religious disharmony. Factionalism resulted from disputes over externals. If we instead turned inwards, as the Catholic mystics taught, we would find the truths of Christianity within ourselves. Doing this would reveal the core messages of the Gospel: the importance of loving God and acting charitably towards our neighbours. If we focused on these essentials, rather than the external shows of religion, we could live in peace. Leighton’s followers attempted to effect what they called this ‘personal reformation’ by reshaping ministerial training, giving spiritual counsel to Scottish nobility, and through a novel style of sermon oratory. My book will examine these efforts in detail. It aims to demonstrate the influence of the Scottish theology of moral reform on languages of religion in Britain and across Europe between 1660 and 1730.
My book will join Oxford’s ‘Studies in Historical Theology’ series, which has recently got a new editor, Richard A. Muller of Calvin Theological Seminary. I was encouraged by my friend Alex Campbell to submit my work to the Studies. What attracted were the many stellar titles which combine first-rate primary research with a sympathy to the complexities of theological analysis. I am pleased my work will sit alongside books on early modern British and Irish religion, such as Crawford Gribben’s exemplary biography of John Owen, and Paul Lim’s discussion of debates over the trinity in early modern England. I wrote about the heterodox Christology of John Milton as a Masters student a few years before Lim’s work appeared, and wish I’d had his work to fall back on.
Oxford accepted my own book on the basis of an extensive proposal, which has been considerably refined since I first approached the Press back in March. Some of the early content on this website doesn’t reflect those changes, and I’ll be updating other pages across the site over the next few days.