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Reviews | John Thomas: Physician and Preacher

John Thomas: Physician and Preacher

R. J. Wilkinson

e-book (ePub)

The Christadelphian review (from September 2017)

John Thomas: Physician and Preacher

by R. J. Wilkinson

It is unusual to find new material relating to the work of John Thomas, but this collection of academic essays gives useful background to the thinking of his day. Currently this book is available in electronic format only.

Since Brother Thomas fell asleep in 1871 the literature on him has been steadily growing, from Robert Robert’s classic Dr Thomas: His Life and Work onwards. The point has perhaps been reached where anything further needs new source material or a fresh angle to justify its existence. John Thomas: Physician and Preacher has both.

The e-book consists of seven essays, written in an academic style, that at times require concentration. The first looks at his medical career in the UK, and his contributions to the respected journal The Lancet. His scientific colleagues were edging towards a materialist philosophy of nature. [1] Such company may have helped him to reject immortal soulism. The second essay follows Brother Thomas to the USA, where we read of the difficulties of practicing medicine in the frontier Midwest. Readers averse to details of some of the more distasteful ‘cures’ of Victorian medicine beware!

Essays three and four consider the nineteenth century research fields of odology [2] and phrenology. [3] The vocabulary of these theories is scattered throughout Brother Thomas’ writings, so knowledge of them is useful for an exact understanding of the pioneer works. These theories are suggested to have influenced the doctor’s thinking about some of the ‘uncertain details’ upon which scripture does not directly comment (e.g., the exact nature of the Spirit). The Biblical basis of his first principle teaching is, of course, never questioned.

The fifth essay examines the idea of a race of beings that existed prior to the creation of Adam. [4] It shows how Doctor Thomas disagreed with both the evolutionary science and the fallen-angel theology of many of his contemporaries.

The sixth essay focuses on Brother Thomas’ written confrontations with David King (a leading British Campbellite). [5] King’s criticisms are still held against Brother Thomas in some parts today, so reviewing their correspondence helps to see how such criticisms arose from misunderstanding and ill will.

The book concludes with a seventh essay discussing a best-selling pamphlet published by the Scottish novelist David Pae that consciously ‘borrowed’ much from the prophetic side of Elpis Israel.

John Thomas: Physician and Preacher has much to commend it. It helps us understand the pioneer writings more clearly. It provides us with a greater appreciation the sacrifices Brother Thomas made for the sake of the Gospel. It also aids us in defending him from attacks that are still being made on him today. Exactly how Brother Thomas was influenced by his historical context we cannot know. Whether or not we agree precisely with Brother Wilkinson’s suggestions, his service comes in providing us with the evidence to decide for ourselves.

Rob Lawson

[1] Philosophical materialism is the belief that nothing exists except matter. It is in this context that the historical significance of the Frankenstein story is noted.

[2] Odology is the study of the Odic force, a hypothetical ‘vital energy’ or life force radiated by most substances (especially living creatures).

[3] Phrenology linked skull shape to intellectual, social and moral character.

[4] Brother Thomas did not support the notion, present in his day, that Adam and Eve were not the first humans, or that there was a separate race of humans in existence at the time of their creation.

[5] The Campbellites were the religious group John Thomas associated with during his search for Bible truth in 1830s and ’40s America. His contact with them slowly decreased, particularly after his published denial of their teachings in 1847.

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