Nathan Bangs, (May 2, 1778 – May 3, 1862) was an American Christian theologian in the Methodist tradition. Born in Stratford, Connecticut, he received a limited education, taught school, and in 1799 went to Upper Canada in search of work as either a teacher or a land-surveyor. He was converted to Methodism in 1800 and worked for six years as an itinerant preacher in the wilderness of the Canadian provinces serving communities in the areas of Kingston, Niagara, and Montreal. Of particular note is that fact that he was responsible for organizing the first camp meeting in Upper Canada in the fall of 1805. That same year he married Canadian Mary Bolton and, after a brief stint in Lower Canada, was transferred back to the United States to ride the Delaware circuit. In subsequent years he took a prominent part in the councils of the church.
In 1820 he was transferred from a pastorate in New York to become the Senior Book Agent of the Methodist Book Concern. Although the Concern was first founded in 1798 under John Dickins, it was under Bangs's tenure that the establishment was provided with its first press, bindery, official premises, and a regular periodical. All of this helped Bangs to pay off the Concern's debts while he also served as the first editor of the Methodist Magazine. In 1828 he was appointed editor of the Christian Advocate. When the Methodist Quarterly Review replaced the Methodist Magazine in 1832, the General Conference continued Bangs in the editorship.
Bangs was the principal founder and secretary of the Methodist missionary society. When appointed secretary of the missionary society in 1836, he devoted his chief energies to its service, until appointed president of the Wesleyan University, at Middletown, Connecticut, in 1841. Surprisingly, that proved to be a disappointment to everyone and in 1842 Bangs resumed pastoral work in New York, and in 1852 retired and employed himself during his remaining years chiefly in literary labors. Although his career was an illustrious one, Bangs's reputation suffered badly when he failed to support Methodist abolitionists at the General Conferene of 1844. Abel Stevens published a lengthy biography of Bangs one year after his death in 1862.
Bangs defended Arminianism against the Calvinism of his day. He was a strong believer in prevenient grace but not at the expense of total depravity. He argued that because of grace, humankind does have the ability to respond to God. He also opposed the antinomianism practiced by some rival members of the New Light Baptist community
His most important work was a History of the Methodist Episcopal Church from its Origin in 1776 to the General Conference of 1840 (4 vols., New York, 1839-'42). His other published works were a volume directed against Christianism, a new sect in New England (1809); Errors of Hopkinsianism (1815); Predestination Examined (1817); Reformer Reformed (1818); Methodist Episcopacy (1820); Life of the Rev. Freeborn Garettson (1832); Authentic History of the Missions Under the Care of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1832); Letters to a Young Preacher (1835); The Original Church of Christ (1836); Essay on Emancipation (1848); State and Responsibilities of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1850); Letters on Sanctification (1851); a Life of Arminius; Scriptural Vindication of the Orders and Powers of the Ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church; and numerous sermons.
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- Online works of Nathan Bangs
- Journals of Nathan Bangs 1805-6, 1816-7
- Practical Divinity: Theology in the Wesleyan Tradition (1982) by Thomas A. Langford, chapter 4: "The Americanization of Wesleyan Theology", (ISBN 0-687-07382-0
- Rawlyk, George. The Canada Fire: Radical Evangelicalism in British North America, 1775-1812. McGill-Queen's UP, 1994.
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