David B. Calhoun
Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth (1996).
560 pages, cloth, $29.99.
Everyone enjoys reading a good story. Even when you know in advance how the plot unfolds and what will happen to the main characters in the final chapter, a well-written book has an inherent power to grip its reader and to keep him interested.
Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony 1869-1929 is just such a book. It is the second of a two-volume work on the history of Princeton Theological Seminary from its founding in 1812 to its reorganization in 1929. Authored by Dr. David B. Calhoun, professor of church history at Covenant Theological Seminary, this eagerly awaited concluding volume is the stirring account of the ministry and influence of Princeton Seminary from 1869 to 1929.
Volume Two continues the story of the work of grace the Lord Jesus Christ was doing in the establishment of the seminary and in the lives of professors and students. As an author, Calhoun excels in the spiritual portraits he provides of leading faculty. Professors Charles and A. A. Hodge, William H. Green, Geerhardus Vos, B. B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen are among a host of men whose Christian convictions and scholarly achievements are highlighted. Warfield and Machen both receive a great deal of attention as they were transitional figures who attempted to stem the tide of modernism and unbelief in the Presbyterian denomination and the erosion of the doctrinal foundations at the seminary. Living in an age more interested in subjective experience than doctrinal objectivity (sound familiar?), both were outspoken critics of the presuppositions underlying the historical-critical method of biblical research, rooted, as they rightly recognized, in a posture of unbelief.
As Calhoun ably shows, the spiritual convictions of the faculty who stood for the Word of God in its authority and trustworthiness is the source which gave rise to their academic commitments and accomplishments. For the Princetonians, piety and learning were to be kept together; scholarship and spirituality were not juxtaposed against each other. While critical of "critical scholarship" that was biased in its approach to the study of Scripture, they were, in the words of W. H. Green, professor of Old Testament, committed to a "believing criticism" in their appropriation of scholarly research in ascertaining the meaning of Scripture and orthodox theology.
It is truly remarkable to see the depth of spirituality that existed in the lives of so many of these professors. Theirs was truly a vision of the church militant and the church triumphant. Being spiritually minded men, scholarship was not an end itself; it served the purpose of forming Christian character, of promoting orthodoxy, and defending the Word of God from its detractors.
With such men of the spiritual and scholarly stature as Warfield and Machen, one might expect that the seminary would have remained strong and spiritually uncompromised. But the story is otherwise. So what happened to bring about what many regard as an institutional downfall in 1929?
Calhoun provides a useful analysis of the men and movements interwoven throughout these six decades of the seminary's life that resulted in the reorganization of the board of directors in 1929 and capitulation to Protestant modernism. Sadly, even the faculty were seriously divided in their discussion regarding doctrinal inclusiveness or exclusiveness within the seminary, denomination, and interaction with other theological positions and movements.
At stake was the very message of the gospel and the purity of the visible church. "Institutional Churchianity" had replaced genuine biblical Christianity. What remained was a compromised orthodoxy and orthopraxy that Machen clearly identified as "another religion" going under the guise of Christianity. Likewise, the third "mark" of the church as understood by the Protestant Reformersódisciplineówas disregarded and all but abandoned. There was more interest in preserving peace than purity; toleration than truth.
Happily, the work of faithful theological education and the ministry of the church goes on even when institutions and faculty change. Indeed, Calhoun shows through the writings of the men themselves that their hope was not in men, denominations, or schools. Their hope was in the living God, whose they were and whom they served. Thus, although an era of orthodoxy came to an end in 1929, they knew the faithfulness of their God in maintaining His Name and preserving His church that He promised to build.
Calhoun's two volumes are a magisterial treatment of the spiritual life arid calling that characterized the community of disciples who made up Princeton Theological Seminary over the years of its history these two volumes encompass. Volume Two, like its predecessor, is edifying and insightful, well worth several rereadings! Its strength lies in its perceptive analysis of the spiritual culture that shaped the ethos of the institution. There are no other books on the history of the seminary that do this so thoroughly and thoughtfully.
Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony 1869-1929 is an excellent guide to the men and movements that have shaped American Presbyterianism and the landscape of American Christianity. It contains a wealth of helpful spiritual insight and challenge to Christians of today's generation who must make a choice for truth in a time of doctrinal deterioration and the supremacy of the subjective. May we learn from the past that we might stand for the truth in the present!
JAMES M. Garretson
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