Monday, September 17, 2012

The Presbyterian Controversy

There is another book that needs to go back to the library.  I read it entire with great interest and can recommend it for good insights. I suspect that the entire series is very good.

It's title is:  The Presbyterian Controversy.  Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates. Author:  Bradley J. Longfield.   From the Religion in America Series.  Harry S. Stout, Editor.

I should have taken some notes while I was going through it but I will try and find some of the things which I found particularly relevant to the things I've been thinking about.

The author decided to illuminate the controversy by exploring in great depth the background and motivations of the persons involved.  This was certainly a fruitful approach because through the biographies much useful material could be introduced naturally and interestingly.  We can also learn to see how certain people arrive at their positions in various ways, some through great trials, some more or less in a facile way.  Of course, you would think that more credence should be give to those with greater trials and depth, but we can see that character and popularity also play into this.

The main criticism of the book, as seen on Amazon, seems to be the characterization of a central figure, J. Gresham Machen of Princeton Seminary.  Here is one opinion:

Longfield attempts to fairly and finely balance the most pivotal denominational split of 20th century America. He does so by briefly biographing and documenting the interaction of the PCUSA's main players at that time. The documentation is excellent. The problems enter when Longfield interprets and implies motives. The main problem is Longfield succumbing to the whole problem Machen was fighting against in the modernist contrversy: historical consciousness. As a result the reader is not given an objective account. Machen is categorized as a fundementalist in the same category with William Jennings Bryan. Anyone familiar with Machen's intense new testament scholarship and political stances know otherwise. And to someone like myself who greatly admires Machen, such a depiction is borderline blasphemy. Machen was a brilliant and faithful standard bearer, not a demagogue or reactionary (as implied by fundementalist label). I recommend this book with serious reservations to discerning readers. 'Toward a Sure Faith' by Chrisope serves as an excellent account setting the stage for Machen's latter battles.

What interests me in this complaint above is the distinction someone is trying to draw between kinds of "fundamentalists".   "Fundamentalist" is not a word in my active vocabulary, nor in people's who I know in person, i.e. in "real" life as opposed to on the internet.  For some on the internet, this is a huge hot button.  "Fundamentalist" seems to be synonymous with literal Bible believing total idiot, bigot and justifiable object of derision.

In Germany, we had pastors who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and somehow managed to preach something on Easter Sunday.  We also did have  pastors who proclaimed the resurrection of the dead, according to scripture. -- We, as the poor sheep, would distinguish between the kinds of pastors as "believing" or "not believing".

All of this, however, is somehow connected, call it what you want.  The liberal calls the "believer"  all kinds of insulting things.  And the conservative considers the liberal pretty much as anti-Christ, which in my opinion comes pretty close.  Denying that Christ came "in the flesh", may have referred to Docetism and Gnosticism, etc., but coming up with various anti-reality or pleasing metaphorical schemes is really not that different. These not only dare to deny the teaching about Christ but also persecute and malign those who hold to the word as blasphemers (even Christ was called Beelzebub), profane idolators...  and today someone called it a "throwing the dice at the foot of the cross for Christ's robe".  Sure, we will take away the substance and substitute a vendetta against those who confess Biblical teaching.

Ok, ok, ok.  That's all for now.  Time is running out.  I'll will try and get some notes from the book.

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