Monday, September 24, 2012

Tolstoy and Presbyterians

The autumn weather in our parts has been extraordinarily wonderful with heat and bright blue skies and hardly any frost so far.  We are savoring it to the last drop.

I wanted to write about the Presbyterian controversy, but in my spare time have taken to reading a book a friend lent me, the famous "Anna Karenina", by Tolstoy.  This led me into looking up the story of Tostoy's life and philosophy.  There was a movie made about his life, recently, called:  "The Last Station";  most parts of this movie are found on Youtube.  Tolstoy met a very strange end, dying in a train station, after leaving his family in order to live as a homeless wanderer; an idea of asceticism had possessed him.  In reading bits and pieces of his "Confessions", it seems that he had taken some strange ideas, discarding orthodox Christianity, becoming a pacifist and some kind of promoter of human unity through love.  We all, of course, want unity and love and no war, but there is here something in play which reminds me of things I have recently come across in 19th century writing. He decries church doctrine such as the trinity and creation.  He fumed at the Bible saying that light was there before the sun, (which in our days is no problem at all with the factor of the cosmic rays being there at the beginning).  It seems that the 19th century was roiling over Darwin's doctrine in all countries and many lost their nerves over their faith in the Bible.  This does lead us directly into the Presbyterian controversy by accident.

Let's have a look at our library book once more, Longfield's "The Presbyterian Controversy".

"From 1922 until 1936 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. was wracked by conflict.  sparked by a sermon of Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a liberal Baptist preaching in a Presbyterian pulpit, the Presbyterian controversy raged for fourteen years over such issues as ordination requirements, the mission of Princeton seminary, and the orthodoxy of the board of foreign Missions.  Though at the height of the conflict in the mind 1920's the church managed to hold together, the controversy resulted in a loosening of the church's ordination standards, the reorganization of Princeton theological Seminary, the creation of Westminster theological Seminary, and the eventual founding of the Presbyterian Church of America."  (p. 4)

Why does this matter to the rest of us?--I'm not really solid on U.S history but it seems like this controversy is something of a prototype for the controversies in other denominations related to the issues related to Biblical liberalism vs. literalism.  The famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 falls into this time period and involves some of the same people.

"The Presbyterian controversy was one major aspect of the wider fundamentalist--modernist controversy of the era.  In the cultural crisis that followed World War I, differences within the church, which had been developing for over fifty years, exploded.  Numerous factors contributed to this disruption.  In the intellectual arena, the advent of Darwinism, historicism, higher criticism of the scriptures, and comparative religion all strained traditional modes of thought."
While there were many changes in thinking and also in society, strangely, however, the war of the controversy was strangely said to have been one among the "generals".   This is probably because among the general population these changes are not so great that they change their view of the world.  Most important things stay the same even as the world changes.

The Presbyterian controversy was, by and large, a conflict among generals;  it was they who prosecuted the war and they who worked to galvanize a constituency.

This is really kind of sad.  This sort of thing is often top-down.  And lately, too, I have learned how the academic elite calls Bible believers all kinds of names and the average person is disregarded.  How much sorrow has been caused even lately all over the place by oppressive measures.

This is all I'm going to say right now.

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