Theology The Church

What Muted and Sidelined the Presbyterian Voice in Religion and Society?

The Witness

by Dr. Anthony Bradley

I’m returning to a question I asked last summer but with a slightly different angle. Last summer, I asked what happened to popular Presbyterianism in a world where the Calvinist resurgence is almost entirely Baptist and non-denominational.

In the 1980s and 1990s when I was first introduced to Reformed theology three names dominated the seen were James Montgomery Boice (Senior Minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia), Sinclair Ferguson who was teaching full-time at the time at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and R.C. Sproul. They are all Presbyterians. In those days “Calvinism”/”Reformed” and Presbyterian were synonyms.

Dr. Bill Evans, the Eunice Witherspoon Bell Younts and Willie Camp Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College, has two reflections on how conservative Presbyterianism lost its mojo in recent years here: part 1 and part 2. These posts are helpful.

Matthew Tuininga proposes this as a possible explanation:

Presbyterians have increasingly turned inward, becoming more and more obsessed with intramural squabbles over secondary and even tertiary points of doctrine, and even with turf wars between ever shrinking (proportionally) seminaries and denominations.

So, now I am wondering, additionally, why we don’t hear multiple Presbyterian reflections on the social and cultural issues of our day as well–employing the tools and categories of the Presbyterian tradition explicitly. I am wondering why are Presbyterians not showing up as leaders in culturally leveraged spaces and discussions within the church or outside of it. I was recently on a website watching what was construed as a “biblical” position on a social issue “X” and about 30 seconds into the video I realized that it wasn’t a “biblical” view at all. Instead, it was a particular denomination’s way of thinking about the issue which was very clear and knew anything about that denomination’s history.

I am wondering, then, for those who are raising their children in the Presbyterian tradition what resources exists for forming Presbyterian identity in terms of an understanding marriage & family (i.e., the relationship between covenant marriage & covenant baptism in America’s marriage debate), issues related to social & political power & federal political theory (which is derivative of federal theology), divorce and remarriage, war and social conflict, apologetics, and so on? How does a covenantal world-and-life view, and Presbyterian understandings of power structures, unlock the implications for a theology of work & economics when applied to international third world development, and so on?

Read the rest here.

Leave A Comment