Cherry Picking Alert (and boy are those trunks sappy!)

The Gospel Coalition has launched a year-long series of blog posts about Princeton Theological Seminary, a school that celebrates its bicentennial this year. The first post introduces PTS by likening the institution to the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement.

Controversies swirl around celebrity pastors and their best-selling books. Evangelicals unite across denominational lines to share resources and strategize together for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. New thought emerging from Europe demands a response. Divisions arise between those who emphasize personal piety and others who prioritize the sacraments in the Christian life. Developments in science force Christians to reconsider their understanding of Genesis.

The author, Andy Jones, a PCA pastor in North Carolina, continues:

The seminary originally aimed to produce men of great learning and vital piety. The leaders of Princeton were men who advocated for Calvinism and the Great Awakening. They were Reformed revivalists. In the classroom, they introduced their students to the biblical languages and the Latin edition of Francis Turrentin’s Institutes. Yet they also emphasized the necessity of personal piety. Their goal was to produce ministers who were biblically grounded, theologically enlightened, and spiritually awakened. By establishing a seminary that linked together vigorous learning and piety, the founders hoped that “blessings may flow to millions while we are sleeping in the dust.”

Though governed by Presbyterians, Princeton Seminary welcomed students from diverse backgrounds. It graduated men who became leaders in Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist churches. Among Princeton’s first graduates was Charles Hodge, who would become the seminary’s leading influence in the 19th century. Another early graduate and Hodge’s best friend was John Johns, a leader among Episcopalians and ultimately the president of William and Mary. One of Hodge’s students, James Petigru Boyce, became the founding professor of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In the 19th century, Princeton was a leader among conservative evangelicals in America. It was the “grand central station” for the “young, restless, and Reformed.” Through The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, a prominent voice in 19th-century religious journalism, it apprised Presbyterians of the latest thinking among biblical scholars, engaged in controversies facing the church, and responded to challenges in the surrounding culture.

In other words, PTS was the Gospel Coalition of the nineteenth century — revivalistic, interdenominational, devout, and informed.

This is one way of interpreting PTS but it is highly selective since it leaves out the less reassuring bits about Princeton’s Old School tradition — Hodge’s criticisms of the First Great Awakening, Samuel Miller’s defense of something close to jure divino Presbyterianism, the seminary’s cultivation of polemical theology, its insistence on infant baptism, and its legacy in institutions like Westminster Seminaries and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Old Schoolers like myself have not ignored Princeton’s experimental Calvinistic side and some of us have even explored the tensions between revivalism and confessionalism that the Princetonians may not themselves acknowledged. But at least we have not denied the uncomfortable parts of PTS’ past. I would hope the Gospel Co-Allies would do the same.

Meanwhile, this is the second time in the recent past where GC advocates have appealed to historical precedents for their alliance. One commenter here invoked seventeenth-century British Protestantism and its kaleidoscope of Puritans, Independents, Presbyterians, and Baptists. He left out the Quakers and failed to acknowledge that these groups did not found a parachurch agency but went into separate churches. Now comes an attempt to draw parallels between the GC and PTS. Be careful with those pits.

I do not understand why GC historians don’t liken themselves to the most obvious precedent — the neo-evangelicals of the 1940s. Leading that group was Harold John Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham. They too set up non-denominational institutions to draw in “conservative” Protestants of all stripes. And they also drew inspiration from Princeton Seminary. As George Marsden shows, PTS was very much on the minds of Fuller Seminary’s founders.

The trouble with appeals to Old Princeton like the neo-evangelicals and GC’s is that they ignore the side of the seminary that spooks pietists — the polemics not only against liberals but also against “conservatives.” PTS did welcome students from all churches. But you cannot find a bigger critic of Finney, holiness, Wesleyanism, perfectionism, New School Presbyterianism, Taylorism, biblical criticism, and Darwin. Old Princeton knew how to say “no.” Does the Gospel Coalition?

One way to answer this question without long reflection is to compare Mark Driscoll to Charles Hodge. Puhleeze. If Hodge were living today, he would take Driscoll to the woodshed (that is, unless Driscoll’s powers of clairvoyance alerted him to Hodge’s approach).

31 thoughts on “Cherry Picking Alert (and boy are those trunks sappy!)

  1. Propaganda inherently cherry picks. By that, I mean the “apologetic” attempt to translate whatever you say into something I would say instead. Thus old Princeton gets “recycled” but supposedly without the polemics. I find it ironic that some of those who recycle are quite ready to speak of the “Zwinglian reductionism” of old Princeton because of Hodge’s opposition to “realistic union”.

    Propaganda is a way of saying no to “those who can only say NO”.

    “Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers, we’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension that’s incompatible with the status quo. We do not accept the world as it is. And the Kingdom of God is different from the patterns of this world.”
    Jacques Ellul

    In Rise of the Planet of Apes, the first word spoken by the apes—NO.


  2. I know TGC gets heaps of deserved criticism here, but I sincerely hope they do this series justice. This will most certainly entail discussing how PTS truly differed from TGC, not only similarities. If TGC uses selective historiography to justify their own existence by demonstrating how PTS’ history is largely in accord with their own, the series will loose a good amount of credibility. Hopefully they can show how unity minded evangelicals helped open the door wide for liberalism can serve as a caution for some of their own impulses to not draw lines where they should be drawn. Anyway, it will be nothing if not interesting.


  3. Re: In the 19th century, Princeton was a leader among conservative evangelicals in America. It was the “grand central station” for the “young, restless, and Reformed.”

    This doesn’t make sense. Isn’t comparing their organization to a prestigious seminary rather odd at best? TGC isn’t even a mediocre community college. Isn’t comparing a bunch of pastors who blog, write popular books for laity, and hold conferences – to – prestigious seminary professor theologians who published in peer-reviewed journals and wrote serious theological books rather weird at best? Do they take themselves that seriously?

    I dunno… we live in a loosey-goosey relativistic age that doesn’t take facts too seriously. As Sarah Palin put it the other day – do they think we’re numbskulls?


  4. Thanks, Darryl. Keep it coming. My preliminary instinct? “You’re kidding? This parallel? Eegads.” PTS was Confessional and yes, John Johns, an Anglican, was a classmate and close friend of Charles Hodges. Darryl, keep them coming.


  5. “I do not understand why GC historians don’t liken themselves to the most obvious precedent — the neo-evangelicals of the 1940s. Leading that group was Harold John Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham. They too set up non-denominational institutions to draw in “conservative” Protestants of all stripes. And they also drew inspiration from Princeton Seminary. As George Marsden shows, PTS was very much on the minds of Fuller Seminary’s founders.”

    Correct. And we know how well that went.


  6. QUESTION for D.G. Hart!

    What does “holiness” –– things Old Princeton waged polemics against –– pertain to in this sentence in your post:

    “PTS did welcome students from all churches. But you cannot find a bigger critic of Finney, holiness, Wesleyanism, perfectionism, New School Presbyterianism, Taylorism, biblical criticism, and Darwin. Old Princeton knew how to say “no.””

    I am somewhat new to the “spirituality of the church” and 2k doctrine –– so I am just learning. I just became a member of the OPC a couple of months back.




  7. djbeilstein, Holiness in this case is generally synonymous with Finney and Wesleyanism, but it did take particular forms in the Nazarene Church and in the phenomenon of “let go, let God.”


  8. Dr. Hart,

    Could you include Assembly of God Folks and see the Holiness Movement as a precursor to the Charismatic Movement??

    I think the author who wrote this on the TGC blog needs a strong dose of Samuel Miller.
    It’s hard to make this grand canyon type leap, when a large wing of the TGC folks de-value the value of a seminary education period and think a few weekend seminars is all someone needs to a plant church, etc..


  9. Thanks for answering, D.G. Hart. I am searching for some of your older volumes: “Return to Mother Kirk” is one. A good friend of yours slipped me your great book on Dr Machen. Excellent stuff. I left it with my parents up in frigid Vermont. I am also working on a writing project (freelance opportunity) for National Review. I’d love to do it on your ideas illumined A Secular Faith and the issue of faith-based politics, including the issues outlined in your newest book. If you’re not interested – nothing personal. If you are, I’d need to contact you for an interview. I know your busy so take your time. I can be contacted via my email address. Appreciate your insights and consideration.


  10. David, I believe you have my email address. If you put “ALL ABOUT YOU!!” in the subject line, I’ll be sure to answer it promptly. (Be sure to include the exclamation marks.)


  11. Darryl, Phil Johnson, John MacArthur’s Co-adjutant and Editor of John’s writings, is giving your blog a FB-push with a mild attaboy. I reiterate with the usual angst of an Anglican in exile, “TGC and PTS parallel? Eegads!” TGC is largely an Anabaptist group without confessional, historical or liturgical roots. Why are the TGC leaders NOT involved with Confessionally Reformational groups with sound liturgical depth, wisdom, doctrine and piety? Darryl, keep it coming.


  12. So what are the confessional roots of Johnny Mack and his ghostwriters? They want to define “evangelicalism” not only by a fundamentalist legalism but also as a coalition of premillenialists who insist on a future for an “Israel” which is not the body of Christ.

    Together for the “Gospel” still invites Macarthur to speak, but he’s still sure that things will get worse. Especially after he dies


  13. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the post but I don’t understand how you can use Driscoll as to define what the GC is about. It’s a bit misleading. Forgive me if that was not your intent it just seemed that way. Plus the GC has no schools and are only blogging and holding conferences at best. Plus to compare them to neo-evangelicalism is a bit eccentric. The schools of thought with N-E was pragmatism over orthodoxy…you cannot say the same thing about GC (although, I admit you that their “groupies” definitely fall into the “Gospel equals license” trap). I am a huge fan of JMac and Team Pyro (which is how I found this) and I really enjoyed your historical analysis but I find the logic to some or your some comparisons a bit off. Otherwise I enjoyed the post and am looking forward to you validating some of these in your future analysis’ of their series.


  14. Tim, last I checked, Mark Driscoll is an ally in good standing at the Coalition. Charles Hodge was a professor at Princeton. Each is representative of their institution. A comparison should be troubling to TGC defenders and historians.

    Are we not supposed to notice what the Co-Allies do? Are we not supposed to notice what Princetonians did?


  15. As I , and others before me (including DGH) pointed out in the book I edited ‘B.B.Warfield:Essays on this Life and Thought’ (P&R,2008) BBW was a rather relentless critic of the Higher Life /Keswick advocates, including the founding president of Dallas theological seminary, Lewis Sperry Chafer-who in many ways typifies the present day Gospel Coalition.


  16. I notice that dgh is speaking at the same conference with a baptist. But I wouldn’t worry about bad influence. Fred is a “new covenant baptist”. In praxis that means he’s non-sabbatarian but also non-pacifist. I guess that means he might invite you to eat out on the Lord’s Day, unless of course your church would excommunicate you for that kind of thing. It looks like a very interesting conference, even if you have to travel south of the Mason-Dixon line to get there.

    I don’t see how anybody should have a problem with any other Christian having a day of rest without retail. Surely being “new covenant” should mean something different than that….


  17. Are you a master of the thought of the word in order to make it an instrument of truth?

    Machen: So as Christians we should try to mold the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity. . . .

    What more pressing duty than for those who have received the mighty experience of regeneration, who, therefore, do not, like the world, neglect that whole series of vitally relevant facts which is embraced in Christian experience—what more pressing duty than for these men to make themselves masters of the thought of the world in order to make it an instrument of truth instead of error?

    —J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” in What Is Christianity? And Other Addresses, ed. Ned Stonehouse (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), pp. 162-163


  18. We see another kind of “cherry picking” in Warfield. In the Plan of Salvation, after he patronizes the Arminians who believe in the supernatural, he makes a few remarks about the Lutherans and their failure to do something “in every sphere of activity”. This is a report, and not at all an endorsement of a “glory story”. Warfield writes.

    “It is only the Reformed system that it retains the purity of its conception and resists the tendency to make it a doctrine of justification on account of; instead of by, faith. It is true that
    Lutheranism is prone to rest in faith as a kind of ultimate fact, while Calvinism penetrates to its causes, and places faith in its due relation to the other products of God’s activity looking to the
    salvation of man. And this difference may, on due consideration, conduct us back to the formative principle of each type of thought. But it, too, is rather an outgrowth of the divergent formative
    principles than the embodiment of them.

    “Lutheranism, sprung from the throes of a guilt-burdened soul seeking peace with God, finds peace in faith, and stops right there. It is so absorbed in rejoicing in the blessings which flow from faith that it refuses or neglects to inquire whence faith itself flows. It thus loses itself in a sort of divine euthumia, and knows, and will know nothing beyond the peace of the justified soul. Calvinism asks with the same eagerness as Lutheranism the great question, “What shall I do to be saved?” and answers it precisely as Lutheranism answers it. But it cannot stop there.

    “The deeper question presses upon it, “Whence this faith by which I am justified?” And the deeper response suffuses all the chambers of the soul with praise, “From the free gift of God alone, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Thus Calvinism withdraws the eye from the soul and its destiny and fixes it on God and His glory. It has zeal, no doubt, for salvation but its highest zeal is for the honour of God, and it is this that quickens its emotions and vitalizes its efforts. It begins, it centres and it ends with the vision of God in His glory and it sets itself; before all things, to render to God His rights in every sphere of life-activity.”




  20. Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology, Volume 3, Chapter 20, Section 12:

    “They, therefore, sin against God and their own souls who neglect the command to be baptized in the name of the Lord and those parents sin grievously against the souls of their children who neglect to consecrate them to God in the ordinance of baptism. Do let the little ones have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life, even if they afterwards choose to erase them. Being thus enrolled may be the means of their salvation.”


  21. Hodge & Driscoll? There’s no comparison!
    The former NEVER had any visions of adulterous parishioners “like watching TV!”


  22. So, what is your point about Hodge McMark? That election and imputation are more central to the Gospel than the sacraments? As Horton stated in his recent article in Modern Reformation magazine that the reformers may have been talking about sanctification rather than being born again when they used the word regeneration. That certainly would put a different meaning to baptismal regeneration.


  23. You think I had an agenda, John? Didn’t you know how innocent I am? Of course I think the erasing the names thing seems a little Arminian, but then we could have a discussion about “difference” between covenant and election etc. But most Reformed paedobaptists would agree that Hodge could have and should have said it better. Indeed, many of them would prefer Nevin and Calvin on the matter of baptism.

    I agree that it’s important to know that the word “regeneration” was often used by the Magisterial Reformers to talk about the Christian life. Notice I don’t say “what we call sanctification”, because I don’t think the Christian life is our “sanctification” and that word is itself problematic if you wanted to be “biblicist” about it.

    Suffice it to say two things.

    1. The word “regeneration” needs to be questioned, especially if it’s thought of some metaphysical change of “substance”. See Horton and Hunsinger. And Gaffin!

    2. But the problem of “sacramental regeneration” won’t go away because that view is assumed not only by Augustine but by the Roman Catholic church which is being “reformed” by those who will not repudiate their “water baptism” by that Roman Catholic church. If you say that the water didn’t mean what they thought it meant, does it matter?


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