The New School Heritage and Presbyterian Fundamentalism -- By: George M. Marsden

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 32:2 (May 1970)
Article: The New School Heritage and Presbyterian Fundamentalism
Author: George M. Marsden


The New School Heritage and Presbyterian Fundamentalism

George M. Marsden

In the lore of conservative Presbyterianism, the nineteenth-century American heroes of the faith are found in the Old School Presbyterian Church and at Princeton Seminary. New School Presbyterians, on the other hand, are the culprits in the plot. They were the progenitors of Modernism (theological “liberalism”);1 or if not that, they certainly left ajar the door through which the intruder entered, eventually to usurp the Presbyterian birthright. Edwin H. Rian in The Presbyterian Conflict speaks of “Modernism” as “the child of New School theology,” and C. Gregg Singer asserts that the issues that from 1838 to 1869 separated the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (New School) from its Old School counterpart “were never satisfactorily resolved and the division in the theology persists even until our own day.” Less conservative historians, while finding different heroes, assume similar continuities in American Presbyterian history. Elwyn A. Smith, for instance, in a recent study refers in passing to the parallels between the divisions of 1741, 1838, and 1936 as common knowledge. “Open controversy in Presbyterianism,” he says, “between the historic disputants (Old Side-Old School-Fundamentalist on the one hand; New Side-New School-Broad Churchmanship on the other) was quelled in the wake of the Machen dispute.” Similarly, Lefferts A. Loetscher, though cautioning against “any over-simplified attempt to extend the Old School-New School line of cleavage directly into the new Biblical questions,” argues that “broad continuities can be discerned, if the identity is not pressed too closely, between earlier New School positions and the later ‘liberalism’.”2

Such accounts of the New School Presbyterian legacy are to some extent justified, yet insofar as they suggest that the New School was primarily a proto-Modernist force in Presbyterian history they are misleading. Examination of the history of the New School itself reveals that it was above all an integral part of the evangelical revival of the first half of the nineteenth century, and accordingly, despite its undeniable contributions to twentieth-century theological “liberalism,” had at least as much affinity to twentieth-century Fundamentalism.3

The New School and Nineteenth-Century Evangelicalism

New School Presbyterianism was a product of the resurgent international (primarily British, German, and American) evangelical movement, which in America was marked by recurring episodes of widespread re...

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