Nice to hear you on the web. I enjoyed it for the most part. But I think you undersell the influence of Mercersburg on the Federal Vision. And worse yet you seem to equate Mercersburg Theology with Old School Presbyterianism in a lot of ways. Hart is wrong about his positive view of Nevin in his book. Mercersburg Theology is a cancer that eats away the church. It is not Old School Presbyterianism at all!
I have to agree with this. There is some overlap (the questioning of revivalism), but there are too many differences between Mercersburg and Old Princeton/Old Union/Old Columbia to make an easy equation.
I failed to note the Old School Presbyterianism was not, as such, opposed to revival. Archibald Alexander was the product of revival. Hodge, of course, was more critical (he had to deal with Finney). It also needs to be noted that Old School is not coterminus with old light or old side. Some who identify themselves with old school would be more accurate to identify themselves as the latter. Of course, one be both.
Lee: where exactly did I equate Mercersberg with Old School Presbyterianism? I think I was fairly clear that Nevin opposed revivals and Hodge only opposed the wrong kind. Whatever you make of Nevin’s theological proposals, his critique of revivalism should not be readily dismissed.
I think our discussion at CTC could have been construed to suggest that both Mercersburg and Old School Presbyterianism were opposed to revivalism. As you know, the picture is more complex than that. Nevins’ criticisms stand or fall on their own merits, whether Old School Presbyterianism completely identified with them. My concern was more with historical accuracy than with theological assessment.
I am sorry if my sentence was confusing. I was commenting on Lane’s interview. In the interview Lane made it sound like Old School Presbyterianism was similar to Mercersburg Theology. So that comment was directed not at you or your book, but at something that Lane said in the discussion.
My comment that your book has too high a view of Nevin and his work was separate from the comment about Old School Presbyterianism. But I am a member of the German Reformed Church (the RCUS) which you state vanished on page 18 of the book, so please take my criticism with a grain of salt. Nevin is not fondly thought of in our tradition.
Maybe I shouldn’t have asked the question! I asked Lane the question because I knew a guy who was seeped in the FV theology and he was trying to convince me that it was historically orthodox because of Mercersburg theology.
Lee and Jeff, thanks for the explanation. Lee, of course, the RCUS still exists and I didn’t mean to suggest that it bears no influence from the German Reformed tradition. But it certainly doesn’t represent the Nevin camp of the German Reformed, which was arguably the dominant party in the old RCUS.
Oh come on Lee! You’ve been blowing this trumpet for far too long. Granted, Mercersburg was emphatically NOT like Old School Presbyterianism in a lot of ways, but neither was it unorthodox (unless we’re defining unorthodox with outside the Westminster Confession, in which case, I’d gladly admit Nevin’s heterodox status). Also, though there has been some influence of Nevin on the FV folks, there are also very important differences. For example: stressing things like the place of “covenant faithfulness” was nowhere near Nevin’s set of concerns. He was much more concerned with talking about the communication of Christ’s life to believers through mystical union, which, consequently, many Reformed of yesteryear (Bucer, Calvin, Vermigli) were very much concerned with as well. The keystone of Nevin’s system was mystical union with Christ. Now, this might be too “mystical” of a thing for many, but Nevin’s conception of it is certainly rooted in the Reformed tradition, objections of Charles Hodge aside.
You parenthesized: “unless we’re defining unorthodox with outside the Westminster Confession, in which case, I’d gladly admit Nevin’s heterodox status.” So then, will you settle for “heterodox Presbyterian,” since it would seem that the boundaries of orthodox Presbyterianism are defined by the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession?
Actually, Mercersburg was not opposed to revival as such either. Nevin was opposed to Finneyite New Measures and spiritual “quackery.” In the Anxious Bench, he actual praises Whitfield and Edwards for their work in the eighteenth century. He argues, however, that those earlier revivals were of an entirely different spirit than the New Measures revivalism of Finney and his cohorts, stating that “Whitefield and Edwards needed no new measures to make themselves felt. They were genuine men of God, who had strength from heaven in themselves. They were no quacks.” (Wipf and Stock, Augustus Thompson Ed., 30). Conversely, Nevin chastizes the advocates of the New Measures for preaching a “justification by fealing rather than faith” (Ibid. 16).
Well, if Nevin were a Presbyterian, then yes. He certainly was no Calvinist, soteriologically speaking. His Calvinism was in terms of his ecclesiology and sacramentology. Thus, while I am very convinced that there is much good to be gleened from Nevin in our day, because he speaks to things which we need to be talking about, I certainly would not advocate following him down the line. My biggest problem with him would be that he was way too influenced by German idealism, and this hindered him from following the Calvinistic system in its entirety and seeing the logical connection between Calvinist soteriology, ecclesiology, and sacramentology. He wrongly thought that Calvin’s predestinarianism and his sacramentology were opposed to each other. Thus, B.A. Gerrish has classified the controversy between Nevin and Hodge on the sacraments as a debate between sacramental Calvinism and predestinarianism Calvinism, and claims that reading the debate is enough to make one wonder whether it is possible to be both. I do think it is possible, and right, to be both. Calvin himself certainly thought so. Where I think that both Nevin and Hodge went astray was in that they each emphasized one aspect of the Calvin’s system to the expense of another equally vital aspect.
You know me enough by now to know that I will not tie of playing this old tune. Besides it is not a new tune. The faithful in the RCUS played it even during Nevin’s lifetime. Is it not also logical for the denomination that was so devastated by Nevin’s teachings to raise the trumpet blast of warning every time the siren song of Mercersburg raises its specter?
I tried for about another 10 minutes to come up with more music metaphors, but I ran out.
I do think that Nevin is heterodox, and one does not have to use the Westminster Standards as a definition. Mercersburg and Nevin obscure justification by faith alone. They make the atonement a secondary (or worse) doctrine and call the incarnation the fundamental principle that regenerates. That we must be in organic union or conjunction with this generic redeemed humanity accomplished at Christ’s incarnation. Of course this is done through the sacraments dispensed by the church.
Nevin himself admitted that the pulpit liturgy of the 16th century Protestant Reformation was inadequate and that the pulpit liturgy was a completely different theological system than the altar based liturgy he and Schaff tried to institute. They were warring theological systems for Nevin.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to address this issue here in detail, but let me just say that I really don’t think you adequately grasp what was conditioning Nevin’s concerns. The fact of the matter is that Mercersburg is really a much more nuanced system than you have here portrayed it as.
First, re. “Mercersburg and Nevin obscure justification by faith alone.”
Actually, Nevin taught justification by faith alone and never made good works a constitutive element of justifying faith. You can say he “obscured” it by not hitting on it hard enough if you want, but he never denied it in his teaching.
Second, re. “They make the atonement a secondary (or worse) doctrine and call the incarnation the fundamental principle that regenerates. That we must be in organic union or conjunction with this generic redeemed humanity accomplished at Christ’s incarnation.”
Nevin did place the atonement under the incarnation in his system, but did not make it a non-essential matter. His concern was to uphold the fact that the atonement was dependent upon the incarnation for its efficacy. It is the fact that Christ is who he is that makes his death on the cross more than a mere martyrdom. How is this heterodox? Nevin would even go so far as to state on numerous occasions that Christ’s death was essential to make atonement for our sins, and that we have no hope without it. See, for instance, his article in the MR titled “Once for All” (1870). I try to summarize this article here: http://evangelicalcatholicity.wordpress.com/2008/02/11/against-theological-abstraction-john-nevin-on-the-enduring-force-of-the-atonement/
Third, re. “Of course this is done through the sacraments dispensed by the church.”
Yes, Nevin taught that the sacraments play a major role in our union with Christ. But, incidentally, so have many others in the Reformed tradition, including such venerable names such Calvin, Vermigli, and Bucer. Heck, even many puritans used language concerning the sacraments to which Nevin’s statements in this regard pale in comparison. Consider Stephen Charnock’s words from “Existence and Attributes of God”:
“[God’s] goodness is seen in the sacrament in giving us in it a union and communion with Christ. There is not only a commemoration of Christ dying, but a communication of Christ living… In the cup there is a communication of the blood of Christ, a conveyance of a right to the merits of his death, and the blessedness of his life: we are not less by this made one body with Christ than we are by baptism: and “put on Christ” living in this, as well as in baptism; that as his taking our infirm flesh was a real incarnation, so the giving us his flesh to eat is a mystical incarnation in believers, whereby they become one body with him as crucified, and one body with him as risen; for if Christ himself be received by faith in the word, he is no less received by faith in the sacrament. When the Holy Ghost is said to be received, the graces or gifts of the Holy Ghost are received; so when Christ is received, the fruits of his death are really partaken of.” (v. 2, 289-290)
It must also be noted that, unfortunately, you neglect to mention one important detail in your attempt to impute to Nevin a sort of Romanizing sacramentalism; that is, he was very careful in all of his treatments of the sacraments to maintain that the they avail nothing apart from faith. His doctrine is one with Calvin’s in this regard.
I, for one, would like to thank Lee for continuing to blow that trumpet in regard to the errors of Mercersburg. I think he is doing so in obedience to Ezekiel 33. Shouldn’t the watchman blow the trumpet every time the people of God are at risk? Should the watchman stop because those who fail to heed the warning grow tired of the alarm?
Of course all Christians ought to combat error wherever they see it. My problem with Lee’s continued blasts against Mercersburg, however, is that I think he has a caricatured understanding of what Mercersburg was actually about.
And, btw, I mean no offense to Lee in this regard. We’ve been around the block on this issue together quite a few times, so we’re not arguing about anything here that we haven’t argued about previously. I think he knows that I respect him and his opinion… I just completely disagree with him.
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens; Justification, by John Fesko; The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan; Recovering the Reformed Confessions, by Scott Clark; Brief Outline of Theology, by Friedrich Schleiermacher; Principles of Sacred Theology, by Abraham Kuyper
Books I am now reading
Exodus commentaries; Matthew commentaries; Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology; Baker's new history of the church
Books for future reading
Turretin's Institutes; Joseph Caryl on Job, German encyclopedias of theology