Saturday, August 29, 2009

QB Class of 2004

I just read this great article by Don Banks on comparing the QB class of 1983 (Elway, Kelly, and Marino) with the QB class of 2004 (Manning, Rivers, Roethlisberger). As a Steeler fan, I am a little biased toward the 2004 class, especially considering what they (especially Roethlisberger and Manning) have achieved in their first five years in the NFL, but can we weigh in so soon? Is it too early in their careers to say if they're the best first round draft class of QB's ever? Read the article and let me know what you think.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rush in "I Love You Man"

Cassandra and I just watched "I Love You Man." Cassandra wasn't that thrilled, but it was more of a "guy movie." I enjoyed it, but could have done without some of the course jokes.

The most thrilling aspect for me, however, was that Jason Segel and Paul Rudd's characters in the film were huge Rush fans (for those of you who don't know, Rush is my favorite band of all time). At different times during the film, the two attempt to play Rush covers and at one point go to a Rush concert, making this one of the best movie scenes ever (I love the perplexed look on Rashida Jones' face; unfortunately embedding is disabled, but you can click on the link):

And just for fun, here's a blast from Jason Segel's past when he plays "Spirit of the Radio" on the drums in Freaks and Geeks (I love the look on his dad's face).

Questions concerning "overpopulation"

Recently, I have been thinking more and more about issues concerning the Christian faith and the use of contraceptives due to some posts on Craig Carter's blog (The Politics of the Cross Resurrected; I don't always agree with Carter [he's a little too conservative for my taste sometimes], but he has some challenging stuff to say) and some reading of Roman Catholic moral theology (from Pope Benedict and others). I haven't come to any firm conclusions yet, but I have definitely have a much greater appreciation for natural family planning (NFP). My shift has definitely come in light of the changing view that people have in the western world toward children (as almost a curse or an unwanted responsibility rather than as a blessing). Carter noted on a recent blog that 40 years ago, Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical in which he argued that increasing availability to birth control in the Western world would lead to:
1) an increase in marital infidelity,
2) a general lowering of moral standards, especially among the young,
3) husbands viewing their wives as sex objects
4) governments forcing massive birth control programs on their people.

Carter notes the Pope Paul was correct in his predictions.


So, as I have been thinking about issues concerning sex, birth control, and NFP, I read this interesting article on CNN's website by Sara Sidner. See

The article begins "On World Population Day this year India's new health and welfare minister came out with an idea on how to tackle the population issue: Bring electricity to every Indian village so that people would watch television until late at night and therefore be too tired to make babies."

I do understand that there are issues of overpopulation in India that are a concern. In an avocation of NFP I am not arguing for recklessness. There is still a P in NFP. I, however, am troubled by articles like this one. Should India really import western entertainment (and the view of children that goes with it) as a form of birth control?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mercersburg Theologians, Part 4

In my last post, I assessed the Mercersburg theologians’ critique of the SCM. In this, my last post in this series, I will discuss Nevin and Schaff’s relevance for contemporary Protestantism, and in particular, the SCM.

Some contemporary evangelical or free church theologians see Nevin and Schaff as a model for Protestants seeking a historically informed faith. For example, D.H. Williams, an American Baptist and patristic scholar at Baylor University, says

One should not have to leave evangelicalism or a believers’ church setting to be nourished by the substantial resources available in ancient (or patristic) Christianity. The great model for this understanding was and is Philip Schaff, whose scholarly work of the last century in producing translations of the primary texts of church history, the early church especially, is a sufficient demonstration that any oxymoron between Protestantism and the whole of the church’s history is artificially self-imposed.[1]

Some contemporary members of all three streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement have come to the hold a similar regard for the importance of engaging the church’s tradition. Therefore, whether these Stone-Campbell theologians are influenced by Nevin and Schaff, they provide an effective response to the criticisms of the Mercersburg theologians.[2]

Such engagement with church tradition has been modeled by four past presidents of the North American Patristics Society from the Stone-Campbell heritage—Everett Ferguson (Churches of Christ), Frederick W. Norris (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ), William Tabbernee (Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]), and Paul Blowers (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ).[3]

In the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, Paul Blowers argues that a way the Stone-Campbell Movement can move forward into postmodernity is through the further development of a historical consciousness and critical engagement with the tradition of the church.[4] Blowers uses British Church of Christ theologian William Robinson as an example. Robinson, a representative in the Faith and Order Movement, “repudiated pure restorationism, devoid of a sense of the guiding role (and authority) of the church and the ecumenical Christian tradition of the early centuries.”[5]

While Robinson did not hold either the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed as a test of fellowship, he saw the creeds as “time-tested witnesses to the faith of the historic church, which might be used liturgically and instructionally.”[6] Following Robinson, Blowers does not call upon Stone-Campbellites to uncritically embrace practices from the ancient and medieval church, but to humbly expand their perspectives of the catholic and global church as people rooted in the Stone-Campbell heritage.[7] In addition, Frederick Norris has worked to create common understanding between conservative Protestants, like those in the Christian Churches, and Roman Catholics. Norris seeks to communicate the gospel message as a “free-church catholic” who encourages Christians to use the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as “a standard of reference” and to understand the interdependence of the Bible and Tradition.[8]

In the Churches of Christ, Leonard Allen critiques “the illusion” of the early leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement that they “they had escaped tradition.”[9] Allen argues that as confidence in the Enlightenment project continues to fade, the Stone-Campbell Movement must develop an awareness that it has a tradition, is part of the Christian tradition, and needs to embrace the church’s “Great Tradition,” which includes the ecumenical creeds of the early church.[10] Allen notes that links with the past help people develop and maintain their identity. So he condemns “historyleessness” and calls on Christians to critically engage with and appropriate the past.[11] Also, much like Schaff and Nevin, Allen calls on the Stone-Campbell Movement to maintain a high emphasis on baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “channels of divine life and grace” centered in a “proper trinitarian theology.”[12] Other scholars from the Churches of Christ agree with Allen. For example, Keith Huey says, “As we move past the hundredth anniversary of our statistical separation from the Disciples of Christ, we can scarcely maintain the anti-traditional myths that largely explained (and justified) our original existence.”[13]

In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Newell Williams argues “that the Movement has an example of identifying ourselves with the Great Tradition of the church in the work of no less a restorationist than Alexander Campbell.”[14] Eugene Boring, in his Diciples and the Bible, praises biblical scholars, such as Leander Keck and Fred Craddock, who offer a theological reading of the biblical text. Boring encourages a critical yet catholic form of scholarship that is centered on the church and avoids sectarianism, while at the same time standing within a responsible Disciples tradition. This scholarship includes biblical authority and tradition, an ecumenical perspective, and a “rule of faith” or creed as a baptismal confession, aid to worship, catechesis, and mission, as well as a hermeneutical guide. He proposes the Disciples’ creed be a drama in the five acts of, “Creation,” “Covenant,” “Christ,” “Church,” and “Consummation.”[15]

The critiques of Nevin and Schaff can thus, in light of these examples within the contemporary Stone-Campbell Movement, help the Movement avoid sectarian or restorationist extremes that ignore catholicity and the need for an understanding of the Movement’s place within the Christian Tradition. If Nevin and Schaff had interacted with a movement who interpreted the Declaration and Address with a greater appreciation of Tradition, like in the work of William Robinson, who was “ecumenically conscientious of the need to search for the consensus fidelium from within the whole historical spectrum of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy,” it would have been more difficult to make such substantive critiques.[16]

[1] D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church’s Future, ed. D.H. Williams (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 12.

[2] Blowers, “Restoring the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,” 381.

[3] Paul M. Blowers, “Fathers of the Church, Appeal to the,” In The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, Ed., Douglas A. Foster, et al (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 333 and “Dr. Paul Blowers Gives Patristics Society Presidential Address.” Accessed 6 Aug 2009.

[4] Paul M. Blowers, “Engaging Tradition as an Imperative for the Stone-Campbell Churches: A Response to Leonard Allen’s ‘The Future of the Restoration Movement,’” Leaven 14 (2006): 178–184.

[5] Blowers, “Engaging Tradition,” 183.

[6] Ibid., “Engaging Tradition,” 183. See also Blowers, “Creeds and Confessions,” 255.

[7] Ibid, 184.

[8] Frederick W. Norris, The Apostolic Faith: Protestants and Roman Catholics (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), vii, 38, 40–41, 45–59, 157–158 and Blowers, “Creeds and Confessions,” 255.

[9] C. Leonard Allen, “The Future of the Restoration Movement,” Leaven 14 (2006): 160.

[10] Ibid., 160–163.

[11] C. Leonard Allen, The Cruciform Church: Becoming a Cross-Shaped People in a Secular World, 2nd ed. (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1990), 4–15.

[12] Allen, “The Future of the Restoration Movement,” 164.

[13] Keith Huey, “The Future of the Churches of Christ: Applying Leonard Allen’s Essay,” Leaven 14 (2006): 169–170.

[14] Williams, 177.

[15] Boring, Disciples and the Bible, 406–407, 413, 418–450. Blowers, Creeds and Confessions, 256.

[16] Blowers, “Restoring the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,” 379, 381.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mercersburg Theologians, Part 3

In my last blog, I summarized Nevin and Schaff’s critiques of the Stone-Campbell Movement and other Baptist and Congregational churches. In this post, I will assess their critique.

Some of the critiques of the Mercersburg theologians stemmed from simplistic understandings of the Campbells’ positions. While the Campbells recited slogans such as “No Creed but Christ” and “No Book but the Bible” and called upon Christians to make nothing “a term of communion in the Christian Church which is not as old as the New Testament,” their application of them evidenced a complex theological methodology, which was often overlooked.[1] Within the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell clarified his position concerning creeds by saying:

As to creeds and confessions, although we may appear to our brethren to oppose them, yet this is to be understood only in so far as the oppose the unity of the Church, by containing sentiments not expressly revealed in the word of God; or, by the way of using them, become the instruments of a human or implicit faith, or oppress the weak of God’s heritage. Where they are liable to none of these objections, we have nothing against them. It is the abuse and not the lawful use of such compilations that we oppose.[2]

Elsewhere in the Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell claimed that creeds and confessions have catechetical value and purpose.[3]

Influenced by his father’s view, Alexander Campbell defended believers’ baptism and the weekly practice of the Lord’s Supper by using not only scripture, but also tradition.[4] Campbell quoted and cited the Church Fathers and had great respect for the Apostles’ Creed,[5] of which he said, “I can say, ex animo, that I believe every word of it. Because it is not, like all modern creeds, a synopsis of opinions, but a brief narrative of the facts, and of all the great gospel facts.”[6] William Tabbernee also notes that despite Campbell’s skepticism concerning the ecumenical creeds, “Campbell nevertheless often drew on such creeds to explain and defend orthodox Christology and trinitarian theology.”[7] In reality, what the Campbells so strongly rejected was the abuse of creeds to exclude some from the Lord’s Supper or Christian fellowship. In other words, the Campbells rejected sectarianism.[8]

While some of their critiques were simplistic, the Mercersburg theologians’ critiques have merit. While the Campbells intended to combat sectarianism, Nevin, as noted above, claimed that “the power of the unhistorical mindset” is “after all to prevail in his system.”[9] While it is often the case that the intended meaning of a leader’s message differs from the followers interpretation and application of it, Thomas Campbell argued in the Declaration and Address for a restoration or “recovery of the example and life of the apostolic church.”[10] The Stone-Campbell Movement also demonstrated a clear dependence upon Common Sense philosophy and emphasis upon freedom of individual conscience.[11] Mark Noll, as a modern outside interpreter of the Stone-Campbell Movement, thus agrees with the Mercersburg theologians’ interpretation of the Movement by noting that in the Declaration and Address, the “pillars of the movement” were “self-reliance and the Bible.”[12] These criticisms came despite the similarities of the Campbells and the Mercersburg theologians, for they all sought a catholic understanding of the Christian faith and held to a high view of the church.

In my next post, I will discuss the Mercersburg theologians’ relevance for contemporary Protestantism at large and more specifically, for the Stone-Campbell Movement.

[1] William Tabbernee, “Alexander Campbell and the Apostolic Tradition, in The Free Church & the Early Church: Bridgint the Historical and Theological Divide, ed. D.H. Williams (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 166–180.

[2] Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address, 37. Emphasis his.

[3] Paul M. Blowers, “Creeds and Confessions,” in The Encylopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster, et al (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 253.

[4] D. Newell Williams, “The Future of the Restoration Movement: A Disciple of Christ’s Response,” Leaven 14, no. 4 (2006): 176–177. Williams regards the Stone-Campbell movement as not anti-tradition, but instead as anti-sectarian.

[5] Tabbernee, 167–175.

[6] Alexander Campbell, “Reply to Barnabas,” Millenial Harbinger (1832): 602.

[7] Tabbernee, 168.

[8] Ibid., 166–168.

[9] Nevin, Antichrist and the Sect, 112–113.

[10] Paul M. Blowers and William J. Richardson, “Declaration and Address,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster, et al (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 264.

[11] Ibid., 264–265.

[12] Noll, 380.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Baseball Suspicion?

Today, I watched David Ortiz's press conference about reports that he is on the list of 104 people that tested positive for steroids in 2003. Ortiz claimed that while he was at times wreckless in taking different supplements and vitamins, that he never purchased or took steroids. Part of me wants to believe him. As an ESPN analyst noted after the press conference, he seemed genuine in his statement. He did not read his statement, but just spoke. As incoming director of the MLBPA, Michael Weiner (unfortunate last name) noted, the government list exceeded the number of players known to have tested positive (96) and that some of the tests were also contested. Ortiz also noted that since the drug testing policy was implemented in 2004, he had been tested for steroids at least fifteen times and never tested negative.

At the same time, A-Rod and others have claimed to have never used steroids and then reports came out to the contrary. The steroids scandal is obviously unfortunate. Baseball's popularity in the US was waning even before the steroids scandal and will probably continue to decrease. I have fond memories of evens like seeing Mark McGwire hitting one of his 70 home runs in PNC Park in 1998 and still have a great love for the game of baseball. How suspicious shoule we be about baseball players, or of atheletes in general? Discussions of doping in the cycling world increased on sports talk radio and television during the Tour de France. I don't want to be a cynic who doubts that an athelete is clean every time they succeed at something. At the same time, I am greatly upset that Barry Bonds is now the homerun champ given his checkered past. I have great hopes that someone like Albert Pujols will break the record sometime in the next decade or more and bring the universe back to balance.

At the same time, should Barry Bonds be allowed in the Hall of Fame when his eligibility comes up? He was a seven time NL MVP, including two MVP's while in a Pirates' uniform. I haven't made up my mind yet. Any thoughts?

Frustration with fonts

I've tried over and over again to edit that last post to make the font more uniform and it looks fine in the "compose" window, but when I click on preview or press post, it goes back to being messed up again. Anyone have any suggestions on how to fix it?

Mercersburg Theologians, Part 2

In my last post, I gave a quick history of the Mercersburg Theologians and noted their critique of Puritanism. In this post, I will summarize their critique of the Stone-Campbell Movement and other “free church” traditions in nineteenth century America.

Although Nevin does not mention The Declaration and Address within his Antichrist and the Sect, Nevin does criticize the sectarianism he perceives within both the Stone and Campbell churches. In a critique of divided Baptist and Congregational Christians who seek to follow the “Bible alone,” Nevin mentions the “Christians,”[1] who “reject all party names to follow Christ, take the Bible for their guide and carry the principle of shaping their faith by it so far that a doctrine which cannot be expressed ‘in the language of inspiration they do not hold themselves to obligated to believe.’”[2] Nevin goes on to mention Alexander Campbell and his “Disciples of Christ” or “Campbellite Baptists,” who seek “to reconstruct the Church” by distancing the revelation of God from “human creeds, confessions of faith, and formalities of doctrine and church government, as being not only unnecessary, but really a means of perpetuating division.”[3] Nevin says of the “Christians,” Disciples, Adventists, and Baptists:

If the Bible be at once so clear and full as formulary of Christian doctrine and practice, how does it come to pass that where men are left most free to use it in this way, and have the greatest mind to do so, according to their own profession, they are flung asunder so perpetually in their religious faith, instead of brought together, by its influence apparently, and, at all events, certainly in its name?[4]

Nevin thus demonstrates his concern with the sectarian tendencies of Christian groups dedicated to the maxim “no creed but the Bible” or to the private judgment of individual Christians, who will not merge with other like-minded Christians. He argues that these sects, like the Disciples, do not live up to their own standards, for their emphasis on liberty leads them to reject the liberty of other groups.[5] While each group rejects tradition as authoritative, they each have their own tradition, which is “in most cases a very poor and narrow tradition,” and reflects an unhistorical understanding.[6] Nevin critiques the sects as having a “rationalistic tendency” that often leads to a denial of supernaturalism and sacramental grace. This is illustrated by Nevin’s note that the “Christians” have “no faith in Christ’s divinity” and Alexander Campbell understands that the Christian faith is simply “belief of certain testimony, and obedience to certain laws, outwardly offered to men in the Bible.”[7]

Nevin does, however, note that despite the weaknesses in the sects, there is an understanding within some of them that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. While some of the groups only make such claim upon a segment of the church, others have a clearer idea of the true church. An understanding of the church that Nevin would have appreciated can be seen in proposition one of the Declaration and Address:

That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.[8]

Some modern interpreters argue that Thomas Campbell was a “true ‘catholic,’ a ‘high churchman.’”[9] Nevin, however, says of Alexander, “So we meet in Mr. Campbell many traces of a sound and right feeling here, which we may regret to find overwhelmed again, and made of no effect, by the power of the unhistorical sect mind which is allowed after all to prevail in his system.”[10]

Nevin has some similar critiques in a two-part article he wrote for the Mercersburg Review entitled “The Sect System,” which he wrote largely in response to John Winebrenner’s History of All Religious Denominations in the United States. In particular, Nevin critiques Alexander Campbell’s understanding of the Christianity, which Robert Richardson defined in Winebrenner’s history as

a system of religion and morality instituted by Jesus Christ, principally taught by his

Apostles, and recorded in the New Testament. It has for its immediate object the amelioration of the character and condition of man, morally and religiously considered. . . . It consists in the knowledge, belief, and obedience of the testimony and law of Jesus Christ, as taught by his apostles, and recorded in the New Testament.[11]

Nevin argues that this position is not actually Christianity, but “in its best view Judaism,” and he prays that Campbell and others would come to better understand the difference between Moses and Christ.[12]

Regarding Schaff’s critique of the Disciples, he does not explicitly critique them in his major writings, but he does reflect on their reformation and critique some positions held by major figures in the Stone-Campbell Movement. In his America: A Sketch of Its Political, Social, and Religious Character, Schaff mentions the Disciples and “Christians” in the midst of a discussion of Baptist movements in America. He identifies the Disciples as a movement that connects immersion of adults with regeneration and rejects creeds and sectarian names. Schaff then mentions the “Christians” of New England, Ohio, and Kentucky, who reject creeds, the Trinity, and the divinity of Christ, and baptize adults by immersion.[13]

In The Principle of Protestantism, Schaff does not specifically mention the Disciples, but does critique sectarianism in the same way Nevin does. Schaff refers to sectarianism as “the other grand disease which has fastened itself upon the heart of Protestantism.”[14] According to D.H. Williams, the sectarianism that Schaff critiques is characterized by “an ahistoricism and spiritual subjectivism.”[15] Schaff notes the existence in Protestantism of “Puritanism,” which he characterizes as having an “unhistorical, revolutionary tendency” with “no respect whatever for history.”[16] The Puritanism that Schaff critiques has much in common with what many today call “restorationism,” for Schaff says Puritanism “would restore pure, primitive Christianity, with entire disregard to the many centuries of development that lie between, as though all had been labor in vain, and the Lord had not kept his promise to be with the Church always to the end of the world.”[17] Mark Noll agrees, characterizing the restorationism of the Stone movement as “a republican understanding of intellectual independence . . . joined naturally to commonsense confidence in their own ability to understand the Bible in the raw.”[18]

There is no evidence that any early leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement were aware of or responded to the critiques of the Mercersburg theologians.[19] Schaff and Nevin were, however, at times referenced in the pages of the Millennial Harbinger as examples of contemporary figures from pedobaptist traditions that affirm that the early church practiced baptism by immersion or had a plurality of elders.[20] Later, B.W. Johnson in his The People’s New Testament with Notes, says he learned from Schaff in writing his own commentary.[21]

In my next post, I will appraise the Mercersbugh theologians' critique of the early Stone-Campbell Movement.

[1] Nevin does not refer to Barton Stone by name, but implies Stone’s movement is one of the three wings of the “Christians.” Nevin does, however, refer to the “Republican Methodists” and Abner Jones. John Williamson Nevin, Antichrist and the Sect (excerpt), in The Mercersburg Theology, A Library of Protestant Thought, ed. James Hastings Nichols (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 96, 102.
[2] Ibid., 96.
[3] Ibid., 97.
[4] Ibid., 97.
[5] Ibid., 98–102. Nevin does not mention the merger of the Disciples with Stone’s “Christians,” but does ask why the Disciples are separate from Winebrenner’s “Church of God.”
[6] Ibid., 102–103.
[7] Ibid., 110–111.
[8] Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington (Washington, PA: Brown & Sample, 1809; Reprinted Lincoln, IL: Lincoln Christian College Press, 1986), 22.
[9] Paul M. Blowers, “Restoring the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: The Appeal of the Declaration and Address as Interpreted by Frederick Doyle Kershner and William Robinson,” in The Quest for Christian Unity, Peace, and Purity in Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address: Text and Studies, ed. Thomas H. Olbricht and Hans Rollman (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2000), 369.
[10] Nevin, Antichrist and the Sect, 112–113. See Gary E. Weedman, “Outsiders’ Views of the Movement,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster et al (Grand Rapids: Eerdmns, 2004), 582.
[11] Robert Richardson, “History of the Disciples of Christ,” in History of All the Religious Denominations of the United States: Containing Authentic Accounts of the Rise and Progress, Faith and Practice, Localities and Statistics, of the Different Persuasions: Written Expressly for the Work, by Fifty-Three Eminent Authors, Belonging to the Respective Denominations, ed. John Winebrenner, 223–235 (Harrisburg, 1848), 231–232.
[12] John Williamson Nevin, “The Sect System,” in Catholic and Reformed: Selected Theological Writings of John Williamson Nevin, eds. Charles Yrigoyen and George H. Bricker, Pittsburgh Original Texts and Translations Series, no. 3. (Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1978), 153.
[13] Philip Schaff, America: A Sketch of Its Political, Social, and Religious Character, ed. Perry Miller (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 168–169 and
[14] Schaff, Principle of Protestantism, 107. The first “grand disease” is rationalism, 98–106.
[15] D.H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 14.
[16] Schaff, Principle of Protestantism, 113.
[17] Ibid., 113.
[18] Noll, 231.
[19] Blowers, “Restoring the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,” 366.
Nevin is mentioned in A. Wheelock, “Plurality of Elders in the Apostolic Churches.” Millennial Harbinger (1836): 310–325 and Alexander Campbell, “Melanchthon and Luther on Infant Baptism,” Millennial Harbinger (1858): 193. Schaff is mentioned in Isaac Errett, “Additional Testimonies for Immersion,” Millennial Harbinger (1865): 483. Nevin and Schaff are mentioned in C.L. Loos, “Additional Testimonies for Immersion,” Millennial Harbinger (1865): 535.
[21] M. Eugene Boring, Disciples and the Bible: A History of Disciples Biblical Interpretation in North America (St Louis: Chalice Press, 1997), 173.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mercersburg Theologians, Part 1

I decided to put off my post about the Dave Matthews Band song "Time Bomb" in order to post on something a little more pressing. On September 18th, I will be presenting a paper at a conference at my alma mater, Johnson Bible College, at a conference dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the Declaration and Address, a charter document of the Stone-Campbell Movement. I am currently working on a better title, but here is the abstract for my paper:

The younger contemporaries of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff, critiqued the Stone-Campbell Movement, as well as Baptist and Congregational movements, for their biblicism, sectarianism, and unhistorical attitude toward the Christian faith. Known as the “Mercersburg theologians” after the town in south-central Pennsylvania in which they taught at a seminary associated with the German Reformed Church, the theology of Nevin and Schaff exemplified a catholicizing tendency and emphasis upon church practice, the sacraments, and an appreciation of tradition. Some contemporary evangelical or free church theologians, such as American Baptist scholar D.H. Williams, see the Mercersburg theologians as a model for Protestants seeking a historically informed faith. The Mercersburg theologians’ critiques of the Stone-Campbell Movement, therefore, can help contemporary readers of the Declaration and Address avoid sectarian or restorationist extremes that ignore catholicity and assist in locating the Movement more accurately within the broader Christian tradition.

I decided to post parts of the paper in segments so that I can make needed corrections before the conference next month. Here's part 1:

In the nineteenth century, the Stone-Campbell Movement had its share of critics. Among them, the Mercersburg theologians largely critiqued the Movement for biblicism, sectarianism, and an unhistorical attitude toward the Christian faith. The Mercersburg theologians offer contemporary members of the Stone-Campbell Movement a window into how outsiders understood the Movement in the years after the merger of the Stone and Campbell churches. The Mercersburg theologians’ reflections in turn can help members in the twenty-first century, as interpreters of the Declaration and Address, understand some weaknesses in the Movement. The Mercersburg theologians’ critiques of the Stone-Campbell Movement, therefore, can help contemporary readers of the Declaration and Address avoid sectarian or restorationist extremes that ignore catholicity and assist in locating the Movement more accurately within the broader Christian tradition.

The terms “Mercersburg theology” and “Mercersburg theologians” received their names from a town just north of the Mason-Dixon line in south-central Pennsylvania, where a college (Marshall College) and seminary associated with the German Reformed Church were located. The German Reformed Church, which held services in German, was a small, mostly rural denomination with most of its congregations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland.

The two primary Mercersburg theologians included theologian John Williamson Nevin (1803–1886) and church historian Philip Schaff (1819–1893). Nevin grew up an Old School Presbyterian and trained for ministry and teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary. After a decade of teaching at Western Theological Seminary (now Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), he received an invitation to teach in Mercersburg in 1839.

Schaff was Swiss by birth, but educated at German universities in Tübingen, Halle, and Berlin. Schaff was educated in Swabian pietism and while in Germany, was a member of the United Evangelical Church of Prussia. At age 25, Schaff immigrated to the United States. In 1843, Schaff received an appointment to teach at the Mercersburg seminary. When Schaff arrived, Nevin was both president at Marshall College and the only professor at the seminary. Schaff taught in German while Nevin taught in English.[1]

Nevin and Schaff discovered that they had, in the words of James Hastings Nichols, “come quite independently to share a distinctive theological orientation, and their collaboration in its development produced the Mercersburg theology.”[2] The pair quickly began collaborating in teaching, books, tracts, and articles in The Weekly Messenger, The Mercersburg Review, and Kirchenfreund, which continued until the move of Marshall College to Lancaster and Nevin’s retirement in 1853.[3]

Their theology was typified by a “high-church or catholicizing tendency within the framework of German idealism and historical thought,” similar in ways to the neo-Lutheran confessionalism and Anglo-Catholicism of their time.[4] Their catholicizing tendency led them to an interest in the order of the church, “a reverence for the tradition as expressing the continuity of the church,” a sacramental emphasis, and an acceptance of the Christian faith of not only of other Protestants, but also Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Their approach to theology, however, was not universally accepted by the German Reformed Church. Shortly after Schaff’s appointment at Mercersburg, he and Nevin were put on trial for heresy, but were acquitted of the charges against them.[5] They were also critiqued by figures like Princeton Theological Seminary’s Charles Hodge, who perceived in the Mercersburg theologians an overemphasis upon ecclesiastical procedure.[6]

Nevin and Schaff together criticized a common opponent—“Puritanism,” by which “they meant the individualistic anti-traditional evangelicalism then dominant in American religion.”[7] They understood “Puritanism” as “the main basis of our North American Church.”[8] Mark Noll notes that theologians like Nevin “retrieved old world norms in order to stand against the onslaught of specifically American innovations.”[9] Their critique of “Puritanism” and American innovation included a critique of sectarianism, which Nevin called “the antichrist.” [10] Therefore, while figures like Alexander Campbell sought to strip away tradition and theology in order to restore unity to the church, Nevin and Schaff emphasized “a holistic and mystical view of the church, as strong medicine for America’s ‘sect plague.’”[11]

[1] James Hastings Nichols, “Introduction,” in The Mercersburg Theology, A Library of Protestant Thought, ed. James Hastings Nichols (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 3, 6–8.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid., 11.

[5] Ibid., 3, 12–13, 22.

[6] Mark Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 301.

[7] Nichols, 4.

[8] Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism: As Related to the Present State of the Church, trans. John Williamson Nevin (Chambersburg, PA: Publication Office of the German Reformed Church, 1845), 114.

[9] Noll, 231.

[10] Ibid., 249. Nevin’s critiques were often more caustic than Schaff’s.

[11] Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 164.