Friday, February 28, 2014

Abraham Kuyper's Organicism

In october Tracy Kuperus wrote on Abraham Kuyper's inheritance: 'Some might argue that Kuyper's philosophical and theological contributions to our understanding of politics are esoteric or outdated. Some of them are questionable (for example, his borrowing liberally from organicist philosophy to undergird sphere sovereignty), but much of his work extends a Reformed understanding of politics that, to my mind, contributes positively to discussions about the role of politics in society'. Jeremy George Augustus Ive writes 'in working out what 'sphere sovereignty' actually means, Kuyper is still deeply influenced by 19th century currents of thought, namely historicism and organicism'.

I personally don't believe it to be possible to understand either Kuyper or Bavinck outside of this organicist context. In the introduction to the book Abraham Kuyper's Commentatio (1860): The Young Kuyper about Calvin, a Lasco, and the Church, Jasper Vree and Johan Zwaan write: 'The work also offers the initial impetus for the idea with which Kuyper would later exert great influence on Dutch nation and society: the Church as a free, democratic society of Christians, which manifests itself as a living organism in all spheres of life.' This quote indicates, unsurprisingly, a link between Kuyper's democratization project, the reformed understanding of the clarity of Scripture and his organic understanding of the Church.

In his 2012 dissertation Jeremy George Augustus Ive writes 'in the later 1920s and 1930s Dooyeweerd saw historicism, with its organic conception of society, leading to the rise of Fascisim and Nazism. The extreme emphasis on history as the self-attesting basis of norms and values, such as was held by the different forms of historicism, seems to have led Dooyeweerd in reaction to seek a non-historical, supra-temporal vantage point, free of the relativising tendencies of the historicistic approach.' To a superficial observer this might seem laudable.

The problem with Dooyeweerd's approch, among other things, is that the antirevolutionary party, Abraham Kuyper's strategy during ARP's social conflict, the struggle for a free university and the democratization project inside the church (doleantie) had succesfully challenged the extreme emphasis on history of conservatives in the church and in politics. Abraham Kuyper succeeded in moving the ARP away even from Groen's 'moderate' (debatable) organicism and historicism. Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck's approach worked and was actually an effective weapon against both the extreme and the milder forms of organicism and historicism. Unlike Dooyeweerd, Klaas Schilder grasped this.

Several elements necessarily shape(d) Kuyper and Bavinck's organicism: their link with Groen van Prinsterer's organicism and historicism, the antithesis (Kuyper's speech Maranatha), perspicuitas (see Bavinck's dogmatics) and the merger of doleantie and afscheiding.

James Eglinton writes in an article that one of four guiding principles within Bavinck's organic worldview is that 'the created order is marked by simultaneous unity and diversity. This is essential if God is triune. As the universe itself is a general revelation of God, it must reflect this identity as three-in-one.' This reminds of the people that look for traces of the trinity, 'vestigia trinitas', in creation. But maybe I'm not smart enought to grasp this unity-in-diversity concept and it's added value to reformed theology.

It seems to me, to understand the role organicism plays in Bavinck (& Kuyper's) theology, we should look at how Bavinck's (and Kuyper's) organicism relates to the clarity of scripture and presbyterian church governance (directly related). Both the emphasis on biblical theology at Princeton and the centrality of the clarity of Scripture in reformed theology in Kampen from Helenius de Cock in 1834 until Klaas Schilder's inauguration in 1934 are the framework within which Bavinck's organicism takes shape. Karl Barth's claim that the Apostle Paul:
'As an apostle- and only as an apostle - stands in no organic relationship with human society as it exists in history; seen from the point of view of human society, he can be regarded only as an exception, rather, as an impossibility.'
seems at odds with Bavinck's claim in this statement:
'In Christ, in the middle of history God has created an organic center; from there the circles are getting drawn ever wider, on which the light of revelation shines..While head and heart, the totality of man in his being and consciousness has to be renewed, the revelation in this dispensation continuous through Scripture and church together.
'Scripture is the light of the church, the church is the life of the Scripture. Outside of the church Scripture is a riddle, an annoyance'
'Therefore Scripture does not stand alone. She should not be considered Deistically. She is rooted in a history of ages and is the fruit of the revelation under Israel and in Christ....The H. Scripture is the always living, eternally youthful word, which God sends now in this day and always to his people.'
This is Bavinck and Kuyper's organicism which shapes Klaas Schilder's writings, also concerning the trinity. For now I conclude that the attempt to see the trinity reflected in the world around us isn't the real reason organicism plays such an important role in reformed theology.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Russell Kirk's 'Conservative' Coalition & Presbyterian Theology


The question wether conservatism is compatible with the ideas of the founders of the Republic is directly related to presbyterian theology is my contention. Anthony Bradley tweeted recently 
Cornel West/Robbie George attacked by the most arrogant student ever, then rightly slammed. @ -37mins.

The question wether Robert P. George's 'conservative' views can be reconciled with Evangelical theology is at the heart of this discussion. Is the coalition around Chuck Colson and Robert P. George undermining or building on the legacy of people like Samuel Davies and Samuel Finley? I have already formed my opinion on the legacy of these two men and how their influence stretched across America. Bill Dennison's writings indicate that these questions are hotly debated among American evangelicals today. Dennison's debating 2K's, neocalvinism & natural law here, is at the heart of this debate.


Now let's look at this question from the other end. Let's start with Russell Kirk and his American friends and work back to the civil war. Once I have connected both sides we will be able to see how conservatism fits into the larger narrative of American history since the revolution and presbyterian theology in general.

In a 1957 article 'the essence of conservatism' Russell Kirk claims 'The system of ideas opposed to liberalism and radicalism is the conservative political philosophy'. Bradley J. Birzer wrote last year 'Russell Kirk adored a wide assortment of thinkers and artists and enjoyed serious friendships with most of them: Robert Nisbet, Flannery O’Connor, Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, and Ray Bradbury.' Russell Kirk wrote his dissertation on Randolph Of Roanoke, mentor of Slave Power leader Calhound, and labeled it 'a study in conservative thought.' This dissertation mentions Charles Sydnor as one of the people who made suggestions for this dissertation  who previously served as professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College. The educational background of this man, a son of a presbyterian minister, might give us more information on how his reading of American influenced Russell Kirk.
We read there that Charles Sydnor (who's chosen interest was English and medieval history!) was appointed in the newly created position as professor of history and political science at Hamden Sydney College: 'Sydney was deeply committed to its elitist Presbyterian heritage, its ideals for liberal education, and its determination to educate properly the embryonic leaders of the future South.' In 1925 he quit. Ten years later Francis Schaeffer graduated from this same elitist college.

At the University of Mississippi under President Albert Hume, a Presbyterian elder 'of conservative temperament' (whatever that means), Charles Sydnor became chair of the history department. In 1933 Charles Sydnor published a textbook on Slavery in Mississippi which buttressed the racist positions of confederate history societies.

In a piece on Lincoln Russell Kirk claimed 'the Northern, which practically was the New England intellect'. This reminds of the South's railing against 'yankee textbooks'. Especially this last clame betrays his attempt to rewrite history. Both Abraham Lincoln's background, linked to that of Kentucky abolitionist John Finley Crowe's Hanover seminary in Indiana, and his speech at Gettysburg, which is directly linked to Princeton and the Lutheran abolitionist movement are sufficient to show that Russell Kirk's claim is false. Add to that the evangelical exodus from the South.

Darryl Hart confirms most of what I write above, stating for example:
'evangelicals are starry-eyed activists masquerading as thoughtful conservatives'
Not surprising and not a bad thing in the context of Presbyterian history.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Abolitionist Origins of Hanover Seminary

"good classical education (is) essential to a full development of the human mind and to that discipline of its powers."  - John Finley Crowe
Kentucky Presbyterians played a central role in the efforts to use local, regional and national Church governing bodies to implement steps that would put slavery on the road to extinction. Central among these Kentucky Presbyterians was Reverend James Blyth President of Transylvania University in Lexington and later President of the seminary in Hannover (see also article by Andrew Lee Feight).


By 1835 the Presbyterian Church in the US harbored six theological seminaries: Princeton in New Jersey, Auburn in New York State, Western in Pennsylvania, Lane in Ohio, Columbia in South Carolina and the school founded in Indiana which later moved to Chicago.

In may 1822 the first issue (of 12) of the Abolitionist Intelligencer and Missionary Magazine came out. One of only two national abolitionist papers in the US. It's editor, John Finley Crowe, was to be the founder of Hannover Theological Seminary (1825,1826), a log college, the predecessor of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. In the history of this seminary in Hannover we can read that John Finley(Many of his line believe he added Finley later to have a middle name.) Crowe, after two years of private study,
'entered Transylvania University at Lexington, from which he was duly graduated in 1813, at the age of twenty-six. During his student days Mr. Crowe devoted a part of his time and energy to the rather irregular publication of an abolitionist paper, which did not contribute to his popularity in the Blue Grass country. He also became a member and an elder in the church of Rev. James Blythe whom he later induced to become the first president of Hanover College.'
In the Kentucky context 'John Finley' obviously refers to the Scots-Irish pioneer who explored Kentucky at the end of the 18th century together with Daniel Boone.

Reverend James Blythe was a graduate of Hampden Sidney College (1789) and studied theology under the direction of Reverend Dr. James Hall of North Carolina, who had graduated at Princeton under John Witherspoon in 1774. He was, for fifteen years, the president of Transylvania University in Lexington. In 1814/1815 John Finley Crowe studied at the Princeton theological Seminary and became pastor and teacher in Shelbyville in Kentucky. This would mean he studied under Archibald Alexander. The before mentioned Rev. James Blythe was the moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1816.

David Rice wrote a letter to James Blythe in 1799 which is mentioned here:
'he (David Rice) was educated at the College of New Jersey at Princeton before undertaking further studies under John Todd, who had spent a great deal of time working with Samuel Davies among slaves. Rice would eventually follow in Todd and Davies’ footsteps, working among slaves as an ordained Presbyterian minister in Virginia for over twenty years. After being forced out of Virginia, Rice joined the efforts of the Kentucky Abolition Society, serving also as a member of the 1792 Kentucky Constitutional Convention. It was as a member of the convention that Rice pleaded for a gradual emancipation initiative, giving an address entitled, Slavery Inconsistent with Justice and Good Policy. Ultimately, Rice saw the institution of slavery as not only unconstitutional, but as that which violated the most basic tenets of a natural, moral law. He believed, moreover, that it was especially the responsibility of the church to lead the cause for emancipation, expressing in 1799 in a letter to a friend that he wanted Christians to adopt “a rational plan for the gradual abolition of slavery; and do it under the influence of religion and conscience, without any regard for law” (Letter to James Blythe, 1799).'
At his graduation from Hampden-Sidney college in 1789 James Blythe had angered some attendants with his 'plea for black men' speech. James Blythe helped Barton W. Stone take over as minister the congregations of Cane Ridge and Concord in Bourbon County where Princeton educated Robert W. Finley had been expelled from the pulpit for drunkenness. Robert W. Finley, a biography by his son can be read here, had freed his slaves and moved to Ross County Ohio (where he became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church). In similar fashion James Blythe emancipated his slaves when he moved to Hanover Indiana to become President of the seminary 'which was primarily supported by anti-slavery migrants'. He stated in 1833 in his inaugural address: 'Christianity has taught the world to abhor slavery'. He however resigned in 1836 likely over his commitment to gradualism (writes Andrew Lee Feight). Hanover sacrificed it's President instead of having it's abolitionist scolars leave to Oberline, as had happened at Lane Seminary in 1834.

Three years later, november 7th 1837  a mob killed Elijah Parish Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois, who had moved the press for his abolitionist paper from St Louis to Alton in 1835. Abraham Lincoln referenced Lovejoy's murder in his Lyceum address in January 1838. James Blythe was succeeded by Dr. Erasmus Darwin MacMaster, one of the strongest anti-slavery men in the Old School Presbyterian Church. November 7th 1838, exactedly one year after the murder of Elijah Parish Loveoy, Erasmus D. MacMaster delivered his inaugural Address as new President of Hanover College. Macmaster had graduated from Union College in 1827, the school where Knox College founder George Washington Gale had studied under Eliphalet Nott.

In 1846 MacMaster had presented his views at the Presbyterian General Assemmbly and was there identified by the Princeton Review as one of two abolitionists. In 1847 New Albany Seminary was established. MacMaster became it's first President (1849-1857) Two of it's first students were sons of John Finley Crowe: James and Thomas. The school closed and moved to Chicago: the McCormick Seminary, a history.

An 1835 alumni of Hannover College, Jonathan Edwards, was President of Hannover College from 1855-1857 and went on to become President of Washington and Jefferson College, of Pennsylvania from 1866-1869. This Jonathan Edwards was a son of US Vice-President Aaron Burr.

John Finley Crowe stayed on the faculty of the College until 1857, but died january 17 1860. The rich McCormick taking over the seminary in 1859 to counter it's abolitionist teachings might have had something to do with Crowe's death. His son Samuel S. Crowe became member of the Indiana 93rd Infantry during the Civil War.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Samuel Davies & Islam

In stark contrast to many contemporary American conservatives today, Samuel Davies did not single out Islam but said that the gospel:
'shall triumph over heathenism, Mahometism, Judaism, popery, and all those dangerous errors that have infected the Christian church'
Contemporary American 'conservatives' would probably not like to hear these words from Gilbert Tennet(1758) either:
'it is foolish & fatal, not only for individuals, but for nations who are made up of such, to magnify their importance beyond any just foundation...[for] jehovah is able to support his cause and preserve his church' (without the support of the English)


Thursday, February 6, 2014

The History of The Log Colleges

It's curious how my effort to research the educational background of Samuel Stanhope Smith is similar to Archibald Alexander's effort to research the history of both Tennent's Log college in Buck's County and Robert Smith's academey at Pequea. Alexander himself had studied at the Academy of William Graham at Timber Ridge Meetinghouse in Lexington Virginia. William Graham had studied theology under the tuition of Rev. Mr. Roan and had graduated underJohn Witherspoon at Princeton in 1773. On William Graham's tombstone a quote from Archibald Alexander:
"The extent of the influence exerted by this one man over the literature and religion of Virginia," says Dr. A.Alexander, (who was one of his students), "cannot be calculated."
If this is true, and I assume it has some truth to it, it would be reasonable to conclude that the different Log colleges exerted substantial influence on what their students would teach others later on. Understanding the history of these different log colleges, taken together with John Witherspoon´s influence at Princeton, would have obviously helped in making an informed decision concerning the direction of education at Princeton at the beginning of the 19th century. That is likely the reason Alexander studied the history of both Tennent's log college, the history of the Presbyterians in Ireland, and Robert Smith's Academy at Pequea.

However, it's reasonable to suspect that these schools all had a slightly different educational approach. These slightly different approaches were likely all inspired by educational reforms of John Knox and more recent trends from a variety of origins. For the superficial observer there might have been only two Presbyterian flavors until the reunification of 1758, old lights and new lights. In reality there were all kinds of contradicting developments, tensions and approaches that had to work together at that time. 

It's in this context and for precisely this reason that the Princeton trustees had chosen Samuel Davies and Samuel Finley as early presidents before the arrival of John Witherspoon. These presidents aimed and eventually succeeded in bringing together old lights and new lights. But I think we are missing something if we think that that was the only divide they had to bridge. To understand how they were able to bring this diverse crowd together, the sermon Samuel Finley preached after Davies's death is a good starting point.

But to dig deeper into the understanding of the unifying force the two men were able to tap in to, we should also look at Samuel Finley's educational approach at his West Nottingham Academy in Cecil County which, according to Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, 'acquired a higher reputation than any other in the middle colonies, so that students from a distance were attracted to it'.

Monday, February 3, 2014

What Happened To Princeton's Rhetoric Theory?

In reviewing Thomas Miller's edition of John Witherspoon writings Bryan Horner asked the question Why Was Hugh Blair's Rhetoric Theory More Widely Influential than Witherspoon's? To answer this question in a satisfactory way it's necessary to place John Witherspoon's rhetoric theory in the broader context of Princeton's educational aims.

A key trait of the international network that supported Princeton was the aim to democratize knowledge. In the book 'News from the Republic of Letters'  (and her thesis) Esther Mijers writes on this international network. Cotton Mather's praise for Petrus van Mastricht's book Theologica theoretico-practica, Jonathan Belcher's suggestion to name Princeton's main hall 'Nassau Hall', and Samuel Adams' 1774 signing of a Solemn League and covenant are illustrations of this context. Even respected scolars of the work of Jonathan Edwards such as Ridderbos, Gerstner and Lee, have overlooked this international exchange during the 17th and 18th century.

Keep in mind that Reverend William Carstares, the famous advisor of William III, advocated that a Presbyterian polity should replace the Scottish bishops. I also contend that democratization was a major concern for William Carstares when he reformed the University of Edinburgh where John Erskine, John Witherspoon and Francis Hutcheson had studied. Did William Carstares also have a hand in the 1696 Act for Settling Schools (in Scotland)? I could also point to John Erskine's effort to publish and distribute affordable literature. Or to Samuel Davies' literacy campaign among slaves in Virginia.

I tend to interpret Samuel Finley's emphasis on the study of English and English literature, both at his West Nottingham Academy and as Princeton President, in this same international framework. Apparently Francis Alison had done the same at the College of Philadelphia.  This was part of a trend that had started at the University of Edinburgh where both Hugh Blair and John Witherspoon (John Erskine and Francis Hutcheson) had studied under John Stevenson. Benjamin Rush, who had studied with Samuel Finley at both institutions, writes 'Why then should we spend years in teaching that (Latin) which is so rarely required in future life?'.

Samuel Stanhope Smith, Witherspoon's successor as Princeton President, moved away from this focus on democratization of knowledge. He ignored van Mastricht's book 'the best method of preaching', Jonathan Edwards' approach to preaching, Samuel Davies, George Withfield, Samuel Finley and John Witherspoon's focus. Instead he immitated the rhetoric of Hugh Blair and some French priest. There might be truth in the harsh words of his brother John Blair who once said 'Brother Sam, you don't preach Jesus Christ and him crucified, but Sam Smith and him dignified', but could it also have been caused by a lack of understanding of Princeton's rhetoric as such? He started his education at the (new light) log college of his father, Robert Smith, with a strong emphasis on Latin and Greek. Did Robert Smith ignore the trend towards emphasis on English?

The direction Samuel Stanhope Smith tried to take Princeton in clashed with the democratization project the founders had intended it to be. The inevitable ensuing tension eventually led to him being deposed. Charles Bradford Bow is therefore correct to point out how Samuel Stanhope Smith did not follow in the footsteps of John Witherspoon. This is true also concerning Rhetoric.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Dutch Phase of the Scottish Universities

Esther Mijer's book 'News from The Republic of Letters' and her thesis have several very interesting quotes. From the book:
'Out of those wider European connections, a special relationship developed between Scotland & the United Provinces'
 From the thesis:
'Moral and natural philosophy, logic, metaphysics, law, medicine, and divinity were all taught from Dutch compendia, such as Grotius, Pufendorf and De Vries. These were supplemented with the works of the Cambridge Platonists, astronomers like Kepler, Brahe and Galileo and English and 'Dutch' philosophers, such as Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes and Locke.'
Especially the names Grotius and Pufendorf immediately remind me of the idea behind Francis Hutcheson's moral philosophy. However I read in Ralph MacLean's thesis
'The first chair of moral philosophy was Gershom Carmichael (1672-1729), Hutcheson's regent from his student days. Carmichael had been instrumental in promoting the ideas of Grotius and Pufendorff at the University, and he had a considerable impact on Hutcheson himself,..'

One other quote that I like a lot, while it helps in comparing Francis Hutcheson and John Witherspoon:
'Aristotelianism, the dominant philosophy traditionally closely connected with orthodox Calvinism'


Saturday, February 1, 2014

John Witherspoon in Covenantal Context

'In 1781 John Witherspoon coined the word 'Americanism,' writes Glasgow's Susan Manning, 'which he declared to be 'exactly similar in its formation and signification to the word Scotticism.' What could he have meant?'. It's the same way with Kuyper's stone lectures on Calvinism. What could he have meant?

The Solemn League and covenant taken by the House of Commons, September 25, 1643 provides the context for Joseph Warren and Samuel Adams's solemn league and covenant which was signed july 4th 1774 (the same day as the date on the declaration of independence) in Massachussets. This obviously places presbyterianism at the core of the American revolution. But what do we mean by 'presbyterianism'?

People often speak of a vague Calvinist influence on the American constitution. But without going into the nitty gritty this can mean almost anyting. It therefore makes sense to trace back the history of the covenanters and what this means for our understanding of the American revolution and the Republic. Gideon Mailer has, for example, researched the influence of the Scottish covenant on the election of representatives in the new American Republic.


In 1651 Reverend James Guthrie preached on the great danger of backsliding and defection from covenanted Reformation Principle. A sermon introduced and promoted by Ebenezer Erskine in 1739. Keep in mind that Ebenezer Erskine had been a teacher of the famous Dutch pastor Alexander Comrie, loved by Abraham Kuyper and his student A.G. Honig writes Klaas Schilder on page 569 of book two of his commentary on the Heidelberger Catechism (Klaas Schilder himself seems to have some reservations here and there though). A.G. Honig even wrote his dissertation (second at the Free University in 1892) on Alexander Comrie. Honig went on to become the succesor of Herman Bavinck as dogmatics professor in Kampen. His book on dogmatics (1938) has been for many years the handbook on dogmatics for many reformed theology students in Kampen.

James Guthrie became a preacher of the Gospel in 1638, the year when the National Covenant was signed. 'His name, too, is set there on that great spiritual magna Charta.'


The pamphlet 'The Causes of the Lord's Wrath against Scotland' was used to condemn and execute him. His defense before 'the drunken parliament':
'My Lord, my conscience I cannot submit But this old crazy body and mortal flesh I do submit, to do with it whatsoever ye will, whether by death, or banishment, or imprisonment, or anything else; only I beseech you to ponder well what profit there is in my blood. It is not the extinguishing of me or of many others that will extinguish the Covenant or work of the Reformation since 1638. My blood, bondage or banishment will contribute more for the propagation of these things than my life in liberty would do, though I should live many years.'
Both Francis Hutcheson and John Witherspoon should be understood in this covenantel context and guide us in establishing their place (in relation to) the Scottish enlightenment. The conference March 27 in Glasgow might be a great place to further reflect on these issues, with Mailer on John Witherspoon on Scottish-American foreign policy, Onnekink on William III's continental foreign policy and Dr. Brendam Simms, some background here and criticism here, on 'the history of a concept'.

It's obvious this debate and this conference isn't just about history, it's about politics in Europe, in the US and in the world today.