Honoring William Childs Robinson

A good study of a faithful and not so well known theologian in the American South.

Some books are vital although they will never appeal to a large audience.  Such can be said about Pleading for a Reformation Vision: The Life and Selected Writings of William Childs Robinson 1897-1982 by David Calhoun.  I think there are several reasons why this book is extremely significant.  The first relates to the author and editor David Calhoun.

Dr. Calhoun has been compiling an impressive history of Presbyterian and Reformed education in America.  This series of books began with two volumes on Princeton Theological Seminary.  Volume 1 is titled Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning 1812-1868.  This volume covers the heyday of Calvinism in early America.  This was the age in which such men as Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge defined and defended Reformed theology.  They and others made Princeton a pillar in the Protestant world.

The strong stand that Presbyterians made during the first half of the 19th century came under severe attack from within during the last decades of that century and beyond.  The second volume of Calhoun’s book is titled Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony 1869-1929.  These were the years when issues relating to the Higher Critical Movement, Darwinian Naturalism, and Theological Liberalism undercut basic Bible beliefs in America.  Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield battled the enemies in his day, but upon his death, the theological orthodoxy of old Princeton was eroded.  J. Gresham Machen fought a valiant rearguard action against the theological enemies of his day, but the war was one of strategic retreats for Calvinistic doctrine.

Princeton Theological Seminary and northern Presbyterianism did not constitute the whole story during the 18th and 19th centuries, however.  Here, Dr. Calhoun’s third volume is really instructive.  In the South, there were also several strong bastions of Calvinistic thought and theology.  One of the main centers was Columbia Seminary, which is the topic of Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary 1828-1927.  I wrote a review of this book which can be found here.  The theological challenges and cultural issues facing Southern Presbyterians were not exactly those of the Princeton scholars.  This book is a good history of Southern Christianity as well as Presbyterianism.

Our Southern Zion

Dr. Calhoun’s more recent book, Pleading for a Reformation Vision, is a different type of work, but it supplements the other three volumes.  About half of this book is a biographical sketch of William Childs Robinson and the other half is a collection of some of his writings.

This forgotten hero of the faith, William Childs Robinson, is the second reason why this book is so vital.  God always raises up men to stand in the gap.  In the darkest times, the light never goes out.  When orthodox Christianity waned in the northern churches, when Arminian theology trumped Calvinistic theology, and when theology itself was basically dethroned from being queen of the sciences to an irrelevant obscurity, there were men who stood fast.  William Childs Robinson upheld the Westminster Confession of Faith and Reformed theology when all about him waffled, compromised, neglected, undermined, and minimized the old doctrines.

I have been studying–in awe–for over several decades the men who upheld historic Calvinism during what I have called “the Wilderness Years.”  While men like Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, Gregg Singer, R. J. Rushdoony, and others have gotten some notice for their intellectual rigor and faithfulness,  for their expansive Calvinistic minds, Robinson is not widely known today.  Neither he nor his writings should be forgotten.

A biographical sketch of a seminary professor contains little that is exciting.  This man preached, taught preachers, read, wrote essays, and went to church.  He was not immune to controversies; he was in contact and/or with leading theologians of his day; and he did preach the last sermon that Franklin D. Roosevelt heard (and I hope it was effectual). But he mainly stood fast.  He mainly remained faithful.  He mainly persevered.  When you think about it, that itself is quite an exciting story.

Proof of Robinson’s sound theology is found in the dozen or so essays found in the book.  This book, as well as the other three by Dr. Calhoun, are all published by Banner of Truth.

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