What muted and sidelined the Presbyterian voice in religion and society?
I’m returning to a question I asked last summer but with a slightly different angle. Last summer, I asked what happened to popular Presbyterianism in a world where the Calvinist resurgence is almost entirely Baptist and non-denominational.
In the 1980s and 1990s when I was first introduced to Reformed theology three names dominated the seen were James Montgomery Boice (Senior Minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia), Sinclair Ferguson who was teaching full-time at the time at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and R.C. Sproul. They are all Presbyterians. In those days “Calvinism”/”Reformed” and Presbyterian were synonyms.
Dr. Bill Evans, the Eunice Witherspoon Bell Younts and Willie Camp Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College, has two reflections on how conservative Presbyterianism lost its mojo in recent years here: part 1 and part 2. These posts are helpful.
Matthew Tuininga proposes this as a possible explanation:
Presbyterians have increasingly turned inward, becoming more and more obsessed with intramural squabbles over secondary and even tertiary points of doctrine, and even with turf wars between ever shrinking (proportionally) seminaries and denominations.
So, now I am wondering, additionally, why we don’t hear multiple Presbyterian reflections on the social and cultural issues of our day as well–employing the tools and categories of the Presbyterian tradition explicitly. I am wondering why are Presbyterians not showing up as leaders in culturally leveraged spaces and discussions within the church or outside of it. I was recently on a website watching what was construed as a “biblical” position on a social issue “X” and about 30 seconds into the video I realized that it wasn’t a “biblical” view at all. Instead, it was a particular denomination’s way of thinking about the issue which was very clear and if you knew anything about that denomination’s history.
I am wondering, then, for those who are raising their children in the Presbyterian tradition what resources exists for forming Presbyterian identity in terms of an understanding marriage & family (i.e., the relationship between covenant marriage & covenant baptism in America’s marriage debate), issues related to social & political power & federal political theory (which is derivative of federal theology), divorce and remarriage, war and social conflict, apologetics, and so on? How does a covenantal world-and-life view, and Presbyterian understandings of power structures, unlock the implications for a theology of work & economics when applied to international third world development, and so on?
By extension, I am also wondering what happened to Presbyterians as known and normative leaders of culturally leveraged institutions in American society and culture? Mark Twain and William Faulkner were Presbyterian. More Vice-Presidents of the United States have been Presbyterian more than any other denomination (Presbyterians rank 2nd for the US Presidency). Presbyterians rank 2nd in terms of placement on the Supreme Court in US History. I could go on. . . .
Again, if you wanted to get Presbyterian reflections on a range of issues in multiple aspects of society and the church, where would one go? What Presbyterians are speaking to these issues or leading institutions that are (like think tanks or colleges and universities)? Dr. Phil Ryken is at Wheaton College but is he the only college president of one of the larger evangelical, non-denominational schools who is Presbyterian? Is that right? Again, I could go on. . .
It just seems that not only have Presbyterians been side-lined and muted in popular Calvinism in America and evangelicalism in general, as I discussed last year, but it seems that they also are not too involved in leading the other institutions outside of the church that shape culture either. What happened?
I know, I know everyone points to Tim Keller but, to be fair to him, he is not omnicompetent and shouldn’t be expected to address everything. Before Keller there was Presbyterians like Francis Schaeffer adding much to these conversations. Who are the Presbyterians speaking to larger culture in the spirit of Schaeffer?
If you have names of Presbyterians I am missing who are currently leading in America’s culturally leveraged institutions please list them in the comment section or if you have any insight as to why many national leaders are not coming out of the Presbyterian tradition (like we saw in the past) I’d love to hear what you think!
To be clear, my question is NOT about the influence of “Reformed” this or that, it is a question specifically about Presbyterianism (OPC, PCA, EPC, the renewal folks in the PC(USA), etc.). In an interview at Covenant College, the Rev. George Robertson said that it is his “dream that [the PCA] would be a leader denomination in evangelicalism, and in so doing, a real influencer of our culture, so that people of North America would look to the PCA for resourcing or guidance.” I’m not sure how this can happen while the mute button is being pressed.