Review of Pleading for a Reformation Vision by David Calhoun

Pleading for a Reformation Vision, The Life and Selected Writings of William Childs Robinson (1897–1982) by David Calhoun, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2013, 309 pp.

The biography section of this volume is rather short; extending only to page 126. The remaining 60% of the book then is selected writing of William Childs Robinson. The biography section itself also references and has lengthy quotes from many of his writings. Probably, it seems, sufficient materials do not exist to write more thoroughly on the history and person of Robinson. What remains in the record are his theological writings.

The author, David Calhoun, is an expert on Southern Presbyterian history, having writing not only this volume but also Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary (1828–1927).

As for Robinson, he was a pivotal figure keeping alive the Calvinist tradition in the South at a low point in church history. He taught for many years at Columbia Seminary where he was the leading conservative voice in an institution growing increasingly liberal. These were the days before the Reformed renaissance in the South with the respective founding of both Reformed Theological Seminary (1966) and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (1986). Conservative Calvinists either went to Columbia Seminary to study with Robinson or they had to leave the region and attend a place like Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Robinson studied briefly with Karl Barth and worked alongside Manfred Gutzke. He significantly influenced his students including D. James Kennedy and Paul Settle. In 1945 he preached a sermon to an audience that included President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was a leading opponent of the merger between his southern Presbyterian Church US and the northern Presbyterian Church USA and influenced many of the founders of the PCA.
In many ways (working at a liberal seminary as a conservative and staying in the mainline denomination) William Childs Robinson is, in my estimation, the John Gerstner of the South. Or perhaps John Gerstner is the Robinson of the North.
The book also contains interesting information on Robinson’s two sons who each followed his path into Christian academia but deviated significantly from his orthodox Calvinism.

Overall, the book must be said to be lacking in many ways. The biography is lacking . . . well . . . biographical information. While in For a Continuing Church Sean Lucas comments significantly on Robinson’s views on segregation, in the present volume there is only one short paragraph on the matter. Robinson’s whole upbringing receives a scant two pages. It is noted that Robinson did not join the PCA, but does not explain why he did not join. There is not even an index. The book is a disappointment.