Review of Presbyterians in the South, Volume Three: 1890-1972

Presbyterians in the South, Volume Three: 1890 – 1972, by Ernest Trice Thompson, Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1973, 636 pp.

This book is the third of three volumes of Ernest Trice Thompson’s Presbyterians in the South.

I found this volume to be the worst of the three. Much of the book is tedious to read. Some chapters rely too heavily on statistics to make any enjoyable narrative. And as the book approaches Thompson own time his biases become more visible.

Thompson’s main focus continues to be the possibility of merger or union between the Southern and Northern Presbyterians (or with virtually anyone else who might be willing). He clearly is in favor of union. In this book Thompson’s liberal proclivities come fully out in the open. He notes himself being heavily influenced by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861 – 1918), a key figure in the Social Gospel movement and opponent of Biblical inerrancy. (p. 265) Where Thompson gives his opinion (explicitly or implied) I don’t think I once agreed with him. Whenever I read a mid-twentieth century liberal like Thompson, I wonder what he’d think of the mainline church today. Wouldn’t even Thompson be appalled at the extreme leftist politics of today’s PCUSA? Maybe not; none of the other divergences from the Scriptures in his own time seem to have concerned him.

Anyways, to finish out my three-part series on this book, in the same fashion as the two previous reviews I’ll note ten things I found of interest in this lengthy tome.

1. Thompson notes that Billy Sunday “held a number of successful campaigns in various Southern cities after World War I.” (p. 43)

2. Canvassing the western states and the growth of Presbyterianism there, Thompson notes, “the great tide of population flowing into the Southwest poured into Texas and Oklahoma, and Arkansas was sometimes described as ‘The State which is passed by.’” (p. 49)

3. Thompson is continually opposed to the Westminster Confession. He calls Calvinism “rigid.” (p. 490) He says the Confession has “extreme language” (p. 210) and he once refers to “the legalism of the confession.” (p. 516) And he calls the five points of Calvinism “disputed.” (p. 211)

4. On a personal level I found this following quote interesting: “Mountain missions were pushed more aggressively in North Carolina after the founding of Asheville Presbytery in 1896.” (p. 102) It was that very same year that my current church — Dillingham Presbyterian (then called The Covenanter’s Church) — was founded by the Asheville Presbytery.

5. I’ve long been confused about where Union Seminary (of Virginia, not New York) was located. Now I understand from this book that Union was originally at Hampden-Sydney but later moved to Richmond. (p. 171)

6. I like the quote from R. C. Reed saying that higher criticism originated in Germany as a “pastime of German professors,” who, “had no more reverence for the Bible than for Homer.” (p. 212-213)

7. The highpoint of PCUS missions was in 1926 when they had “more than 500 missionaries in half a dozen foreign lands.” (p. 426)

8. The first women ordained in the PCUS was Dr. Rachel Henderlite in 1965. (p. 479)

9. Perhaps one of the most interesting things is what Thompsons leaves out. In the same year that this book was published the PCA broke off from the PCUS. In just one place is there a reference to the Concerned Presbyterians, the group which led to the PCA. Thompson gives no indication that the conservatives are about to leave the church to form their own.

10. Ok, I only have 9 points. I’ll use this tenth point to ask and answer the question “should you read this three-volume series?” My answer is “probably not.” The whole thing is over 1500 pages of fairly dense text. There is a lot to learn, but one could easily read a half dozen other volumes in this time in takes to read this series.

For the previous review in this series see here.

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