(By Chuck Wiggins, The Presbyterian Outlook). “I often wonder what kind of shape the Presbyterian Church would be in today if the Orthodox Presbyterians, the PCA, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and ECO had not departed,” mused Joseph D. Small, former Presbyterian Church (USA.) Theology & Worship director.
Those particularly thought provoking words came during the recent Presbyterian Scholars Conference held October 18-19 at Wheaton College in Illinois.
A glimpse of that musing was evident as 30 scholars from various streams of the Presbyterian enterprise gathered to offer papers and exchange remarks on “the future of American Presbyterianism.”
From my perspective, the spirit and the tenor of the conference with scholars from the PC(USA), OPC, EPC, and ECO under one roof during both the lectures and at table during meals was — how shall I say it — downright genial.
Headlining a list of outstanding scholars besides Small, included Bradley Longfield of University of Dubuque Theological Seminary; OPC historian extraordinaire and Hillsdale College professor Darryl Hart; and George Marsden, distinguished professor from Notre Dame University and arguably the premier historian of American church history.
Perhaps the highlight of the conference was the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the publication of Longfield’s groundbreaking work, “The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists & Moderates.” Longfield’s award-winning book has been widely regarded by Presbyterians of all theological stripes as an even-handed analysis of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s and 1930s and their aftermath. (In my opinion, previous historical narratives by mainline P’s have largely tended to dismiss departing conservatives as simplistic cranks; while the “split P’s” have approached their forbears uncritically with a kind of surreal, hagiographic reverence.)