This revealing read will give you an opportunity to learn from history. How do strong confessional churches that seem to be doing all the right things drift inexorably from the truth? What is clear from Ian Hamilton’s fascinating study is that it doesn’t happen over night but it is a gradual erosion of theological and doctrinal standards.
Nineteenth century Scotland was seen as a Christian nation composed of church-going people. Among its churches, Presbyterianism was strongest, and within Presbyterianism there were several large denominations. The future looked bright and optimism marked many of the church leaders and congregations. Yet the sad fact is that most of them were blind to the presence of the warning signs that ultimately caused the decline and not the continued growth of the church in Scotland.
To understand how this happened Ian Hamilton looks at the changes that took place within one of these large Presbyterian denominations – the United Presbyterian Church – and analyses the roots, developments and consequences of these changes, particularly the departure from the doctrines summarised in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is a salutary lesson to observe that the movements for church unions and increased evangelism of the nineteenth century were not signs of spiritual health; instead they were inadequate sticking plasters that hid dangerous spiritual disease. This book also includes discussion on the nature of subscription to the Confession at time of 1733 secession, the atonement controversy 1841-45, the Union controversy 1863-1873 and 1879 United Presbyterian Church Declaratory Act.
Dr. Ian Hamilton (DD, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England & Wales, and serves on the Boards of Trustees of the Banner of Truth Trust and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
What strikes me most about this revised edition is its relevance to our situation today and Pastor Hamilton’s careful research, scholarly precision, and warm style make the book very useful to the scholar and accessible to the ordinary reader.
The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy is an invaluable historical case study of the fascinating and complex issues of Christian orthodoxy. In it Ian Hamilton carefully traces the arguments and positions which eventually fed into the theological liberalism of the 19th and 20th centuries that has left the church moribund.But perhaps the chief value of Ian Hamilton’s work is the sobering message it carries for the contemporary church, where some views regarded as new and ground-breaking bear an uncanny resemblance to those that once led to the spiritual wasteland. Ignorance of the past often leads to the repetition of its mistakes. Ian Hamilton here provides an important historical antidote for such theological amnesia.
In an era where the drive in some quarters to watering down confessional commitment precisely as a means of strengthening orthodoxy seems almost irresistible, Ian Hamilton’s study of nineteenth century Scottish Presbyterianism is a timely reminder: revisions of confessions and terms of subscription have often proved to be anything but friendly towards a robust Christianity, a point made here with scholarly grace and theological acumen. It is good to see this book back in print and made available to a wider audience.
– Carl R. Trueman, Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies, Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania
Ian Hamilton’s The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy is the seminal modern study of confessional subscription in the Scottish tradition. His recounting of the story, and his conclusions, are of direct relevance, not only to Presbyterians, but to all who are committed to confessional fidelity in the great evangelical Protestant tradition. Any further study of this important topic must reckon with Hamilton’s account and findings.
– J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor and CEO, John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary