Ordained Servant Online



Rejoinder to Hart, Muether Response to Review

Carl Trueman

While I am not accustomed to receiving such detailed responses to a brief book review, the nature of this one requires at least a brief rejoinder.

First, as to the sixteenth and seventeenth century: the idea that Presbyterian and Puritan can be used as separate categories, representing different interests is simply nonsense. The English-Scottish settlements of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries do not allow for the kind of statement that "Puritans were in the Church of England and Presbyterians were in the Kirk of Scotland." Of course, the fact that Hart and Muether think that James VI/I was the son of Catholic Mary Tudor, not Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, indicates that their knowledge of the Anglo-Scottish politics of the time is problematic. Understanding the royal lineage is central to understanding Anglo-Scottish relations and religious policy of the time. One cannot understand why there ever was a Westminster Assembly unless one understands the struggles over church government and worship within the Anglican Church (and, indeed, within the Church of Scotland) generated by the House of Stuart. (Though, according to this book, James is a Tudor, not a Stuart!) And, I note, a further historical generalization that needs at least some unpacking has been added in the response: Scottish Presbyterians were highly divided over the regicide. Does the name of Covenanting Lord Montrose mean nothing? What about the so-called "second Civil War" before the King's execution? The legal action against Charles was driven by Parliament, the New Model Army, and the Independents; English Presbyterian Puritans (yes, there were such men) like Christopher Love were opposed to it.

Second, I stand by my critical reference to the generalization about the PCA on page 253. I make the obvious request for documentation, not an unreasonable request from a book that offers itself as a historical narrative. All the authors do in their response is quote their original statement. The statement may be true, but a good historian offers evidence and nuances his position. The "prior observation" itself requires documenting. A large and diverse church needs careful parsing in a historical narrative; and historians are meant to provide evidence for their claims. That the book is endorsed by PCA pastors is surely a sign not that every statement is endorsed but that the PCA does actually contain leaders who do not represent the kind of PCA caricature offered here.

There are other comments one could offer: the silence of the authors on the connections between Van Til and Ned Stonehouse and early evangelical fellowships, for example; the apparent assumption that the "spirituality of the church" is a given, enjoying universal consensus on exactly what it means—or, perhaps more accurately, what the authors think it should mean. But there is no time to deal with that here. Thus, while I certainly acknowledge that Hart and Muether specialize in American Presbyterianism in a way that I do not, I would offer the following cautions. Despite the claim that it is the reviewer who uses the early Anglo-Scottish categories to read later developments, it is actually the authors who do so, and, as a historian, I will document the claim. Readers should not take my word for it; they need merely read the book. Second, it always worries me when the one area of a book where I am competent to comment is so problematic. What, I wonder, about those areas where I do not have the training to spot the flaws? Am I being sold a bill of goods? And how would I know? Well, generally, I check the footnotes and track down the evidence. Yet in this work, key claims are left uncorroborated. That is a serious flaw.

I am sure that this exchange will leave readers thinking that I do not like the book. I do. It tells a fascinating, and generally fairly reliable, story; but I suspect it also tells me as much about the authors as it does about American Presbyterian history.

Carl Trueman is a minister in the OPC serving as a professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Aug./Sept. 2009.

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