Mercersburg Theology

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The Original Secession

Puritan Board Freshman
I am looking for some good resources on Mercersburg theology, namely something that would break its historic development, milieu, distinctives, critiques of those distinctives, and the impact it has had on American Reformed Theology going forward. So basically anything you have on Mercersburg!

 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
James Good, History of the Reformed Church in the U.S. in the Nineteenth Century will give you an overview and critique. His own dad was involved in the controversy.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
That’s interesting. I didn’t realize there was a connection. Would you mind briefly explaining?

FV guys really picked up on Nevins rich sacramentology. Of course, as someone who holds to Nevin's views on the Supper, I don't think they lead to FV.

Nevin reacted (rightly, I believe) to the hyper-revivalism going on. Nevin saw that Revivalist Christainity really had a hard time applying Calvin's view of the Church and Sacraments.

Think of it this way: how does God promise to meet us? Does he meet us in a mighty experience normally or by Word, Water, and Eucharist?

Mathison has a good overview of it in Given for You. Hart's bio is good, too.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
FV guys really picked up on Nevins rich sacramentology. Of course, as someone who holds to Nevin's views on the Supper, I don't think they lead to FV.

Nevin reacted (rightly, I believe) to the hyper-revivalism going on. Nevin saw that Revivalist Christainity really had a hard time applying Calvin's view of the Church and Sacraments.

Think of it this way: how does God promise to meet us? Does he meet us in a mighty experience normally or by Word, Water, and Eucharist?

Mathison has a good overview of it in Given for You. Hart's bio is good, too.
Thanks for this! I ended up watching this video and found it helpful, as well. Not to get too off topic, but I once thought of purchasing Emanuel Vogel Gerhart's works from Logos (they're only $35.99), but I was unsure of Mercersburg Theology. Do you think his Institutes are a valuable resource?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Thanks for this! I ended up watching this video and found it helpful, as well. Not to get too off topic, but I once thought of purchasing Emanuel Vogel Gerhart's works from Logos (they're only $35.99), but I was unsure of Mercersburg Theology. Do you think his Institutes are a valuable resource?

He really influenced Nevin, but to get at the heart of the matter, just read Nevin. His classic is Mystical Presence (and mystical doesn't mean what it means today). Then read Anxious Bench.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Here is a review article that I wrote several years ago in which some of the dangers of the Mercersburg Theology are mentioned. I would agree with Jacob on its good points, though I do recall D. G. Hart saying in a lecture that I attended that J. W. Nevin read too much of Hegel into Calvin.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Not to get too off topic, but I once thought of purchasing Emanuel Vogel Gerhart's works from Logos (they're only $35.99), but I was unsure of Mercersburg Theology. Do you think his Institutes are a valuable resource?

You may find the following article helpful: Richard A. Muller, ‘Emanuel V. Gerhart on the “Christ-Idea” as fundamental principle’, Westminster Theological Journal, 48 (1986), 97–117. Since you may read the two volumes of Gerhart's Institutes and his Introduction to the Study of Philosophy for free on the Internet Archive, I would not spend that amount on the Logos edition of his works.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Given Ligon Duncan's recent notoriety, this quote might be timely. And it explains the differnce between Nevin and other parts of American Reformeddom.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
As a brief corrective to Jacob, I believe Nevin and the Mercersburg theologians were correct on the Lord's Supper, but not on baptism. Keith Mathison is excellent (and, I believe, correct) on the Mercersburg theologians and the Lord's Supper. However, he does not really delve much into the overly high view of baptism that Mercersburg theologians had. Now, it can be argued that the FV guys took Mercersburg theologians beyond what the original authors would have intended. That is possible, and the point has not, to my view, been investigated very thoroughly. The precursors to FV are not just Mercersburg, but would also include elements of Klaas Schilder, Norman Shepherd, theonomy, and the hermeneutics of James Jordan.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
As a brief corrective to Jacob, I believe Nevin and the Mercersburg theologians were correct on the Lord's Supper, but not on baptism. Keith Mathison is excellent (and, I believe, correct) on the Mercersburg theologians and the Lord's Supper. However, he does not really delve much into the overly high view of baptism that Mercersburg theologians had. Now, it can be argued that the FV guys took Mercersburg theologians beyond what the original authors would have intended. That is possible, and the point has not, to my view, been investigated very thoroughly. The precursors to FV are not just Mercersburg, but would also include elements of Klaas Schilder, Norman Shepherd, theonomy, and the hermeneutics of James Jordan.

You're correct on Baptism.

You are also correct, and I would take it a step further, that Klaas Schilder (who I appreciate for his heroic stance against the Nazis and the compromised Dutch Reformed church (official) of the time) is far more of an influence on FV than Nevin.
 

User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
“The precursors to FV are not just Mercersburg, but would also include elements of Klaas Schilder, Norman Shepherd, theonomy, and the hermeneutics of James Jordan.”

Linking FV to theonomy makes as much sense as linking FV to Moses.
 

J. Van Vliet

Puritan Board Freshman
From what I am aware, notable biographies of John Nevin include those written by:

From 1800s
A.R. Kremer
Theodore Appel

1960s
James Hastings Nichols

1990s
James Wentz

2000s
D.G. Hart

I am currently finishing up Harts biography- my first book covering any content on mercerburg theology. It seems to lack detailed explanations on theology nevin developed approaching and after his retirement from the seminary; I also would be grateful if someone could suggest which of these biographies or other books that they've read that more clearly describes Nevins theology!
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
“The precursors to FV are not just Mercersburg, but would also include elements of Klaas Schilder, Norman Shepherd, theonomy, and the hermeneutics of James Jordan.”

Linking FV to theonomy makes as much sense as linking FV to Moses.

Lane @greenbaggins probably does not mean theonomy narrowly considered, but that certain opinions which circulated within the theonomy movement were a factor in the emergence of the Federal Vision. I would, of course, agree that any assertion that holding a theonomic view of the judicial laws makes one disposed to Federal Visionism is mistaken.
 
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User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
Lane @greenbaggins probably does not mean theonomy narrowly considered, but that certain opinions which circulated within the theonomy movement were a factor in the emergence of the Federal Vision.

Perhaps you’re correct. If so, that would be a much less ambitious theory than that held by others who’ve tried to impugn theonomy by FV association. But if that’s all that’s being suggested, that FV came from the opinions of certain theonomists, well we might also observe that FV came from the opinions of certain Calvinists.

In other words, if we’re not talking about the theological trajectory of ideas (i.e FV is linked to theonomy), but rather we are merely observing that the opinion of FV was held by persons who held another opinion called theonomy, then why stop there? Why not also observe that opinions circulated within the Reformed movement were a factor in the emergence of theonomy itself (as well as FV)?

Obviously that is not very interesting, which is why I suspect there might be a bit more to the guilt by association. But if the theory is more ambitious, some meat should be added to the bones. Namely, how do the epistemic and ethical considerations of theonomy relate to a doctrine that would collapse soteriology into ecclesiology?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Perhaps you’re correct. If so, that would be a much less ambitious theory than that held by others who’ve tried to impugn theonomy by FV association. But if that’s all that’s being suggested, that FV came from the opinions of certain theonomists, well we might also observe that FV came from the opinions of certain Calvinists.

In other words, if we’re not talking about the theological trajectory of ideas (i.e FV is linked to theonomy), but rather we are merely observing that the opinion of FV was held by persons who held another opinion called theonomy, then why stop there? Why not also observe that opinions circulated within the Reformed movement were a factor in the emergence of theonomy itself (as well as FV)?

Obviously that is not very interesting, which is why I suspect there might be a bit more to the guilt by association. But if the theory is more ambitious, some meat should be added to the bones. Namely, how do the epistemic and ethical considerations of theonomy relate to a doctrine that would collapse soteriology into ecclesiology?

That has always been my problem with the argument. Even if every FVer was a theonomist prior to embracing the FV, correlation does not equal causation. You would also have to argue that since every FVer was a Trinitarian or a Calvinist before embracing the FV, that Trinitarianism and Calvinism caused the FV. It is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Let me clarify. There are plenty of theonomists who hate the FV, including some on the PB. It is less theonomy itself, than the impulse of hyper-continuity between OT and NT that theonomy holds that is in common with the FV. Neither FV nor theonomy hold to very much in the way of discontinuity between the testaments. I am not claiming that theonomy in and of itself leads directly to the FV. Almost all FV'ers are or were theonomists, and the idea of continuity on steroids, as it were, is in common. The FV takes what it likes from a variety of sources. Ron is correct to point out that this includes confessional Reformed theology (although the FV tends to redefine things rather a lot).
 

User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
Let me clarify. There are plenty of theonomists who hate the FV, including some on the PB. It is less theonomy itself, than the impulse of hyper-continuity between OT and NT that theonomy holds that is in common with the FV. Neither FV nor theonomy hold to very much in the way of discontinuity between the testaments. I am not claiming that theonomy in and of itself leads directly to the FV. Almost all FV'ers are or were theonomists, and the idea of continuity on steroids, as it were, is in common. The FV takes what it likes from a variety of sources. Ron is correct to point out that this includes confessional Reformed theology (although the FV tends to redefine things rather a lot).

Thanks for that, Lane. I appreciate the clarification.

As an aside, I never saw FV as extreme continuity with the OT. Perhaps there’s a continuity with those within Israel who thought wrongly about circumcision and external covenant status, but I don’t see that as continuity with what was actually revealed to Israel regarding children of promise and the physical mark of inclusion that needed to be improved upon by faith. So, if FV isn’t a result of extreme or hyper-continuity to OT teaching, then I don’t see how it can be mapped to theonomy on that basis, even if theonomy were a result of hyper-continuity.

I’ll have to give that one more thought.

Again, thanks.
 
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greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Ron, the rhetoric of the FV usually says something like "tear out that sheet of paper in your Bible separating the OT from the NT!" Believe me, they are hyper-continuity. That is what is behind the covenant renewal worship of Jeff Meyers (in his book on worship, he maps the entirety of Christian worship to the Levitical sacrifices of the first few chapters of Leviticus). It is also what is behind the hermeneutic of James Jordan and Peter Leithart. For example, every instance of the number 7 is a reference to the creation week in their interpretation (here they are also both deeply indebted to the Medieval quadriga).

In what has to be one of the supreme ironies of the FV, however, in their sacramentology, they have not thrown off their Baptistic roots enough. They tend to think that the sacraments operate the same way (both are primarily active on the part of the participant, and both relate to confession of faith). Hence their universal paedocommunion position. The Baptists agree with the FV on the idea that both sacraments work in a very similar way, they just come down on the opposite side of the participant question. The true Presbyterian position is that baptism and the Lord's Supper do not work the same way. Baptism is primarily passive, and is something God does, not us, whereas the Lord's Supper requires a quite active component on the part of the believer (see Berkhof).
 

User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
“Believe me, they are hyper-continuity.”

I’ll need some arguments. Even synods and councils err, Lane. :)

“For example, every instance of the number 7 is a reference to the creation week in their interpretation (here they are also both deeply indebted to the Medieval quadriga).”

You make my point, Brother. What you’ve identified with FV does not portray continuity with the OT. Rather, it’s continuity with error - perhaps Israel’s error or Rome’s error but not OT biblical teaching.

“In what has to be one of the supreme ironies of the FV, however, in their sacramentology, they have not thrown off their Baptistic roots enough.”

Since Baptistic roots aren’t OT roots, I fail to see FV continuity with the OT here either.

“They tend to think that the sacraments operate the same way (both are primarily active on the part of the participant, and both relate to confession of faith). Hence their universal paedocommunion position.”

An aberrant view of the sacraments or the covenant meal aren’t OT teachings. So, again, I don’t think you’ve shown that the FV error is due to OT continuity, let alone extreme continuity. Instead, you keep mapping FV to error, not Moses.

“The true Presbyterian position is that baptism and the Lord's Supper do not work the same way.”

Correct, but the aberrant view that they do work the same way is not traceable to OT sacramentology. So, again, FV isn’t carrying over OT teaching here either.

Therefore, if FV isn’t traceable to OT teaching, then it doesn’t share the continuity to OT equity that theonomy puts forth. They’re very much unrelated given that theonomy is mapped to OT equity.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Ron, not sure why you're using how we might criticize the FV on their (ab)use of the OT as an argument against my characterization of the FV. Of course their reading of the OT is a misuse of the OT. That's what hyper-continuity is. You misread my statement of hyper-continuity and answered as if I was positing continuity of the NT/OT in the FV's position.

You misread my statement on the Baptistic roots, as well. That was not evidence of hyper-continuity. That was ironic, in light of the hyper-continuity.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
Really fascinating, that I was not notified of any of this discussion via email. I thought the @greenbaggins was the only person who commented!
You have to be vigilant, brother! Any time the Federal Vision name is dropped in a thread on Puritan Board, you can be sure it will be a humdinger. This goes double when Theonomy is mentioned in the same thread! You need to check back every half hour or so. ;)
 

User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
Ron, not sure why you're using how we might criticize the FV on their (ab)use of the OT as an argument against my characterization of the FV. Of course their reading of the OT is a misuse of the OT. That's what hyper-continuity is. You misread my statement of hyper-continuity and answered as if I was positing continuity of the NT/OT in the FV's position.

You misread my statement on the Baptistic roots, as well. That was not evidence of hyper-continuity. That was ironic, in light of the hyper-continuity.

Lane,

I’m trying to interpret your posts in a charitable and sensible way. I’m just struggling with how to make sense of your use of hyper.

Walk with me if you will...

Hyper-preterism does not distinguish between the AD 70 coming of Christ in judgment from the final judgment at the consummation. Their “hyperness” is in shoving all judgment into one judgment.

Hyper-Calvinism does not distinguish the eternal decree from the sinner’s justification in time. In doing so they shove temporal pardon into the eternal decree.

There are also ramifications to such hyper views. No need to anticipate Christ’s future coming and no need to witness to the lost. I think I grasp hyper in that sense. Entailed is a lack of nuance and theological distinction, which allows for shoving square pegs into round holes.

That said, I find no such hyperness in what your theory purports. So, I’ve given you the benefit of the doubt and looked elsewhere. Obviously I’ve failed.

So, what’s the hyper continuity of FV? It’s not obvious to many of us. I’ve also heard FV is mapped to Gaffin, who as you know opposes Theonomy. You even acknowledge that some theonomists oppose FV. Are such theonomists being inconsistent with their presuppositions by not taking the plunge into the FV cesspool? Am I just a happily inconsistent theonomist? I’d think so if there’s a natural relationship between FV and theonomy.

As for FV relating to Theonomy, how does an aberrant view of the sacraments and conflation of salvation and the church get shoved into a particular view of OT civil law and modern day magistrates? I’m sorry but I just don’t see it. Frankly, the only shoving I see going on is I believe a vague defense being shoved into a rather incredible theory that suggests FV relates in any intelligible sense to Theonomy. I think the project is dead on arrival, but I’ll keep trying to understand. Warmly, Ron
 

The Original Secession

Puritan Board Freshman
James Good, History of the Reformed Church in the U.S. in the Nineteenth Century will give you an overview and critique. His own dad was involved in the controversy.
Thanks, I am fairly familiar with Good, I think I am going to have to hunt around and find some stuff on the theology though.
 

The Original Secession

Puritan Board Freshman
Just read about the FV debate of today, and you'll run across historical references to it.
Lane(If I may, it seems rather informal),

It has been a while since you taught us that Roberts Rules class... anyway. I am familiar with it coming up in relation to FV, and I want to investigate it myself and see if there is any relation at all between the two systems. Sacraments are an area where I would be interested. You referenced your belief that Nevin had it right on the Lord's Supper, has anyone done a breakdown of the debate between Nevin and others?

Someone really just needs to write a book about the history of the debate and the doctrinal distinctives of the movement.

Thanks!
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Lane(If I may, it seems rather informal),

It has been a while since you taught us that Roberts Rules class... anyway. I am familiar with it coming up in relation to FV, and I want to investigate it myself and see if there is any relation at all between the two systems. Sacraments are an area where I would be interested. You referenced your belief that Nevin had it right on the Lord's Supper, has anyone done a breakdown of the debate between Nevin and others?

Someone really just needs to write a book about the history of the debate and the doctrinal distinctives of the movement.

Thanks!

Mathison's Given for You, already referenced, has a fine survey of the historical debate.

Numerous works are also on Mercersburg. They are referenced above. Littlejohn has written his own work. He is a good and legitimate scholar, but he does have his own axes to grind.
 
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