[Chapter Review] Old Princeton Theology and Orthodox Calvinism

Livingston, James C. “Movements of Recover and Conservation: The Princeton Theology.” In Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century, 1:299-326. 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006.

James Livingston’s goal in this chapter is to present a counterforce against the Second Great Awakening in the United States of America. Though it is in the reviewer’s terms, this force was from the Princeton Theological Seminary, established in 1812. Princeton Theology, later known as a defense of orthodox Calvinism, is represented by four theologians, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander Hodge, and Benjamin B. Warfield.

One of the main factors of the establishment of Princeton Seminary was a reaction to “New School” or “New Divinity,” which was highly influenced by revivalism from the late eighteenth century up to the early nineteenth century. An era where many prominent preachers and even theologians were emphasizing individualistic freewill soteriology. Livingston sees this trend as a by-product of Enlightenment rationalism or Schleiemarcher’s inner light and feelings.

From this background, Archibald Alexander, who also became the first President of Princeton Seminary, focused on cultivating the first line of defenders of God’s supremacy, biblical authority, and Christian anthropology. He approached rationalism, speculative idealism, and other metaphysical queries with Scottish practical realism. Later, Alexander passed the baton to the longest-serving theologian of Princeton, Charles Hodge. Livingston focused his chapter on Hodge’s background, theological method, understanding of biblical authority, and Christian anthropology. He then finished the chapter with B. B. Warlfield’s contributions.

Hodge’s theological method is inductive or scientific, as influenced by Alexander’s embrace of Scottish realism, common sense. Unlike Anselm’s deductive method and other rationalistic approaches, Hodge argues that we can formulate theology only from facts. These facts are all in the Word of God in Scripture. Hence, a theologian ought to bring out from the bible alone. His theological method overlaps with his deep understanding of the Bible as the Word of God. Though Livingston shares several conflicts and nuances with Hodge’s views of inspiration and illumination, Hodge contends for the authority of Scripture as the very Word of God. It is not the intellectual ascent that a person can get their inspiration or revelation but only from the Bible and God’s divine illumination in the regenerated believers.

Hodge continued his influence through his didactics and essay publications against Charles Finney and Horace Bushnell. Both Finney and Bushnell have Pelagianism tendencies, as Hodge would argue. Regarding Finney’s revivalism, he argues that human free will has the final say in personal salvation. Finney emphasizes “choices,” even his understanding of sin as a choice of moral actions only. Hodge debunked Finney’s view as unbiblical since sin affects the totality of a person and not only one’s actions.

Likewise, Bushnell’s anthropology reduces the Adamic fall to sin to generational, natural, and somehow rational. He argues that since sin entered through one family, righteousness can also enter through the family. Thus, anyone can share little grace—reviewer’s term—through their family, descendants, and familial accords. He states that “education can correct what there is of natural corruption” (314). This view, for Hodge, is either pure rationalism or naturalism. Moreover, Edwards Amansa Park’s view of the atonement was also criticized by Hodge with a similar flow of argument articulated in his polemics with Finney and Bushnell.

Livingston dwelt with A. A. Hodge in brevity. However, he views him as a significant contributor in defense of plenary verbal inspiration, which was also in collaboration with B. B. Warfield. Warfield is the last of the four theologians that Livingston presents as a patrimony of orthodox Calvinism. Warlfield’s contextual background in his time was the continuous rise of liberalism and modernism. From this background, Warfield saw himself needing to defend God’s Scriptures. However, Livingston rightly points out that both Hodge and Warfield incorrectly perceived that the Church in history had always embraced biblical infallibility, plenary verbal inspiration, and biblical authority.

Overall, the Princeton Theologians claimed they did not drift from the Word of God in Scripture as formulated in the Westminster Standards (305). However, from a retrospection, Livingston sees Princeton’s high view and devotion to Biblical inerrancy and authority, specifically of Hodge’s, contributed to the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century fundamentalism. Nevertheless, one cannot blame Hodge’s polemical dedication against rationalism, mysticism, and naturalism through his defense of orthodox Calvinism.

This chapter has a rich glimpse into what contemporary calls the Old Princeton’s legacy, contextual background, and theological method. Livingston was able to stitch each chapter to another with ease and efficacy.


Published by JP Arceno

A Mere Christian, no other religion, but Christian church, call me a Catholic Christian ~ Richard Baxter

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