Archive for the ‘Benevolence & the Diaconate’ Category

From flickr.comThomas Chalmers has been widely acclaimed for his views and particularly his applications of social concern. And within the current Reformed world, he is pointed to as an example for modern day ‘mercy ministries.’ Consequently, I’d like in this final commentary on Cheyne’s The Practical and the Pious to turn to the principles of Christian benevolence that Thomas Chalmers advocated – principles that the contributors to this collection of essays have helped me grasp a bit better.

(1) The priority of spiritual benevolence

First, I think Mary Furgol was the most helpful in bringing to the fore the evangelical cast of Chalmers the philanthropist. She demonstrates that Chalmers’ view of social concern meant that one should redress the spiritual needs of the poor ultimately. That is the priority. And so she cites Chalmers, “The main impulse of his [the Christian’s] benevolence, lies in furnishing the poor with the means of enjoying the bread of life which came down from heaven, and in introducing them to the knowledge of these Scriptures which are the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth” (121).

Chalmers felt obliged to deal with the issues of the body because this was the only effective way to deal with the issues of the soul. And so Furgol observes,

His often clinical approach to poverty and its relief must be seen in the light of his growing conviction that the most important thing was to safeguard the eternal welfare of men’s souls. Having realized that he would not be free to concentrate on this until he had dealt with the problem of poor relief and its interference with a minister’s valuable time, as well as its detrimental effects on the morals and the Christian education of the people, he therefore turned to the task of evolving a specific plan to combat the evil. The main purpose behind the plan, however, was still the religious one of bringing the Good News to the poor, and it is vital to understand this when examining his later solution of the problem of poor relief and assessing its impact and success (128).

I wonder, in this connection, if Chalmers is so neglected in the present day precisely because he was too evangelical for the sociologists and too sociological for the evangelicals. It is a delicate balance to retain an evangelical priority in ministry and yet cultivate a meaningful, active humanitarianism.

At the same time, some within the Reformed world hold Chalmers up as an example for mercy ministries.  Yet some seem to coordinate ‘word’ with ‘deed,’ shifting the center of gravity from the preaching of the cross to a middle position.  From my reading, I don’t think Chalmers would have gone there.

That being said, perhaps the ‘mercy ministry’ movement in Reformed Christianity is only seeking to correct the excessive other-worldliness of 20th century fundamentalism that retreated from social action, scared silly by the Social Gospel. That is laudable. I only hope that the pendulum is not rushing past the golden mean.

(2) The focus on locality

If you have read this blog with any frequency, you will certainly recognize the following theme resurfacing here – locality. As any realtors worth their salt (if there are any left) will tell you, the three things that make a property desirable are: location, location and … location. Well, Chalmers never wearied of beating this same drum as well. Locality is vital to the enterprise of Christian benevolence.

For Chalmers, this simply meant that those who would bring the Gospel in word and deed to the poor must to be brought into regular contact with them. Locally. If they do not live in the area, they must regularly visit the area. But even prior to this, that area must first be defined and then assigned to certain benefactors. Without definition, there is no clear locus for intelligent compassion. The vastness of the problem will be daunting without a manageable, delineated territory. But once the areas are defined and parceled up, they must be allocated. An unassigned locality is just an abstraction. Its plight will have no real pull. But once it is assigned – or adopted, if you will – then the spiritually and economically privileged will have a tie to it, a workable plot of their own to cultivate. The rich and poor will be brought together in the locality of the poor, and the results should be evident in time. Multiply this thousands of times over across a nation, and you have Chalmers’ model for dealing with poverty. It is a grassroots solution.

McCaffrey comments on this, as well as on the influence of Chalmers’ locality principle:

Chalmers’ insistence on the need to reform the individual first in the locality, as the means to reforming society in general, continued to be remarkably vibrant in its appeal in both Britain and the United States. In both countries he found a ready audience in those reformers who sought the good society and who were increasingly chary of leaving its realization to the chance workings of unrestrained lasseiz-faire capitalism on the one hand or too extensive a state-imposed regulation on the other (53).

As I reflect on it, there is no question that the locality principle, bringing the benefactors into regular contact with the beneficiaries, goes against the grain of the urban situation. Cities are notorious for the evil of anonymity. Sin likes darkness; it retreats from community especially if community is viewed as an old socio-religious ball and chain that holds people accountable. Now, that is not to suggest that people always migrate to cities for sin. (Though I don’t think that 1 in 3 San Franciscans are gay because their gene pool is different.) Frequently, there are economic pressures that call individuals from field to factory. That is the way it was in Industrial Age Scotland; that is the way it is in 21st century China. But the reality is that cities not only afford more economic opportunity: they also facilitate sin. Sin loves options and hates the Sartre stare.

That’s not the only reason why the locality principle doesn’t easily fit with the urban context. There is also the socio-economic stratification of cities. Today, we call this ‘white flight.’ I’m not sure all of that is bad. People want to raise their children in peace and safety. Many who live in the slums aspire to get out. But it is a reality – almost a law. Distance between the privileged and the underprivileged just happens. Government has tried to change that, as with busing; but it never sticks. I would suggest that North American inner cities have become a kind of de facto social waste confinement area. We retreat from the problem and thus the Welfare State cannot but step in. Otherwise, there will be social unrest.

Yet, while the locality principle is like the syrup of ipecac to the city’s culture, it is medicine that must be swallowed. The spiritually and outwardly privileged must be brought into contact with the spiritually and outwardly underprivileged. And it won’t happen by some government program. It must happen through an army of volunteers. Volunteers who will bridge the geographic divide into needy localities.

Incidentally, the old scheme of parish visitation was built on the locality principle. One cannot care some someone that he doesn’t see, with whom he does not come into contact. And that visitation must be regular if it is to be meaningful.

(3) Voluntary relief

For Chalmers, the cure of ‘pauperism’ – the 19th century term for dependency on the state – lies in a voluntary program. He firmly believed that involuntary schemes (state programs) are doomed to failure for four reasons, according to Checkland:

First, people become systematically trained to expect relief as a right, thereby destroying the connection which nature has established between economy and independence and between improvidence and want. Second, neighbours and kindred of the poor lose their private sympathies and abstain from providing relief. Third, as the number of poor increases they will be less comfortably relieved, since the allowance per pauper tends to decrease. Fourth, an artificial system tends to be wasteful, both in terms of increased expenditure on paupers caused by their demands for relief as a legal right and by the increase in the number of individuals needed to administer relief. It was Chalmers’ belief that every extension of the poor’s fund is followed by a more than proportional increase of pauperism, and he contended that there should be no compulsory assessment, no certainty on the part of the poor that they would obtain relief, and no possibility of the numbers in receipt of relief being infinitely augmented (131).

And Hilton supplements this evaluation of Chalmers’ thought here, explaining, “State poor laws and organized charity transformed beneficence from a thing of ‘love’ and ‘gratulation’ to a subject of resentment on the part of the rich, dependence on the part of the poor, and ‘angry litigation’ between the two” (146). Leaving the old voluntary model is a recipe for class wars.

(4) Education

Next, education is absolutely vital. Writes Checkland, “He believed that education was the fundamental need of the lower orders, transcending in importance and, indeed, canceling out the need for most poor relief” (131). Since the Reformation under John Knox, education had been of paramount importance in Scotland. It was no different for Chalmers. Education furnishes the key for the self-improvement of the poor. Time and money are better spent in providing this form of benevolence.

This is why Chalmers was such an advocate of ‘Sabbath’ or ‘Sunday Schools.’ In their origin, they were not Bible classes for the young of middle-class churches as they are today. They were the only forms of education that many poor people had at all in those days. Sunday Schools were very much agencies of benevolence.

(5) Intelligent benevolence

Which leads us to the distribution of monetary benevolence. Obviously, education is a long-term investment, and some people require immediate help. Chalmers’ response was to lay down certain guidelines, which he both followed and instilled within his diaconate at St. John’s.

Furgol enumerates these guidelines in a survey of his diary entries:

These entries reveal how Chalmers was striving to put into practice his convictions that people should be encouraged to be as independent as possible, that if relief were given it should be minimal, and that is must at all costs be made obvious that no regular official relief system could be automatically depended on in the event of a simple plea for help. Moreover, a letter written to William Johnson of Lathisk at this time reveals two more aspects of his ideas being put into practice: that friends and relatives should be called upon to respond in a spirit of Christian charity, and that any relief given should only be in cases of extreme and deserving want (124).

Dare we call this ‘compassionate conservatism?’

On this basis, some have strongly criticized Chalmers for idealizing a cold, clinical brand of philanthropy. Cheyne writes in his introduction that the strongest criticism that has been made was “a strange heartlessness [that] underlay the treatment of poverty worked out by Chalmers and his supporters” (20). Nor was Chalmers without his critics during his own lifetime. William Pulteney Alison opposed Chalmers’ dogged adherence to strict voluntary relief. He even critiqued the St. John’s model as dealing harshly with the poor under the guise of Christian stewardship. And so Checkland quotes Alison, “The grand object kept in view by almost every parish is the possibility of evading the duty of relieving the poor” (133). Ouch!

Now, it is hard for me to evaluate the degree of truthfulness in these criticisms. Was there a knee-jerk reaction to open-handed benevolence in extreme fears of giving to the ‘undeserving?’ Did they err on the side of thrift and not on the side of liberality? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the case. And if so, was there some degree of discontinuity between the proverbial Scottish benevolence before Chalmers and that of Chalmers’ more business-like social experiments? And was it called for, given the great demographic shifts from the rural areas to bustling cities?

Concluding thoughts

Having been reared in evangelicalism, I often heard that the concern for our nation’s poor is the responsibility of the Church. The Welfare State exists because we won’t feed the poor. And prior to my own study of Chalmers, I was under the impression that the St. John’s experiment – what little I knew of it – was proof that Chalmers thought it was. But now I’m not so sure.

The following is a thesis that needs confirmation, so I put if forth tentatively. But certain things seem to be emerging as I read him for myself.

I think Chalmers thought that it was the concern of the state to make sure that all its citizens were cared for, physically and spiritually. Those in government are fathers. Citizens are children. The state ought to seek out a Church and finance it for the spiritual instruction of its people, much as a wealthy aristocrat would hire a tutor for his son [see my essay on Chalmers and establishments].

Being a believer in liberal economics, the best way to care for the people, generally speaking, is to avoid interference in the marketplace. But what of the poor, the victims of the unfeeling free market? The state has a duty to care for them as well. Only, this is not to be done by legal assessments (i.e., legislated ‘wealth reallocation’). It should be left voluntary, on the lines of the old Scottish model.

But the state should support the poor by supporting the Church of the poor – the establishment, which is first of all the spiritual instructor of the people. By subsidizing a religious establishment, lives are changed. Drunkards are sobered, prostitutes are made chaste, thieves go to work, and spendthrifts turn frugal. That is how the state may and ought to care for the poor, Chalmers contends.

But further, the state ought to aid the poor by providing for universal education. The spiritual education of the established Kirk is the first and most important prong of that agenda. But the second is not far behind. Education is the key to self-improvement, and consequently, the improvement of the nation. ‘Give a man a fish, and you have fed him for a day: teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime.’

Yet, Chalmers wasn’t blind to the fact that the state has to do more for the poor than providing spiritual and secular education. The state cannot say, ‘be ye warmed and filled,’ yet do nothing immediately for the hungry. It should not leave the poor altogether to the whim of, well, whoever. Rather, it should take an active role in encouraging and facilitating neighborly benevolence, particularly the benevolence of the wealthy.

This is best and most efficiently done through the mechanism of the established Kirk. The Kirk, after all, operates territorially and already competently cares for the poor of its own number. The Kirk performs this care best because it operates on the soberest principles. “If a man will not work, let him not eat.” The Kirk already has assumed the spiritual care, the cura animarum, of the people, and the state only acknowledges that reality, honoring it in a pecuniary way. She also cares for the body of the unchurched throughout its parishes since love comprehends the whole man, body as well as soul. Why not, then, outsource ‘welfare’ to her? If I am not mistaken, that is exactly how Chalmers sought municipal cooperation in the St. John’s experiment of Glasgow.

If this is Chalmers’ view of the role of the Church and the care of the poor, then he obviously thinks it is a responsibility of the Church when and only when the state explicitly contracts with her. It happens when she enters into a partnership with the state as a religious establishment. Before that, the state does not recognize the Church. She is not chosen to care for the souls of a nation’s citizens or their bodies, for that matter. She has no special obligation to the poor, other than the law of love to one’s neighbor.

If I am right on my assessment of Chalmers, and if Chalmers is right (and, surprise of surprises, I lean that direction), then we as an organized Church have no special responsibility for the poor. We have no formal authorization, because the state wishes to retain management of this beast directly.

Yet, I am hardly suggesting that the Church has no responsibility for the nation’s poor, or that Chalmers thought that unestablished Churches may wash their hands of this great civic duty.

Generally speaking, I wonder if it is not so much the obligation of the Church qua Church to care for the nation’s poor as it is the duty of the nation, which comprises also the Church. The care for the poor is our duty not as the Church, but as citizens. And, of course, our Christian principles all the more compel us to our neighborly duties. It is not the Church’s problem per se. But it is the Christian citizens’ problem, collectively with the rest of the nation.

This is a collective problem. We as Christians are called to “seek the peace of the city” where He has placed us in our earthly exile, and to “pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall [we] have peace” (Jer. 29:7). We are Christians first, yes. But we are also citizens of an earthly order. I am a citizen of Rhode Island. Our prison system has swelled to an overflow. Our unemployment rate is the highest of any state in the nation. This is not someone else’s problem. This is my problem, because I am a citizen of Rhode Island. It is not the Church’s problem, directly. Yet it is the Church’s problem, insofar as the Church in secular matters holds it citizenship on earth.

Very practically, I think that what we have before us is an opportunity for volunteers. The state will not ask us to educate its people in the truths of Christianity. Nor will it ask us to care for their bodies (except on April 14). Yet it presently will not interfere with us if we choose to volunteer.

That we volunteer to care for souls is just another way of describing evangelism. But volunteering for social improvement beyond the community of faith can be sticky. The ministry of the Church should not “leave the word of God, and serve tables” (Acts 6:2). And while we must “do good unto all men,” we are “especially” to do so for “the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Let us not forget that one great apologetic argument for the authenticity of our faith is the love that Christians have for each other (Jn. 13:35).

Yet to some degree and in a very tangible way there must be concern for our neighbor. He has a body, and not just a soul. So let us follow Chalmers as he followed our Lord, “who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).

Read Full Post »

The Practical and the Pious – 1
Chalmers the Bridge Builder: Lessons in Translating the Faith

Forth Road BridgeMargot Butt, in her essay entitled “The Chalmers Papers” includes an insightful quote from the daughter of Thomas Chalmers most like him in personality. Grace Chalmers wrote concerning herself, “I’ve always been a kind of outlier between the practical and the pious. I have a liking for both. I can’t get people with both about me so either I have the pious that look down on practicality as a secular thing, or the practical that nauseate the piety” (189). It is obviously from this quote that A. C. Cheyne’s compilation The Practical and the Pious: Essays on Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) draws its name.

And rightly so. Thomas Chalmers was eminently pious, himself kindling many a ‘bright and shining light’ in the 19th century Scottish Kirk. Giants such as Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Alexander Duff, and Andrew Bonar owed a tribute of the greatest respect to him. And at the same time, he was eminently practical. An organizer, a campaigner, a delegator, and a plain, roll-up-your-sleeves doer. Yes, his head was in the clouds; but his hands and feet were quite busy here on the earth.

As I take a step back, having read and processed these fascinating scholarly articles gathered from the Chalmers Bicentenary Conference (1980), three striking features of this great ‘practical pietist’ come into sharper focus for me. In the first of three parts, I’d like to talk about Thomas Chalmers as – to use the metaphor of John McCaffrey – a bridge builder.

First, the idea itself. It’s not very easy to chop and hack up history into nice, convenient segments. We use dates and events to define when once era has begun and another has ended. Yet, it is rather arbitrary. But even if it is arbitrary, we all acknowledge that times change, and we categorize history according to periods. Chalmers stood in a transitional time. Things were rapidly changing: in philosophy, in politics, in religion, and in society. He had a foot in the older age, and one in the new. He began His life in rural Fife, so much a picture the old order, and ended it working in the slums of Edinburgh, the underbelly of the new.

Change is unpleasant. And yet to survive, we must change. Adapt or die! That’s not Darwinism; that’s life.

Chalmers did – or attempted to do – what all must do to survive. And more to the point for us as the Church, he led the Church of his day to adapt and thrive. Not to cut loose from the past, or to change what is unalterably the sum and substance of Christianity. No, Chalmers wasn’t a radical wrecking ball. He was a conservative through and through. But he was not insensitive to the winds of change, and he insisted that the ‘auld Kirk’ must build a bridge from its past to the present. And from there, into the future.

Christianity is not a static fixity. Now, don’t get me wrong. We believe that the central truths of Scripture are timeless and unchanging. But Christianity is more than the timeless body of truths, contained in Sacred Scripture and expressed in well-chiseled creeds. It involves always an adaptation, an application of the timeless truth to the present context. Otherwise, Christianity becomes freeze-dried. It becomes de-incarnated, and so ceases to be true Christianity.

We must build bridges from the text and its timeless truths to our own situation, which is not exactly the way things were when the apostles and prophets first spoke. Yes, sin remains sin in essence today as then. But the uniqueness, the particularity of the sin requires a particularization of God’s Word. The particularity of our personal, family, and social tragedies require a application of God’s superabounding grace.

The same holds true for the history of the Church. We must also learn how the Church in past ages applied that truth in their day for our instruction. Now, we must not go back into the annals of our forefathers and simply transport what they said and did, part for part. This is the idolatry of romanticism – like Israel worshipping the bronze serpent. Our forbearers sought to apply the timeless text to their own day (often hitting the mark, but sometimes missing it). Our day calls not for blind reproduction, but for a modification of what they said and did . . . when they were right. Not because the Word of God is a wax nose, nor because their applications were biblically illegitimate then. But because Christ will have a comprehensive dominion over every particularity of this fallen world, not just those of certain times and places.

This is what Chalmers was – a bridge-builder for Christianity. He was quite self-conscious about it. McCaffrey writes,

… there was his feeling that he stood at the crossing of two worlds, that it was his duty to make his contemporaries aware of the changing nature of their society and readier to accept change in such a way that the human values he himself prized so highly would be preserved intact in an increasingly uncertain world. He saw himself as a bridge-builder. He sensed from a quite early date that his life and actions had to be validated by a wider set of values than the merely contemporary. He took initiatives in public life not from a sense of his own importance (indeed, in his private journal he often deprecated the fame which contemporaries ascribed to him), but because he consistently struggled with all his failing to be true to himself. His analysis of a contemporary issue could, thus, often fail to be sufficiently flexible but this inflexibility came precisely because he approached each different issue, amidst the cares of a busy life, honestly with the weapons he had to hand in his own intellectual powers and his own reading. In a changing world he had only his own judgment and faith to steer by (33).

In what areas, then, did Chalmers act as a bridge-builder for Christianity?

First, he was a bridge builder in the core discipline of the Church – theology. Roxborogh quotes Chalmers, “Although the subject matter of theology is unalterably fixed . . . is there not a constant necessity for accommodating both the vindication . . . and the illustration of this subject matter to the ever-varying spirit and philosophy of the times? . . . In theology, as well as in the other sciences, there is indefinite room for novelties both of thought and expression” (175). Chalmers, the man of his times that he was, approached the study of theology inductively.

In order to appreciate the motivation here, one must realize that Chalmers was a missionary at heart. Theology must not be a discipline chained in the ivory tower. It must be articulated to the modern mind to fulfill the Gospel mandate. How do we translate the timeless Gospel?

Roxborogh notes that, for example, some of Chalmers’ conservative associates, such as William Cunningham, balked at his willingness to call unregenerate men ‘good.’ But he explains, “Cunningham was mainly concerned about the danger of compromising orthodox Calvinism; Chalmers about the necessity of communicating the Gospel. He did not believe he could do this if he ignored people’s own use of language and their best aspirations” (176-77). It is not as though Chalmers was unconcerned about dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s; rather, he wanted to make sure that people could read and understand the i’s and t’s!

Naturally, then, Chalmers was a bridge builder in various intellectual disciplines. In short, he was an apologist for his generation. Already a keen student of mathematics, Chalmers turned his naturalist interests heavenward and composed the popular Astronomical Discourses. The University of St. Andrews then hired him in 1823 to fill the chair of Professor of Moral Philosophy. Later, as Professor of Theology at Edinburgh, Chalmers left this legacy to the ministry of the Kirk. Interestingly, Roxborogh notes that at the end of his career, Chalmers insisted that the New College enable its divinity students critically to engage in the issues of modern science (176).

But without doubt, he sought to bring one discipline in particular under the aegis of Christian truth. At St. Andrews, he turned to “the most voguish of all the new sciences, political economy,” says Boyd Hilton. “The Christian reconciliation of economics became the ‘favourite child of his intellect’, despite the dangers of ‘secular contamination’ involved in such an ‘earthly’ field of inquiry” (141). Chalmers’ major contributions in this field were Commercial discourses (1820), The Christian and civic economy of large towns (1821-6), On political economy in connexion with the moral state and moral prospects of society (1832), and the Bridgewater Treatise of 1833.

Given our present economic crisis in the United States, Hilton’s essay “Chalmers as Political Economist” is especially illuminating. Chalmers, says Hilton, reconciled the profit motive with Christianity. Self-interest, the axiomatic source of common weal in Adam Smith’s universe, may in fact receive God’s imprimatur. He simply posited a natural rate of economic growth. Men, however, must not transgress that natural rate by greed, and so indulge in excessively risky ventures. In brief, there is legitimate enterprise and there is speculation. And God judges speculation in the form of economic crises. God is the one who ‘pops the bubbles.’

In Chalmers’ view, fears of possible economic crises have two God-ordained positive effects on society. First, they serve as a dissuasive of excess. The inevitable “intervals of bankruptcy and alarm” in free markets “were not altogether a matter for dismay . . . for though Chalmers never says so explicitly, he seems to have regarded the threat of bankruptcy (with its harsh concomitant, imprisonment for debt) as a sort of positive check, commensurate with pestilences, working to force businessmen into moderation, to deter them from economic temptation, so that by subduing the sins of the flesh-pots they might find spiritual redemption” (148). Second, the crises have a certain purgative effect. “Impending crises were an essential part of God’s providential plan for regenerating and redeeming individual sinners and hence society as a whole” (145). Very naturally, then, Chalmers was an anti-interventionist like Adam Smith, albeit for evangelical reasons. He “held it essential that government should not thwart the dispensations of Providence by trying to prevent or alleviate business failure, any more than they should dole out alms to the poor” (148). Let God’s rod reclaim the transgressor!

Hilton rejects Chalmers’ distinction between legitimate business and speculation as “absurd” (147). “In practice the only way to decide whether a particular item of business was legitimate was by its outcome; like rebellion, it might be presumed to have had God’s blessing only if it succeeded” (147). To borrow our theme, Hilton thinks that Chalmers’ bridge just isn’t bridging. I would take strong exception to this. At the risk of sounding too much like an old Scotsman, I would say that Chalmers’ view is just plain common sense. Everyone acknowledges a distinction between legitimate, natural desire and greed. We have two distinct terms here, and the one is by definition the illegitimate excess of the former. Moderation means something, even if it isn’t always easy to ascertain.

But regardless, Chalmers’ old school, evangelical turn on Political Economy did not retain whatever popularity it enjoyed. The bridge was built, but increasingly it fell into disuse. By the end of Chalmers’ life, poor law reform was in full swing, dooming the old Scottish system of voluntary, parish-based charity in favor of ‘legally assessed’ – government mandated and funded – social welfare. And shortly after his life, limited liability legislation was passed into law, which “effectively emasculated the retributive mechanism of business failure” (153).

Hilton’s take on the failure of Chalmers’ outlook politically is that there was something deeper in his economic theory that was hostile to the prevailing mood of the age. It was his evangelical Calvinism:

Writers like Chalmers and Thomas Nolan who believed in the fever of speculation as a vital part of the economy of redemption were also men who held to a literal interpretation of the doctrines of Atonement, Eternal Punishment, Vicarious Sacrifice, Substitutionary Punishment, and the like. Defenders of this Evangelical scheme of salvation invariably adopted the Calvinist terminology of likening sin to a debt which was owed to God; God would have to exact his recompense in return but – by analogy with Christ’s atonement – did not care who precisely repaid the debt so long as it was repaid by someone (152).

It is not surprising, then, says Hilton, “when, in the middle decades of the century, fashionable theologians abandoned the doctrine of a literal and endless hell-fire, they too were opting out of the capitalist-spiritual system adumbrated by Chalmers; they were, in fact, limiting the liability of sin” (153). Hmm. Are today’s big government bailouts a direct consequence of a retreat from historic evangelical theology?

Closely allied to this bridge-building effort was Chalmers’ writings and activity in philanthropy or ‘social work.’ The ‘Christian good of Scotland’ was the great, burning desire of his heart. He believed that Christianity should pervade every facet of society and should be realized in acts of charity towards those who are in need. He was distraught to witness the dreadful physical, moral, and especially spiritual conditions of his countrymen, holed up like rats in the tenements of Industrial Age slums. And so when he accepted the call to Tron Church, Glasgow, moving from the quaint rural parish of Kilmany, he was determined to build a bridge. Thus, the ‘St. John’s experiment,’ in which he heroically retooled and re-implemented the parish model first for evangelization and second for diaconal work.

Having emerged from the experiment with (reportedly) great results, all eyes were on St. John’s. Here was living proof that by close, regular, personal interaction of the deacons with the poor of Glasgow, that the old system of voluntary benevolence could work in the new situation. The system appeared to be quite efficient on paper – the cost-benefit analysis blew the government plan out of the water. So why not implement this on a large scale within Scotland? Let the territorial churches take over the task of managing the poor without legal assessment, he argued.

Others in his day, however, roundly criticized Chalmers’ ‘bridge building’ here as unrealistic. Checkland informs us of William Pulteney Alison, a contemporary of Chalmers and a notable physician who also worked with the poor. Alison thought that Chalmers was out of touch with the new and complex order of society by advocating the St. John’s model for national care for the poor. Checkland quotes Alison, “In a complex state of society . . . there is no other way in which the lower ranks can be permanently preserved from an extremity of suffering” than by legal assessment (133). Chalmers rejoined with his famous On the Sufficiency of the Parochial System without a Poor Rate, for the right management of the poor (1841). But the future of poor relief, says Checkland, lay with Alison.

And rightly so, he suggests. “Chalmers took no real account of the fact, palpable to Alison and others, that good workmen were at the mercy of the booms and slumps of the trade cycle. Chalmers neither knew nor understood the evils of unemployment; it is hard to understand how he, living in Glasgow between 1815-1822, could have failed to appreciate so obvious a phenomenon. Chalmers was in effect helpless, locked into Malthusian theory and neo-classical economics. According to his interpretation, if any concession were made the whole fabric would disintegrate” (137).

Thankfully, his essay is not a total kibosh. Some things hadn’t changed and still ought to be recognized and applied. So Checkland concedes,

Chalmers did comprehend important truths about society. He insisted on the importance of the family as the basic social unit, a source of psychic support for its members. He urged that the neighborhood or ‘locality’ should become a focus for community activity; for social coherence to be effective it was necessary to work in terms of units that were manageable and which could command loyalty. He revived John Knox’s ideas of the deacons acting as concerned ‘social workers’; by so doing he was emphasizing the need for a social bond between classes, expressed in commitment. By stressing the need for the gathering of information, together with sustained contact, he presaged the need for professionalism in social work. Though these ideas were in a sense anticipated by Knox, they were of continuing value (137).

Maybe the bridge needs an overhaul, we might say; but there is a decent connection.

Friedhelm Voges, in his essay “Chalmers’ Thinking Habits: Some Lessons from His Theology,” also joins in the critique of his social program. He does acknowledge that Chalmers, “moved by a genuine Christian love especially for the common people” was “looking to restore the Christian Scotland of old [and] wanted to raise the working classes at least in a moral sense” (157). But Chalmers was subject to limitations, he says. “How did Chalmers come, for instance, to regard the assimilation of a town to a country parish as possible – even after his experiment had had to be discontinued” (157)?

He suggests that his limitations lay in certain failures of his theological and philosophical system. Voges, for example, asks how Chalmers could remain so optimistic about his social experiments when he so strongly affirmed total depravity? Shouldn’t Chalmers have been more skeptical about a plan run for sinners by sinners? And shouldn’t Chalmers have distrusted his own senses and sympathies more, rather than blindly following them under the justification of common sense?

His defense of the old Scottish poor laws as applicable in the new context reflects Chalmers’ conviction in the naturalness of God’s inviolable order in the world. By instituting the system of legal assessments, the English have traversed, to quote Chalmers, “the processes of a better mechanism instituted by the wisdom of God” (162). That ‘better mechanism’ is the old, voluntary system embodied in old, rural and parochial Scotland. But Voges argues that there is a serious defect here, in a system that brushes systemic human failure under the carpet.

Last, Voges points out another crack in Chalmers’ bridge. Obviously, Chalmers’ concern for evidence in scientific experiment strongly conditioned the St. John’s ‘experiment,’ both its trial and the publication of its results. As we have seen, Chalmers approached theology inductively, like a scientist; and that carried over to his foray in the (emerging) social sciences. But it is, says, Voges, problematic to approach sociology with the same confidence as a natural scientist. “Being used to the scientific approach, Chalmers probably fell for this temptation quite easily. His readiness to propose easy solutions for social problems, particularly poor relief, may well have its root here” (163).

But like Checkland, Voges leaves a little room for praise. While Chalmers was unduly optimistic and saw things as too easily explained and fixed, yet he writes, “there is also a strength in this approach: where Chalmers moved into immediate action, a greater realist might well have hesitated” (165).

Closely related to the area of philanthropy or social work is the area of evangelism. Here, Chalmers endorsed the same, tried and true vehicles for improving man’s inward condition as he did their outward. He didn’t give up on the old territorial principle and religious establishments, but sought that they should be reapplied in the new contexts.

It must be underscored that when Chalmers advocated the territorial principle, he was doing it to improve the outward condition of the poor in a secondary way. But, as Mary Furgol helpfully observes, this was not his primary reason. “The main purpose behind the plan, however, was still the religious one of bringing the Good News to the poor, and it is vital to understand this when examining his later solution of the problem of poor relief and assessing its impact and success” (128). The St. John’s and West Port experiments are usually – even by evangelicals who write about Chalmers – regarded primarily as philanthropic success stories. If they were successes in this regard, however, it was not this that Chalmers was after primarily. Chalmers was after the good of the soul, then the good of the body. In that order. Territorialism worked for both purposes.

Chalmers’ leadership in the Church Extension campaign of the 1830s, according to Maciver, was a way to implement his evangelistic territorialism of St. John’s on a national level. “He gained national fame through the vehemence with which he urged his vision of reinvigorated ecclesiastical Establishments altered to meet the changing state of 19th-century society” (31).

The evangelistic bridge builder that he was, Chalmers acknowledged the realities of the shifting political and socio-economic scene. Traditionally, it was the landed aristocracy that would be solicited to endow ventures such as the building of new churches. But in the Church Extension campaign, he came to rely heavily on the financial support of the rising middle-class, the merchants and industrialists. Though an establishmentarian, he was clearly not at all coy about employing ‘voluntaristic principles’ (fundraising), and so drawing the scorn of the Dissenters. He even became a de facto Voluntary himself at the Disruption, when the Church of Scotland would not budge on the patronage question. The Free Church later benefited from Chalmers’ experience that he obtained in leading the Church Extension campaign, and charted a course for a profoundly successful new denomination. Through all these vicissitudes, Chalmers remained what he always was; but given changing circumstances, he adapted.

It is interesting to note, in passing, how very practical Chalmers was when it came to issues of Church organization. Roxborogh writes,

For Chalmers the organization of the Church, like the organisation of theology, was subservient to the task of proclaiming the Gospel. On reading a sermon which argued that the Church was free in different times and circumstances to alter its government, worship, and discipline, since its ‘institutions stand not on the strength of statute, but in that of their fitness to fulfill the great objects of her mission’, Chalmers felt moved to write to the author agreeing that it was ‘competent on mere human discretion to decide on questions of ecclesiastical regulations and polity’ (180).

I cannot help but wonder, however, how well this mentality went over with his conservative colleagues. Surely this outlook does not represent standard jus divinum Presbyterianism.

McCaffrey further illumines Chalmers’ evangelistic, bridge-building priorities within the Church organization. Bridges must be built to the common man, and to that end, certain things were prominent in his thinking. “Whether the question concerned pluralities, veto, or church extension, one idea was common to all and in publicizing he made his reputation. Two things were essential to it: character and locality. The quality of the population would be assured by an effective teaching Church. The appointment of ministers to parishes and popular assent to these appointments had to be reconciled to ensure orderly progress. The common man and his attitudes were the key” (43).

Having examined a few areas in which Chalmers sought to bridge the gap of Christian truth – biblically and historically – to the contemporary age, it will be helpful reemphasize why.

Why was Chalmers a bridge builder? Roxborogh is most helpful on this point. Again, it was because he was interested in ‘Christianization.’ He longed for the gracious dominion of Christ to find expression in every age, among every people, in every facet and dimension of human life, from the private individual to the structures and institutions of civilization. For Chalmers, Christianity ought to be applied to the whole of society. “Every part and every function of a commonwealth should be leavened with Christianity” (181). Christ must rule in the natural sciences, in mathematics, in economics, and in social issues of the day, especially welfare. “The kingdoms of the earth,” says Chalmers, “may become the kingdom of God and his Christ with the external framework of these present governments . . . . There must therefore be a way in which Christianity can accommodate itself to this framework – a mode by which it can animate all the parts and all the members of it” (181).

There can be no doubt that Chalmers was a bridge-builder and why he was one. But was he effective?

Part of the answer depends on our values. In her essay, Mary Furgol emphasizes the fact that Chalmers sought to convert first and clothe second. The greater question, then, is whether Chalmers’ preaching and pastoring was effective in the conversion of the poor and whether his influence on other ministers and missionaries brought in a gleaning worthy of their calling. I think the question about Chalmers’ ultimate success is similar to asking, was Jesus successful? Well, it depends on what index you’re using. By the measurements of the Jewish religious establishment, he was a resounding failure. “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Matt. 24:42). But to his followers, and in the judgment of many successive generations, the verdict is far otherwise. The servant must be content to be as his Master and to endure the critique of those who judge with a human judgment.

Further, much depends on whether one presumes that bridge building is a good thing to begin with in the first place. There are two alternatives to biblical bridge building. There is retreatism and isolationism on the one hand and syncretistic absorption in the culture on the other. It’s not always easy to define either extreme, I admit. But if you’re a retreatist, building your bunker and waiting for the sweet by and by to come, Chalmers is not your guy. And if you’re such a progressive that the Christian tradition of the past has nothing to say (norma normata), much less the antiquated rule of our faith, the infallible Scriptures (norma normans), then you might as well not be a Christian. To be a Christian means building bridges – not failing to build them, either because you are unwilling to embark from your shore or because you are prepared to bid adieux to it once and for all.

But the question is fair – and one that Chalmers would ask of himself anyway! Assuming that we share Chalmers’ values as well as the Christian ideal of bridge building, the results are mixed. Let’s face it. No one is perfect. Certainly Chalmers didn’t think that he was. Perhaps the lion share of criticisms above is fair.

Yet, his successes must not be underrated. Chalmers has left his indelible imprint upon Reformed and evangelical Christendom in Scotland and beyond – not to mention the field of Sociology, Christian or otherwise.

I would suggest that too few followed Chalmers at the pivotal point of the mid-19th century when the old order was passing. In terms of evangelism, Dissenters wanted to abandon establishments and the territorial model of Christianizing a land. These structures were viewed as outdated and invalid. There was too quick an embrace of a lasseiz faire model of Christianity and a rejection of the ‘planned economy’ of the older order. In terms of poor relief, it seems that the pendulum swung away from the localized, voluntary plan of old, rural Scotland, without resting at a golden mean that might have involved a cooperation between central government and territorial church-based poor relief. But now we have the Welfare State, and Chalmers’ plan remains an interesting historical footnote.

In these and other areas, I fear that too few tried to build bridges. But perhaps Chalmers can inspire us to understand and appreciate the old better and seek to implement in the present day the timeless essence of what made it good – without selling our soul to the culture. A delicate balance indeed. Sort of like being a practical pietist.

[Go to part 2]

Read Full Post »

I am temporarily putting the review of Parish and Parish Church on hold.  I have another volume on interlibrary loan, here, that is due soon.  So if you are among the small readership, I haven’t forgotten!  And since I am on this side note, if anyone knows any fans of Thomas Chalmers, the history of the Disruption / Free Church of Scotland, and especially those who are interested in the old parish model of church organization and witness, please let them know about this blog.  I am an amateur in these areas and would appreciate any helpful, constructive comments that could help shape my grasp of things.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Owen Chadwick has a very interesting essay entitled “Chalmers and the State” in A. C. Cheyne’s collection The Practical and the Pious: Essays on Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847). It sheds some more light on Chalmers’ approach to church establishments, a subject which I have recently treated (https://westportexperiment.wordpress.com/2008/08/22/chalmers-on-church-establishments-part-1/).

Chadwick rises to Chalmers’ defense of establishments, clearing him from unjust aspersions cast against him during his day.  He stresses the point more clearly than I think I did previously, that what drove Chalmers to a defense of religious establishments was his largehearted, Christian concern for the poor.

The praise which no one could ever deny him is that he cared about the poor with a compassion which was also the leading passion of his life.  How he cared about the poor, what methods he proposed to care for the poor (some of the methods seem peculiar, and not many of them would b e acceptable to the Welfare State of the 20th century), and also the practical results of the compassion, are in question.  What is not in question is that he cared.  His entrie theory of an established Church rested on this compassion for the poor.  At the Tron Church in Glasgow he learned for the first time the nature of the urban slum, and this experience conditioned the rest of his life.  He saw that no voluntary system could cope.  Chapels supported by their member were chapels of the middle class.  They might be chapels of the lower middle class but they were not chapels of working men and they were not in the right place.  No system of raising money by gifts and bazaars could ever be enough.  Therefore the State must act and supply, or at least must supplement all that voluntary effort could achieve (70).

His 1830 lectures on establishments in London were well-received by the Conservative Party, who continued to view the aristocracy as placed by God to be benevolent patrons of the common people.  In these lectures,

His love for the poor was very evident when he talked of slums, only recently regarded as unsafe for members of the middle class to enter, but now visited by a minister, which had become places of cheerfulness and friendliness and welcome.  When he speaks of the apostolic drive towards a better people and a higher morality and an enlightened education among the once illiterate areas, the lectures, and indeed the whole theory, are stamped with a deep sense of optimism: the Church moving forward powerfully into the new age on behalf of the poorest people.  The lectures were not only strong because they were just what English Tories wanted to hear.  They were strong because the idea of Establishment was so obviously rooted in compassion for suffering humanity (75).

We might think such ideas highbrow.  But they were genuinely benevolent.

Sadly, the Dissenters used their political influence to quash Chalmers’ hopes for the Melbourne government to help the Kirk build more churches in the sprawling, unchurched cities.  They unjustly feared that he and his party aimed at the destruction of Dissent, whereas he only “cared about the poor” and was “friendly to Dissenters as workers in the same field” (71).

These comments of Chadwick’s prompts a related observation.  In terms of policy, Chalmers would have been totally antithetical to the 20th/21st century Welfare State.  He had no time for non-localized charity, managed directly by a central state bureau.  Yet, was Chalmers against the government’s intervention to secure the welfare of the poor?  Of course not.  Rather, he thought that government should subsidize the Christian ministry to evangelize and pastor the poor, caring first for their imperishable souls, and secondarily to assist them materially through responsible face-to-face involvement.  Such a plan, modelled in his St. John’s Experiment and later on in the West Port, tended to preserve the dignity and promote the industry and independence of the poor.  The government certainly ought to intervene in the situation, even if only as a matter of sound fiscal policy.  To establish a Church would be, in Chalmers’ calculations, to save the state huge sums of money.  But the state must intervene for the welfare of the poor indirectly.  To indulge in an anachronism, Chalmers did in a sense believe in the Welfare State – only as outsourced to the Christian ministry.

It is interesting to note that, in Chadwick’s appraisal of the man, Chalmers thought that “it would be relatively easy to reunite the Protestant denominations in a single established Church” (74).  Chalmers was clearly a broad evangelical for his day.  Some have called him ‘the Apostle of Union.’  I don’t doubt that statements in his lectures on establishments tend in the direction of supporting a pan-evangelical establishment.  They are reminiscent of Rabbi Duncan’s quaint credo, “I’m first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order.”  But whether Chalmers thought it would be easy to unite the evangelical denominations under the umbrella of the 1830s Church of Scotland is another thing.  Maybe there is evidence for it in his unpublished manuscripts.

But Chadwick is spot on when he says that, after a broad Protestant consensus, the (secondary) basis for a Church establishment in Chalmers’ thought is the principle of territorialism, not a more nuanced doctrinal stance.  “The idea that you should choose a Church on grounds of polity was not all to his liking” (74).  He had the goal of Christianizing Scotland always uppermost in his mind, and the best way to Christianize is to localize.

Last, I found it quite helpful to have the following points in greater clarity.  Chadwick indicates that the handwriting was on the wall for Church establishments in the 1800s not only because of the huge demographic shift from country to city, but also because of the changing political environment with the push to and the achievement of full political freedoms for Roman Catholics and Dissenters.  The “relation of new quasi-democracy to old oligarchy” was pushing at the seams of the old order (77).  With the political forces shifting, the purse strings from the State were bound to be cut.  The voting blocs were not remaining static.

Read Full Post »


Shaw, Iain. High Calvinists in Action: Calvinism and the City, Manchester and London, c. 1810-1860. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.


            Do the theological rigor, precision, and dogmatism of Calvinism inhibit evangelistic and benevolent efforts?  Perhaps individual cases here and there may be pointed out in defense of this caricature.  But in High Calvinists in Action, Shaw goes a long way to debunking the notion historically by turning to a period of great spiritual and social need, the Industrial Age in Britain, to two of her prominent cities, London and Manchester, and then to several ministers within them representing not only Calvinism but even ‘High Calvinism’ (a brand of Calvinism that one might distinguish as strongly emphasizing divine sovereignty in salvation, dismissing any idea of a free offer of the Gospel, advocating eternal justification, and a tendency to oppose progressive sanctification).  When examining a cross-section of Calvinist and High Calvinist preachers in the industrial centers of England, does one find a cold, clinical indifference to the spiritual and temporal well being of their neighbors?  And, consequently, are these chosen ‘frozen’ in inactivity, beyond the conventional routines of congregational life?  The data, indicates Shaw, leads to quite a different conclusion. 

            I will refrain from going into greater analysis; to read the book is to have the basic point reinforced repeatedly with many illustrations and concrete data.  If Shaw’s sampling is at all fair, which it seems that it is, then 19th century British Calvinists and even their more extreme representatives were decidedly not cultural retreatists.  Instead of analysis then, I’d like to turn to some interesting issues and questions that the book raised for me.

            First, I was ignorant of the fact that it was the general consensus of the times – and not just paternalistic figures like Thomas Chalmers – that poverty was to be seen perhaps more often as the fruit of vice and that the antidote was holding individuals accountable, stressing self-reliance and self-improvement, and giving aid only when absolutely necessary.  According to Shaw, “the self-help, anti-mendacity dogma was not only prevalent across sect and party, but that it also functioned as a cohesive force in much of the religious community” (102).  Consequently, the High Calvinist William Nunn of Manchester, when signing on to the newly created city Provident Society, was not unique in pursuing philanthropy by a strictly controlled process of personal visitation to avoid dispensing aid to the unworthy.  And James Wells, High Calvinist serving in South London, in a sermon he preached entitled ‘A Rod for the Lazy and the Crumb for the Hungry,’ pointed to his own history of self-help, raising himself up from poverty to self-sufficiency as an example for the poor to follow.  “And here I am now,” says Wells, “above fifty years old, and a better man than some of you that are hardly thirty; because you have been afraid of work and I have not” (quoted by Shaw, 267).

            Our own philanthropy in 21st century America – including that of the evangelical element in our society – could use a heavy helping of this kind of reasoning.  Is it not a biblical truism that “if a man will not work, neither let him eat?”  And is it truly merciful to rescue a man from the rod of God, brought upon his back for his own folly?  Will not God’s rod teach him better than our social programs?  If this is not true social concern by 21st century standards, then forward to the 19th century!

            But if this was a 19th century British consensus, and the High Calvinists of Shaw’s study were not particularly unique, what is to account for that consensus?  Was it an outgrowth of the ‘Protestant work ethic’ that generally characterized English culture at the time?  Or was it less of a religious and more of a cultural or political predisposition?  Or a mixture of both?

            It is also interesting to note in this connection that many Calvinists and High Calvinists recognized that not all poverty was to be chalked up to personal vice.  (“Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents?”)  Much poverty was the consequence of broader structural changes in economics and politics, and some men were more realistic and consequently more open-handed, according to Shaw.  William Gadsby, a High Calvinist Baptist in Manchester, responded to the “appalling poverty” of 19th century English cities in a different manner from those “evangelicals [who were] steeped in the tenets of political economy, who shunned indiscriminate personal acts of charity as lending only to pauperism and indigence” (147).  And therefore, “the poor in the district of his ministerial labours were ‘daily the objects of his commiseration and aid, and their temporal relief as well as their spiritual instruction was never lost sight of in his visits to their dwellings’” (quoted by Shaw, 147).  And even more discriminating philanthropists among the High Calvinists probed the claims of the poor only to ensure that funds were given to those who “suffered from the common accidents of life, evils which no human foresight can elude” (quoted by Shaw, 101).

            Which leads me to a further observation.  The ingredient of systematic visitation and examination of the poor by lay-agents, as in the case of the Manchester and Salford District Provident Society (100) founded in 1833, appears to have been a practice that predated Thomas Chalmers.  The description of their operations (101) struck me as remarkably close to what Chalmers presided over in his St. John’s parish in Glasgow, 1819-1823.  I had thought his was a novel idea.  But perhaps he was simply a popularizer of a practice already in place; or he was an efficient administrator… or both.  And in confirmation of this suspicion, it is intriguing to note that Shaw traces the philanthropic work of that Provident Society back to Charles Simeon, “who was involved in schemes in 1788 to sell bread to the poor cheaply and visitation schemes to administer relief to the poor of Cambridge” (99, emphasis mine).  Incidentally, I was just reading this morning in the Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology concerning Charles Simeon’s visits to Scotland and his warm reception among the Scots Presbyterians.  Is there a line of influence there?

            Another issue that this book raised for me – and didn’t necessarily resolve – is the matter of the church’s benevolent obligations to the surrounding society in which it is placed.  Some of the High Calvinists whom Shaw treats had an inclination to focus on the ‘Lord’s poor.’  That does make perfect biblical sense.  “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).  We must “especially” do good to the “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).  But on the other hand, we are to love all men, not only in word, but in deed.  Though there is to be special focus on the household of faith, Paul in his imperative does not exclude our doing good to those outside.  “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men.  And though there was attention to the ‘Lord’s poor,’ Shaw demonstrates how that even the sternest of High Calvinists were men of true compassion and were moved by the scenes of wretchedness and squalor in the slums of the Industrial Age.  How could they simply say, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled” (Jas. 2:16)? 

            So, provided that the emphasis remains on the household of faith, shouldn’t benevolent concern also extend to outsiders?  Obviously in the contemporary North American context, it cannot be done indiscriminately – of course, it never really can.  This is where I think the principles of visitation, inquiry, and accountability, embodied in these 19th century benevolent societies, come into play.  Money without strings is not necessarily true charity.  If 50 cents to every dollar you give goes to the local liquor store in the end, you are not helping anyone. 

Furthermore, this is where, again, I think having actual defined parishes can really come in handy.  The church phone, listed in the yellow pages, will always get a regular stream of calls for handouts.  But there is no face-to-face, regular interaction.  Consequently, accountability is nearly impossible.  But adopt a fixed geographic district for spiritual and benevolent care, and the efficiency of the benevolence is improved by face-to-face visitation and accountability.  And the phone solicitations can be answered with the official policy: congregation first, parish second. 

Obviously, however, many middle-class churches meet in the suburbs.  To adopt a parish in the suburbs is not a bad thing – but it will rarely bring us into contact with the poor, whether they are poor by their own vice or otherwise.  Perhaps the answer here is to adopt a district, maybe 3 or 4 square blocks, in the inner city, and start a visitation (‘door-to-door’) schedule. 

            Finally, the book also helped illustrate the very practical and experimental nature of 19th century British evangelicalism in its evangelistic and benevolent efforts.  I had thought that Chalmers was unique in the development, experimentation, promotion, and supervision of various ‘schemes’ and ‘societies.’  But he was apparently only representative; or again, a great popularizer and an efficient administrator.  I know that there is a fine line between principle and pragmatism.  It is not particularly easy to discern with confidence how well these men walked it.  But one with zeal for the promotion of the Redeemer’s cause and the well being of his fellow man can’t help but read such ventures and ask whether or not we could really learn from them.  And especially in conservative Reformed circles – because these doers, these activists, were anything but milk toast Arminians. 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts