Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A brief review of a brief book

Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Be Saved? John W. Robbins. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation. 2004, paperback, 44 pages. ISBN: 0-940931-67-2. $3.95

Your first thought may be, "What is the
Orthodox Presbyterian Church, why does it need to be saved, and who cares anyway?"

Well...the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is a Presbyterian denomination born out of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the first quarter of the 20th century. According to the Trinity Foundation, "The Orthodox Presbyterian Church was founded in 1936 by about 135 people who were offended by the lack of discipline in and doctrinal errors of the Presbyterian Church in the USA." Constituted in 1936 as the Presbyterian Church of America, the name was changed to Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1939. The OPC needs to be saved from encroaching doctrinal heterodoxy, and John Robbins, at least, cares.

Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Be Saved? is not a book I would normally pick up at a book store or order from a catalog. So how did I come to have and read it? The Trinity Foundation prints what they believe are "sound Christian books" and often offer them for sale at substantial discounts. After taking advantage of one of these offers, I received my books with Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Be Saved? as a gift of appreciation for my order. I looked at it and set it to the back.

Then, on a day when I thought Gordon Clark's Logic was "too hot" and J. Gresham Machen's Education, Christianity, and the State "too cold" -- like Goldilocks I decided Robbins' 44 page book on the OPC would be "just right".

If nothing else, perhaps the book will add to my memory what my daughter calls my "random facts". This book is probably not for the average reader. It calls for some interest in the OPC, or if not, an interest in religious controversies or random historical facts. It would be good to have a little background not only of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, but also of Presbyterian & Reformed controversies -- the Clark-Van Til Controversy, the Shepherd Justification Controversy, etc.

Robbins begins with the question at hand and the OPC controversy over justification by faith alone. Then he delves into the background of this, particularly the dominating influence of the Westminster Theological Seminary and the OPC's penchant to continue to attack Gordon Clark 20 years after this death. Robbins leads us through this forest, back to the present (which is 4 years ago), and the hope that members might wade through the propaganda and save the OPC.

I am certainly in no position to make informed statements about the OPC. This booklet by John Robbins makes up probably 98% of what I know about it. This book will be an important resource to anyone affiliated with it.

If nothing else, the book will add to your collection of random facts. But I believe there is something else. I can recommend Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Be Saved? to the general reader* for two reasons: (1) it speaks to the broad liberalizing tendency current among the people denominated Christians; and (2) it provides an example of the tendency of denominational leadership (of whatever denomination) to "circle the wagons" against any threat to the denominational machinery -- whether real or perceived.

*Notes: by the general reader I mainly intend persons who have no particular connection to the Presbyterian Church. The book closes with a "Reformation Day Declaration," and offers those in agreement opportunity to sign it. A list of books available from Trinity rounds the book out to a total of 60 pages.
The Trinity Foundation web site offers other books of this genre, including The Clark-Van Til Controversy, The Current Justification Controversy, and A Companion to The Current Justification Controversy.

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