PRELUDE TO IRONY
The Princeton Theology and the Practice of
American Presbyterian Missions in Northern Siam, 1867-1880
Herbert R. Swanson
A Dissertation submitted for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
The Melbourne College of Divinity, Melbourne University
Electronic Version 2012
|Table of Contents||Abstract||Illust. & Tables||Introduction||Chapter 1||Chapter 2||Chapter 3||Chapter 4||Chapter 5||Chapter 6||Conclusion||Appendices||Bibliography|
The Princeton System of Doctrines and Meanings
2. Theological Foundations
2.3 In Defense of Orthodoxy and Reality
3. Theological Strands
3.2 Knowledge of God
The nine pioneer members of the Laos Mission took a set of working principles and ideas with them to Chiang Mai that demonstrated striking, if roughly hewn, parallels to the Princeton Theology. While, as we saw in Chapter Two, it is impossible to gauge precisely the direct impact Princeton had on Chiang Mai, a number of impressions stand out. First, Princeton did, possibly, have some immediate influence on the Laos Mission through the persons of McGilvary and Wilson, most particularly McGilvary—the evident theological parallels and his passing, entirely unaffected references to the Princetonians and to Reformed confessionalism encouraging such a conclusion. Second, the theological expressions of the other early members of the mission and McGilvary's theological accreditation of some of them leave the strong impression that all but Vrooman shared Princeton's general theological orientation. Even Vrooman had some contact with Princeton, through the pastor of the church he attended in New York City. Third, apart from a few of McGilvary's theological comments, the missionary record does not contain the Princeton Theology as such, if by the "Princeton Theology" we mean the clearly articulated, self-conscious system of doctrines found in Archibald Alexander's A Brief Outline of the Evidences of the Christian Religion, Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology, or A. A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology. The missionaries' writings do contain evidence of a Reformed confessional system of doctrines like Princeton, but such hints of Princeton do not in and of themselves constitute the Princeton Theology in a formal sense, even in the case of Dr. McGilvary.
The Laos Mission did not transport the full set of Princeton's system of doctrines to Chiang Mai, although strong traces of many of its doctrines remained. It did import a system of doctrines and meanings that it in all probability received partly from Princeton through McGilvary and Wilson and otherwise shared in varying degrees with the great majority of American evangelicals. The Princeton Theology is, thus, important to the study of Presbyterian missionary thought and behavior in northern Siam primarily and most importantly because it provides a wealth of well-organized, carefully written material from which to mine the system of meanings and doctrines shared by the members of the mission. These direct and indirect links between Princeton and the Laos Mission are not merely a matter of curiosity. They offer, if the thesis of this dissertation is correct, "substantial insights into the system of doctrines and meanings of the Laos Mission, which system comprised a key source of missionary behavior in the years from 1867 to 1880." They help to explain, again if our thesis is correct, why the mission failed to present its message in ways that facilitated rather than obstructed that message's acceptance by the vast majority of northern Thais.
An appreciation of the system of theology taught at Princeton is thus important to our more focused understanding of the pattern of events in Chiang Mai and the missionary system of doctrines and meanings that subsumed those events. We cannot base that appreciation, however, on the tables of contents of the Princeton circle's major works. One must look to the less obvious ways in which the Princeton theologians structured their thinking as they created their tables of contents, wrote their articles in the Princeton Review, and taught their students at the seminary.
To anticipate what follows, we will see that Princeton operated from a set of theological principles, which it believed are revealed in the Bible and implanted in human consciousness. It held that the Holy Spirit uses these principles to inform the Christian mind concerning divine truth and enthuse the Christian heart with the power of that truth. The Princeton circle believed that its principles and the truth comes from God and must be absolutely distinguished from all that is evil, immoral, and false. They branded anything that contradicted their principles with the labels of impiety, heathenism, and, ultimately, Satan. The Princetonians claimed, in defense of their principles, that faithful Christians are able to know God and the truth, as opposed to infidels and heathens who know neither God nor truth. They assumed, once again, that any system of theology, philosophy, or morals that contradicted the Princeton Theology also contradicted divine truth. Taken as a package, this set of ideas amounted to a closed system of thought that purposefully, systematically eschewed even slight deviations from what it understood to be orthodox Calvinism. When removed to northern Siam, this closed theological system functioned, in effect, like an ideology, which encouraged the early members of the Laos Mission to take an antagonistic attitude towards northern Thai culture and religious consciousness. Their failure to shape their message to communicate effectively within the northern Thai context followed like night follows day.
Old School Presbyterians, including the Princeton professors, found antebellum America a challenging and, in some ways, an aggravating venue for theological reflection. The Enlightenment's radical skeptics had already initiated a frontal assault on organized Christianity, charging it with the crimes of superstition, ignorance, and spiritual totalitarianism. Romanticism's devotees passionately joined the chorus of criticism, while in New England, supposedly orthodox Calvinists experimented with "new" theologies, which the New School was introducing into the Presbyterian Church itself and which the Old School believed shaded off into heresy. Emotional frontier revivalism, and German skepticism, meanwhile only added to the pressure felt by those who cherished Reformed orthodoxy. This contentious context confronted the Reformed tradition's defenders with a two-fold challenge: first, they had to preserve orthodoxy. Second, they had to shape their defense of orthodoxy to the intellectual and spiritual currents of their time, currents dominated by the moderate Enlightenment and smitten with Baconian common sense thought. They had to defend orthodoxy, that is, in a Scottish mode. In the process, the Princeton circle created a system of meanings and doctrines that drew on both the principles of Reformed theology and evangelical piety.
Theological reflection at Princeton invariably began with certain fundamental principles, assembled through a process of combining the traditional theological principles of Reformed confessionalism and the first principles of Common Sense Philosophy. The Reformed tradition, from the time of Calvin's successor, Beza, operated on the basis of a collection of theological principles, principia theologiae, which principles it held to be biblical, necessarily true, immediately knowable, and normative. The Scottish philosophers, in their turn, claimed the existence of another set of principles that are immutable, commonsensical, known intuitively, self-evident to all normal and unprejudiced people, impossible to reject, real, true, and planted by God in the constitution of human nature itself. Princeton merged these two views of fundamental or first principles, thus grounding its system of meanings in a doubly solid and well-established panoply of basic presuppositions, variously listed and described.
Princeton, taking its cue from its Reformed heritage, consistently sought to ground its theological principles in the Scriptures, embracing the Bible as its unquestioned source for all religious truths. William Henry Green, a member of the seminary faculty for over fifty years, stated that the Bible is an "infallible communication from God" ruled over by the "immediate voice and hand of God." He rejected out of hand any and all doubts and criticisms of the Bible that questioned its authority, arguing that such doubts only left the doubter stranded in a vacillating, indecisive darkness. Alluding to the ground of Princeton's theological principles, he also stated, as we saw in Chapter One, that the Princetonians rejected any doctrines or views that "the word of God, honestly expounded, will not sanction." Princeton, in sum, based its basic principles on the infallible and immediate authority of God's Word, a strong and sure foundation on which to build its theology.
Princeton, also taking its cue from Common Sense Philosophy, just as consistently sought to root its theological principles in common sense. In his argument for the universality of religion, Archibald Alexander reasons that human nature must have a religion of one kind or another, that all peoples have a capacity for religion, and that, as a result, no nation has ever been found without religion. He concludes that, "these principles of our nature are so deeply radicated, that they never can be removed." Charles Hodge followed a similar line of reasoning in his argument that humanity is composed of two substances, body and soul. He contends that, "The idea of substance is one of the primary truths of the reason. It is given in the consciousness of every man, and is therefore a part of the universal faith of men." He went on to assert that, "it is intuitively certain that matter and mind are two distinct substances. And such has been the faith of the great body of mankind." Princeton, thus, also established its fundamental principles on the consciousness and commonly held beliefs of humanity, which again provided it with a secure, trustworthy foundation on which to build its systems of meanings and of doctrines.
Princeton availed itself of the best of two worlds, Reformed confessional theology and Scottish Enlightenment philosophy. Hodge summed up his argument for the existence of both soul and body with the ringing affirmation that, "It is the common belief of mankind, the clearly revealed doctrine of the Bible, and part of the faith of the church universal, that the soul can, and does exist, and act after death." His principle was that body and soul are separate, real entities, and he based that principle on considerations that were at one and the same time commonsensical, biblical, and orthodox. Archibald Alexander put the matter more generally and simply, stating, "But it is reasonable to believe what by our senses we perceive to exist; and it is reasonable to believe whatever God declares to be true." It is reasonable, that is, to depend on common sense and the Bible, the repositories of, respectively, sensible and religious truths. Alexander also wove an orthodox evangelical sense of spiritual renewal into the fabric of these principles by equating the knowledge of them with the work of the Holy Spirit. He held that the Holy Spirit alone provides the illumination or enlightenment necessary to fully understand basic theological principles. Only converted, enlightened Christians, according to Alexander, can gain full knowledge of the fundamental principles that subsume all of reality, including most particularly the Christian religion itself.
The Princeton theologians offered various lists of confessional-commonsensical first principles, depending on the particular issue or topic under discussion. Hodge, for example, provides a list of basic assumptions, or principles, in his argument that we can understand the nature of God by abstracting human characteristics to their perfect state, namely that humanity knows and God is all knowing and that humans love and God is perfect love. He writes,
The ground, or reason, why we are authorized to ascribe to God the perfections of our own nature, is that we are his children. He is the Father of spirits; we are of the same generic nature with him; we were created in his image; we are, therefore, like him, and he is like us. This is the fundamental principle of all religion.Hodge's first principles, in this case, include: God is the Father of Spirits. We share in God's generic nature. God created us in God's image. Taken together, these principles reveal another first principle, fundamental to all others, namely that we are like God and God is like us. The Princeton circle habitually created and used such lists of first principles, as can be seen from the example of their more general views on the Bible. They believed that Christ, for example, is the central theme of the Hebrew Scriptures, that particular books or parts of the Bible are inspired, that God's revelations in nature and in the Bible supplement rather than contradict each other, and that biblical scholars should be limited to dealing with strictly objective, factual data in the Bible. The possibilities for laying down such principles were virtually limitless, although controlled by Princeton's understanding of its Reformed heritage, the Bible, and human consciousness.
In a sense, both Hodge's immediate list of principles and the one extracted from Princeton's views of the Bible appear to be merely lists of narrowly constructed religious doctrines. What transformed them into principles that are more general was the unequivocal manner in which Princeton associated them with human consciousness. Hodge argued that any refusal to accept the basic doctrines of the Christ faith constitutes an offense against reason and God. Those doctrines are "sustained by a well authenticated revelation of God," a revelation that is proved by the same weight of evidence that our senses and consciousness provide us concerning external and internal realities. Hodge claimed that disobedience to the divinely given commonsense principles of human consciousness is unreasonable and constitutes rebellion against God. He almost unconsciously leaped, that is, from doctrines to consciousness to commonsense principles, thereby translating Reformed orthodoxy into the idiom of Common Sense Philosophy. He could just as easily vault in the other direction, jumping from philosophy to theology. In his classroom lectures on systematic theology, for example, Hodge provided his students with three commonsensical principles to explain why Christians must place their religious trust in common sense: first, our very nature, as God created it, leads us to trust the testimony of our senses; second, placing confidence in our senses is thus the same as trusting God; and, third, all revelation is first addressed to the senses, be it hearing the Word preached or seeing it through reading. Where earlier generations of orthodox Reformed savants drew only on Geneva for their principia theologiae, Princeton also called upon Edinburgh's first principles in order to reinforce their own principles in a manner relevant to an age that put great store, as we have seen, in the Scottish Enlightenment.
One can judge Princeton's principles in at least two different ways. On the one hand, some scholars criticize both the common sense philosophers and the Princeton theologians for arbitrarily turning anything and everything convenient to their own prejudices into supposedly unassailable first principles. Loetscher observes, "When used loosely, without the safeguards that the father of the Scottish philosophy [Reid] sought to place upon them, the concept [of first principles] could easily be made to endorse many a dogmatism." Taylor claims that Archibald Alexander did precisely that. He transformed his own theological views on biblical inspiration, the workings of providence, and the authority of the Bible into commonsensical first principles of human consciousness. This approach, Taylor contends, prevented Archibald from accepting any views on the text of the Bible that contradicted his own, because in Alexander's view, "the results of any legitimate critical inquiry into the texts would necessarily corroborate the orthodox understanding of the scriptures." Princeton's use of Reformed and Enlightenment strategies in tandem has left them open, in sum, to the charge of creating a self-serving, closed doctrinal system impervious to contradiction. On the other hand, if we understand Princeton's concern to establish and defend a system of meanings and doctrines that it believed divinely inspired and rooted in human consciousness, the professors' wedding of Reformed and Enlightenment thought appears, perhaps, less self-serving than self-reinforcing. It surely had several advantages, not the least of which was its relevance to its antebellum cultural context, which will be discussed later in this chapter. Suffice it to say for the moment, that Princeton's reliance on an indeterminate number of enlightened theological principles provided it a firm conceptual base from which to develop its system of doctrines and meanings, whether in the United States or northern Siam.
Princeton faced certain problems, however, including a number of difficult questions. If, before all else, its doctrines were so evidently commonsensical, why did so many of Princeton's contemporaries refuse to accept them? The professors had a ready answer. Adopting Reid's criticism of Hume, they claimed that their doctrines and views represented first principles while their adversaries based their opinions on unfounded presuppositions and, frequently, obvious, willful prejudices. Henry C. Alexander declared that all of the philosophies that stood in opposition to Christian revelation, from ancient times to the present, founded themselves on false assumptions. Removing those assumptions, he claimed, reinstated commonsensical theism immediately. Archibald Alexander applied this general principle to Hume's denial of miracles, arguing that Hume engaged in a process of circular reasoning by which he first assumed that miracles cannot take place and then turned around and made that assumption his conclusion. Alexander complains, "What sort of reasoning is it, then, to form an argument against the truth of miracles founded on the assumption, that they never existed?" Green similarly attacked an English biblical scholar for engaging in a specious method of circular reasoning based on foregone conclusions. He writes, "As a matter of course the critic finds exactly what he wishes to find." He also complains, "If this method is allowable there is no difficulty in proving anything that a man may undertake to prove." To those, in sum, who might wonder why so many others disagreed with the Princeton Theology and its many principles, the Princeton circle answered that false and frequently prejudiced assumptions blinded its opponents to the truth.
J. Addison Alexander's critique of German biblical studies and their interpretation of the Gospels, however, demonstrates that Princeton based its own principles on assumptions just as much as did its opponents. Alexander advised those college and seminary teachers who wanted to bring German biblical studies into their classrooms that, "With respect to the principles on which the teacher should proceed in digesting these materials, we need hardly say that he must necessarily assume the inspiration of the gospels and their consistency one with another." Alexander went on to criticize radical German interpretations of the Gospels for starting from purely speculative false assumptions that could be used to prove anything. He does not seems to have realized that "the Germans" could have just as easily accused him of starting with an unwarranted assumption, namely that the Bible is divinely inspired. As early as 1825, Hodge warned that the preconceived assumptions of those who engaged in philosophical speculations represented the greatest danger facing biblical studies. Hodge, nonetheless, worked from his own set of preconceived assumptions, arguing that the only cure for speculative theological abuse of the Scriptures is careful, reverential inductive study of the Bible based on the conviction of its divine origin and the need to rely on the Holy Spirit to overcome human resistance to the Truth. Alexander and Hodge's views depended upon fundamental assumptions just as much as any of those whom they criticized, the difference being, in their own opinion, that their assumptions were based on the Bible, inspired by God, and arrived at through the carefully wrought inductive method of Bacon.
Princeton's construction of its first principles on the twin pillars of Reformed theology and Enlightenment philosophy provided it with a doubly secure foundation for its system of doctrines and meanings. Those principles were at one and the same time self-authenticating and authoritative, being grounded in human consciousness and divine revelation. Princeton believed that these two sources of its knowledge of first principles rendered the principles themselves unassailable and proved them obviously different from the false assumptions of those who disagreed with Princeton's views on theology and philosophy. On this apparently solid foundation, it built the rest of its theology.
Princeton's evangelical context required it, however, to mold a theology that satisfied the pious heart as well as the rational mind. It accomplished that task through a relatively straightforward strategy that aligned the mind and heart, based on three principles: First, it posited an essential unity between right thinking and right feeling. Second, it held that right feeling cannot contradict right thinking. Third, Princeton involved the Holy Spirit in the process of right thinking and feeling.
First, mind and heart comprise an essential unity. Archibald Alexander believed that it is difficult to frame the truths of the Bible in logical statements because they involve more than just the intellect. He avowed that those biblical truths have an "astonishing power" over ethical behavior and æsthetics as well—a power to penetrate the heart and influence the conscience. Alexander states, "There is a sublime sanctity in the doctrines and precepts of the Gospel; a devotional and heavenly spirit pervading the Scriptures; a purity and holy tendency which cannot but be felt by the serious reader of the word of God, and a power to soothe and comfort the sorrowful mind…" His son, James W. Alexander, declared that God created the human heart and mind as well as the body, and Christ expected his followers to render him "a service of mind and heart." Hodge's writings contain a sprinkling of aphorisms making the same point, namely that the Christian heart and mind are congruent with each other. He asserts, as one example, that, "All religious language false to the intellect is profane to the feelings and a mockery of God." The principle in all cases is the same, namely that one cannot divorce piety from doctrines, heart from mind.
Second, the Princetonians believed that right thinking and correct doctrines provide an important way to achieve right feeling and piety. Although this second principle would seem to be an obvious corollary of the first, it entailed a slight but highly important shift in emphasis toward the mind that quietly reinforced the integrity of Princeton's principia theologiae as commonsense first principles. We have already seen in Chapter Two that Princeton generally believed that the heart is the seat of human corruption while the mind is the avenue for reaching into the heart. Wrong feeling is the problem. Right thinking is the solution. James W. Alexander argues, accordingly, that sin dethrones the higher powers of the mind and puts "the inferior passions and carnal appetites" in their place. Conversion removes the mental disorders of sin, restores harmony, and reorients the affections to center on "things above." According to Alexander, furthermore, matters of doctrine and intellect must be set straight if one is to achieve a state of inner harmony between mind and heart. He sums up his observations by stating, "The closest connexion between faith and love is manifest from the nature of the case; as no object can be loved which is not perceived; and the more vividly an object of love is presented to the mind, the more is the affection increased in vigour." Perception precedes affection. Mind drives emotions. For Green, the key to the process of achieving inner harmony was the proper apprehension of the true meaning of Christian doctrines; he objected to German biblical scholarship because its critical theories destroyed the factual, rational foundation of biblical religion. Gaining a correct understanding of the meaning of Christian doctrines is crucial, he thought, to religious life. In the particular case of "heathen" peoples, he believed that it is essential to "christianize" their languages as part of the process of conversion. The process could not be completed until those languages are "reached and purified."
Faith, piety, the heart, right affections—by whatever name we chose to call the Christian's inner life and relationship with God, Princeton firmly pegged that life to right thinking, the concern for proper doctrines and sensible principles. It cut its piety from the same bolt of cloth as its theology and ideology. Feelings strengthened the common sense foundations on which both were based.
Third, the process of reaching the heart through the mind depends on the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the powerful and ultimately authoritative work of the Spirit in the deepest recesses of the human soul validated Princeton's commonsense perception of reality. On Sunday afternoon, 26 November 1854, Dr. Hodge addressed his weekly conference with the student body, presumably with Wilson and McGilvary in attendance, on the subject of "The indwelling of the Spirit." He opened his informal comments with the statement that certain specific effects always mark the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Among these effects, he included "graces," which are the fruits of the Spirit. He went on to say that,
The graces are 1st. Knowledge. This is one of the chief ends for which the Spirit was promised by the Saviour to his disciples. This knowledge includes correct intellectual convictions and spiritual discernment. To this are due orthodoxy and love of the truth, and adherence to it under all circumstances. To this source also are we indebted for the unity as well as the preservation of the faith. This is a ground of conviction beyond the reach of scepticism and unassailable by infidelity.
The first grace given through the Holy Spirit, in other words, is that of right thinking, which is a matter of spiritual discernment as well as intellectual understanding. The Spirit and knowledge cannot be separated from each other. Hodge also believed that the indwelling of the Spirit confirmed orthodoxy's principia theologiae, which were also Princeton's commonsense first principles of theology and faith. He based his entire system of meanings on this epistemological-spiritual foundation, which included the love of truth, adherence to truth, the unity of that truth, and the preservation of Christian faith. His final statement, above, relates his views on the relationship between the Spirit and knowledge back to the context of Common Sense Philosophy; the grace of knowledge rests on convictions so compelling and immediate that neither philosophical skepticism nor infidelity of any sort could shake it. That is precisely Reid's contention against Hume: the intuited principles of common sense are so immediate, so obviously true that no amount of skepticism can shake one's belief in them.
Princeton built its system of doctrines and meanings on a theology that drew upon Common Sense Philosophy to establish its own biblical-theological principles as God-given intuited first principles of human consciousness. It held that such principles could not be "proved" by reason, but must be accepted as residing in the very structure of human nature itself, in the feelings as well as the intellect. God not only created these principles in us, but also reconfirms them through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The Princeton circle, thus, began with its own set of theological assumptions, transformed them into commonsense principles, and then defined and defended them as intellectually and spiritually incontrovertible. It was a closed system intended to function as a credible, solid, and convincing defense of Reformed confessional orthodoxy. The Princeton Theology, as we have already seen, was born into hard times for orthodoxy; the forces of infidelity seemed to be on the march at every quarter of the compass. Reformed confessional theology in America could withstand the onslaught only if it had a defense fitting to both its theological heritage and its post-Revolutionary, Enlightenment context, such as would give it a solid ideological base from which to achieve its defense of orthodoxy.
If there was one thing that Princeton and its Old School compatriots believed more firmly than anything else, it was that "Calvinism" embodied the truest, most pure and faithful system of theology and the best distillation of the teachings of Jesus available to humanity. Its principia theologiae were contained in both the Bible and the human heart. Conservative Presbyterians felt deeply compelled thus to defend this system of truth, especially in the difficult decades of the Early Republic and the Antebellum. At a time in which inherited social and political structures came under increasing attack, the system they defended encompassed social as well as theological concerns, which meant that they required a system of defense that would uphold traditional social and political structures as well as religious and theological orthodoxy. The members of the Princeton circle found that system in their unique blend of confessionalism, common sense thought, and evangelicalism.
Old School Presbyterian leaders, indeed, established Princeton Seminary for the very purpose of defending and disseminating Old School confessionalism through the training of an educated clergy, who would be well able to combat the forces of deism, emotional excess, speculative philosophy, and heresies of all stripes. In his 1812 inaugural address as the seminary's first professor, Archibald Alexander focused his audience's attention on apologetical issues, mounted a defense of the inspiration of the Bible, and gave a rebuttal of Hume's arguments against miracles. The seminary's original plan and early curriculum also reflected the intention of its founders, including most particularly Alexander, to defend orthodoxy from the forces of infidelity, an intention that strongly shaped Princeton's subsequent history. Nothing symbolized and embodied Princeton's commitment to the defense of Reformed orthodoxy more than its flagship publication, The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, more widely known simply as the Princeton Review. It provided an ideal format for identifying and attacking infidelity while defending Reformed confessionalism. Noll suggests that Hodge's polemical writings in the Princeton Review provide a "fuller, more comprehensive picture" of his thought than any other of his works, including his Systematic Theology. He concludes, "Hodge's defense of the Reformed faith in the Princeton Review is a vast and complex subject. The journal's pages were his bricks from which he constructed a fortress for defending an Augustinian Calvinism that still insisted on the sovereignty of God in salvation." Princeton Seminary existed, above all else, to defend Reformed orthodoxy.
While its Early Republic-antebellum context may have, in a sense, driven the Old School and Princeton to a concern with apologetics, they took to the tasks of defending the faith and attacking infidelity with a will born of both their Reformed and Enlightenment heritages. Reformed confessionalism, right down to the time of Turretin, faced a situation somewhat similar to the one American orthodox evangelicals confronted in the post-Revolutionary era. They each emerged out of a period of contending religious forces that threw them on the defensive and encouraged them to develop a more scholastic, articulated set of doctrines. Those doctrines allowed Reformed theologians of both eras to aggressively defend their own understanding of Christian faith and attack deviations from that understanding. The Enlightenment, although frequently antagonistic to the Christian religion, was no less zealous in its defense of truth and attacks on superstition. The more moderate Common Sense philosophers, in particular, pursued a clear apologetical agenda in their assertion that Hume and other radical Enlightenment thinkers engaged in wild speculations that undermined tradition and common sense. Ahlstrom concludes with disarming simplicity, "The Scottish Philosophy was an apologetical philosophy, par excellence." Reformed confessionalism defined and defended the reality of truth. Common Sense Philosophy defined and defended the truth of reality. Princeton combined the two in a profound commitment to defend old truths in new, difficult times.
As inheritors of both Reformed confessionalism and the Scottish Enlightenment, Princeton worked out a particular format or style of presentation that appears repeatedly in its apologetical literature, one that proceeds in a series of steps: First, the Princeton authors identified the orthodox doctrine or principle they intended to defend. Second, they described the various mistaken positions of others to the left and right of the true, orthodox position. Their position, that is, was the via media between the errors of extremism. Third, they then demonstrated the reasons for the correctness of orthodox thought, using biblical citations and logical arguments to make their case. Finally, they often referred to commonsensical principles including the generally accepted views (the common sense) of the church over the centuries. There were variations on these steps, of course, but most of them are found most of the time in most of Princeton's apologetical literature. Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology is an important example, as are A. A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology and his commentary on the Westminster Confession, The Confession of Faith. William Henry Green favored this format, as can be seen especially in his book, The Pentateuch Vindicated from the Aspersions of Bishop Colenso. Hodge, at least, used this same format extensively in the classroom, marching his students through an almost endless parade of theological errors to ascertain the correct, middle way of orthodoxy.
The professors faced still other issues, however, in their defense of orthodoxy. Just as they had to clarify why so many others disagreed with their theological principles, so too the Princetonians had to explain why they gave so much attention to the whole issue of apologetics in the first place. The short answer was that God required it of them. J. A. Alexander explained that from its earliest days the church has had to contend with doctrinal differences. Those differences represent part of God's plan for the church, forcing it to struggle with error, doubt, uncertainty, and temptation and to work its way through to the truth "by diligent investigation, careful comparison, and deliberate judgment." God, in short, used theological dissension to teach the church the rudiments of the Baconian inductive method. Alexander contended that before the church could overcome its obstacles and enemies, it had to face them. He states,
That this was God's providential purpose with respect to the Church, is evident from the whole tenor of his dispensations towards it; and a part of this disciplinary system was the permission of doctrinal diversities, even in her infancy. God enjoined on the church the duty of eschewing all doctrinal errors and achieving a unity of faith.
Defense of the Princeton system was taken thus to be nothing less than a sacred duty, a duty that included the use of common sense and Baconian methods for ascertaining Christian truth.
Alexander's statements and the general apologetical rationale underlying the Princeton Theology represented yet another girder reinforcing the Princeton circle's confidence in the reliability of its system of theology. According to its own self-understanding, Princeton was not merely circling the wagons for a temporary defense against an occasional attack on the frontiers of orthodoxy. The Princetonians, rather, believed that they defended the walls of a massive redoubt, one built long since by the biblical authors, under divine guidance, and strengthened by the likes of Augustine, Calvin, and Turretin.
Princeton's system of doctrines and meanings, in the view of its adherents, rested on a solid foundation, grounded in the traditions of Reformed confessionalism and Enlightenment common sense. That system fitted Princeton's conservative evangelical understanding of the relationship of heart to mind. It relied on the traditions and strategies of both Reformed and Enlightenment apologetics, which provided it with ready answers as to why others disagreed with Princeton's doctrines and why the church had to engage in the defense of its doctrines. It took, as we said earlier, the best from two worlds, allowing the professors to argue that their foundational principles were at once biblical (traditional, Reformed) and commonsensical (contemporary, Enlightened). In both incarnations, they held those principles to stand beyond question or doubt. The Princeton Theology was, at one and the same time, well-conceived and highly resistant to change to the point that, paradoxically, it was methodologically highly flexible and yet doctrinally just as highly inflexible. The professors could answer any question, quell any doubt, and meet any challenge without having to entertain the possibility that there might be a reason for questions, doubts, and challenges. While the Princeton Theology caused its would-be detractors endless frustration and discomfort, it encouraged its adherents to "stay the course" of their evangelical faith.
Princeton's system of meanings was simple in its conception, drawing on the traditional principia theologiae, recasting them into a common sense mold, and ringing them with a solid defense rooted in the Bible and human nature. The system itself also involved important strands that reinforced the fundamental simplicity of the system while extending its usefulness. The most important of these for the Laos Mission's particular context include: (1) Princeton's dualistic perception of boundaries; (2) its belief that it could know the nature and will of God; and, (3) its understanding of the nature of truth. These three key strands, taken together, provide a gauge of Princeton's ability to mold its foundational principles into a more elaborate system of meanings and doctrines, one that could deal with virtually any doubt or objection. To these significant strands, must be added a fourth one, moderation, a strand that failed to make the transition to northern Siam. That failure itself reveals important data regarding the way in which the Laos Mission adapted its Princeton-like system of doctrines and meanings to its situation in Chiang Mai.
Theological principles define cognitive boundaries and create their own need for apologetics, which is the defense of a theologically defined cognitive territory. Boundaries may, of course, be defined loosely or precisely and may be taken with varying degrees of seriousness, but where there are theological principles there are theological and ideological boundaries. Princeton took its boundaries with the utmost seriousness and marked them with almost mathematical precision, ultimately acknowledging only two spheres or kingdoms—those of God and of Satan, good and evil, light and darkness—defined by closely drawn boundaries that allowed for no shades of gray between them. A. A. Hodge once told his students that
In considering and defining a doctrine, you should know what lies beyond. To bound Pennsylvania, you have to tell what is on the north—New York; on the west—Ohio; on the east—this kingdom of New Jersey, &c. And so with a doctrine. It is well that we should know about the heresies beyond its boundaries, that we may, by negation, exclude them. I shall sometimes ask you to come with me to the edge, and get the alternatives.
Thinking in terms of boundaries between the kingdoms of good and evil came easily and "naturally" to the Princeton professors, who stood as heirs of the West's larger intellectual tradition of dualistic thinking and its cognitive habit of dividing reality into opposite pairs—mind and matter, body and soul, divine and mundane, Christian and infidel.
In an article published in 1855, while McGilvary and Wilson were his students, J. A. Alexander summarized Princeton's bounded, dualistic worldview by writing,
The Mosaic Cosmogony is simply introductory to the creation and original condition of man; and this again to the account of the fall; and this to the Protoevangelium, or first promise of a Saviour, with its prophetical distinction of the race into two hostile and antagonistic parties, of which Christ and Satan are the heads and representatives. The character and destiny of these two parties forms the subject of all subsequent religious history…
The division of humanity into "two hostile and antagonistic parties," Alexander believed, was a consequence of Adam and Eve's original sin and God's subsequent promise to humanity of a savior. Alexander's words reflect the theological traditions of Reformed federalism with its two parties, the elect and the damned, and their two federal heads, Christ and Adam. Reformed thought had long taken the Fall with the utmost seriousness, believing that it created the oppressive conditions under which humanity has since struggled, is the source of every problem facing the human race, and also led to the division of humanity into the two camps of Christ and Satan. For a great many Reformed Christians, most notably the English Puritans, the boundary between those two camps and the ultimate necessity of finding themselves on the right side of it was a pressing, frightful concern. Reformed theologians long struggled thus with the question of assurance, how, that is, one could be sure of her or his salvation.
Princeton found the issue of assurance less immediate than its Reformed forbearers, probably because common sense thought provided it with the confidence that it could know God and God's will perfectly, if not fully (see below). The Princetonians, nonetheless, drew the boundaries between the saved and the lost just as sharply as did their Reformed predecessors. Hodge, to take one example, explains the hotly debated antebellum political issue of Sunday closing laws designed to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath in terms of two opposing camps. When church people stand on one side of the Sabbath question or any other issue and the "irreligious, as a class," take the opposite side, he reasons, invariably "the contest between them is a contest between light and darkness, between God and Satan." He summarizes the entire matter of keeping or breaking the Sabbath with the principle that, "He that will not bow to God, must bow to Satan." We will find in Chapter Five that the concern for religious and doctrinal boundaries that lay behind this simply stated aphorism had an immense, immediate impact on the course of northern Thai church and missionary history.
That same concern for boundaries had earlier confronted the Reformed Church with the practical ecclesiastical problem of who should and who should not be admitted to full membership in local churches. Should the boundary between light and darkness cut through the society of the church itself? If so, where should Reformed churches draw the line? It resolved this dilemma by adhering to Augustine's solution, namely that since there is no human authority competent to discern the righteous from the unrighteous, both must be allowed to coexist within the church. It must be left to God to resolve the final destiny of the individual member. The Princeton theologians could not accept Augustine's compromise, however, when it came to all-important questions of doctrine; it could not allow doctrinal heresy to exist in the church. Hodge claimed that throughout the history of the church there had been two grand, antagonistic systems of theology at war with each other, the "Augustinian and anti-Augustinian" systems. The one affirms divine sovereignty, the other the rights of human nature. He held that they cannot be reconciled. Both Hodge and Alexander felt that the key to this centuries long, church-wide doctrinal conflict lay in the theological understanding of Christ. The issue was whether one viewed Christ as "a mere man, or the mighty God." Archibald Alexander states, "As we embrace the one or the other of these opinions, our whole system of doctrine will be modified. Accordingly, it is found, that all who deny the deity of Christ, reject all the fundamental truths of the Christian religion." Hodge is equally emphatic: "The difference is absolute between the inward religious state of those who regard Christ as a creature, and that of those who regard him as God. If the one be true religion, the other is impiety." The Princeton Theology, in sum, displays a keen sense of the cognitive boundaries between the kingdoms of God and Satan and a precise appreciation of who resided on which side of those boundaries.
Tongchai's study of the impact of Western conception of maps and mapping on Thailand provides an instructive parallel to the role sharply drawn boundaries played in Princeton's thinking. Tongchai observes that before the advent of Western mapping, shifting allegiances among the rulers of Southeast Asia's many petty states left political boundaries fluid, diffuse, and ill defined. The smaller principalities frequently gave allegiance to two higher political patrons, so that travelers only gradually moved across the "boundary" between those centers. There was no clearly defined geo-political boundary, that is, between Burma and Siam or Siam and Vietnam, for example. The European colonial powers could not tolerate this hazy attitude toward boundaries and insisted upon carefully surveying and marking out the lines between each state and territory—down to the inch and centimeter. They thought about territory, that is, much the way Princeton thought about theology, in terms of inches and centimeters, each valley and ridge carefully marked out and defended. The existence of such sharply defined boundaries, however, left the Princetonians with little room to maneuver or compromise. No demilitarized zone lay between truth and heresy. Hodge states in The Way of Life, "There is no middle ground between the two. Every one is either the servant of God, or the servant of the devil. Holiness is the evidence of our allegiance to our maker, sin is the service of Satan." This meant that there could be no compromises of any kind with theological error. Alexander, preaching in 1844, sought to clarify a local pastor's responsibility to resist such error and urged pastors to adhere to an uncompromising defense of the truth.
The Princeton circle emphasized Alexander's injunction against compromise for the simple reason that it believed that eternal salvation was at stake. Princeton took as one of its most important and basic first principles the "fact" that only those who accept the Christian gospel can be saved—where the principle is not stated explicitly, it was always assumed implicitly. Hodge urges that repentance "is the great, immediate and pressing duty of all who hear the gospel." They are to give up their sin and accept Christ, and if they do not, "The neglect of this duty, is the rejection of salvation. For, as we have seen, unless we repent we must perish." Alexander distilled the exclusive nature of the Christian message down into a simple aphorism, "It is the Gospel which brings God nigh."
Its narrowly constructed dualism, in sum, enabled the Princeton circle to define and defend its system of meanings as the cognitive equivalent of sacred space. They believed that they shared this territory with Augustine, Calvin, and Turretin and, most particularly, with Jesus and the biblical authors. By God's grace, then, they worked from within the sacred realm of God's kingdom for the expansion of that kingdom into the whole world. They knew themselves to be God's people, and they knew those who did not share in at least the rudiments of their orthodoxy to be God's enemies. The boundaries of Princeton's orthodoxy enabled it to define both itself and others according to a well-established, sharply-delineated set of principles that divided the elect from the reprobate, the enlightened from the superstitious, the righteous from the wicked, and the children of light from the children of darkness. Princeton's dualistic cosmology also reinforced its disinclination to engage in an open dialogue with systems of meaning that contradicted it, even when those contradicting systems were identifiably Reformed. The discourses it aimed at its opponents in the pages of the Princeton Review and other publications were pedagogical and apologetical rather than dialogical.
Doctrinal boundaries mattered to Princeton. With them, it secured its identity and at the same time acquired a sure means for knowing and categorizing those who stood outside the pale of right believing. The Princeton professors, however, faced the problem of demonstrating the certainty of its boundaries. How did they know that they had drawn those boundaries correctly? It was here that Princeton turned to the Scottish philosophers of Common Sense to gain for them an absolute confidence in the truth of their theological system.
Princeton secured its doctrines and underlying system of meanings by transforming its doctrines into commonsensical, fundamental principles established by God in human consciousness. Princeton's epistemology, as we have already seen, combined insights drawn from its confessional and common sense progenitors. From Reformed confessionalism, it inherited a general inclination to trust reason and to use reason to obtain reliable knowledge, particularly in relationship to fundamental theological truths. From the Scottish philosophers it learned to trust human consciousness and its ability to comprehend fundamental principles of knowledge, including metaphysical knowledge. That trust transformed the Reformed confessional tendency to trust human reason conditionally into a faith in human knowing that seems to have had few conditions and that Princeton seldom questioned. The fathers of American Presbyterian common sense, John Witherspoon and Samuel S. Smith, thus worked out an epistemology committed to Newtonian scientific principles and natural philosophy and so apparently trustworthy that, as Noll states, "To Smith it was self-evident that proper science set one upon a privileged road to truth." Noll goes on to note that like many thinkers of his own time, "Smith was mesmerized by Newton's accomplishments and those of other natural scientists. He felt, as did so many of his contemporaries, that the triumphs of Newton established empirical and inductive methods as the unique means for discovering the truth in any sphere." Hodge and his colleagues, like Smith before them, lived in a "luminous world" epistemologically. They believed that careful, circumspect observation proves the world really is what the human race's common sense shows it to be. The Fall did not impair humanity's ability to know the truth.
Princeton insisted that humanity can know not only the truth concerning reality generally, but it can also know the truth about God specifically because the Bible and creation contain clear evidence of the nature and person of God. Princeton found the question regarding human knowledge of God a pressing one. Hodge felt that it lay at the very foundation of religion itself, arguing, "If God be to us an unknown God; if we know simply that he is, but not what he is, he cannot be to us the object of love or the ground of confidence. We cannot worship him or call upon him for help. Our Lord tells us that the knowledge of God is eternal life." Hodge gives the human race no choice. It must and can know God. Princeton perceived three avenues for attaining that knowledge: special revelation as contained in the Bible, human nature or consciousness, and the natural world—which three they divided into Revealed Theology (the Bible) and Natural Theology (human consciousness and the natural world). In terms of the Bible, Green states that it is "the only source of saving knowledge" and comprises a solid foundation for Christian knowledge and faith, one that has withstood a multitude of challenges over the centuries. It is the sole, ultimate base for the Christian faith. In terms of nature, Archibald Alexander writes, "The truth, however, is, that every thing which proceeds from God, whatever difficulties or obscurities accompany it, will contain and exhibit the impress of his character." And in terms of human consciousness, Hodge claims, "We are commonly and correctly said to know whatever is given in consciousness, or that can be fairly deduced from these primary truths or intuitions. It is in this sense we know God."
When the professors maintained that humanity can know God, they meant it. In his seminal essay entitled, "Can God be Known?," Hodge argues that humans know "in the constitution of our nature" who God is and goes on to state,
We form our notion, or idea, of God, therefore, by attributing to him the perfections of our own natures without limitations, and in an infinite degree. And in so doing we attain a definite and correct knowledge of what God is; while we admit there is in him infinitely more than we know anything about; and while we are duly sensible that our ideas or apprehensions of what we do know are partial and inadequate, we are, nevertheless, assured that our knowledge within its limits is true knowledge; it answers to what God really is.
Hodge, here, makes a fine but highly important distinction; humanity can apprehend God but it cannot comprehend God. Earlier in the same article, he acknowledged that humanity can have only a limited, partial knowledge of God because God is infinite and humans are finite, but he insisted that within their limitations humans can truly know, or apprehend God. "God," he writes, "really is what we believe Him to be, so far as our idea of Him is determined by the revelation which He has made of Himself in his works, in the constitution of our nature, in his word, and in the person of his Son." We do well at this point to remember that Charles Hodge and his colleagues were common sense realists and, therefore, adamant in their conviction that humanity can know reality as it really is. For them reality included Ultimate Reality, and they could no more deny the possibility of knowing God than they could deny the reliability of the human senses in obtaining true knowledge of the physical world.
With their belief that human beings can truly know or apprehend God as God actually is, Princeton took a crucial step forward in the construction of its system of meanings and doctrines. Lacking that belief, the Princeton professors could not go on to insist that they themselves knew the truth about God's nature and God's will. They could not have claimed the virtually infallible authority in matters of faith and practice that they did claim for their system of doctrines. Having averred a true knowledge of God, however, they could and did go on to assert a certain dogmatic infallibility. In the frequently quoted introduction to his Systematic Theology, Hodge states, "Believers have an unction from the Holy One: they know the truth, and that no lie (or false doctrine) is of the truth." They know the truth, he explained, as an inner conviction that cannot be shaken because it "…is founded on consciousness, and you might as well argue a man out of a belief in his existence, as out of confidence that what he is thus taught of God is true." Hodge then reminds his readers that this conviction of truth grows out of the work of the Spirit and is "confined to truths objectively revealed in the Scriptures." Many years earlier, while arguing that the Hebrew Scriptures teach that salvation cannot be won through works, he made the same claim, stating, "We have the great advantage of an infallible interpretation of these early oracles of truth, and the argumentative manner in which their authority is cited and applied prevents all obscurity as to the real intentions of the sacred writers." When Princeton claimed that they knew God's truth as God intended to communicate divine truth, they meant it literally and without qualification. For them to believe otherwise would be tantamount to questioning the Holy Spirit's ability to communicate perfectly with the human mind and heart. If God is supreme and perfect, they reasoned, God must be able to construct a perfectly comprehensible revelation.
With the possibility of gaining true, if limited knowledge of the nature and person of God and an infallible knowledge of Scripture, Princeton also took a large step forward in the reification of its principles and the system of doctrines and meanings subsumed within them. The next step was to gain for itself priority over access to the knowledge of God. For, one could argue that the true knowledge of God described thus far is open to any individual, Christian or otherwise, who took the trouble to study nature, human consciousness, and the Bible inductively. Anyone, it would seem, could work through this process. Princeton would never have admitted to such a possibility and avoided doing so by claiming that only Christian believers could, finally, gain a clear, correct knowledge of God. Drawing yet again on both their theological and philosophical heritage, the professors used several strategies for authenticating that claim, two of the most frequent and most important being reliance, first, on the common sense of humanity and, second, on the power of the Holy Spirit.
The first way Princeton established its priority over knowledge of God was commonsensical; the Princeton circle claimed that its system of meanings was true because it represented the common sense of humanity, or of the church universal, or of orthodox Christians, or of a relevant interest group—depending on the occasion and need. Drawing on Common Sense Philosophy, they saw in the commonly held opinions of one vast majority or another a revelation of God's person and purposes, for those patient and wise enough to read it. If they could ascertain what that vast majority believed, they thought, they could understand something about God. At times, they cited the common sense of the entire human race. Hodge, as we have seen, argues that denial of the doctrine that human nature is composed of both body and soul "…is inconsistent with the common consciousness of men, who uniformly refer certain acts and states to the mind as one subject or substance, and certain others to the body as a different subject or substance." He goes on to claim that, "As this is a fact revealed in the common consciousness of men, it enters into the avowed convictions of all ages and all parts of the world. Every nation, ancient or modern, civilized or savage, has believed in the separate existence of the soul." Hodge then reinforces his point by drawing on the commonly held beliefs of the church, another "majority" that carried considerable weight with the Princetonians. He asserts that the doctrine of body and soul "…is also the faith of the universal church. The Greeks, the Latins, the Lutherans, the Reformed, in short the whole Christian world, believes that the soul lives and acts in the full exercise of all its faculties, after it has left the body." The Princetonians frequently limited "the whole Christian world," moreover, to those segments of the church that they themselves considered orthodox. Even then, the term "orthodox" could be taken to include Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Protestantism, or on other occasions selected segments of Protestantism alone. It sometimes seems as though the Princetonians were not satisfied that they had secured a point in their apologetical debates until they could identify the common sense of one majority or another to substantiate their defense of that point. When the PCUSA was considering changing to a rotary system for electing local church elders in place of the existing system of permanent tenure, Alexander T. McGill defended the older system by claiming that it was the "universal usage" of English-speaking Presbyterian immigrants to the American colonies and their home churches in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Viewed from beyond Common Sense's pale, it is difficult to see the relevance of such an artificial, contrived "majority" to deciding whether to adhere to a rotary or life-tenure system for electing elders. For those, like McGill and his colleagues at Princeton, ascertaining the common sense of the mass of common people was always a relevant, crucial matter—no matter how limited or artificial that mass might be.
Princeton did not depend on common sense alone, nonetheless, to establish its epistemological priority over the knowledge of God. Hodge made that point by observing that there is a difference between mere learning and the knowledge that Christians derive from the operation of the Holy Spirit working through their inner consciousness and their experiences. The difference was that the Spirit reveals the truth of the very nature of things to Christians. Knowledge of God, thus, is essentially an assent to the truth that can be made only with the aid of the Spirit. Hodge calls that assent the "spiritual apprehension of the truth" or, again, the "spiritual discernment of divine things." He states, "Without knowledge there can be no religion; for religion consists in knowledge and in the effects which knowledge, through the influences of the Holy Spirit, produces upon the heart and life." Archibald Alexander concurred, emphasizing more strongly perhaps than Hodge did the fundamental difference between "spiritual knowledge" and "speculative knowledge." Spiritual knowledge, Alexander believed, touches the heart and emotions and enlightens the whole person so that one has holy feelings and a heart-felt inclination to worship God. To experience spiritual knowledge is to be converted into a new person. Ultimately, Alexander argued, this knowledge and the evidence on which it is founded is not rational or based on reasoned thinking, although it satisfies reason. It arises, rather, "from the supreme excellence of divine truth revealed to the soul, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit." The person who has received such spiritual knowledge knows without doubt that "the doctrine of the gospel is of God." The Spirit, in short, inspires those who have experienced spiritual conversion so that they, and they alone, discern the deeper truths contained in human knowledge.
It should not be thought, however, that the "spiritual apprehension of the truth" involves mystical spiritualism. The Princetonians firmly believed that the Holy Spirit works through more conventional and far more effective means to bring the believer to knowledge of spiritual things. As Hodge writes,
The doctrine that the Holy Spirit works in the people of God both to will and to do according to his own pleasure, is not inconsistent with the diligent use of all rational and scriptural means, on our part, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God. For though the mode of the Spirit's influence is inscrutable, it is still the influence of a rational being on a rational subject. It is described as an enlightening, teaching, persuading process, all of which terms suppose a rational subject rationally affected. The in-dwelling of the Spirit, therefore, in the people of God, does not supersede their own agency.
He believed, that is, that the Holy Spirit worked through all of the professors, teachers, pastors, elders, Sunday school teachers, and others who preached and taught the orthodox evangelical system of meanings and doctrines, as well as all of their books, articles, pamphlets, sermons, and lectures. The Holy Spirit used all of these means to educate the faithful rather than mystify them, to the end that the studious, faithful student would acquire a certain knowledge of Christian truth. Archibald Alexander claims thus that the "sincere and diligent inquirer" after the truth "will be in no danger of fatal mistake" because God will attest to the veracity of divine revelations to such inquirers. Or, as Hodge puts it, God shines into the hearts of Christians and gives them "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ." John Eckard, one of Princeton's faithful outriders, went so far as to declare the superiority of religious over scientific knowledge. He argued that revealed religion involves historical proofs, logical proofs, and an authentication of its truths by God "to the heart of each true believer."
The value of the Princeton circle's epistemological confidence in its own set of divinely inspired, commonsensical theological principles is clear. Breward points out that the sixteenth-century English Puritan, William Perkins, also believed that Christian revelation provided him with "infallible information and axioms, divinely revealed through the secret operation of the Spirit," with the consequence that Perkins obtained "a watertight argument against those consciences which differed from one's own. Different conclusions when truth was one and infallibly revealed could only be due to sinful blindness." So it was for the Princeton professors. They knew the truth. Those who differed with them were necessarily blind to the truth, self-deceiving, possibly arrogant, and always faithless to the Gospel. We have already seen that in the bounded, dualistic world of Princeton there could only be one truth, and Breward's evaluation of Perkins hints at another implication of the Princeton circle's epistemology, namely that all truths from whatever sources must also be one.
If the Princetonians would have chosen one word, more than any other, to summarize their own understanding of their system of doctrines, they almost surely would have chosen the word "truth" as being more adequate than any other single word. The word appears so frequently in their theological writings in association with the doctrines they advocated that it can be taken as a synonym for the Princeton Theology itself. Princeton coupled its own system of theology with a concept of truth that, in turn, included a number of excellent qualities ultimately associated with God. Hodge avows that knowledge of the truth is essential for "any genuine religious feeling or affection" and links it with "that the inward state of mind, which constitutes religion." He writes, "We are begotten by the truth. We are sanctified by the truth. It is by the exhibition of the truth, that the inward life of the soul is called into being and into exercise." While he and his colleagues honored truth of all sorts including scientific truth, he asserted the primacy of moral and religious truths as being "just as certain, and infinitely more important than the truths of science." Princeton, in sum, invested in the concept of truth all that it held to be ultimate, good, and holy.
Equally to the point, Hodge and his colleagues insisted that the truth is objective and therefore reliable. He states,
The primary idea of truth is that which is trustworthy; that which sustains our expectations, which does not disappoint, because it really is what it is assumed or declared to be. It is opposed to the deceitful, the false, the unreal, the empty, and the worthless. To regard a thing as true is to regard it as worthy of trust, as being what it purports to be.
Princeton valued truth for the reason that it is objectively real or, as Archibald Alexander puts it in the particular case of the Christian religion, "the truth of Christianity is really a matter of fact." Alexander also argues that truth must be reasonable, that knowledge of the truth depends on reason, and that, "Truth and reason are so intimately connected, that they can never, with propriety, be separated." The reason he had in mind, however, was that of the common sense philosophers. Reason is that which makes sense, or is believable, to human nature. He concludes, "But it is reasonable to believe what by our senses we perceive to exist; and it is reasonable to believe whatever God declares to be true." Hodge makes it clear that what is finally involved in the Princeton conception of truth is the first principles of common sense, truths that he calls "the laws of our being" or "laws of belief" that God has "impressed upon our constitution." Princeton joined Edinburgh in thus insisting that humanity can know the truth about reality, reality as it actually is, and it emphasized that knowledge of the truth must be apprehensible, believable, and factual, else, as A. A. Hodge observes, "…it is mere superstition."
Princeton's understanding of the truth parallels their arguments concerning the knowledge of God: just as humans can know God truly, so they can know the truth just as truly. Knowledge of the truth, like knowledge of God, is lodged in divinely created human nature, contained in God's special revelation in Scripture, and, we will remember, confirmed and made operative by the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit. Again, just as in the case of the knowledge of God, enlightened, pious Christians alone have full access to the truth. By the same token, knowledge of the truth influences the heart as well as the mind and is an important factor in the individual Christian's piety. Hodge states, "Truth and holiness are most intimately related." Princeton's equation of its system of doctrines with this conception of truth as both divinely given and entirely objective reinforced its system of doctrines and meanings by grounding that system all the more firmly in the nature of reality itself. It lent increased weight to Princeton's confidence in its theology and in that sense of knowing the truth that its nineteenth-century opponents and twentieth-century critics have sometimes found so frustrating.
Various members of the Princeton circle built upon the concept of truth in at least three important ways, each of which went even further to strengthening Princeton's grasp of that truth. McGill, first, worked out a "high Presbyterian" view of the church in relationship to the truth. He writes, "Before Abraham was Christ was, and where Christ was the Church his body was, in word and type and prophesy inscribed upon her pillar." Thus, "The Church was part of the truth and the truth was declared by the Church from the beginning, and these two—so distinct, but inseparable—are like the Urim and Thummim…" He views the church, then, as, "a part of revealed truth, and not merely as the depository, the interpreter, the expedient and the missionary of truth." Stated more strongly than usual for Princeton, McGill's comments make explicit its assumption that the church was intimately associated with truth. Second, Princeton's dualism demanded that there could be only one single, internally consistent system of truth without any contradictions to it, reinforcing Princeton's perception that religious truth could not exist outside of the Christian religion and the church. At the same time, the truths discovered by various branches of study could not contradict each other. A. A. Hodge told his students that, "Genuine science does not conflict with revelation." With these two points, Princeton staked an even stronger claim to the truth and made it clear that it viewed any divergence from orthodox theology as a divergence from the truth itself, for there can be only one truth.
The third way in which Princeton expanded on its understanding of the truth was its belief that truth cannot change over time or be influenced by place; truth is neither temporal nor contextual. Reformed confessionalism had long held that its truths applied to the whole of the human race, since it was the whole race that had fallen through the sin of its "federal head," Adam. Only one truth leads thus to salvation, a truth that applies to all peoples and ages. Common sense thought reinforced Princeton's conception of timeless, universal truth by claiming that it is the very essence of the concept of first principles that they are common to the whole human race in all ages and nations. Princeton took it as one of its tasks to demonstrate that the Christian religion is central to that one truth.
Several scholars have argued that the Princetonians, as a consequence of their belief in the unity and universality of truth, lacked an historical consciousness. Other scholars, more recently, present a mixed picture, suggesting that the Princeton circle combined a certain historical consciousness with what can only be called an a-historical attitude towards truth. The distinction and the point made by these later studies is an important one because, paradoxically, the Princeton professors' conception of the past actually reinforced their a-historical understanding of the relationship of religious truth to time and context. On the one hand, Princeton held that God reveals divine truth in time, that the Bible contains historical truth, and that any denial of the historicity of biblical facts undermines the authority of the Bible itself. Princeton believed that knowledge of the truth, furthermore, is progressive and that the church in various times has had to struggle to understand the truth for its own age and place. On the other hand and as we have seen, Princeton took what amounted to a Platonic view of truth itself, meaning that it understood truth to be a category that is eternal, unchanging, and one. Green summarizes Princeton's view of the relationship of truth to history by stating, "Truth is one, but it has its changing relations to the changing state of things." Truth itself, in sum, is not historically or culturally contingent and does not change. What was true one hundred or two thousand years ago remained true in the nineteenth-century and would continue to be true forever. Given Princeton's confidence in the relationship of its confessional orthodoxy to the truth, the timeless, unchanging nature of truth meant that their theology could not and should not be adapted to given contexts, except as those contexts opened further knowledge of the truth to them; and since knowledge is one, the new truths they learned must necessarily reconfirm and reinforce the truth they already knew. Princeton's view of truth, thus, protected its adherents from any thought of relativism, historical or cultural.
In Chapter Two, we saw that both the Princetonians and McGilvary shared in a certain degree of broad-mindedness. In Princeton's case, at least, a deeper spirit of moderation led to an occasional inclination to take stands that might seem to have been out of line with its conservative Old School associations. Two of the chief spokesmen for moderation on the seminary faculty were Alexander T. McGill and J. A. Alexander. In his studies on church government, McGill repeatedly urged that the church has frequently had to discover and follow what he termed "the golden moderation of the gospel" that lay between the "opposite extremes of error." The Catholics, for example, place too much emphasis on church government while "reactionary" Protestant groups fail to give it sufficient attention or weight. McGill observes, "Truth, in this department as in others, will be found a just mean betwixt opposite extremes." J. A. Alexander, commenting on the relationship of the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament, elaborates on McGill's dictum, explaining,
The truth thus taught is intermediate between two extremes of error. This is not unfrequently, we might perhaps say invariably, the case. There are few important doctrines which are not in conflict with a plurality of errors, or of forms of error, not collateral or incidental, merely, but directly adverse to the truth in question. And as this most frequently arises from our proneness to extremes, and from the tendency of these to generate each other, the defender or discoverer of truth must frequently be occupied in seeking a safe standing place between two fatal, or at least untenable extremes.
Truth and correct doctrinal Christianity invariably stand safely between the extremes of fatal error.
Several scholars have pointed out that Princeton also acted moderately, one of the most important examples being its unwillingness in 1837 to take sides with the hardcore Old School "ultras" in their drive to oust the New School from the Presbyterian Church but to find, instead, a middle ground that could lead to a reconciliation between the two sides. J. A. Alexander explains that, theologically, the best policy was always that of "eschewing all exaggeration and extravagance" even in defending the truth and opposing error because, "…all erratic and disorderly efforts to promote religion, however good the motive, tend not only to fanatical excitement as the proximate result, but to the ulterior result of apathy and spiritual deadness, which is almost sure to follow it." Hoffecker points out that from its inception Princeton felt driven to forge a middle way, or via media, between those who emphasized cognitive religion on the one side and those on the other side who emphasized affective over objective faith, a division found among Presbyterians as well among American evangelicals generally. Princeton strove for a balance that was at once cognitive and affective, while avoiding the excesses of imbalance in either direction.
Princeton valued moderation, both in doctrine and in action, but the professors' moderate attitude depended on circumstances, and, at times, they displayed a less than enthusiastic commitment to the middle way. They noted, for example, that some of their opponents also laid claimed to a middle ground between extremes of their own creation, a via media that failed to stand the test of orthodoxy, created unsupportable theological superstructures, and usually ended up combining the worst rather than best aspects of the extremes they stood between. Green, in particular, seems to have had doubts about the wisdom of moderation. Taylor observes of Green's views on German critical biblical scholarship that, "Green was not convinced that one could occupy the middle position in the battle with integrity." Green felt that the options involved were clear, namely, "One either embraced the critical methodology wholeheartedly and with it atheism or pantheism or one held tenaciously to a traditional understanding of the biblical texts as the inspired and revealed word of God." There were limits, that is, to Princeton's understanding of moderation and of its willingness to think and to act moderately. Drawing on a dualistic worldview that allowed no compromise between rigidly drawn spheres of good and evil, the Princetonians saw themselves as representing the truth against falsehood, and ultimately they could not moderate their adherence to the side of God and truth.
This last point would prove highly significant in northern Siam. While the Laos Mission's records do not convey the impression that its members were pulpit thumping radical evangelicals, Chiang Mai shared with Princeton, as we saw in Chapter Two, a radical antipathy towards heathenism. In Chiang Mai, apart from the Laos Mission and its converts, there were only "heathens," and we will recall that the members of the mission variously described the heathen as being like a valley of dry bones, vain, idolatrous, irreverent, angry and wicked wolves, morally degraded, helpless, ignorant, lonely, and dead. The records of the Laos Mission contain no hint of moderation when it comes to heathenism, so that in Chiang Mai the missionaries could find no "middle ground" to occupy. They, rather, thought of themselves as an invading army, locked in an epic, cosmic struggle with the heathen forces of Satan.
In spite of the inclination to moderation that the members of the Laos Mission, particularly McGilvary, shared with Princeton (see Chapter Two), their perception of their situation in Chiang Mai switched off that inclination. They could not act in moderation in their relations with and attitudes towards heathenism. From what we have seen here concerning Princeton's views on both the heathen and moderation, it seems apparent that the mission's immoderate attitudes towards Buddhism and Buddhists represents yet another parallel between Chiang Mai and Princeton. The mission, that is, behaved and believed as Princeton would have if Princeton found itself in Chiang Mai.
All four of these strands or ramifications of Princeton's system of doctrines and meanings—its sense of dualism, knowledge of God, understanding of the truth, and moderation—served to confirm and strengthen the Princeton circle's confidence in the correctness of its theology. These ramifications disallowed more than one true religion, more than one way of knowing God, and more than one way of possessing truth. They placed people of other faiths and Christians of other theologies in the twin categories of heathenism and infidelity, seeing them as people who deny the first principles of common sense, orthodoxy, and evangelical piety and who stand against God. The Princeton circle measured even its moderation over against heresies to its right and left, preserving for itself the one true center. Only the Holy Spirit, according to Princeton, can authenticate knowledge of God and the truth, and those who have not experienced such authentication are not among the elect. We have called Princeton's system of meanings a closed ideology. These four key strands of its system of meanings and doctrines further buttressed the ramparts of its theological fortress.
In the following chapters, we will find that the pioneer members of the Laos Mission conducted themselves in a manner that reflected these same four aspects of Princeton's system of doctrines and meanings. They based their actions on a sharply defined sense of dualism, seeing themselves at war with their Buddhist-animist context. They believed that they alone knew God and knew the truth. Even their failure to act moderately towards the heathen echoed the limitations of Princeton's own moderation. They especially shared, at the last, in Princeton's sense of confidence in the unqualified rightness of their system of doctrines and meanings, a sense that powerfully influenced, as we will see, their behavior in Chiang Mai.
The Princeton circle drew on its Reformed, Enlightenment, and evangelical traditions to work out a pious and apologetical theology based on fundamental first principles. That theology insisted that humans could know God truly, if guided to such knowledge by the Bible and the Holy Spirit. It claimed, however, that only those who had experienced the Holy Spirit and been led to true Christian faith could actually know God and the truth. The Princeton circle felt a deep commitment to discern and defend the boundaries of God's truth because the salvation of the human race depended on preserving that truth untainted by heathen superstitions, religious enthusiasm, and the wild speculations of faithless philosophers.
One hesitates to brand the Princeton Theology with the label "ideology" for the reason that it was clearly systematic, elaborate, consistent, and self-conscious—features normally lacking in most ideologies. Still, as we have noted repeatedly, the Princeton circle built its theology out of the main currents in American religious and intellectual thought, including even romanticism. That theology represented a blend of culture and theology that leaned heavily towards its theological side, as we would expect from a group of self-conscious and articulate theologians. The Princeton Theology does not have the "feel," the smell and texture, of an ideology. When transported beyond the walls of seminaries and the bindings of theological tomes into local churches, however, it lost most of its rigor as a systematic theology. In the course of the journey from pastors in their pulpits to the people in their pews, it became submerged once again in its larger evangelical context as a shared set of assumptions and attitudes that shaped the peoples' values and behavior. It became, in a sense, a "people's theology," a theology that took on more of the form of a semi-covert, less systematic, and less self-aware ideology.
In the particular case of the small group of Old School Presbyterian missionaries who worked in Chiang Mai in the 1860s and 1870s, distinct traces of Princeton remained, but the measured theological cadences of the Hodges and Alexanders did not find their way across the expanse of the Pacific—except, to a limited extent, in the writings of Daniel McGilvary. As we have also observed, the missionaries took with them, instead, a more diffuse manner of thinking that combined theology and ideology into a single system of doctrines and meanings. Where Princeton encapsulated its system of doctrines and meanings in a systematic theology contained in books and articles, sermons and tracts, the Chiang Mai Nine expressed their system of meanings and doctrines, first and foremost, in a set of activities and events. It is to those activities and events we now turn, seeking to understand the relationship of missionary thinking to their behavior in light of the Princeton Theology.
|American Historical Review
Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review
Journal of American History
Journal of the Early Republic
Journal of Presbyterian History
Journal of Social History
North Carolina Presbyterian
North Carolina Presbyterian New Series
Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review
Sixteenth Century Journal
Westminster Journal of Theology
Women's Work for Women
 González, Christian Thought, 271; Donnelly, "Italian Influences," 82-3; and Phillips, "Turretin's Idea of Theology," 83. Meeter argues that the doctrine of God was the single fundamental principle of Calvinism, from which Reformed theologians drew a number of corollaries including the role of the Bible as God's special revelation, the sovereignty of God, God's relationship to humanity in covenants, the sinful state of the world, and God's special revelation in Christ. H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 6th ed. rev. by Paul A. Marshall (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), 17-20, 23.
 John C. Vander Stelt, Philosophy and Scripture: A Study in Old Princeton and Westminster Theology (Marlton, New Jersey: Mack, 1978), 23-5, 287; Paul Helm, "Thomas Reid, Common Sense and Calvinism," in Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition, ed. Henrik Hart, et. al. (University of America Press, 1983), 72-4; and Peter J. Wallace, "History and Sacrament: A Study in the Intellectual Culture of Charles Hodge and John W. Nevin," article on-line (available from: http://www.nd.edu/~pwallace)[http://www.peterwallace.org/hn.htm (9/12)], 3. Haakonssen has pointed out that Reid actually proposed two sets of first principles, one set is necessary and immutable and the other contingent and mutable. The first set reflects what Grave terms the "metaphysical level" in Common Sense Philosophy. Haakonssen, "Reid’s Philosophy," 41-2; and Grave, Scottish Philosophy, 100-04. The Princeton theologians, by and large, ignored this distinction.
 William Henry Green, The Pentateuch Vindicated from the Aspersions of Bishop Colenso (New York: John Wiley, 1863), 194; William Henry Green, The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895), 173; and William Henry Green, "Horne's Introduction to Scriptures" BRPR 29, 3 (July 1857): 378-79.
 Green, "Inaugural Discourse," 62. See also Wallace's statement that for the Princetonians, "The normative character of the Bible informed their work in an all-encompassing manner." Wallace, "Foundations," 2.
 Archibald Alexander, A Brief Outline of the Evidences of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: American Sunday School Union, 1829), 18-9; and Charles Hodge, "Nature of Man," BRPR 37, 1 (January 1865): 111-2.
 Green, "Matter of Prophecy," 565; J. Addison Alexander, "The Gospel History," BRPR 20, 4 (October 1848): 604; Charles Hodge, "The Unity of Mankind," PQPR 5, 18 (April 1876): 106; and John William Stewart, "The Tethered Theology: Biblical Criticism, Common Sense Philosophy, and the Princeton Theologians, 1812-1860" (Ph. D. diss., University of Michigan, 1990), 255.
 Mark A. Noll, "The Founding of Princeton Seminary," WJT 42, 1 (Fall 1979): 85, 94, 95; Mark A. Noll, "The Irony of the Enlightenment for Presbyterians in the Early Republic." JER 5, 2 (Summer 1985): 162; and Loetscher, Facing the Enlightenment, 176-78. See also Loetscher, Broadening Church, 21-2.
 See, Charles Hodge, "Notes from Lectures on Didactic Theology (1856-1857)," taken by Henry A. Harlow, 3 vols. (Papers of Charles Hodge, Princeton Theological Seminary Archives, Princeton, New Jersey).
 J. Addison Alexander, "The Plan and Purpose of the Patriarchal History" BRPR 27, 1 (January 1855): 26. See also J. Addison Alexander, "Primeval Period of Sacred History," BRPR 32, 1 (January 1860): 100.
 Hodge, Essays and Reviews, 614. See Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, 217, and David F. Wells, "Charles Hodge," in Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development, ed. David F. Wells (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1997), 45.
 One example that has received considerable scholarly attention is Hodge's feud with a former student and, briefly, colleague at Princeton Seminary, John W. Nevin; particularly at issue were the doctrines of the church, sacraments, and Incarnation. See Wallace, "History and Sacrament"; Nichols, Romanticism; and Holifield, "Mercersburg".
 See Phillips, "Turretin's Idea of Theology," 62ff, 82ff; and Donnelly, "Italian Influences," 92. Calvin, by way of contrast, generally emphasized the "epistemic distance" between God and humanity, a distance made even greater by the affects of sin. Humanity, thus, cannot adequately discern God through its own experi-ences and understanding, not even in nature. It does not know what it must do to obtain salvation. Calvin's views reflect an "emphasis characeristic of the Reformation on the impotence of humanity and the omnipotence of God." McGrath, Calvin, 124, 154, 157.
 See Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 18ff; and A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 30, 31. See also James L. McAllister, Jr. "The Nature of Religious Knowledge in the Thought of Charles Hodge" (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1957). 127.
 Green, "Inaugural Discourse," 41-5; Alexander, Evidences, 177; and Hodge, "Can God be Known?", 144. See also, Elwyn A. Smith, The Presbyterian Ministry in American Culture (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 153-54.
 Hodge, "What is Christianity?", 133-34. See also Hodge's argument against those who believe that human nature is made up of body, soul, and spirit in which he insists that the simplier division into body and soul is "the common doctrine of the church." Hodge, "Nature of Man," 121
 See, for example, A. A. Hodge's statement, "As would have been anticipated, it is a matter of fact that the church has advanced very gradually in this work of accurately interpreting Scripture, and defining the great doctrines which compose the system of truths it reveals." Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 113.
 For the earlier view, see Kennedy, "Sin and Grace," 356, 358; Nichols, Romanticism, 90; and Loetscher, Facing the Enlightenment, 207. For the revised understanding, see Taylor, Old Testament, 107; Wallace, "Foundations," 2-3; and Wallace, "History and Sacrament," 6.
 Alexander T. McGill, "Practical Theology," in Discourses at the Inauguration of the Rev. Alexander T. McGill as Professor of Pastoral Theology, Church Government, and the Composition and Delivery of Sermons in The Theological Seminary at Princeton, N. J. (Philadelphia: C. Sherman, Printer, 1854), 43-4.
 See Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, 243-47, 325-28; Earl A. Pope, New England Calvinism and the Disruption of the Presbyterian Church (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987), 209ff; David R. Plaster, "The Theological Method of the Early Princetonians" (Th. D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1989), 34-5, 38-9; and Scovel, "Orthodoxy," 216ff, 270-71.
|Table of Contents||Abstract||Illust. & Tables||Introduction||Chapter 1||Chapter 2||Chapter 3||Chapter 4||Chapter 5||Chapter 6||Conclusion||Appendices||Bibliography|