Heretical Evangelicals

What would B.B. Warfield think?

Yesterday in my History of American Evangelicalism course at Messiah College we spent some time talking about the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as formulated by Princeton Seminary’s “Old School” theologians in the late 19th century. The Old School Presbyterians were confessionalists.  Although they certainly thought Christians should live a life of piety and be active in living out the gospel in the world, in the end they believed that one could not be a Christian unless he or she conformed to the orthodoxy of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Piety and activism stemmed from correct doctrines.  A person could not claim to be following Jesus if such a journey resulted in the affirmation of unorthodox theological commitments.

One of my students asked me if there were still any Old School Presbyterians around today.  I pointed him to my favorite Old School website, among others.

I thought a lot about what we discussed yesterday in class as I read a recent survey, conducted by LifeWay Research, on the theological beliefs of contemporary evangelicals.  According to this survey:
  • Nearly all evangelical Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the deity of Christ, the sovereignty of God, and the inspiration of the Bible.
  • 31% of evangelicals believe that God the Father is more “divine” that Jesus.  This is the theological heresy of Arianism.
  • 58% of evangelical Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is a “force,” not a “personal being.” This is a form of Arianism callePneumatomachianism.
  • 71% of evangelical Christians believe that people seek God first and then God responds with His grace.  56% of evangelical Christian believe that human beings have a role to play in their own salvation.  Some might say that this is a form of the heresy of Pelagianism.
Read Keith Emmert”s article on the survey at Christianity Today‘s website.  
Want to learn more about ancient heresies?  Check out Harold O.J. Brown‘s Heresies (Doubleday, 1984).  When I was in divinity school I took all of my theology courses with Brown.  He was the first Harvard graduate (B.A., M.Div, Ph.D) I ever met.  We affectionately called him “The Juice” (because of his middle initials).
It seems a lot of evangelicals are heretics.  And I am not sure many of them care.

5 thoughts on “Heretical Evangelicals

  1. @Ryan All i said is that most leaders “i know” in the PCA rightfully identify as old schoolers (I am a PCA elder). I would also add that old schoolers like Hodge were not necessary opposed to revivals..only to revivalism (the excesses of and bad theology of revival).. but then again there isn't any one old schooler. there are degrees of old schoolers. the Princeton men were considered more moderate while some of the Old Guard southerners were much more conservative in regard to revival and other issues. They were known as the “ultras”.


  2. John, I would add the troubling conclusions of Harold Bloom in The American Religion. In it, he argues that many Christians (and Mormons) do not really know what they believe. They are actually holding to a form of Gnosticism.


  3. Paul, I'd agree about Old Princeton having cordial fraternal relations with others. They affirmed the core doctrines of the faith and held that no one professing a different gospel is a Christian or denying the resurrection or justification by faith and some radical Old Schoolers would suggest Calvinistic soteriology would be a mark of Christian faith I disagree with many leaders in the PCA self-identifying as OS. Most in fact would be open to revivals and affirm much that New Schoolers did, excepting strains of Taylorism and New Haven theology. The OPC would be a good example of a denomination where most would identify themselves as Old School, depending on how late or early one defines the term historically.
    Cordially, RR


  4. Interesting survey results, Dr. Fea. In regards to your ending comment about some evangeliclas not caring that they are heretical, I'd be willing that many wouldn't even know that the beliefs you mention would even be considered heretical.

    The fad of this age is to be “relevant”. I doubt some of the younger evangelicals find theological issues “relevant” to their lives. I doubt many Christians in general put a whole lot of thought into the deeper aspects of their theological beliefs, so I'm not surprised about the survey results.


  5. I am not sure your statement of old school Presbyterians is fair. In the end, they believed that *ordained officers* in the Presbyterian Church should live a life of piety conformed to the WCF and expected them to subscribe to said confession (not every member/christian). The old schoolers like Hodge, Warfield and others had cordial relations with Christians of other stripes and denominations (including Lutherans, Anglicans, etc). I don’t think your statement in any way reflects the belief of olds schoolers and sounds more like the Old Siders from the early 1700s who were opposed to the revivals of the first great awakening (more reflective of the blog you link to)

    Most leaders I know in the todays Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) would consider themselves Old schoolers as opposed to the new schoolers who tended to be open to the various teachings of New Haven Theology, Finney and revivalism.

    And there are many more (and I think more representative) blogs from old schoolers than the one that you mention (which I also read regularly)



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