AAR Chicago 2012: Presbyterian History and the Merits of Scrupling

Just one week remains until this year’s meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago. I’ll be on the ground in force, wandering the book aisles and presenting a paper at the gathering of the Reformed Theology and History Group.

The group this year is conducting a session on unity and schism in the Reformed churches, which I think sheds a great deal of light on present disputes and will make for an interesting conversation.  My own contribution to the session (Sunday morning, 9 a.m.,McCormick Place West-194A) examines the theology, history, and polity structures of American Presbyterianism as fundamentally predisposing this tradition toward ecclesial unity.

Here is the abstract:

On the Merits of Scrupling: Unity and Uniformity
in American Presbyterianism

This paper registers an historical and theological critique of the current separation movement in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Three specific elements will be considered: the theological nature of the church’s confessions; the allowance of scrupling for ordinands during similar periods of discord in the history of American Presbyterianism; and denominational polity, particularly with respect to ordination. Together, these three suggest that the unity of Presbyterianism is best served by a certain degree of confessional and practical diversity. When Presbyterians have enforced strict subscription to confessional standards among its ministers, innate differences have led inevitably to division; but when a measure of nonconformity is allowed, the result is a stronger ecclesial unity. I will argue that the Reformed view of confessional authority and the nature of presbyterian polity, in fact, are designed to innately support the unity of the church even — and especially — in light of serious disagreement.

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