James E. McGoldrick, professor of church history at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary has revised and updated R.C. Reed's early twentieth-century History of the Presbyterian Churches of the World with the aid of an unpublished manuscript by the twentieth-century Presbyterian minister Thomas Hugh Spence Jr. The result is Presbyterian and Reformed Churches: A Global History. Its thirty-four chapters move from the biblical origin of Presbyterianism and its disappearance in the fourth century to its recovery in the Reformation and propagation across the globe since. The introduction, development, and fate of Presbyterianism in particular and Reformed theology in general is recounted in various nation-states or regions from Europe to North America and then subsequently in Central America, the Caribbean Basin, South America, Africa, Asia, and Lesser Pacific Islands. Each chapter concludes with a bibliography for further study. A short conclusion followed by an extensive index finishes the work.
The early chapters treating Europe cover ecclesiastical and theological territory familiar to most who have studied the topics. By organizing the material regionally and nationalistically, details regarding particular events and people are highlighted that are perhaps often overlooked in broad survey works. The ground to cover is geographically, ecclesiastically, and theologically vast, so generality still marks the work. In the treatments of each European nation, the story is generally told from the early years of the Reformation to the present day. Ireland is the one exception, with the story beginning with St. Patrick in the fifth century.
Nearly half the book recounts developments in America. The chapters devoted to the American story of Presbyterianism and Reformed theology, however, are interrupted by a twenty-four page overview of matters in the British Empire from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. While the book consistently employs chapter titles that elucidate the subject within geographical boundaries, this is altered a bit in the chapters addressing the story in America. Though chapter twelve is titled "The Southern Presbyterian Church," it is apparent that this is not simply or perhaps even primarily, about the Presbyterian Church in the American South, as much as it is the story of an American southern Presbyterianism. The final fifty-eight pages of the American story conclude with a focus on twentieth-century battles between "modernists," who advocated Protestant liberalism, and the "fundamentalists" or "conservatives," who opposed the modernists' critical interpretation of Christianity. The theistic evolution of B. B. Warfield along with the work of W. G. T. Shedd attempted to "employ the sciences in support of Christianity" in order to make "its claims more credible" (p. 301).
Chapter seventeen, "Scholarship in Defense of the Faith," follows the overview regarding the fundamentalist-modernist controversy addressed in chapter sixteen. It highlights various individuals in both Europe and America who played key theological roles in that controversy. The "Challenge of Neo-orthodoxy" in its reaction to Protestant Liberalism is explained through vignettes on Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rudolf Bultmann. The story of the "Defenders of the Reformed Faith" employs the same method of vignettes and covers Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Geerhardus Vos, Louis Berkhof, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Cark, John Murray, Ned Stonehouse, E. J. Young, Francis Schaeffer, and Carl McIntire. Chapter eighteen is devoted to the "Formation of the Presbyterian Church in America," that is, the specific denomination by that name. Here we find sketches on various leaders in the PCA that include various seminary professors, pastors, and public servants, the latter of whom include former Vice President Dan Quayle, former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, Senators Jim DeMint and James Talent, as well as judges Kenneth Ryskamp, William Barker, and Kenneth Bell. The "increasing secularism of American culture" and "some recent doctrinal novelties" that were "beyond the scope" of the book's study are challenges facing the PCA (p. 347). The chapters on America conclude with an overview of some of the smaller Presbyterian and Reformed denominations.
The latter chapters cover geographical territory and nation-states with which many of us are personally unfamiliar and that are often neglected in our general survey works. In large part they help underscore the missionary impulse within the Presbyterian and Reformed heritage and the overall trajectory of its geographical growth.
The book contains much valuable information and reads quite easily. As a general survey work, it is beneficial for the beginning student in learning the roots of Protestantism in general and Presbyterianism and the Reformed heritage specifically. Even for the veteran, it is a good review, and the latter chapters will likely prove helpful for veteran and novice alike. The bibliographies ending each chapter are helpful guides for further study. Those with a particular focus and interest in missions, especially, although not limited to the Presbyterian and Reformed heritage, should find it of some help.
As a composite work with three authors the book is difficult to assess, though its idiosyncrasies are apparent and perhaps could have used further editing. The structure of the subject matter according to nation-states and regions of the world contributes to redundancy, especially in the chapters on Europe. Scholars trained in the historical craft will likely be sensitive to the general lack of a clear coherent narrative. As a survey, the shaping of Presbyterian and Reformed thought and practice over the centuries is addressed, but not at a substantive level, though sympathies for a theological, if not political "conservatism" are sometimes quite apparent. The particular expertise of historians will probably alert them to various inaccuracies. This reviewer noted the repetition of the canard that Warfield was a theistic evolutionist whose apologetic is summarized as trying to "employ the sciences in support of Christianity" (p. 301). One wonders why space was available for sketches on some individuals, especially conservative political figures, and none for addressing the "New Perspective on Paul" and its rather substantial age and influence on theological unrest in Presbyterian and Reformed churches and seminaries.
These weaknesses notwithstanding, Presbyterian and Reformed Churches: A Global History can still and should be used for benefit.