The Influence Of The Auburn Affirmationists Today
(“Exploring Avenues Of Acquaintance And Co-operation”)
By Chalmers W. Alexander
This is the third in the series of articles by Chalmers W. Alexander under the heading, “Exploring Avenues of Acquaintance And Co-operation.” This is an informative new series of articles written by one of the most able laymen in the Southern Presbyterian Church.
The heretical Auburn Affirmation, bearing the names of almost 1,300 ordained ministers in the Northern Presbyterian Church, was published in 1924.
Since that time the Auburn Affirmation signers and their theological fellow-travelers have got hold of much of the machinery which controls the affairs of the Northern Presbyterian Church.
Now what have the Auburn Affirmationists and the other Modernists been doing in that denomination in recent years? Have there been any recent evidences of their far-reaching influence?
You do not have to look very far to find the answer to those questions.
The “New Curriculum”
In 1948 the Northern Presbyterian Church inaugurated a new program of religious instruction to be used in the Sunday Schools of that denomination. This new educational program, known as the “New Curriculum,” is the result of the work of a committee appointed to undertake the task by that denomination’s Board of Christian Education (which has had among its members, from time to time, various signers of the Auburn Affirmation).
A clear and detailed analysis of the contents of the “New Curriculum” was given recently by one of America’s outstanding Old Testament scholars, Dr. Oswald T. Allis, Ph.D., who taught for some twenty years at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Allis, himself a member of the Northern Presbyterian Church, says, among other things:
“The New Curriculum clearly does not seek to impress on the minds of those who are to use it the fact that the Bible ‘being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages’ is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice (see Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I, Sec. 8). On the contrary, the aim seems to be to convince the reader by both direct and indirect methods, that the doctrine of the plenary (verbal) inspiration of the Holy Scriptures is no longer tenable. Such is the view of the editor-in-chief, and it is apparently shared by his collaborators . . .
“If you have been using the International Uniform Lessons, continue to use them for the present and demand that they or any substitute for them, such as the New Curriculum aims to provide, be truly Bible-centered, and that the device of teaching modern Liberalism by the story-book method be definitely abandoned . . .
“It is pointed out in the prospectus to the New Curriculum that the subject for study during the entire second year will be ‘The Bible.’ This announcement would be most welcome, were it not for the fact that it at once raises the vital question. How will this great subject be presented? Will this ‘Bible’ be the Bible of Protestant Christendom, the Bible of the Presbyterian Church which, in its Confession of Faith, defines it as consisting of 66 books which make up the Canon of Holy Scripture and are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice? Or, will it be the Bible of the critics, the Bible of so-called Modern Scholarship?
“We believe that the answer to this question is given with sufficient clearness in the materials of the New Curriculum which are now available . . .The article on ‘Introduction to the Old Testament’ was supplied by Professor Rowley. The view presented is in general that of the so-called higher criticism . . .
“Such ‘straws’ as these seem to make it rather plain that there is little if any basis for the hope that the New Curriculum will gradually become conservative and advocate positions which are acceptable to the Conservatives who are expected, in loyalty to the Boards of their Church, to use it … But the indications seem clearly to be that unless a radical change is demanded and insisted upon by the Conservatives who we believe still constitute a majority in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the New Curriculum in its second year will be more decidedly and outspokenly modernistic and higher critical than in its first.”
In the May 1949 issue of Christianity Today, one of the sound church papers in the Northern Presbyterian Church, its Editor remarked: “A Presbyterian minister of our acquaintance wrote to the editor-in-chief of the New Curriculum expressing general agreement with the criticisms of it made by Dr. Allis in a ‘Critique,’ which was widely circulated throughout the Church last summer, and voicing the hope that the features objected to might be eliminated. He received a reply from which we quote the following: ‘I am sorry that I cannot promise any possibility that the curriculum will develop into closer accord with Dr. Allis’ viewpoint.’ This reply indicates how groundless is the hope of reform-from-within of the New Curriculum.”
(Dr. Allis’ detailed analysis of the “New Curriculum” first appeared in The Sunday School Times. It is now available in the form of a pamphlet entitled ‘A Critique of the New Curriculum.” It can be ordered from the Sunday School Times Publishing Co., 325 N. 13th Street, Philadelphia 5, Pa., or from The Southern Presbyterian Journal, and the cost is 15c per copy.)
The Westminster Study Edition Of The Holy Bible
In addition to their influence on the Sunday School literature which is to be taught to the children and adults in the Sunday Schools and the Bible classes of the Northern Presbyterian Church, the Auburn Affirmationists and the other Modernists in that denomination have definitely had an influence on the new Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible.
This Westminster Study Edition, commonly called the “Presbyterian Bible,” was published in 1948 by the Westminster Press, a subsidiary of the Board of Christian Education of the Northern Presbyterian Church (which Board has had among its members, from time to time, various signers of the Auburn Affirmation).
The Editor of Christianity Today wrote in the May 1949 issue of that paper: “The full significance of this Study Edition, at least for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., will not be clear unless it is noted that one of its chief editors is Dr. James D. Smart, editor-in-chief of the New Curriculum, and that it has been announced that the subject for study in the New Curriculum during the entire second year will be ‘The Bible.’ It seems certain, therefore, that Sunday School scholars in said Church, insofar as it uses the New Curriculum, will be taught that the Bible is a faulty book that abounds in conflicting and even in flatly contradictory statements. It is equally important to note an this connection that its chief editors include three professors from Princeton Seminary, three from MoCormick Seminary, one from Louisville Seminary (Northern), and one from San Francisco Seminary—a fact that more than suggests that the view of the Bible taught in this Study Edition is being inculcated in the institutions training the great majority of the future ministers of said Church (the Northern Presbyterian Church)”.
Dr. Allis’ Opinion Of The Westminster Bible
And Dr. Allis, in commenting on the tenor of the editorial comments and explanations contained in this edition of the Holy Bible, has remarked: “. . . the viewpoint of the Westminster Study Edition is definitely ‘critical.’ It is an attempt to present in popular form and for the average reader the more or less radical conclusions of the higher critics. Those who are at all familiar with the critical theories which have been advanced with ever increasing confidence and dogmatism, first in Germany, then in England, and finally in this country, during the last half century and more, will probably find little that is new or startling in this volume. But for those who are not so well-informed, a few examples will suffice to establish this obvious fact and to indicate its vast significance for the student and teacher of the Bible.
“The critics have been insisting with ever increasing dogmatism for nearly a century, that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is composed of at least four major documents (J, E, D, P), that the earliest of these documents dates from about the time of Elijah, and that the composite work was not completed until about 400 B.C.
This view is definitely accepted by the editors, despite the fact that it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to regard any part of the Pentateuch as really dependable history . . .
“According to the editors ‘it is questionable whether the story of Adam and Eve was ever intended to be simply a literal and factual account of what two people said and did at a particular time in history . . .
“In the New Testament we observe the same critical attitude on the part of the editors as in the Old. The genuineness of four of the books is more or less emphatically denied: of I and II Timothy and Titus, all of which claim to be by Paul, and of II Peter, which claims to be by Peter. The generally accepted view that James was written by the Brother of the Lord is rejected and it is regarded as possible that ‘late in the first century some unknown Jewish Christian composed this book of exhortation in the style of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament’ . . .
Dr. Allis’ Conclusion
“The aim of this examination of the Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible has been to make clear to the reader the vitally important difference between the Biblical and the Critical attitudes toward the Bible, and to establish the fact that the Study Edition is definitely critical, at times even radically so. A number of examples have been given. The number might easily be increased. But the important point in estimating the value of the Study Edition is not the question as to how much of the Bible the editors believe and how much they reject, how much they take in its clear and obvious sense and how much they interpret to mean something quite different from what it definitely states.
“The most important point is that they adopt an attitude to the Bible which cannot fail to undermine or destroy its authority and trustworthiness. An intelligent reader does not need to be told very many times that he is not to believe what the Bible plainly states, in order to get the impression that, if the editors are right, there is little or nothing in the Bible that he can be absolutely sure of.
“The editors are greatly concerned because of the widely prevalent ignorance of the Bible. Do they really believe that the way to get people interested in studying the Bible is to tell them again and again that they must not believe what it says? Do they really expect intelligent people to believe that an ancient Book which must be drastically edited, expurgated, and reconstructed in order to make it acceptable to its modern critics really speaks or can speak with the authority of God? It is hard to see how they can believe this. But apparently they do . . .
“Nine of the eleven editors of the Study Edition are ministers in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (the Northern Presbyterian Church). One of the nine is editor-in-chief of the New Curriculum . . .
“The question Presbyterians everywhere must face is whether they themselves believe that by any stretch of the imagination a teaching which does not hesitate to contradict the Bible and to empty precious passages of their most precious meaning can be called loyal to the Bible and to the Standards of our beloved Church; and whether they are willing to accept and use materials which do this. The issue is clear-cut. The Board of Christian Education and the Committee on the New Curriculum are clearly determined to make the higher critical interpretation of the Bible official in our Church. Shall we permit this? Shall we not rather insist that all the materials for Bible study published by or with the authority of the Boards and Agencies of our Church be, not critical of the Bible, but strictly and wholeheartedly Biblical?”
Dr. William Childs Robinson’s Opinion Of The Westminster Bible
Dr. Allis is not the only able scholar who raises serious questions about this new Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible. Dr. William Childs Robinson, Th.D., of our Columbia Theological Seminary, whom I consider to be the greatest theologian and the ablest defender of the Faith in our entire denomination, has remarked of this Westminster Study Edition that its editors seem hesitant to call Christ God, and that these editors’ whole doctrine of the Deity of Christ is weak.
Dr. Robinson has stated further: “The Westminster Study Bible offers to give the Church ‘some share in the gains that the new knowledge and the new methods have made available.’ It is advertised to give to ‘the modern reader’ ‘the discoveries of modern research in history and archaeology.’ From such statements one might infer that the editors had access to new information which had not been available or had not been used by those who have coma to conclusions other than those presented in the Westminster Bible . . .
“What we fear is that the reader may infer that the higher critical positions taken in this study Bible are also ‘the explanation of what the Church believes about the Bible,’ and that they are based on new information which was not at the disposal of the trusted Presbyterian scholars who have opposed these conclusions of higher criticism. Have the editors of the Westminster Bible information that men like Warfield of Princeton, George L. Robinson of McCormick, Henrickson of Calvin, Allis of Philadelphia, Mack of Richmond., McPheeters of Columbia and Gribble of Austin either did not have or did not use? . . .
“As a matter of fact there are some discoveries that militate against the higher critical view which have been made since these views were enunciated over a century ago. It used to be said that Moses could not have written, or stood sponsor for the writing of the Pentateuch because writing was not known in his age. The Westminster edition admits that writing was done in Moses’ day — in view of the Code of Hammurabi, it might have admitted that it was done in Abraham’s day. The Westminster Notes, however, continue to speak of oral tradition in a way that shows their authors have not fully integrated the fact of writing throughout Israel’s history into their conclusions . . .
“In the New Testament field the Westminster conclusion may also be compared with those offered by other competent scholars . . . Michaelis, Stauffer, Albright and E. K. Simpson hold and defend the view that John the Son of Zebedee wrote the Fourth Gospel. The Westminster Introduction does not. Michaelis also defends the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles and offers a chronology following a first Roman imprisonment into which they may be fitted. Bartlett in the Britannica defends them on the basis of a chronology ending with this imprisonment. Other scholars hold that Paul commissioned an amanuensis (one who is employed to write from dictation, or to copy manuscript) to draft these epistles in his name. This Westminster Bible concludes that they were likely not written by Paul.
“At least modern knowledge is not unanimous on the positions taken in the Westminster Study Bible and therefore these positions cannot be regarded as the united verdict of modern scholarship. Has the Church (the Northern Presbyterian Church) authorized the description of these views as ‘a thorough explanation of what the Church believes about the Bible’?”
The Opinion Of Time Magazine
In Time, issue of September 27, 1948, an article appeared which commented on this Westminster Study Edition of the Bible and made some comparisons between what it says and what a new Roman Catholic translation of Genesis says. Of the Roman Catholic translation Time stated: “But the new text is accompanied by very conservative Biblical criticism . . . Say the Catholic editors: ‘The Pentateuch … is substantially the work of Moses. It is a closely knit literary unit and was originally conceived as one work written for a single purpose’.”
This is the view which has always been held by the Bible-believing Conservatives.
With reference to the Westminster Study Edition, on the other hand, Time states that, though this edition sticks to the traditional King James wording, it “is far from conservative in commenting on it …. Say the Protestant editors: ‘The Pentateuch did not receive its final form until about 400 B.C. . . . The contents of Genesis preserve no hint as to the names of its authors and editors . . . Whoever the author of Genesis was, he must have had ancient sources at his disposal, for no man could have been witness to all the events described. This means that the present book is a composite work drawn from various sources.’ “
This is the view which has always been held by the Modernists and the so-called higher critics.
Not only do those now in control of the Northern Presbyterian Church intend to warp the minds of the children, and of the young people who attend Sunday School, by means of the Modernism and the destructive criticism contained in the “New Curriculum,” but they also intend to present as accepted truth to adults the destructive views of radical criticism which have been woven into the editorial comments contained in the Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible.
Influence Of The Affirmationists And Other Modernists
Evidently the strong impetus given to Modernism in the Northern Presbyterian Church by the appearance of the Auburn Affirmation in 1924 has not diminished in the quarter of a century since that event.
The “New Curriculum” and the Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible reveal clearly the fact that the influence of the Auburn Affirmationists and the other Modernists in the Northern Presbyterian Church is still powerfully active in that denomination at the present time.
If the Southern Presbyterian Church unites with that denomination, Southern Presbyterians can rest assured that their children will be hand-fed in the Sunday School classes with the destructive Modernism which is found in the “New Curriculum.” And the adults who are weak in the Christian Faith will, in using the Westminster Study Edition of the Bible, find much in it that will make their faith still weaker.
What shall every Southern Presbyterian, as a Bible-believing Christian who repudiates completely the views contained in the Auburn Affirmation and who rejects completely the Modernism which it has helped promote in the Northern Presbyterian Church, say with regard to the proposed union with that heresy-tainted denomination?
Thou Shalt Say, No!