By Dr. Jeff McDonald, Kairos Affiliate Faculty Member
February 5, 2018
Learning from the Past So We Can Witness for Christ in Our World Today
As we enter a new year, it is often a time of setting goals for the future and remembering the past. I am beginning 2018 with great confidence that God will continue the good work that he started at Sioux Falls Seminary over 150 years ago. I am hopeful because his faithfulness has been consistent and his mercies are new every morning! That is one of the reasons I am so passionate about history, we can see the fingerprints of God on the lives of those who have gone before us.
The story of God’s church down through the ages can challenge us and give us a better understanding of the faith we proclaim. History can also give us a better sense of who we are and help us appreciate where we came from. Moreover, church history is a reservoir of good ideas that can help strengthen our faith. If we are going to understand our Christian past, we need some familiarity with those who have shaped that past.
One evangelical Presbyterian leader who made a large impact in the 20th century was John Gerstner (1914-1996), who served for many years as a professor of church history at Pittsburgh Seminary. Gerstner was a defender of classical Christian faith and the trustworthiness of scripture. His tireless efforts led to the renaissance in Jonathan Edwards’s theology. He debated and lectured widely and wrote many books that sought to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints. He refused to water down or compromise basic Christian doctrine and some of his actions led to the founding of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1981. My recently released book examines Gerstner’s life, but it also highlights the growth and expansion of evangelical Presbyterianism.
The prophet Isaiah said “Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance–all who seek the LORD! Consider the rock from which you were cut.” W. Stanford Reid—the eminent Canadian evangelical Presbyterian historian—has commented on this scripture noting:
He [Isaiah] is thinking of Israel, the People of God. They have been hewn from a rock, and it is to their roots that he is calling them back. He wants them to realize that they have not come from shifting sand, but from roots that have dug down deep into the soil which are immovable and exemplary for them.
As an affiliate professor at Sioux Falls Seminary, my goal is to try and help students and fellow believers understand the truth of the gospel and how that truth has been upheld in the past. My book seeks to show a continuity of faith from believers in different time periods. It also reveals Gerstner’s faith journey and how he successfully transmitted the faith of his young adult years into the future. So, if you have some time and want to go deeper in your knowledge of Christ’s church please check it out—John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017).
My hope is that 2018 will be a year when we grow in faith and deep commitment to the truth upheld in scripture, so that we can face each day knowing that Jesus came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly.