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History for a Pilgrim People: The Historical Writings of Charles G. Dennison

Danny E. Olinger and David K. Thompson. Ed.

Reviewed by: Alan Strange

Date posted: 04/22/2007

History for a Pilgrim People: The Historical Writings of Charles G. Dennison, edited by Danny E. Olinger and David K. Thompson. Published by the Committee for the Historian of the OPC, 2002. Hardback, 283 pp., list price $12.00. Reviewed by Alan Strange, pastor and teacher.

All students of confessional Calvinism should be grateful for the publication of these historical writings by the late Charles G. Dennison, historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. These writings consist of articles, lectures, and General Assembly reports delivered by Dennison in his capacity as historian.

For anyone interested in the history of the OPC and the role that it has played in the broader church, this book is must reading. The OPC was formed on June 11, 1936, in that cauldron of events that included the reorganization of Princeton Theological Seminary and the formation of Westminster Theological Seminary, the controversy in the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the founding of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and the deposition of J. Gresham Machen and others who stood for constitutional Presbyterianism and against modernism. Machen said at the founding of the OPC, "At last we have a true Presbyterian church." This would imply that the OPC is the spiritual successor to the PCUSA prior to its takeover by modernists. But this did not mean that the OPC would enjoy the kind of cultural influence, if not to say hegemony, to which American Presbyterianism, had earlier been accustomed. In fact, the OPC would, even as Machen had, suffer disenfranchisement.

What Dennison makes of this cultural marginalization - is it an unhappy consequence of orthodoxy in a faithless age or a necessary concomitant of the "spirituality of the church"? - is what makes these writings so valuable. Dennison, in true Van Tilian fashion, is no mere reporter of "brute facts." He understood that fact and interpretation are inseparable. One may disagree with Dennison's interpretation of history at this or that point, but one will never be bored in these pages by a dull, lifeless recounting of trivia. Dennison's writing sparkles and is a delight to read. He is often provocative and insightful, never prosaic or jejune. This work is highly recommended.

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