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The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy

Category Book Reviews
Date August 13, 2010

Ian Hamilton was a minister for many years in the Church of Scotland. Since 1999 he has been the pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church. His book, The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy: Drifting from the Truth in Confessional Scottish Churches1 has just been reissued in a revised edition with a new introduction, a chapter that details the adoption and effects of the Declaratory Act in the Free Church in 1892, and a concluding chapter.

This is the author’s conclusion:

The situation that prevails today within the mainstream Protestant Churches is not conducive to Confessionalism. Once you depart from Scripture as the Church’s only rule of faith and life, as the song puts it, ‘anything goes’. What is left is a theological Noah’s Ark, where everyone believes what is right in his and her own eyes; where Confessionalism is relegated to the individual conscience; where no one view is any more, or less, acceptable than any other view.

What remains is a reductionist Confessionalism: a Confessionalism which confesses everything and negates practically nothing. This should not surprise us. When truth is de-propositionalised, denied its absolutist character, and subordinated to the modern god ‘tolerance’, it is not surprising that Confessions and Creeds which propositionalise God’s truth are considered passé. Such documents are an embarrassment to the Church today, and increasingly relegated to the sidelines of history: documents of historical interest, landmarks in the evolution of the Church, relevant to their own day, but out of touch with the realities of today. This kind of thinking may appeal to the inclusivist thinking that pervades much of the Church and society, but it is light years removed from the New Testament with its categorical affirmations of truth, and its equally categorical denial of error.

Until the Church wakens up to its follies, and is returned to a new confidence in Scripture, it seems likely that meaningful Confessionalism will be the preserve of so-called ‘fundamentalist’ remnants.

Without meaningful and biblically substantive Confessions of Faith the Church will the more easily forget, and ignore, the realities on which it depends. It is not mindless fundamentalism, but faithfulness to the Word of God that compels honest Christians ‘to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints’. There are few better ways of doing so than by clearly holding out what it is that Christians ‘most certainly believe’.


  1. Published by the Mentor imprint of Christian Focus; 240 pages, paperback, ISBN: 978 1 84550 514 1.

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