Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Old Side / New Side

Tommy Lee has an interesting article about the Old Side / New Side split in the Presbyterian Church during the Great Awakening. The split lasted from 1741 to 1758. I happen to love that particular epoch of American history, so I thought I would offer a critique just for the fun of it. It is a good article by the way.

My main complaint is that Mr. Lee falls into some of the stereotypes that I do not believe hold up under scrutiny. First, he characterizes the Old Side as Scoth-Irish and the New Side as New England, which I believe is false. Mr. Lee uses the Adopting Act controversy (1729) as proof, but this too does not hold up. The Tennent Family was Scotch-Irsih, thus they should have been on the Old Side according to the stereotype, but they were the founders of the New Side movement. The Tennent family was in favor of adopting the Westminster Confession of Faith, which should have placed them on the Old Side, but again they were not. Jedidah Andrews was from New England. He was against adopting the WCF, which should have placed him on the New Side. Yet, Andrews was an ardent Old Sider. Jonathon Dickinson was a New England man who opposed the WCF, but he did not leave to join the New Side until 1746. George Gillespie was a Scotsman, and argued strongly for the adoption of the WCF. Yet, in 1741 he withdrew with the Tennent clan to join the New Side. He did repent and rejoin the Old Side in 1743, but was always a pro-Awakening Old Sider.
Second, Mr. Lee stereotypes the Old Siders as not having a heart for evangelism. It is true that they did not have the success that the New Side ministers did, but they were still evangelizing with all the might they could muster. The Old Side men established churches in the backcountry of Virginia before the New Side makes it into Hanover Country (non-backcountry) Virginia. The Old Side minister, John Thomson, was the first minister of any kind to settle in the backcountry of North Carolina. They simply did not have the funds or men to send out as many evangelists as the New Side.
Third, Mr. Lee does not do justice to the cause of the Old Side. He believes the split could have been avoided if the Old Side had done more to accommodate the New Side. He argues the Old Side should have been more understanding of those who could only afford a Log College Education. I believe the Old Side was very accommodating in that respect. The act of Synod did not forbid Log College education it just established a commission that included Log College men to examine any graduate from such a place. They were willing to come along side and supplement the educational lapses in William Tennent Sr.’s teaching. John Rowland, a Log College man, failed his licensure exam in the Presbytery of New Castle, and all agreed that he should spend a year with Francis Alison studying. They did not force him to a New England college, but sent him to a different minister. Instead, Rowland was licensed by the New Side Presbytery and began the split.
Fourth, Mr. Lee has a very favorable opinion of the re-union when in actuality it was a brutal take over by the New Side. The New Side majority regularly reinterpreted the re-union plan and out right violated them on other occasions. They barred Old Side men from teaching at Princeton, and the remaining Old Siders were planning to split from the Church again when the American Revolution broke out, and ended all hopes of an Old Side church.

I do commend Mr. Lee in finding the heart of the split as the debate over the doctrine of convictions. Does one have to have a definable moment of conversion in order to be saved? This was the heart of the controversy, in my opinion, and led to the split. Here Mr. Lee rightly is wary of the New Side innovations, and sees them as attacking the institutions of the church. More people should come to this conclusion. The article is worth it just to get this point.

Mr. Lee asks good questions such as ‘Was the split a legitimate one?’ and ‘Why should do we split?’ His answers may disagree with mine as I would argue it was a legitimate split and an illegitimate re-union, but his article is still excellent.