Pleading for a Reformation vision: the life and selected writings of William Childs Robinson (1879-1982)
David B. Calhoun
Banner of Truth Trust
309 pages, £15.50
Star rating: 4
Amnesia is one of the great enemies of the gospel. Not only do we too easily forget history’s villains, but also history’s heroes with their warnings and witness. This is particularly true today when the ‘latest’ is taken to be the ‘greatest’ and old errors become new, conventional wisdom.
The Banner has done an amazing job over the years in assuring that our Reformed heritage continues to shine brightly. This is no less the case with this volume on William Childs Robinson, a southern Presbyterian of the last century. He was little known in this country, but a worthy successor of Dabney and Thornwell.
Calhoun, emeritus professor of church history at Covenant Seminary and known for his books on Princeton Seminary, presents Robinson in two complementary sections: firstly his life and then his writings as found in books and journals.
From 1926 onwards, Robinson was a teacher of church history at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He was theologically isolated from some of his colleagues because of his commitment to the classic Reformed faith. His experience and struggle were similar to J. G. Machen’s, in terms of efforts to stop the rot of broad-churchism in the South.
In a pen-picture that describes him well, he was a ‘Reformed scholar who had sifted through the theological heresies and idiosyncrasies of the centuries and advocated Reformation theology as the only successful polemic against them and the only consistent foundation for biblical ministry, theological scholarship, polity, witness and outreach’ (p.42).
The second part of Calhoun’s book presents a series of essays on what Robinson considered the vital heart of the Christian gospel: grace; the Trinity as God in action; justification and the centrality of Christ, the incarnate, suffering and risen Lord.
These are well worth reading as Robinson writes clearly and warmly. Praise and joy surface naturally, welling up from his experience of the Lord as the all-glorious and all-sufficient Saviour.
I began this book as a doubting enquirer, but ended thankful for having read it, as will everyone who can warm to this: ‘As we cut away all centres of reliance on ourselves and our sinful hearts, and as we rest entirely and alone on the grace of God, we place ourselves in faith’s true attitude — we open our hearts for the streams of living water to flood our souls’ (p.180).