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Our Southern Zion

By David B. Calhoun
May 2013 | Review by Roger March


A few blocks from the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, is a fine antebellum mansion, the Robert Mills Historic House, named for the man who designed it. The house, beautifully restored, with Regency furnishings, marble mantelpieces, and sterling silver doorknobs and locksets, reflects the wealth and culture of Ainsley Halt, the man who briefly owned it. More fitting, however, would be desks and tables and books of the professors and students of Columbia Theological Seminary, which made the house its home for almost a hundred years. The rooms of the main floor were the classrooms, where George Howe trained generations of Southern ministers in biblical exegesis, where James Henley Thornwell taught Calvin's Institutes, where John Adger explained the sacraments and church polity, and where John Girardeau set forth the great themes of Reformed theology. It was in one of these rooms that two students organized the Society of Inquiry on Missions in February of 1831. On the top floor was the library-many of its books lovingly collected in Europe by Thomas Smyth, pastor of Charleston's Second Presbyterian Church. Woodrow Wilson said that in the little chapel, originally the mansion's stables, he had heard some of the greatest examples of eloquent and powerful preaching. In that chapel the Southern Presbyterian Book of Church Order was hammered out. A later Columbian beautifully wrote that 'the Book of Church Order for a church which glories to acclaim [Christ] alone as King who was cradled in a manger, was composed in a house built for a carriage stable' (William Childs Robinson, Columbia Theological Seminary, p. 94).

  • Publisher: Banner of Truth Trust
  • ISBN: 978-1-84871-172-3
  • Pages: 386
  • Price: 16.00
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Book Review

Our southern Zion
David B. Calhoun
Banner of Truth
380 pages
ISBN: 978-1-84871-172-3
Star rating : 3

This book records the history of Columbia Theological Seminary, South Carolina, from its foundation until it moved to Atlanta in 1927 — a period of almost 100 years. It must indeed be a good thing to record the works of God among his people for the benefit of future generations.

Naturally the professors and lecturers hold centre stage, but there are frequent snapshots of students too. After training at Columbia, a succession of men ministered in local congregations and among slaves and Indians.

A number of others served overseas, in Syria, Turkey, China, Japan and parts of Africa. Of the godly men who taught them, the most prominent and gifted were James Henley Thornwell, Benjamin Morgan Palmer and John Lafayette Girardeau.

Professor Calhoun writes clearly and with obvious affection for the good old days of ‘Our southern Zion’, as the seminary was called by those who knew it. At times, however, I was wearied with the constant introductions to names and places of which I had no previous acquaintance.

Thankfully, there were glimpses of sunshine, when I could appreciate the warm spirituality of God’s servants of a bygone era.

Overall, this is a story of one part of the Presbyterian church, in one of the Confederate states of America, and may be of limited interest to British evangelicals.

Columbia, situated in America’s leading cotton-producing state, was populated with large numbers of black slaves. The author does not try to hide the disturbing attitude of the Presbyterian church towards these slaves and how it gave general support for slavery before the civil war and adopted a policy of segregation afterwards.

The civil war itself was traumatic for the seminary and closed its doors for three years, as students who had studied together left to fight each other in the rival armies of the North and the South.

These matters brought home to me how important it is for the church to be endowed with heavenly wisdom in responding to the major social and national issues in which it is inextricably involved.

Roger March

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