Presbyterians And The Mainline Decline

The Presbyterian Presence: The Twentieth-Century Experience,seven volumes, edited by Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks (Westminster/John Knox Press). Reviewed by Mark Noll, McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College in Illinois.

This seven-volume series is the most comprehensive, the most honest, and the most illuminating study of an American denominational family ever published. The first six volumes present 60 essays by nearly 70 scholars, pastors, and denominational officials, which examine almost all imaginable aspects of the Presbyterian church in the twentieth century—from controversial decisions of general assemblies to the theological textbooks at seminaries; from lay attitudes toward Sunday to the participation of Hispanics, African Americans, Koreans, and native Americans in Presbyterian organizations.

The seventh volume, The Re-Forming Vision ($16.99), is a sustained argument from the three series editors, all of whom are associated with the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville. It attempts the daunting challenge of summarizing the findings of the previous six books, while also offering Presbyterians an agenda for the future.

The books treat most thoroughly the larger northern and southern Presbyterian churches, which in 1983 overcame regional differences dating back to the Civil War and united as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA). Yet considerable coverage is also afforded the many smaller Presbyterian denominations, some of which have exerted an influence larger than their size.

More than just Presbyterian history, this series, appearing in the early 1990s, also addresses, by the nature of the case, the current predicament ...

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