A. Donald. W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy.
: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
Pp. xxii + 401. Cloth
$80.00 or Paper $29.95
0-7735-2770-2 (cloth) or 0-7735-2818-0 (paper)
book is the thirty-first in Series Two of McGill-Queen’s Studies in
the History of Religion. Like
the fifty-six others in Series One and Two it endeavours to acquaint
readers with determinative aspects of Canadian history, culture and
religious life. In exploring
the life and work of W. Stanford Reid (1913 – 1996) it fills two major
lacunae, the first being the
need for a thorough study of a figure whose mark in both university and
church (such a two-fold mark wasn’t rare in an earlier era but has
become exceedingly rare more recently) renders him formative.
The second lacuna is the need for situating Reid himself in a theological
tradition and a Canadian denomination from which he couldn’t be
deracinated and on whose behalf he struggled tirelessly, albeit less
effectively (it would seem) than he would have preferred.
This book delivers all that it promises.
In its seventeen chapters of approximately equal length it
judiciously reflects the able historian’s avoidance of
“over-determination;” i.e., it recognizes the interplay of
religious, social, historical, economic and national factors.
It begins with the significance of Reid’s foreparents in
Nineteenth Century Anglophone
; it concludes with an exhaustive bibliography of Reid’s writings.
It never drifts, however, from its orientation as advertised in
the title: Reid as Calvinist by conviction and history teacher by
profession. In substance,
style and lucidity it is exemplary.
In the course of mining the profundities,
not to say murky depths, of church and university and human psyche,
MacLeod traces at least three lodes that are readily discernible.
In the first place the book acquaints readers with a man whose
theological carriage was as stark, unalterable and unmistakable as was
his larger-than-average physical presence.
Amidst a milieu of doctrinally diluted, ecumenical accommodation
Reid is exposed as an unapologetic “confessionalist” (a term MacLeod
uses repeatedly as characteristic descriptor.)
In short, while Reid was neither a fundamentalist nor a
literalist (his “confessional” conservatism often found him accused
of such), he remained possessed of irrefrangible conviction concerning
the tenets of the Magisterial Reformers, especially those of John
Calvin. Reid’s was not a
cultural Presbyterianism, the misty-eyed yen to use the church as a
vehicle for preserving bagpipe and haggis.
Neither was his a state-Presbyterianism, coveting the place of
the Kirk in
while lamenting the denial of a similar place to the Kirk’s Canadian
descendant in the
. While Reid was known
outside the Presbyterian communion chiefly as a Professor of History,
first at McGill and then at the University of Guelph (where he headed
the history department) MacLeod persists in holding up Reid’s vocation
to the ordained ministry, his zeal for preaching and teaching in the
church even when he ceased to have a pastoral appointment, and his
poimenical concern for fellow-congregants and needy students.
While a mind, like the Word of God it apprehends, is commended
for being “sharper than a two-edged sword,” a sharp-edged
personality is not. MacLeod,
however, always does justice to both, pointing out Reid’s inimitable
contribution to Scottish Studies (see the list of graduate students
whose work in this field he supervised at the University of Guelph), and
keening quietly over Reid’s occasional proclivity to excoriate if not
lacerate, which proclivity deprived Reid of institutional support when
he needed it most.
respect to this last point it is sufficient to recall Reid’s refusal
to extend congratulations to Dr. David Hay upon the latter’s
retirement. Hay had served
as Professor of Systematic Theology for thirty-three years.
In his penultimate year Hay had publicly described evangelicals
in the Presbyterian Church as “Rechabites,” “freeloaders and
institutional parasites” (p.232.)
Reid, converted at age fourteen by means of a Montreal
street-corner evangelist, upheld the evangelical ethos ever after.
A graduate of Westminster Seminary (
) and its trustee for decades, Reid also exalted the Reformed tradition.
Hay disavowed Reformed evangelicalism.
His remark widened a fissure between him and Reid that would
never be bridged. Like his
beloved John Knox (Reid had written a major biography of the Scottish
Reformer) Reid “neither flattered nor feared any flesh.”
The second lode is MacLeod’s candid tour
of the subterranean trade-offs, political favours and power echelons
that bedevil any institution. Forthrightly
and fairly he identifies, describes and amplifies the machinations
riddling the denomination generally and Reid’s situation particularly.
In this regard MacLeod helps readers understand what lurked and
why when Reid appeared to be ill-treated on several fronts, and how it
was that Reid, if not marginalized, was certainly kept away from key
positions and professorships in his denomination and its seminaries.
The third lode is MacLeod’s
self-exposure. No doubt
unintentionally and certainly unobtrusively yet no less unmistakeably,
MacLeod’s “heart” is revealed.
Trained in history at Harvard, currently pastor to a small-city
congregation, like Reid he loves the denomination he will not leave.
There is no bitterness here, no self-exempting accusation, no
angry denunciation; there is however, the sober acknowledgement that sin
blinds and corrupts, with the result that doors providentially opened do
close, and opportunities for appointing prophets pass.
While MacLeod has spent much more of his working life as a
congregational pastor than Reid did, as Adjunct Professor of Missions at
Tyndale University College & Seminary he too is “an evangelical
Calvinist in the academy.” Yet
he remains himself.
Calvin, loved by Reid and MacLeod alike, said that those who try
to mimic a giant in the faith without being moved by the Spirit “are
not imitators; they are apes.” (Commentary Matthew 9:20) MacLeod
is anything but an ape.