Last week I had the privilege of joining Derek Thomas and the saints at First Presbyterian (Columbia, SC) and Erskine Seminary to deliver their annual John L. Girardeau lectures. It was a wonderful and engaging time with both members of the church and many of the professors and students from the seminary.
Since the lectures are named in honor of John L. Girardeau (1825-1898), who pastored a congregation of slaves at the height of the institution and alone opposed segregation in the Southern Presbyterian Church, I thought I’d take a historical look at social justice and Reformed theology. The lectures have the general title, “Bondage or Freedom? Questions in Early American Theology.”
In the first lecture, we considered Jonathan Edwards’ almost complete silence on the greatest social justice issue of his day: slavery. In the second lecture, we considered a theological descendant of Edwards, Lemuel Haynes, and his rather developed abolitionist stance against slavery. We tried to compare and contrast the two men according to their social location, theological preoccupations and biblical interpretations and ask how those factors affected their positions on slavery.
It was a joy to reflect on these questions with the saints there. I heard many touching stories about the power of the gospel and the march of grace in the hearts of people with family histories closely associated with these historical issues. We stood across the street from places that played significant parts in South Carolina’s secession from the Union and the resulting Civil War. Our time there reminded us of this history and also of the progress that has been made through the gospel and a lot of God’s grace. I hope you enjoy the lectures should you listen.