Preface to the 1992 Edition

The Presbyterian Conflict, originally published by William B. Eerdmans in 1940, is a monument to a cause that continues beyond Edwin H. Rian’s involvement with it. To many it remains the classic inside look at the valiant effort to preserve Presbyterian orthodoxy and ecclesiastical integrity.

The figure of J. Gresham Machen, the man so revered and relied upon by Mr. Rian in those days, stands behind the work. The book itself, therefore, pays tribute to this remarkable servant of Jesus Christ. How­ever, it sets before us more than the reputation of one man. In it we confront the issues that demand reflection and repentance from the twentieth‑century church if she is to be true to her Savior.

The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church reissues The Presbyterian Conflict to the glory of God. We make no further comment but to encourage you, the reader, to allow this outstanding work to speak for itself.

The book has been reset. Changes in capitalization and punctuation, together with the reformatting of a number of quotations and footnotes, are the only improvements we offer to the text. Some additions have been made to the index.

Charles G. Dennison,
Historian for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
January 1, 1992


THE STARTLING EVENTS which have occurred in the past decade within the Presbyterian Church in the USA are illustrative of what has taken place in most of the large Protestant churches since the turn of the century. No one with an open mind and an honest judgment of the situation within the so‑called evangelical churches can ignore the fact that, for the most part, they have turned away from historic Christianity. There are individual ministers within these communions who believe and preach the Christianity of the Bible, but the vast majority of the churches in their corporate testimony are witnessing to another gospel which one might designate as “Modernism,” “Liberalism,” or by one of several other titles. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick of New York City is right when he makes the assertion that modernism has won a sweeping victory in the Protestant churches. One thing, however, is certain: this new gospel is not the Christianity which the Bible teaches, and which was revived by the Protestant Reformation. It is another attenuated gospel which is predicated upon the assumption that man can and must work out his own salvation. It denies the supernatural basis of Christianity and substitutes for it a social and moral naturalism. The final authority of the Bible for faith and life is replaced by that nebulous and uncertain standard, human experience. Such is the essential nature of so-called modernism which is a present day version of unbelief.

This historical sketch of the conflict within the Presbyterian Church in the USA is written with these facts in view. There are many who have little interest in the struggles of a particular denomination, but when it is seen that this single conflict is merely a portrayal of what has taken place to a great extent within the Protestant church as a whole, then the seriousness of the situation becomes apparent. It should make every clear right-thinking Protestant ask himself the question, “Whither Protestantism?” And when he has squarely faced that enigma he might further ask himself, “What can be done about it?”

Frankly this book is written from the standpoint of one who believes whole‑heartedly in historic, biblical Christianity even though some of his theological studies were pursued at the universities of Marburg and Berlin where modernism was most ably presented. Furthermore, it is true that the author was one of those involved in the Presbyterian conflict, but it is his hope that this historical survey is a fairly dispassionate exposition of the events in that struggle. While a participant may be somewhat prejudiced in his opinion, it is also true that a firsthand witness knows more of the facts. It is the author’s hope that the following presentation of a particular church’s theological dispute will help to awaken the Protestant world to the real situation within its gates.

The author desires to express his gratitude to the Rev. Paul Woolley, professor of church history at Westminster Seminary and Mr. Thomas R. Birch, managing editor of the Presbyterian Guardian, for reading the manuscript and for many valuable suggestions. He also wishes to thank professors John Murray and Cornelius Van Til, members of the faculty at Westminster Seminary, for their suggestions with respect to certain points in chapters one and fifteen.

Edwin H. Rian
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
March 15, 1940