Mercersburg’s Value to Global Evangelicalism

Critically examining 19th-century Mercersburg theology can benefit global evangelicalism today. While Mercersburg theology was based in the German Reformed Church, some see it as a combination of Reformed and Evangelical theologies. Others describe it as Reformed Catholicity.

Specifically, this session will examine Mercersburg’s sacramental theology and how it interacted with the three dominant evangelical expressions of the day. These include the revivalists, often associated with Charles Finney, Princeton Theology or common-sense realism, often associated with Charles Hodge, and a warmer social gospel, often associated with Horace Bushnell. It will also trace some of the hereditary lines of each of these three evangelical movements into the modern day. While concomitant movements occurred in Europe, including at Oxford, our focus will primarily be on Mercersburg and American evangelicalism. This session will also highlight the later demise of Mercersburg theology in the 19th century and note the vacuous result in American evangelicalism which persists to this day.

A survey of Mercersburg theology provides more than a helpful historical setting for certain trends in modern evangelicalism. It also becomes most relevant when we realize that these debates were never settled. Specifically, the value of Mercersburg’s sacramental understanding of the Christian faith will be explored in light of modern exigencies. How might a sacramental soteriology, Christology, ecclesiology, view of the Lord’s table, interpretation of Scripture, and understanding of history have relevance in modern evangelicalism?