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Review: Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy

Books

According to the author's preface, this biography took 10 years to write. But readers of Paul C. Gutjahr's new Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy (Oxford University Press, 2011) would never know that. The nearly 400 pages covering everything from Hodge's fatherless childhood in Philadelphia to his studies and half-century teaching career at Princeton Seminary speed by as Gutjahr takes a detailed but dispassionate look at the life of 19th century American Presbyterianism's greatest theologians.

Readers get a working understanding of American Presbyterianism during Hodge's career, and an appreciation for the theological debates within 19th century American Protestantism. The author presents a story so extremely balanced that the reader almost wonders whether Gutjahr has any opinions of his own. But one thing is clear: The author has a deep respect for his subject.

Furthermore, Gutjahr's knowledge of American religion during the 1800s is encyclopedic. This renders inexplicable the numerous typos (including one in the very last sentence of the book) and the errors in small details both historical and theological. For example, Gutjahr describes "Adam's first sinful action" as "the Original Sin," though Princeton's theologians used that term for humanity's condition, not for Adam's transgression. Gutjahr also repeatedly places Columbia Seminary-one of Princeton's competitors, then and now-in Georgia, though it was located in South Carolina from 1830 to 1927, the very period at which it is discussed in this biography.

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The book opens with an illustrated and annotated list of the 70 most prominent people in Hodge's life. Arranged in alphabetical order, it is invaluable for readers trying to recall just who August Tholuck was and how Hodge knew him. Plus, the rest of the text contains numerous full-page black-and-white photographs of Hodge, his friends, colleagues, and children. If you want a guided tour of 19th century American Protestantism, this biography is for you.

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson

Caleb grew up on a ranch in northern Colorado and is currently pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America. He lives in Greenville, S.C.

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