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An Error-Packed Paragraph
August 12, 2012
I have been reading a lot of history and biography in recent weeks, from books on the history of Mormonism to books portraying characters as diverse as Abraham Lincoln and Queen Elizabeth II. One thing that has stood out to me in my reading is how seldom unbelieving authors accurately portray the beliefs of Christians. I read only some of Mary Rubio’s Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (a fitting read while on Prince Edward Island) before coming across this quote:
The Presbyterian church was located in the centre of the community, on land provided by Maud’s Mcneill clan. The Presbyterian Church was organized democratically, with power resting at the local level: historically, in Scotland, it had been a hothouse of violent internal feuds. Indeed, in Cavendish, there was also a Baptist church—founded by disgruntled Presbyterians—at the other end of the village. Serious doctrinal differences divided the two churches. The Baptists believed in salvation from sin by the ritual of immersion and public confession. Presbyterians thought sinful man could not achieve salvation so easily: many still believed in “Predestination,” the doctrine holding that man was inherently sinful, and only God determined who would be “saved.” These “Elect” (the “chosen ones”) were believed to be picked by an omnipotent God’s arbitrary will and pleasure—not necessarily by their good deeds in life. Still, children were taught to behave themselves, as there was no point in taking chances. Bad behavior suggested exclusion from the “Elect.”
I hardly know where to begin! Rubio is a lifelong scholar and student of her subject’s life, yet she could hardly have packed more mistakes into such a small paragraph. I suppose you might say that Presbyterian churches are “organized democratically” and you might say that “power rests at the local level,” but that requires some degree of nuance since Presbyterian churches are not independent and the quote suggests. Baptists do not believe in salvation by immersion and confession and, in fact, are very likely, especially in that day, to believe just what Presbyterians believe about predestination. Speaking of which, no Presbyterian (or Baptist, for that) holds that God chooses his people by “arbitrary will and pleasure.” The word “necessarily” should necessarily be removed when she seems to suggest that some Presbyterians would hold that God chooses on the basis of works. I also doubt too many genuine believers were raising their children to put on a good show because bad childish behavior suggested exclusion from the “Elect.”
This is just one example of the many, many faulty attempts I’ve witnessed.