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Reviewed by:
  • W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy
  • Phyllis D. Airhart
W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy. A. Donald MacLeod. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004. Pp. 402, illus. b&w, $29.00

A. Donald MacLeod opens his biography of W. Stanford Reid with the image of a granite boulder in rural Quebec. It marks the site of Reid's church, where members of the family worshipped until it closed in 1952. Although students still recreate the area's past as a tourist attraction, MacLeod finds what remains 'strangely alien'; the cairn's inscription is an 'epitaph for a way of life irretrievably gone.' One wonders after reading this book if the same can be said of Stanford Reid's brand of Calvinism.

The core of the book deals with Reid's confessional evangelicalism, which was rooted in Calvinist doctrine as presented in the Westminster Standards. MacLeod deftly analyses how it differed from related varieties, notably the dispensationalist theology of fundamentalism and the narrow morality of pietism. It differed as well from the liberal evangelicalism of those who founded the United Church of Canada in 1925. Church union divided not only the Presbyterian Church but Reid's own family, with his father and uncle taking different sides. He remained a critic of the doctrinal ambiguity he associated with the United Church's founding, but was just as dogged in confronting those in Presbyterian circles who were wandering toward the same slippery theological slope. This suspicion of ecumenism was reinforced by an ongoing relationship with Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied soon after it was founded by fundamentalist leader Gresham Machen.

MacLeod is at his best as raconteur, presenting in graceful prose Reid's family life, academic accomplishments, theological battles, and complicated relationships. Along the way he attends to Reid's work as a historian at McGill, his witness to the end of Anglophone influence in Quebec higher education, and his move to Guelph to launch the Scottish Studies program. Although MacLeod uses words well, one occasionally wishes for a few less of them. Details such as the particulars of the purchase of a boat in a chapter on life at McGill may be an effort to [End Page 133] match the rich texture of the sections on church affairs (which sometime have the feel of 'family gossip' in their juicy tidbits). But occasionally words get in the way of effective analysis. For example, a blow-by-blow account of the dismissal of a Westminster Theological Seminary professor accurately portrays the defence of fine points of theology that set Reid apart from his Presbyterian co-religionists. But Reid himself tends to become lost in the minutiae of correspondence and board minutes. There are a few organizational slips as well. Reid's professional and religious activities are separated into chapters that overlap more or less chronologically, a strategy that is not always effective. Chapter 7 is a case in point. The title refers to the period 1951–62 and purports to deal with 'McGill during and after Duplessis.' It concludes with Reid's resigna- tion – in 1965. Meanwhile there is no significant analysis of the significance of Duplessis's defeat, and the situation of Anglophones in higher education in Quebec in that era is highlighted in a later chapter that covers (again) the period from 1958 to 1965.

MacLeod suggests that Reid paid a professional price for his religious observance, but received little thanks for it in evangelical circles: They respected him as a 'secular' historian but declined to hire him when church history positions came open. His is also a cautionary tale of cultural and generational change – bruised by political wrangling time and again, considered too conservative for most of the next generation, and yet too liberal for some younger confessionalists. Those he mentored, including a group led by his biographer (who oddly refers to himself in the third person as 'Donald MacLeod' when describing events in which he was involved) moved in directions he could not support. Particularly intriguing is MacLeod's role in a Presbyterian renewal movement that Reid saw as a challenge to his own leadership of...


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