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Our Southern Zion: Old Columbia Seminary (1828-1927) (Calhoun)

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A few blocks from the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, is a fine antebellum mansion, the Robert Mills Historic House, named for the man who designed it. The house, beautifully restored, with Regency furnishings, marble mantelpieces, and sterling silver doorknobs and locksets, reflects the wealth and culture of Ainsley Halt, the man who briefly owned it. More fitting, however, would be desks and tables and books of the professors and students of Columbia Theological Seminary, which made the house its home for almost a hundred years. The rooms of the main floor were the classrooms, where George Howe trained generations of Southern ministers in biblical exegesis, where James Henley Thornwell taught Calvin’s Institutes, where John Adger explained the sacraments and church polity, and where John Girardeau set forth the great themes of Reformed theology. It was in one of these rooms that two students organized the Society of Inquiry on Missions in February of 1831. 

On the top floor was the library-many of its books lovingly collected in Europe by Thomas Smyth, pastor of Charleston’s Second Presbyterian Church. Woodrow Wilson said that in the little chapel, originally the mansion’s stables, he had heard some of the greatest examples of eloquent and powerful preaching. In that chapel the Southern Presbyterian Book of Church Order was hammered out. A later Columbian beautifully wrote that ‘the Book of Church Order for a church which glories to acclaim [Christ] alone as King who was cradled in a manger, was composed in a house built for a carriage stable’ - William Childs Robinson

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Table of Contents: 

  Preface by Dr Douglas F Kelly xi
  Introduction: ‘Another Sun’ xv
1 A New Town 1
2 A New Theological Seminary 9
3 John Leighton Wilson 27
4 An Old School Seminary 39
5 James Henley Thornwell 51
6 Benjamin Morgan Palmer 61
7 The Southern Presbyterian Review 73
8 ‘A Door Opened’ 81
9 ‘The Glory of the Lord Risen Upon It’ 95
10 Dr Thornwell at the Seminary 101
11 Thornwell’s Legacy: Theologian 113
12 Thornwell’s Legacy: Churchman and Southerner 125
13 John Adger and James Woodrow 137
14 The Southern Presbyterian Church 163
15 The War between the States 179
16 ‘Streams in the Desert’ 195
17 Joseph Ruggles Wilson 209
18 John Lafayette Girardeau 221
19 ‘The Dear Seminary’ 241
20 ‘The Lord’s Ordering’ 255
21 The Evolution Controversy 265
22 Girardeau’s Legacy 281
23 ‘No Uncertain Sound’ 293
24 Columbia and Louisville 303
25 ‘A Passing Breath’ 317
26 ‘The Line of Descent’ 333
27 ‘The Prophet’s Call and the Shepherd’s Heart’ 345
28 The Last Commencement 355
  Conclusion: ‘This Pure Light’ 365



David B. Calhoun is Emeritus Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary, St Louis, Missouri. He has taught at Covenant College and Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) and served as principal of Jamaica Bible College. Prior to his appointment to Covenant Seminary in 1978, he was the overseas director of Ministries in Action.A Presbyterian minister, he has preached widely in many churches and has conducted Bible and missions conferences.



"I have long admired the historical/theological writings of Dr. David Calhoun (of Covenant Seminary) because he has the rare gift of combining historical accuracy, wide and deep cultural perception, theological insight and best of all, the fragrance of Christ and his gospel. His most recent volume on the first century of Columbia Theological Seminary (then in South Carolina), 1828-1927 exhibits all of these qualities in a beautiful combination." — DOUGLAS F. KELLY