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MacLeod, A. Donald. W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy.


MacLeod, A. Donald. W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy. Montreal & Kingston : McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.         Pp. xxii + 401. Cloth $80.00 or Paper $29.95     

ISBN: 0-7735-2770-2 (cloth) or 0-7735-2818-0 (paper)


This book is the thirty-first in Series Two of McGill-Queen’s Studies in the History of Religion. Like the fifty-six others in Series One and Two it endeavours to acquaint readers with determinative aspects of Canadian history, culture and religious life. In exploring the life and work of W. Stanford Reid (1913 – 1996) it fills two major lacunae, the first being the need for a thorough study of a figure whose mark in both university and church (such a two-fold mark wasn’t rare in an earlier era but has become exceedingly rare more recently) renders him formative.  The second lacuna is the need for situating Reid himself in a theological tradition and a Canadian denomination from which he couldn’t be deracinated and on whose behalf he struggled tirelessly, albeit less effectively (it would seem) than he would have preferred.

This book delivers all that it promises.  In its seventeen chapters of approximately equal length it judiciously reflects the able historian’s avoidance of “over-determination;” i.e., it recognizes the interplay of religious, social, historical, economic and national factors.  It begins with the significance of Reid’s foreparents in Nineteenth Century Anglophone Quebec ; it concludes with an exhaustive bibliography of Reid’s writings.  It never drifts, however, from its orientation as advertised in the title: Reid as Calvinist by conviction and history teacher by profession. In substance, style and lucidity it is exemplary.

In the course of mining the profundities, not to say murky depths, of church and university and human psyche, MacLeod traces at least three lodes that are readily discernible.  In the first place the book acquaints readers with a man whose theological carriage was as stark, unalterable and unmistakable as was his larger-than-average physical presence.  Amidst a milieu of doctrinally diluted, ecumenical accommodation Reid is exposed as an unapologetic “confessionalist” (a term MacLeod uses repeatedly as characteristic descriptor.)  In short, while Reid was neither a fundamentalist nor a literalist (his “confessional” conservatism often found him accused of such), he remained possessed of irrefrangible conviction concerning the tenets of the Magisterial Reformers, especially those of John Calvin. Reid’s was not a cultural Presbyterianism, the misty-eyed yen to use the church as a vehicle for preserving bagpipe and haggis.  Neither was his a state-Presbyterianism, coveting the place of the Kirk in Scotland while lamenting the denial of a similar place to the Kirk’s Canadian descendant in the New World . While Reid was known outside the Presbyterian communion chiefly as a Professor of History, first at McGill and then at the University of Guelph (where he headed the history department) MacLeod persists in holding up Reid’s vocation to the ordained ministry, his zeal for preaching and teaching in the church even when he ceased to have a pastoral appointment, and his poimenical concern for fellow-congregants and needy students.

While a mind, like the Word of God it apprehends, is commended for being “sharper than a two-edged sword,” a sharp-edged personality is not. MacLeod, however, always does justice to both, pointing out Reid’s inimitable contribution to Scottish Studies (see the list of graduate students whose work in this field he supervised at the University of Guelph), and keening quietly over Reid’s occasional proclivity to excoriate if not lacerate, which proclivity deprived Reid of institutional support when he needed it most.

With respect to this last point it is sufficient to recall Reid’s refusal to extend congratulations to Dr. David Hay upon the latter’s retirement. Hay had served Knox College as Professor of Systematic Theology for thirty-three years.         In his penultimate year Hay had publicly described evangelicals in the Presbyterian Church as “Rechabites,” “freeloaders and institutional parasites” (p.232.)  Reid, converted at age fourteen by means of a Montreal street-corner evangelist, upheld the evangelical ethos ever after.  A graduate of Westminster Seminary ( Philadelphia ) and its trustee for decades, Reid also exalted the Reformed tradition.  Hay disavowed Reformed evangelicalism.  His remark widened a fissure between him and Reid that would never be bridged. Like his beloved John Knox (Reid had written a major biography of the Scottish Reformer) Reid “neither flattered nor feared any flesh.”

The second lode is MacLeod’s candid tour of the subterranean trade-offs, political favours and power echelons that bedevil any institution. Forthrightly and fairly he identifies, describes and amplifies the machinations riddling the denomination generally and Reid’s situation particularly.  In this regard MacLeod helps readers understand what lurked and why when Reid appeared to be ill-treated on several fronts, and how it was that Reid, if not marginalized, was certainly kept away from key positions and professorships in his denomination and its seminaries.

The third lode is MacLeod’s self-exposure. No doubt unintentionally and certainly unobtrusively yet no less unmistakeably, MacLeod’s “heart” is revealed.  Trained in history at Harvard, currently pastor to a small-city congregation, like Reid he loves the denomination he will not leave.  There is no bitterness here, no self-exempting accusation, no angry denunciation; there is however, the sober acknowledgement that sin blinds and corrupts, with the result that doors providentially opened do close, and opportunities for appointing prophets pass.  While MacLeod has spent much more of his working life as a congregational pastor than Reid did, as Adjunct Professor of Missions at Tyndale University College & Seminary he too is “an evangelical Calvinist in the academy.” Yet he remains himself.

Calvin, loved by Reid and MacLeod alike, said that those who try to mimic a giant in the faith without being moved by the Spirit “are not imitators; they are apes.” (Commentary Matthew 9:20) MacLeod is anything but an ape.


Victor Shepherd

Tyndale University College & Seminary