Thursday, April 11, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember James Orr and his development of a “Christian Worldview” amidst a chaotic turn into the 20th century.

It is the 11th of April 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


By sheer coincidence, this week continues to develop something of a theme with the anniversary of theologians tied together on account of their relative obscurity compared to their significance, their insistence on the connection between faith and reason, and concerns regarding how we understand the act of creation.

From Francis Bacon in England, the Teilhard des Chardin in France, China, and America to Scotland, where we remember James Orr, born on the 11th of April in 1844 in Glasgow, Scotland. This was not the Scotland of some quaint, idyllic Victorian imagination nor the gritty urban backdrop for Trainspotting. Rather, it was a bustling industrial and economic center that boasted one of the finest European Universities carrying on the tradition of Scottish Common Sense Philosophy. Unlike many who entered the university, Orr was neither wealthy nor considered a prodigy. His father was an engineer, but his death orphaned James at a young age, who was then made an apprentice to a bookbinder. He would not enter the University until he was 21.

His connection to the church came through the YMCA in Glasgow and its connection with the Sydney Place Church, a congregation in the United Presbyterian tradition. This balanced a practical “evangelistic” faith and impulse with an emphasis on personal conversion and concern for material improvement.

Orr’s pastor encouraged him to attend university in order to prepare for the ministry. At the University he became versed in the older philosophical and theological traditions but also studied under the newer faculty teaching Kant and Hegel and others who, for some, beckoned the modernism that would tear at the foundations of the Christian faith.

Nonetheless, Orr proved himself quite adept at his studies and was taught, we might say, the best of the old. He was steeped in the thought that he would later come to argue against it. By 1870, he had his M.A., and soon after, he was ordained into the United Presbyterian Church (he would later be instrumental in its reunion with the Scottish Free Church), and in 1855, he received his Doctorate of Divinity from Glasgow. He would spend the rest of his life preaching and teaching, first at Glasgow and then at the United Free College (essentially a seminary).

It was his series of public lectures in 1890 that would shoot him up to the national and then international stage. It was entitled “The Christian View of God and the World,” and it was, in part, a rebuttal of the Modernist schools of thought that rejected theology, or the supernatural, as a distinct and valid means of knowing. He took the German word “Weltanschauung” and translated it into the English “worldview”. He claimed that the Christian “worldview” began with the incarnation. From this touchpoint, the natural and supernatural worlds are untied. He argued that this worldview then spread out into the other traditional evangelical doctrines but was not “secret knowledge” but instead accessible to all (this from his Common Sense background that the “common” person could observe, judge, and believe).

He would become a chief apologist against Albrecht Ritschl and others who wanted to sequester “religious” knowledge as distinct from natural knowledge, and he argued against the German theology that deconstructed the first five books of the Old Testament on the grounds that they were edited and redacted. He didn’t argue that they might not have an editor but that they must on account of an anti-supernatural bias.

He would come to the attention of Princeton’s B.B. Warfield, a champion of the old Orthodoxy, and was invited to write parts of the influential collection of books “The Fundamentals”. There is perhaps some irony to this, as Orr did not hold to an “inerrant” scripture but rather claimed it was of supernatural origin and wholly reliable- a view Warfield and the later fundamentalists opposed. Secondly, for that collection, Orr wrote on Creation and was a proponent of theistic evolution (as was Warfield). It should be noted that both upheld the doctrines of a historical Adam and Eve as well as the catastrophic fall into sin necessitating the work of Christ.

Orr was a good apologist (if not somewhat dated today) because he was trained in the philosophy of his day, did not put his head in the sand, and argued against what he saw as dangerous ideas with a firm grasp of evangelical doctrines. He would have a role in the development of Neo-Evangelicalism as Carl Henry, of Fuller Seminary and Christianity Today fame, saw Orr’s works as a corrective to what he considered a “run away” Fundamentalism.

Orr would accept speaking invitations in America and elsewhere but never gave up his Glaswegian home and work until his death in 1913. Born on this day in 1844, James Orr was 69 years old.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from 1 John 2:

21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 11th of April 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Glaswegians include Orr, inventors Charles MacIntosh and James Watt, comedian Billy Connolly, and famed coin diver Scrooge McDuck; he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who will tell you who is NOT his favorite Glaswegian: the dastardly Drew McIntyre, the Scottish Warrior I’m  Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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