A Brief Comment On Presbyterian History Regarding The Princetons

The political news of the day is the upset primary victory of Dave Brat over Eric Cantor, the US House of Representatives majority Leader, i.e. the second highest leadership position for the Republicans in the House.

I am not going to wade into the politics of that race, but something else, something Presbyterian caught my eye.

Professor Dave Brat has an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Yup, it looks like another alum of that venerable institution might be going into government service. You can check out his academic credentials on his faculty web page at Randolph-Macon College.

Looking at his faculty web page it would suggest that he has a Reformed background, having also attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Now, I am not saying that Dr. Brat was ever Presbyterian, let alone PC(USA), but there is a connection. And his campaign bio lists him and his family attending a local Roman Catholic parish.

It is interesting that his campaign bio has gotten a few people worked up because in it, and elsewhere, he talks about getting an M.Div. from “Princeton.” without being any more specific. This apparently has most people thinking PU, leading that institution to need to clarify when asked by the media.

OK, enough about politics and on to what really got my attention.

What I found most interesting is that the Princeton University spokesperson, Martin Mbugua, made this comment (as quoted on the Washington Post live blog):

Mbugua said people occasionally “make an association between the
institutions here in Princeton, an incorrect association.” The two
independent institutions simply “happen to be in the same town,” Mbugua

May I take exception to his comment? I will grant you they are two independent institutions but it is not by pure chance they are in the same town. At least to me, to say that there is no association between them ignores the fact that they were both established by early American Presbyterians, that the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) was founded to train ministers and most of its early presidents were Presbyterian ministers. Further, Princeton Theological Seminary was founded as a spin-off from the College to provide a more extensive theological training and the first Principal of the Seminary, Archibald Alexander, came over from the College to head up the seminary. While the college and the seminary may not have always had similar viewpoints, I think it is fair to say that the seminary is a younger sibling of the college.

If you want to take it a step further up to the present day the University’s Wikipedia page notes that “Today, Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary maintain
separate institutions with ties that include services such as
cross-registration and mutual library access.”

While the two schools grew apart during the Civil War and the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy, it is worthwhile to note that at their root they come from the same stock.

OK, history distraction over – back to the GA’s.

P.S. Waiting to see if David Brat does win the fall election if that might get him distinguished alumni recognition at the seminary. His name has already been added to the Notable Alumni section of the Wikipedia page.

2 thoughts on “A Brief Comment On Presbyterian History Regarding The Princetons

  1. Julie Hodges Post author

    Thank you for the mention and clarification as this news item has caused quite an uproar today. Always good to remember that originally the two schools were one. And for someone who went to PTS with Dave for two years, I am glad to know he has a good theological foundation underpinning him, as he enters the arena of politics. Lord knows he will need it! Julie Hodges, PTS ”89

  2. Steve Salyards Post author

    Thanks for the comment Julie. In particular, it is good to remember that a good theological education can serve people well in a number of fields besides the pastoral ministry.


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