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Benjamin Morgan Palmer (1818-1902) annoys me. His doctrine of salvation is so beautifully transparent to the doctrine of the Trinity that I just can't keep myself from quoting him. He really gets it: the way grace flows from God's eternal triune being. Exactly right.
Even when I don't quote Palmer verbatim, or footnote him, I've incorporated some of his way of putting things into my own formulations: grace is anchored in the triune relations, etc.
But wait: why would I avoid quoting, footnoting, or naming this author who is so good on this?
Because BM Palmer was an apologist for southern slavery. And not just a little: he was informed, active, & influential. He preached secession, he connected slavery to God's providential purpose for southern Christian civilization. All the way through; the whole catastrophe.
His public oratory in support of slavery was not a side issue for him; he was committed to the cause before, during, and after the Civil War. If I didn't know that background, it's possible that I could grab a few key pages from one of his books & just quote that.
But I do know. So as a policy, I don't draw attention to his theology. If I find him saying something great (in his book on prayer, for example), I look around to see if I can find somebody else who says it. Most of the time, I can. Not always --he's uniquely good at some things.
BMP's racist theology galls me, & I don't want to boost it. So even when I've learned something straight from him, I seek other sources to point to. In fact, digging for alternative sources sometimes pays off in discoveries like Benjamin Tucker Tanner:…
(Tanner doesn't hit the same doctrinal topics as Palmer --humans & thinkers aren't interchangeable like that-- but retrieving an African American theologian like Tanner is a small, scholarly step toward undoing some of the theological damage done by Palmer.)
I don't expect perfection or purity from authors or teachers. There are always a lot of judgement calls to make, plenty of overlooking of faults to do, some grading on the curve, and so on. But it's not a close call w/BMP. Google his pro-slavery greatest hits & you'll see.
I quoted BMP at his absolute best in Deep Things of God. In the study guide for the 2nd edition, I included little biographies of my sources. Some elements of his theology are vital. Biographically, though, BM Palmer is straight-up a cautionary tale:
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