Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Jill K. Gill, Ph.D.


Barton H. Barbour, Ph.D.


Shelton Woods, Ph.D.


From 1922 to 1936, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America suffered an extended period of conflict and finally schism. This Presbyterian controversy was part of the broader fundamentalist-modernist conflict seizing American evangelical Protestantism in this era. By the early 1930s the fundamentalists, led by Westminster Theological Seminary’s New Testament professor J. Gresham Machen, began to adopt controversial methods for combating modernism. The most notable of these was the formation of an extra-ecclesiastical, conservative foreign missions board, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM). Refusing to cede his ground, Machen stood trial in the church’s court and was defrocked in 1936 when he refused to repent and be readmitted to the ministry. His actions alienated not only liberals, but even some fellow fundamentalists. Histories of the fundamentalist-modernist conflict and the Presbyterian controversy, and biographies of Machen generally take positions that echo the views of the opposing parties in the Presbyterian controversy. This thesis examines the controversy on a different level, employing historian George Marsden’s “insider-outsider” paradigm as a way to understand why the formation of the IBPFM and the Machen trial were such divisive events, even among conservatives. The argument is that Machen was not simply a cantankerous, fundamentalist but a Presbyterian who felt strongly committed to his denomination while also alienated from it because of its acceptance of modern trends.