Speer, Robert Elliott

( 1867-1947 )
   Presbyterian leader and missionary statesman
   Robert Elliott Speer was born on September 10, 1867, in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, into a devout Presbyterian family. He entered the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1885. As a college student influenced by evangelist Dwight L. Moody, he committed his life to foreign missions. He entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1890 but left after a year to work for the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, where he made his mark during an 1896 world tour. From his involvement with the Student Volunteer Movement, Speer became an early advocate of ecumenism, feeling that theological disputes distracted from the church's mission and its role in solving problems between governments.
   Speer helped organize the 1920 missionary conference in Edinburgh. The same year he began a four-year term as president of the Federal Council of Churches (in the United States) and in 1927 was moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He took a distinctive position during the
   Fundamentalist-Modernist struggle of the 1920s, opposing both sides on the grounds that the debate was distracting from the missionary cause.
   Viewed as a Modernist, Speer became the target of Fundamentalist criticism. In 1929, he rebuffed J. Gresham Machen's attempts to have the Board of Foreign Missions bar missionaries who did not meet Fundamentalist standards for orthodoxy. In 1933, Machen again charged the board with tolerating Modernists, and when the Presbyterian Church's assembly backed the board, Machen founded the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions. By 1936, he was suspended from the ministry and left to form an independent body, the orthodox Presbyterian Church. Speer's defense of the traditional work of evangelism as the core of the missionary endeavor, which brought him into conflict with the Fundamentalists, also led him to criticize the famous Rethinking Missions by William E. Hocking, who advocated a significant transfer of missionary energy into social service.
   After nearly half a century with the mission board, Speer retired in 1937. He would be remembered not only for his leadership of Presbyterianism in American during a time of change, but also for his early advocacy of racial justice and the rights of women within the church. Speer authored more than 60 books covering not only missions but international relations and christology.
   Further reading:
   ■ John F Piper, Jr., Robert E. Speer: Prophet of the American Church (Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 2000)
   ■ Robert E. Speer, The Finality of Jesus Christ (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1933)
   ■ ----, Foreign Missions and Christian Unity (New York: Laymen's Missionary Movement, 2001)
   ■ ----, Of One Blood, A Short Study of the Race Problem. (New York: Council of Women for Home Missions and Missionary Education Movement of the United States and Canada, 1924)
   ■ W. Reginald Wheeler, A Man Sent from God: A Biography of Robert E. Speer (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1956).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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