E.R. Craven (1824-1908)
By Thomas D. Ice
Elijah Richardson Craven (1824-1908) was one of the many northern Presbyterian pastors who spearheaded a shift from postmillennialism to premillennialism among evangelicals between the Civil War and World War I.
Craven received his B.A. in 1842 at College of New Jersey (Princeton) and then finished Princeton Seminary in 1848, but not before studying law (1842-22). He served as a math tutor at the College of New Jersey (1847-49). He first pastured the Dutch Reformed church at Somerville, New Jersey (1850-54), before settling in as the longtime pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church in Newark (1854-87). He then served as secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Word (1887-1904), from which he retired as secretary emeritus.
He served in a number of important denomination positions during his ministry. He was chairman of the committee for the revision of the Book of Discipline of the Presbyterian Church (1879-82) and moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church North in 1885. Craven, as did almost all Presbyterian premillennialists of his era, worked hard to fight the rising tide of liberalism that eventually gained ascendancy in his denomination. He was old school in his theology, which likely contributed to his conversion to premillennialism.
He was a speaker at many of the prophecy conferences that were convened during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Craven delivered a spirited address at the famous 1878 prophetic conference in New York City, entitled “The Coming of the Lord in its Relations to Christian Doctrine.” His greatest work accomplished on behalf of premillennialism was as the American editor who enlarged Lange’s commentary on the book of Revelation. In this work, Dr. Craven supplied many helpful comments and excursuses that reflect a strong, uncompromising premillennialism.
“Excursus on the Basilea” is a helpful explanation on the futurity of the kingdom. Craven defends the view that while the messianic kingdom was near at Christ’s first coming, it did not actually arrive since Christ returned to heaven without establishing it on earth. Thus, it is future and will be set up at Christ’s premillennial advent.
Craven’s excursus is also well known for his employment of the term normal as he sought to describe and defend literal interpretation as opposed to the spiritual method often used to interpret prophetic literature.
Craven, along with James H. Brookes and Nathaniel West, were late-nineteenth-century premillennial leaders within the Presbyterian Church and evangelicalism at large. It is largely due to their work that premillennialism became synonymous with evangelicalism.