Thoughts on Ian Paisley

I’m thinking of doing some research on Ian Paisley for seminary. Just something I’m kicking around. Beyond just the plain old God-given temperament of boldness, his sort of apocalyptic world view + Reformed beliefs seem to be a wicked combo that made him really effective at bluntly combating the secularism of his own day. Not saying he didn’t have his flaws, of course he did. But he was not “nice” and I think that’s a virtue that is wanting today.

Happy to hear any thoughts, and if anyone can recommend any books you think are particularly good on Paisley, I’d be glad to read them.

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You have to distinguish Ian Paisley the Reformed preacher from Ian Paisley the politician, and remember that his heyday was in the context of a low-level civil war that in 25 years claimed over three thousand lives from all sides.

He was certainly a firebrand. Had he stuck to being a preacher, that would have been one thing, but for many years he took that attitude into the political world, which is where - in the context of a civil war where the political split between the warring parties was aggravated by it being a very tribal religious split as well - it really did not work. It needed a more irenic approach and he could not provide that. Eventually he toned down the rhetoric, and NI has been at some sort of peace since … however, the times have really moved on and the challenges for the Reformed witness in NI now are very different.

I’ll comment more when I have time.


I’ll admit to my ignorance and reveal that I’ve never heard of the guy. For anyone else in the same camp, I’ll spare you a search:

Two stories, one apocryphal, one quite true, which highlight the atmosphere which Ian Paisley ministered in.

  • There’s the story of an American who flew in to Northern Ireland and was asked what his religion was, “Catholic or Protestant?” He replied, a bit surprised, “I’m an atheist”. The Border Force officer then asked, “Well, are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic one, then?”

  • When I was newly arrived in Scotland, there was a young guy from Northern Ireland who explained his religious background to me in this way: “Well, my father was a catholic, and my mother was a Presbyterian, but they’re both Christians now”.

Seriously, religious affiliation in NI was and in some ways still is a very tribal affair. Paisley played to this, in his political activism, and not in my view to his credit; in 1973 he blocked a political settlement which might have worked, and which, ironically, was very close to what he finally agreed to in 1998.

In the last twenty years, though, both NI and the Republic of Ireland have rapidly secularised - the Prime Minister of the Republic is a half-Indian, lapsed Hindu, homosexual - and the Republic has recently abandoned its very strict laws against abortion. Catholicism is rapidly losing its grip, and not always for good.


I am part of a FB group called the “Evangelical Protestant Society”, most of whose membership are from NI. I posted your question, and they advised:

“Steve Bruce’s Paisley (Oxford University Press) is the most favourable, secular biography of the subject”.

And also, two other references:

Dennis Cooke’s Persecuting Zeal

Some of the people on that page knew Ian Paisley personally.


Ross, thanks so much! This is really helpful.

Hi Eric - the moderator of that particular FB site, Wallace, knew Dr Paisley personally; he has got in touch with me, and would be happy to talk to you more.

Does “fundamentalist” mean the same thing in NI in 2020 that it does in the USA in 2020? I have never met or heard of a”fundamentalist Presbyterian” in the USA.

In British usage, “fundamentalist” (small-f) is applied to anyone who is deemed to be letter-of-the-law or hardline. I have heard Pentecostals so described. I have heard Muslims so described as well. So it would seem applicable to Ian Paisley.

In terms of “Fundamentalist Presbyterians”, you would have to go back to Gresham Machen and the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s.


Hesitating to peep my head up here, but being older, I’ve spent much of my life knowing of Paisely, and not liking him at all. I have a pastor-friend who pastored his daughter, for starters, and so I know more than I wish about the elders of his church. But also, Paisely always associated with Bob Jones Sr., and Jones Sr. did and stood for a lot of very bad things for many years. Back in the sixties-seventies, Dad took him on in “Out of My Mind” for his racist policies at BJU. At the time, BJU was simply awful. It was a blot on the Name of Jesus Christ and they loved Paisely and Paisely loved them.

Now I know that, since then, BJU has changed. Some. Some friends went to BJU, but they have not changed or caused me to regret my decades of wishing for the silencing of both Paisely and Bob Jones Sr. And I don’t say this being ignorant of the politics and history of Northern Ireland, having studied Irish history back at UW(Madison) where I was a history major.

Pastors and priests should never ever ever ever run for office. Never. And I say this having been as vocal as anyone in opposing the R2K/2K men like Darryl Hart. Every single time a pastor becomes a civil magistrate, he betrays his calling and ordination, and for the seriousness of that betrayal, think the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of John Mark (and read Calvin on it).

I despise (word chosen carefully) modern SJWs and their perpetual race-baiting, but anyone who lived through the last fifty years, and up to to the present, knows racism is alive and well in the Church today, both in NI and the US and really everywhere, just as it was alive in Galatia and perpetuated by the Judaizers. And opposed by the Apostle Paul.

But if I had to choose between being opposed to Paisely for his xenophobia or for his lack of oversight and discipline of his elders and proper care for his daughter, I’d choose the second 10,000 out of 10,000 times. Love,


Thank you Pastor Tim -

I am thankful for your insights. I’ve no interest in hagiography. The best of men are men at best, etc.

One question, though: you wrote this:

The postmodern “SJW” culture is built atop the secular frameworks of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality; themselves built from cultural Marxist principles, which descended from Marxist thought.

The movement is characterized (among many things) by claims of “institutional” racism based upon subjective criteria like “our stories.” It does not rely on objective or fact-based evidence. This leads people in that movement to stratify their own felt experiences, treating others as simplified classes rather than individuals. As part of this, words like “racism” are twisted and redefined, so that it no longer connotes “the belief that a particular color of human is inherently superior to another” but “any inequity of outcome along visible racial lines.”

So it’s in that light that I ask you: what do you mean that “racism is alive and well in the Church today, both in NI and the US and really everywhere”? Where is the evidence for such a sweeping claim? Is the racism institutional? If so, what are the policies in some US church groups that are racist? Is the racism individual? If so, how are you able to make that judgment?

(I press the point because it is really becoming a thing for those on the Left to say a fact-based critique of claims of racism is itself the product of a Western form of logic created by White Men to preserve their own power.)

Sorry, Eric, but I’m not talking philosophy and political theory. I’m talking group selfishness and pride based upon ethnicity and race which bears the natural fruit of treating others in ungodly ways. Not loving them, but hating them. Not as individuals, but as a group. Men who have served in the ministry all know what racism is, starting with our own dark hearts. We recognize it all over Scripture. If you prefer, call it hatred of groups of others based upon their race/skin color/nationality/ethnicity. We might even speak about hatred of others based upon their despised trade, lack of education, religion, etc. We don’t need discussions of intersectionality or Marxism to recognize it in ourselves and repent. Selfishness and hatred of categories of men because of categorical traits is a particular kind of neighbor-hatred we must particularly learn to recognize and particularly repent of. Because people abuse this repentance does not absolve this repentance of its proper use. Love,

This is still somewhat vague. I think a post series on how specifically the things you talk about manifest (in Church policy and individually), and how you believe we can recognize them would be very helpful here. It might help to draw a distinction between a godly way to recognize real actual sins, and the world’s approach of broad-brush accusations.

Everyone has besetting sins. I have a laundry list. However, I was raised in a multi-cultural, international, multi-racial environment. From my earliest years I remember my family hosting international students (we lived 5 minutes from UCONN); Muslims, Hindus, atheists. It is very deeply driven into me that there is one race; the human race. Our church spanned the socio-economic strata. I seem to remember a variety of colors, though souls are souls (Gal 3:28) and it was never a big thing one way or another.

This is the background I came from and it’s part of why I think more precision is needed when we level accusations about the state of Christ’s Church across a nation as big and diverse as the US.

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Yes, a very important point. One way to see the difference is to observe that the world never repents. Ever. So if a pastor/teacher/Christian has the same agenda as the world, they’re simply worldly. Trouble is, most believers think Christians mimicking the world’s moral condemnations is good. Love,