Ben Nasmith has posted a wee ‘response’ to my book Hallowed Be Thy Name. I’m grateful to Ben for engaging with my work.
The Theodicy of Peter Taylor Forsyth: A “Crucial” Justification of the Ways of God to Man, by Theng Huat Leow. (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011), xviii + 268pp. ISBN: 9781608994359.
‘To justify God is the best and deepest way to fortify men. It provides the moral resource and stay which is the one thing at last. With open face to see the glory of God in things as they are, to blink nothing of the terror and yet to be sure of the Kingdom of God with all our heart – that is more for the courage of man than any nationalism or any patriotism when heart fails and grief benumbs’. So wrote one of the most able theological minds that Britain produced during the nineteenth century – P. T. Forsyth, in his extraordinarily astute book The Justification of God: Lectures for War-Time on a Christian Theodicy. What is, perhaps, most remarkable about such a claim is that it was published, as the subtitle indicates, at the height of the Great War, the event in which God, according to Forsyth, entered the pulpit and which brought to the surface again the ‘old dilemma’. But contra the Stoics and Gottfried Leibnitz and Joseph de Maistre, it was Forsyth’s claim that the solution of the great world juncture is at last a provision from God which both taxes all the resources that faith has, and settles faith in a certainty grounded in but finally from outwith history and its moral order – in the world’s moral crisis, in tragedy, in the great divine commedia, in Christ and his cross.
In this well-researched, and clearly-written exposition of Forsyth’s ‘Theodicy’, Theng Huat Leow (Lecturer in Theology at Trinity Theological College, Singapore) provides an able and constructive introduction to Forsyth’s theological oeuvre via a consideration of a subject of central concern to the Scottish Congregationalist theologian – God’s self justification in the face of evil. And because of Forsyth’s open-textured approach to theology, an approach that refuses the kind of tidiness for which most theology strives, a study like this occasions opportunity to engage with Forsyth’s thinking on a range of subjects, a prospect appropriately exploited by the author. Hence, Leow introduces Forsyth’s thinking on the relationship between evil, sin, and suffering, his appropriation of Martin Luther’s theologia crucis, his understanding of divine election, his conviction that, no matter how ‘devious’ and ‘dreadful’ the way, creation would willingly ‘go through it again at the Father’s will’ for ‘the last things shall crown the first things, and … the end will justify the means’, his ‘Christian universalism’, his constructive and cautious engagement with evolutionary theory, and the important distinction Forsyth makes between God’s primary and secondary acts of judgement, his commitment to divine passibility and to sailing along the rocks of ‘true patripassianism’, his view on the origin of evil, among other subjects. Leow notes Forsyth’s conviction that the problems of evil are ‘essentially insoluble from an intellectual or theoretical perspective’, and considers Forsyth’s approach to theodicy along ‘practical’ and ‘historic’ lines. What this means, as Leow makes plain, is that Forsyth resolves ‘to treat the existence of evil in our world as a given reality, and [to] direct his focus on God’s practical overcoming of it through his act on the Cross’ (p. 180), a move which gives to Forsyth’s theodicy ‘unity, cohesion and groundedness in the historical reality of this world’ and so renders, in Leow’s assessment, Forsyth’s justification of God to be one which ‘far surpasses’ (p. 235) corresponding attempts penned in Forsyth’s day.
Avoiding hagiography, and with judicious editorial judgement, Leow brings Forsyth’s thought into conversation not only with those with whom Forsyth himself was most interested to engage – e.g., G. W. F. Hegel, Wilhelm Windelband, Albert Schweitzer, R. J. Campbell, etc. – but also with more contemporary voices known for their engagement with the subject at hand, such as Albert Camus, Marilyn McCord Adams, David Bentley Hart, Paul Fiddes, Dorothee Sölle, J. K. Mozley, Jürgen Moltmann, and others.
Greatly to be welcomed is Leow’s taking seriously the much-too neglected and ‘subjective aspects’ of the atonement, highlighting, most obviously, the role that prayer – and especially protest prayer – plays in Forsyth’s thought: that it may be God’s will for us to resist God’s will; that to struggle with God is one way of doing God’s will, one way of saying, ‘Thy will be done’; that, as Forsyth would insist in his profound essay The Soul of Prayer, the divine will is ‘to be resisted as much as indulged’.
But a quibble and a most unfortunate miscalculation ought also be noted. Regarding the quibble, curious is Leow’s heavy reliance throughout the book on Richard Bauckham’s reading of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a near-essential reference, it seems, in any essay on the subject of theodicy. Why then, did he not engage with Dostoyevsky’s characters directly rather than have them mediated through Bauckham’s interpretation?
If my memory serves me correctly, Forsyth’s Justification was my entrée into Forsyth’s corpus. I was a theological abecedarian, it was not an easy read, and I had no Beatrice to guide me. Dr Leow’s book is a Beatrice: but this Beatrice brings along a partner who too often distracts and detracts from the conversation, rather than enhances it, steering it away from its substantial themes and terms and, in so doing, rearranges the parameters of discussion in ways that leave Forsyth, at times, misheard and misrepresented, and with his thought systematised in ways that castrate some of its spirit. This, in my view, is the most substantive setback with Leow’s study. The most apparent candidate for this less-welcome friend is John Hick and his Evil and the Love of God. This is evident in Leow’s frequent – and very odd – description of Forsyth’s theodicy as ‘Irenaean’ (see pp. 188, 195–96, 209, 223, 227–30, passim), and, not unrelatedly, in his suggesting a view of sin that is considerably tamer than is Forsyth’s own. The Aberdonian insisted, in the strongest possible terms, that there could be no Hegelian integration of God’s antithesis into God’s final purposes for the world – ‘Die sin must or God’! To be sure, Leow is aware that for Forsyth there can be no possible compromise at this point (see, for e.g., pp. 17, 237), but, because of the distractions generated by Beatrice’s friend, the implications of that principal conviction struggle to arrive at their proper end.
However, those desiring to engage the questions that give rise to theodicies generally, or those wishing to better understand one of that project’s most daring and able theological minds, ought not allow these criticisms to dissuade them from taking up this composed and valuable study.
In due course, a version of this review will appear in Colloquium.
The most recent edition of the journal Horizons (42.1, June 2015) includes a review (pdf), by Kevin P. Considine (Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Calumet College of St. Joseph, Indiana), of my book Hallowed be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth.
The book is now available in paperback at a friendlier price too.
The publishers have informed me that the Kindle edition for my edited volume Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P. T. Forsyth is now available from Amazon in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, India, Japan, Italy, and Mexico.
Donald McKim (Academic and Reference Editor for Westminster John Knox Press) has penned a short review (pdf) my book, Hallowed be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth for Religious Studies Review.
I am grateful to Professor McKim for his kind review, and for his assessment of Forsyth as ‘undervalued’.
Until recently, my major study on P. T. Forsyth – Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth – has only been available in hardback (which is usually my preferred format for non-fiction titles but can be, and in this case is, reasonably pricey) and in e-book format (convenient but not, in my view, the nicest way to read theological tomes).
I was happy to learn of late that the publishers have followed a habit with the T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology series and have now made Hallowed Be Thy Name available in paperback (at a more reader-friendly price too). Those interested can pick up a copy here.
By the way, if you do happen to head over to the Bloomsbury site, some readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem may also be interested to note the appearance of a forthcoming title, The Spirit and the Letter, edited by Paul Fiddes and Günter Badder. It looks great.
Jason A. Goroncy, Hallowed By Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2013). ISBN: 9780567066824; xvi + 291pp.
‘My debt of gratitude to you is not nominal, but a real thing’, the nineteenth-century Congregationalist preacher James Baldwin Brown wrote to Thomas Carlyle, recalling how the experience of reading the latter’s 1836 novel Sartor Resartus had led him to abandon his legal studies for the pulpit. ‘To the course of study and thought to which the meditations of that period have led me, I owe it that I am not a member of a purely worldly profession for which I was then educating’, Brown confessed, ‘but a preacher of the living Word, into the proclamation of which I can at any rate throw as much earnestness and life as I have in myself’. By all accounts, Brown – ‘the greatest Independent of our times’, Peter Taylor Forsyth would later declare – had a great deal of earnestness and life in him, making him a highly attractive figure to a young man whose own reputation for ‘ethical passion, spiritual insight, intellectual grasp, and personal piety’ (to quote from Forsyth’s eulogy of his former pastor) would by the end of the century eclipse his own.
Having graduated with first-class honours in Classical Literature at the University of Aberdeen, where he was known for his proclivity to grandiloquence as much as for his remarkable intellectual capability (and where also he came under the influence of the Professor of Logic, and founder of the philosophy journal Mind, Alexander Bain), Forsyth had taken up William Robertson Smith’s suggestion that he should spend a semester in Göttingen listening to Albrecht Ritschl, then at the height of his influence. As Jason Goroncy shows in his marvellous study of Forsyth’s treatment of sanctification, he would never discard the most important lesson he had learnt from that theologian, namely, that ‘Positive Christianity… is Christianity which recognizes the primacy of the moral in the shape of life, and of holy life’. Neither would he shake off his teacher’s deep suspicion of metaphysical speculation, which following Kant, both Ritschl and Forsyth treated as not only beyond our ken but as ultimately destructive of moral seriousness. A ‘metaphysic of things’, Forsyth would claim in an article published in 1914, is ‘merely shells of ruined towers that let heaven be seen through their cracks rather than their windows’. ‘God has given men feet not wings, and the order is fight not flight’, he would exclaim in a sermon on Psalm 55.6 and Jeremiah 9.2. ‘We reach heaven step by step, fighting all the way. What we need most of all for this life is the courage of the prosaic’. There was little, however, that was prosaic about Forsyth’s prose, which contemporaries described as volcanic. One declared him the ‘Ibsen of British theology’, and he would later be called, no less felicitously, theology’s Browning. ‘What a mental energy he had!’, a friend and disciple would write to Forsyth’s daughter after his death. ‘There was something demonic in it’, which helped to explain the difficulty of a style which, like Brown’s, bore indelibly the marks of ‘the man himself and his passion’.
It is no disparagement of Forsyth’s theological genius to note the extent to which his moral imagination was shaped by a nineteenth-century romantic tradition that can be traced back through Kant to Rousseau. Yet it is not the least virtue of Goroncy’s study that while he shows Forsyth drawing upon the neo-Kantianism of Ritschl and Wilhelm Windelbrand, the literature of Carlyle and Lord Tennyson, the music of Wagner, the Maurician tendencies of Brown, he also attends to the influence of quite different traditions. Forsyth’s intellectual debts are difficult to identify because he hardly ever identifies them himself, but Goroncy is surely right to suggest that the sixteenth-century reformer John Calvin, the seventeenth-century puritan Thomas Goodwin, and the late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century biblical scholar Adolf Schlatter all figure prominently in the background to his thought. Perhaps the greatest influence of all on Forsyth’s moral and theological vision was scripture itself, which he studied assiduously and with the aid of the resources of higher criticism. A third of his considerable library was in German, and much of this consisted of commentaries on scripture. As with Windelbrand and Calvin, Ritschl and Goodwin, Forsyth keeps his debts to biblical scholarship close to his chest, but the depth of his engagement with scripture can be seen indirectly – for example, in his claim that no one should talk about theology in public until they had mastered the New Testament. This was a tall order, but one that Forsyth had evidently met himself, since he often talked about theology in public, not least in the sad controversy with R. J. Campbell, during which he had to point out how theologically out of his depth Campbell was. Forsyth was also an extraordinarily good preacher who spoke to people who knew what extraordinarily good preaching looked like and so had very high expectations. Some of those best qualified to judge such matters claimed, after hearing him, that he had exceeded their expectations. Some still recalled the power of a particular sermon decades after the fact. In all of the sermons he gave he was meditating upon scripture, and he would have spent hours consulting his German commentaries in preparation.
Although Forsyth remained committed to the conviction that ‘the moral is the real’, he would come to reject Ritschl’s gospel as ‘unevangelical’. In so doing he was rejecting the liberal Protestantism which was becoming increasingly attractive to late nineteenth-century Congregationalists partly because it promised to assuage Victorian anxieties about holiness. ‘Tired of moral precepts and attitudes which represented Christianity as “just human nature at its best”, and God’s kingdom as “just our natural spirituality and altruism developed”’, Forsyth, writes Goroncy, accused ‘his generation of succumbing to cheap comforts, or muffling the moral note, of seeking a form of idealized Christianity divorced from a historic and perennial Christ and of interpreting sin “in a softer light than God’s”’. The accusations could themselves sound like a form of Victorian moralism but for the fact that they were based upon its inversion. The Victorians conceived of holiness as a human quality, and one to be construed in negative terms. For Forsyth, this negative idea of holiness, ‘cloistered and feeble’, was not something that had come from Christ. Neither was holiness, in the first instance, a property of human beings. Holiness was, he claims in The Cruciality of the Cross (1909), ‘God’s very essence and nature: changeless and inexorable’. Of course, this insight was not, according to Forsyth, one purchased by speculative thought, but was instead disclosed in ‘the central act and achievement of God and of history in the Cross of Christ’, which he calls the ‘continuous evangelical centre’. It is at that centre that sin is revealed for what it really is – not simply a transgression of an abstract law which God might in his mercy overlook, or even forgive at no cost to himself, but rather a protest against the absolute holiness of God, and so an assault upon and threat to God’s being. In the light of the cross, there can be no question of God letting sinners off the hook, as it were, because what is at stake is not a principle that God can set aside, but God himself. ‘The holy God must go out in judgment against all that mocks and flaunts holiness because God’s Godhead is at stake’, Goroncy writes, ‘and because God is committed to hallowing all things’. That God’s being is in question here is not unrelated to the divine commitment to hallow all things: in effect, these are two sides of the same coin. The very nature of God is holy love, and when God creates the world he calls into being creatures who are sustained by – and who must answer to – God’s own ‘hungering holiness’. It is this holiness that ‘constitutes and directs all being, binding a coherent universe in such a way as all remigrates to its source in God’. When human beings refuse this creative holiness, it is not some kind of abstract moral order conceived independently of God that is put at risk, but the one who is committed by virtue of his very being to hallowing all things. To pray ‘hallowed by thy name’ is to recognise that what sin places at stake is God’s being itself.
It was Hegel who had claimed in his Philosophy of Religion that ‘God cannot find satisfaction through anything other than Himself, but only through Himself’, although this was an insight that already had a long history within the Christian tradition by the time that Hegel came to it. Anselm of Canterbury, for instance, had insisted that the debt incurred by sin could only be satisfied by God himself. But while Forsyth drew upon Anselm’s account of the atonement in Cur Deus Homo, he is sceptical of what Paul Fiddes calls the eleventh-century archbishop’s ‘excessive objectivity’, preferring more ethical and personal categories to Anselmic jurisprudence. Certainly, Forsyth moves far beyond Anselm when he speaks, as he does in The Pulpit and the Age (1885), of ‘[t]he living God’ as ‘the dying God’ and of ‘the Eternal principle of Eternal life’ as ‘always and only possible even to God by Eternal Death’. As Goroncy points out, the debt to Hegel is clearly evident when Forsyth contends that in the death of Christ, God makes death part of his own eternal life, and so (to quote Hegel) ‘comes to Himself’. While it might seem as if such talk of divine ‘self-realisation’, of God finding or coming to himself, which is intrinsic to Forsyth’s reading of the cross as divine theodicy, risks reducing the atonement to an exercise in divine solipsism, one of the great strengths of Forsyth’s account of God’s ‘hungering holiness’ is that it effectively rules out such suggestions. God’s regard for the holiness of his name – for, that is, the integrity of his very being – is a regard also and at the same time for human beings. If the atonement is divine self-reconciliation, its work is not done, Goroncy notes, ‘until there is created a “reciprocal communion” between humanity and God’.
‘The great theologies are epics’, Forsyth would write in The Person and Place of Jesus Christ (1909). This seems as good a description of Forsyth’s own theology as any. It is usual for scholars to comment upon the unsystematic quality of his work. Nothing could be more wrong-headed. Forsyth’s writing is certainly occasional, each essay, sermon, lecture, and book called forth by some specific need. But his moral and theological – and by now it should be clear why the distinction should not be pressed too hard – vision is highly coherent. Like Calvin, Forsyth gives us ‘a gospel deep enough’ with ‘all the breadth of the world in its heart’, as must any theologian who knows what they are about. Unlike Calvin, Forsyth’s theology demands that he takes the word ‘breadth’ with a kind of ultimate – one might even say metaphysical – seriousness. In his final chapter, Goroncy shows that everything, or everything that matters, about Forsyth’s doctrine of sanctification necessitates a commitment to universalism. The cross is where ‘all things are (so to say) tied up’, Forsyth writes in his great theodicy, The Justification of God (1916). ‘All history, through his great act at its moral centre, is, in God, resolved into the harmonies of a foregone and final conquest’, he affirms in The Cruciality of the Cross. Admittedly, such claims do not themselves entail a full-blown universalism, but in their light it seems a bit churlish not to go all the way. At any rate, Forsyth holds to a ‘hopeful’ rather than ‘dogmatic’ universalism, which is certainly a respectable theological position. But Goroncy persistently pushes Forsyth on this point, and his persistence pays off. As he shows, Forsyth cannot take refuge, as others have, in the doctrine of divine freedom because for him God’s freedom is ‘already bound up in his determination to hallow all things’. And since what is at stake in this hallowing is the very being of God, the price of one everlastingly unrepentant sinner is not the existence of hell, nor even the defeat of the purposes of God, but the collapse of divine being itself. There is simply no possibility of the coexistence of divine holiness and its antithesis. While Forsyth makes this point repeatedly, he does not follow his own logic, which Goroncy shows, ‘demands either universalism or annihilationism’, to its end. As Goroncy also points out, there are serious difficulties with the idea that God might, after a suitable term of punishment, annihilate creatures that he had brought into being. Forsyth really has only one option available to him. And yet he hedges.
It is interesting to speculate – and here this is all that can be done for lack of evidence – as to why Forsyth tacitly refuses to draw the necessary consequences of his theology. The author of This Life and the Next (1918) was hardly unconcerned with the last things, so that cannot be the reason. In all likelihood, as Goroncy suggests, ecclesial and theological politics played a factor in Forsyth’s public agnosticism, which may have seemed to the principal of a congregational college and leader within the congregational community to be the most prudent course. There may have been another reason, which Goroncy does not mention. It is possible that in hedging on the question of dogmatic universalism Forsyth was, perhaps even unconsciously, questioning the Hegelian assumptions that made that universalism a necessary consequence of his theology. There is a lot of Hegeling in Forsyth’s work. Perhaps in the end he wanted to say something different.
And perhaps in the end he did. Forsyth was often tempted to ‘flirt with the mythological’, as one of the most astute of his twentieth-century admirers once remarked. This is true not least when he talks of the ‘dying God’ or construes sin as the antithesis of, and a threat to, the divine being itself. The Augustinian conception of sin as privation, along with the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo on which it depends, is an attempt to rule out something like Forsyth’s account of sin (and with it, any notion that God’s being might be subject to threat). Forsyth was nervous about the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, because it seemed to him not to be ethical enough – a criticism which suggests that he was reacting against the rationalist orthodoxies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries rather than Augustine or Thomas. Curiously, while he rejected the metaphysics of what he calls ‘Chalcedonianism’, and for all his Kantian objections to speculative thought, what Forsyth offers is nothing if not a profound essay in the metaphysics of divine being. Goroncy, perhaps Forsyth’s finest interpreter, captures the heights and depths of this metaphysical vision in Hallowed Be Thy Name, revealing the richness and coherence (questions about universalism aside) of Forsyth’s thought, because he knows that the metaphysics are always in the end an attempt to wrestle with the ‘evangelical centre’. But the attempt was perhaps not entirely successful. In his memorial speech for Brown, Forsyth described his early mentor as ‘more a Paul than a John’. We might wonder whether the implied distinction between the historical and the metaphysical served Forsyth all that well. As Goroncy remarks, those who object to metaphysics, tend to end up doing it badly. Had Forsyth been less eager to denounce metaphysical speculation, he may have been more critical of the highly speculative tendencies of his own thinking. Yet whatever criticisms one might want to make of Forsyth – whether of his eschatological reserve or of some of his more fundamental concerns – it is worth remembering that he was, perhaps first and foremost, a reader of scripture. When, as Europe had descended into the terrible nightmare of the Great War, Forsyth insisted that ‘[w]e have no final weal but our share in that worship and glory of the Father by the Son’, he was drawing not upon Hegel or Kant, but the New Testament. So too, when he contended that the invocation ‘hallowed be Thy name’ was one that stood over all Christian prayer and work. In his wonderful and authoritative study of Forsyth, Goroncy shows how breathtakingly audacious his metaphysical theology is in both form and scope. But perhaps in order to gain the measure of the man, we also need a comprehensive study of his engagement with the bible. One might begin with Goroncy’s recent publication of Forsyth’s sermons, Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P. T. Forsyth (Pickwick, 2013).
University of Otago, Research Assistant
[A less satisfying version of this review was also published in Candour]
Jason A. Goroncy, ed. Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P. T. Forsyth (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013). ISBN: 978-1-60899-070-2. 396pp.
A guest review by Kim Fabricius
Somehow, I’m ashamed to say, P. T. Forsyth flew under my radar during the three years (1979–1982) I studied at Mansfield College, Oxford. I vaguely remember hearing about this former College Pastor and ‘Barthian before Barth’ – an epithet as complimentary to Barth as it is to Forsyth – but as I’d already been nurtured in the faith by Uncle Karl, why bother with a distant relative? Then, shortly after my ordination, a retired Old Testament professor who was downsizing his library offered me some of his books. Among them was Forsyth’s The Person and Place of Jesus Christ (1909). It was seriously impressive. Forsyth’s relentless Christocentrism, theologia crucis, and kenotic soteriology were an inspiration and encouragement to my own early theological formation. Over thirty years later – far too long – it’s been a pleasure to renew my acquaintance with the great Congregationalist scholar-pastor through this generous collection of sermons and addresses. A thousand thanks to Jason Goroncy for arranging the meet, and for his superb introduction, which not only reminded me of what I’ve been missing but also, with both affection and erudition, wondrously surveys it.
Every preacher should buy this book. It won’t tell you anything about sermons – for as Forsyth insists, ‘your duty as preachers is not to preach sermons, but to preach the Gospel’ – but it will indeed draw you more deeply into the Gospel you are called to proclaim. If, that is, you pay attention and persevere. These sermons are not an easy read (though they were surely an even harder hear!). They begin with no winsome appeal, they proceed with thick thought and lengthy exploration, they range with polymathic breadth, but they have a passion and energy that sweep you along like a river in flood, and they repeatedly stun you with powerful and memorable phrases. And while the sermons are based on texts, they proceed less by exegesis and more by focussing on the res, the heart of the matter.
My marginal notes on the sermon ‘Mercy and the True and Only Justice’ and ‘The Bible Doctrine of Hell and the Unseen’ read, respectively, ‘Wow!’ and ‘Wow x 2!’. Refusing a competitive understanding of the divine love and justice (God’s love is holy love and God’s justice is his ‘love in action’); denying the endlessness of the wrath of God (‘you offer men a devil to worship’) as well as the ‘miserable doctrine of annihilation’; dismissing the ‘whole immoral’ theory of (penal) substitution and – the hermeneutical key – declaring that ‘if Christ’s cross means anything, it means the destruction of evil everywhere and for ever’: here Forsyth gestures towards (without arriving at) a doctrine of universal salvation. He also anticipates and funds, by well over a century, the so-called new evangelical universalism.
These two sermons are, for me, the diamonds in the pack, but there are many gems. ‘The Pulpit and the Age’ should be required reading for ministers thinking of answering – and for churches thinking of issuing – a ‘call’. At a time when congregations have the attention span of a mayfly and the PowerPoint image threatens to turn the spoken word into a sound bite, one hears with an ‘Ouch!’ Forsyth’s deadpan declaration: ‘I believe myself that short sermons are mostly themselves too long.’
‘Dumb Creatures and Christmas: A Little Sermon to Little Folk’ is a delightful ecological plea for recognising that Christmas is not only ‘All Children’s Day’, it is also – because in becoming creaturely flesh, the Word hallows all animate creation – ‘All Creatures’ Day’.
One more favourite: ‘The Problem of Forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer’. Here Forsyth exhibits a truly evangelical understanding of forgiveness and repentance. Not only are we reminded that God forgives us before we repent, that God’s forgiveness provides both the power to repent and the motive – thanksgiving – for forgiving, we are also astounded to learn that ‘The love of God forgave sin before we sinned, and slew the Lamb before the world was.’ Because the heart of God is cruciform, it is also omnibenevolent.
Nobody, however, is perfect. In the midst of First Wave Feminism, Forsyth can be disconcertingly patriarchal. His take on colonialism is rather blithely Kiplingesque. He addresses the moral but not the material conditions of society; he was interested in socialism, but too suspicious of it to endorse a Social Gospel. It is not good enough just to say that Forsyth was ‘a man of his times’, but notwithstanding these deficits, his theology is lucratively in the Bible-black.
Finally: it is a largely unexamined cliché that you can’t judge a book by its cover: often, I think, you can. Certainly the thoughtful aesthetic of the cover of Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History is marvellously expressive of the formidable intelligence and fine sensibility of the person whose sermons it adorns and announces. There is a photograph of Forsyth – terrific moustache! – leaning his head on his arm. The pose is conventional, but so capacious is the man’s brain that one wonders whether the head is resting on the arm, or the arm is propping up the head. And beneath the photograph – the image of a painting: a trellis of colourful crosses, a perspicuous small white cross, and a lovely blue flower with a yellow pistil. On the back cover, in fine print, we learn that the artist is Sinead Goroncy.
A recent edition of Theology Today (70.4, January 2014) includes Rick Floyd’s review of my book Hallowed be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth (T&T Clark, 2013). Therein, he writes:
Dr. Goroncy is a felicitous writer. He knows his Forsyth, and he also knows the late Victorian world in which Forsyth lived and worked. He leads us ably through the material and brings us to his conclusion, which is that the trajectory of Forsyth’s thinking should have led him to dogmatic universalism, but did not. This is the most controversial (and most interesting) part of the book. The subject of universal salvation has recently gained wide public attention sparked by the popular book Love Wins by Rob Bell (Harper One, 2011). Goroncy’s thoughtful, nuanced treatment of this timely subject adds depth to this conversation …
It is good to see a new generation of scholars take up this important theologian. And now that Forsyth’s writings, once hard to find and largely out of print, are widely available in print and electronically, I hope to see renewed interest by scholars and preachers of this great ‘‘preacher’s theologian.’’
Me too! Access to the remainder of the review is available here.
I am grateful to Rick for his kind words about my book, not least because he knows his Forsyth too! His own study on Forsyth’s thought, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement (Pickwick Publications, 2000) is a very clear reading of Forsyth’s testimony to God’s most unpopular work – the atonement. I warmly commend it.
- Ben Myers recounts a tragedy
- Orion Edgar reviews Rowan Williams’s recent Gifford Lectures
- Speaking of RW, there’s his recent review of Michon Matthiesen’s acclaimed Sacrifice as Gift: Eucharist, Grace, and Contemplative Prayer in Maurice de la Taille
- Straight-talking Jeanette Winterson offers her take on why art still matters
- Matthew Milliner shares some course evaluations for Sermon on the Mount
- Mike Crowl posts some classic PT Forsyth
- Wesley Hill reflects on the problem of gay friendship
- A radio discussion about Satan in the C21st
- An excerpt from Alan Jacobs’s introduction to For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio by W. H. Auden
- Also, AJ’s response to Jackson’s ruin of The Desolation of Smaug
- Roland Boer posts some Mao on death
- Stephen Smith on Mandela
- John Scott offers a taxonomy of American whiskeys
- Ode to Joy [HT: Jim Gordon]:
The latest issue of Reviews in Religion & Theology includes a review, by W. Travis McMaken, of my book Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth. I’m very grateful to Travis for penning this review and for the prod to again consider turning my attention to the challenge of writing an intellectual biography on this most creative of theologians in the tradition of British dissenters.
Those who don’t have access to the journal can read a copy of the review here.
The Rev. Dr. Naoya Kawakami is the Secretary General of Touhoku HELP, a highly commendable ministry birthed in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. Touhoku HELP produced a video for a presentation at the recent WCC General Assembly in Busan. With Korean narration and English subtitles, it illustrates not only the recent (note: some of the footage was filmed last August) situation in Fukushima but also something of the inspiring ministry that is emerging from the rubble.
Naoya and I maintain a steady and prayerful correspondence. In a recent exchange, he wrote of the overwhelming number – over a half of million! – who live with the effects of radiation. He also wrote of his own need, amidst the crushing wave of need around him, to ‘keep time to think and read’, and of the urgency for what he calls a ‘new theology for this “Post-Fukushima” world’.
He mentioned too about a recent meeting of Japanese and Korean theologians who conversed about the situation birthed by the Fukushima tragedy. Among the topics discussed was the possibility of post-mortem salvation for the many victims of the tsunami and of radiation poisoning. He said,
In the tradition of the major protestant churches, there is no way of salvation for the dead who have not believed in Jesus Christ as Lord during their living time. But many Japanese theologians who have read PT Forsyth have spoken out against this tradition since the triple disaster. Yesterday, we talked about this issue. I shared the logic of Forsyth for this issue from his book This Life and the Next.
Inspired by Forsyth’s lively challenge (via his Protestant reappraisal of the doctrine of purgatory) that God alone – and not death – determines the time when creation reaches its maturity, these theologians found themselves, in faith and together, straining to hear – but hearing indeed – the promise of the Lord of hope in a land crushed under the burden of fear and despair.
Please join me in praying for Naoya (he carries a great burden for the people who live in the Fukushima area, and for the gospel), and please consider supporting the work of Touhoku HELP.
[Naoya’s dissertation was on Japanese receptions of Forsyth’s theology, and the subject of post-mortem conversion receives attention in the final chapter of my own study, Hallowed be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All Things in the Soteriology of P.T. Forsyth. Naoya kindly described my latest offering on Forsyth, Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History, as a ‘big present for Fukushima’.]
The front cover of my most recent publication, Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P. T. Forsyth, includes a section of a painting (above) by my daughter Sinead. The decision to use her painting – a decision which, to be sure, required some grovelling for permission – was not, I hope, motivated by cutesiness but rather by a profound sense of the work’s fittingness to the book’s themes. The painting, which is used upside down, is called ‘Crosses’.
Now that Sinead and I have both finally seen the book in real life, I wanted to ask her again about the painting, about what it ‘means’ (her word), and about how it relates to the material in daddy’s book. So while on the way to school this morning, I conducted a brief ‘interview’ with Sinead. As part of that conversation, Sinead offered the following statement:
God dies in the world, and the God who dies in the world is the same God who dies in heaven. And yet somehow these two deaths, which are really the same, are related. In the end, it’s all really a mystery – but in the mystery the church is created and the world is saved. And that’s what my painting is about.
[Copies of the book are available here or via here or by contacting me directly. If you are interested in reviewing the volume, then please contact James Stock at Wipf and Stock. And if you are interested in a copy signed by Sinead, then it’ll probably cost ya some serious dosh, or a packet of mints!]
Andy Goodliff was kind enough to draw my attention to Graham Watts‘ gracious review of my book Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth. The review appears in the latest edition of Regent’s Reviews (pp. 14–15).
After a very long gestation period, I’m truly delighted to finally announce the birth of Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P. T. Forsyth. As I mentioned in a previous post, it has been a pregnancy marked by great joy and hope, and, I might add, by very few bouts of morning sickness.
The book includes a marvelous foreword by Professor David Fergusson, a lengthy (and, I hope, helpful) introduction to Forsyth’s preaching ministry written by myself, and, from Forsyth’s pen, forty-eight sermons, over half of which are previously unpublished. It seeks to introduce Forsyth, his thought, his ministry, and the Word he served, to a new generation of readers, to provide those already familiar with his writings some new material to digest, and to encourage preachers – and those who hear the Word of the Lord through them, or in spite of them – to not abandon the ‘earth’s foremost part’ (as Herman Melville described the pulpit), especially at a time when the storms are so inexorable and the spoils of exile are so scrumptious.
It will, of course, be up to others to judge, but I think that the book would make a judicious gift for any minister, theology student, historian, or general reader. You can order copies here or via here or by contacting me directly.
If you are interested in reviewing the volume, then please contact Amanda Vanderhoof at Wipf and Stock.
Mother and baby are feeling great, and the siblings proud.
I’m delighted to inform readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem that it is looking increasingly likely that my forthcoming book Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth will be available sometime around October (and so in good time for Christmas). The project has taken considerably longer – and considerably more energy – than I had imagined when I first embarked on it many moons ago. That said, it has been a project marked by great joy, and with hope that the final product may be a blessing to all who take up and read and, beyond such persons, to others.
The folk at Wipf and Stock, and especially Charlie Collier, Matthew Wimer (the typesetter) and Amelia Reising (the cover designer), have again been great to work with.
A number of folk have written to ask me where things are at with my forthcoming book, Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth. I’m pleased to report that things are progressing well. The proofs are looking great, and the cover designer is just working on producing something agreeable. In the meantime, the book has received the following kind endorsements:
‘Far from being a collection of cozy meditations, here are challenging, biblically rooted, theologically powerful, pastorally concerned essays and sermon notes by Britain’s most stimulating theologian of the twentieth century. Church members will be energized; preachers will be prompted towards relevant exposition. This book is the product of much persistent burrowing by Jason Goroncy, whose substantial introduction is an exemplary piece of scholarship in its own right. We are greatly indebted to him’. – Professor Alan P. F. Sell, University of Wales Trinity Saint David
‘Few modern theologians have displayed the combination of intellectual energy, rhetorical power, and pastoral commitment of P. T. Forsyth. In this valuable collection of Forsyth’s sermons, many of them hitherto unpublished, we encounter a conviction too often absent in church and academy alike – that theology and preaching belong vitally together. In these striking examples of that vision, contemporary readers will find much to learn, challenge, and inspire’. – Ivor J. Davidson, University of St Andrews
‘Now what day should we have for All Creatures’ Day? You will not find that in the almanack either. But what better day could we have than this selfsame Christmas Day? For was Jesus born among other children? Was He born into a nursery? Was there a crowd of other children all eager to see the new baby, and all clapping their hands when they did? Nothing of the kind. You know He was born in a stable, with a horse-trough for a cradle, with straw for a bed, and the cattle for company. There was the ass on which His mother rode, there were the asses of the other travellers who had got rooms in the inn; there were the cows belonging to the farm, and the fowls pecking in the straw; and there were the sheep—well, the sheep, of course, were in the fields, where the angels’ message came to the men who were taking care of them. The animals were nearer to the infant Jesus than any children were. And how often He spoke of the animals when He grew up; and He never spoke as if he despised them, but always as if He watched and loved them. And how very much the animals owe to Jesus! How much better the religion of Jesus has made people treat animals! The animals owe Jesus a great deal, if they but had a tongue to tell it. Yet they have tongues. I once saw a very old carving of the Nativity over a great church door. Now, I have seen several old pictures of the Nativity with the animals standing by or looking in with great interest at the stable window. But in this case they were still more interested; they were very affectionate to the baby, and their tongues expressed it. For it was two cows, and they had come up to the manger. You may know, perhaps, how curious cows are about clothes. They eat the cottage wash sometimes when it is hung out on the hedge. Well, among the swaddling clothes they found the baby; and they were so far from being disappointed that they felt quite loving, and they were licking it with their great rough tongues. I often think cows very kindly animals, but I never thought so more than then. Very likely the artist, with a kindly humour, wished to represent the homage of the creatures for the little Jesus. And he knew that they could not speak and praise with their tongues like men. So he made them worship in the only way their tongues could’.
– P. T. Forsyth, ‘Dumb Creatures and Christmas: A Little Sermon to Little Folk, 1903’ in Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth (ed. Jason A. Goroncy; Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013).