McLeod Campbell and Children’s Letters to God

It is not unusual for me to have a plethora of books on the go at once, scattered conveniently around most parts of the house. Of late, I’ve been reading two books (in the same room) whose themes converge that I wish to comment on here. I’ve just re-read (after many years) John McLeod Campbell’s, The Nature of the Atonement. This book must be counted as among the most significant reflections ever penned on the atonement. Denney rightly listed it alongside Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo?, and Forsyth praised it as a ‘great, fine, holy book’, although both had reservations about some of Campbell’s ideas. Others, such as James Orr, Robert Dale and John Scott Lidgett also gave positive voice to Campbell’s work on the atonement.

The fact that McLeod Campbell is largely ignored today (despite the influence of Tom and James Torrance, and Tom Smail, and a few recent publications such as those by Peter Stevenson and two by Michael Jinkins – here and here), and that not least in publications dealing specifically with the atonement, is scandalous (pun intended). There may be some identifiable reasons for this neglect. Perhaps it is because, like Forsyth, Campbell was a non-conformist and non-conformist British theologians have, until more recently, found it difficult to be heard and taken seriously by the academy. Perhaps it is because Campbell is just not the easiest writer to follow, particularly in his atonement tome (his sermons are much easier going on the reader!). Perhaps it is because Campbell’s best insights have been taken up by others, such as the Torrances. Who know? I often ask similar questions about Forsyth (and Denney and Lidgett). I hope to post more about the relationship between Campbell and Forsyth soon.

The other book I’ve been reading is Children’s Letters to God, compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall. While Campbell laid much weight on the filial nature of Jesus Christ and his vicarious work of offering to the Father the perfect human response from the side of sin (a response which was at heart about Christ’s intercessory ministry), Children’s Letters to God takes up something of humanity’s imperfect participation in that perfect intercession. Some of these prayers seem quite humorous and even silly. Others betray a deeper cognition. All betray, however, a glaringly beautiful honesty and unpretentiousness that our elder Brother not only makes possible for us, but creates in us by the Spirit.

Here’s a few that I like (and each one could serve as a great sermon starter):

– Dear God. Are you really invisible or is that just a trick?
– Dear God. Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?
Dear God. Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones why don’t you just keep the ones you got now?
Dear God. Who draws the lines around the countries?
Dear God. I went to this wedding and they kissed right in church. Is that OK?
Dear God. Are there any patriarchs around today?
Dear God. It’s OK that you made different religions but don’t you get mixed up sometimes?
Dear God. I would like to know why all the things you said are in red?
Dear God. Is Reverend Coe a friend of yours, or do you just know him through business?
Dear God. I am English. What are you?
Dear God. Thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy.
Dear God. How come you didn’t invent any new animals lately? We still have just all the old ones.
Dear God. Please put another holiday in between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good in there now.
– Dear God. Please send Dennis Clark to a different camp this year.
Dear God. I wish that there wasn’t no such thing of (sin. I wish that there was not no such thing of war.
– Dear God. Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother.
– Dear God. I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.
– Dear God. If you watch in Church on Sunday I will show you my new shoes.
Dear God. I am doing the best I can.

‘… For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me’. (Matthew 18:2-5, The Message)

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