Mark Johnson has written a delightful piece on PT Forsyth: Preaching the Centrality of the Cross. It is an adaptation from his PhD Dissertation, ‘Christological Preaching for the Post-Modern Era’ (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1994). Because of a focus on this blog regarding Forsyth and his work, I reproduce it here:
Peter Taylor Forsyth was born May 12, 1848 in Aberdeen, Scotland. The son of a postal worker and a maid, he was raised as a member of the Black-friars Street Congregational Church. His family was devout, if not affluent. In spite of his family’s modest means, he was able to attend the university where he achieved an enviable reputation as a student.
In young adulthood, Forsyth was greatly influenced by the thought and writings of both F. D. Maurice and Albrecht Ritschl. He would have opportunity to study under Ritschl for a term at Gottingen. In his early ministry, he gained notoriety for his liberal theological views and his “‘loud’ dress and unpredictable pulpit utterances.”After serving in several pastorates, he was named principal of Hackney College in London in 1901, a position that allowed time for extensive writing. At least part of the reason for this move was the belief that the academic lifestyle would place less strenuous demands on his frail health than the pastorate.
I first became acquainted with Forsyth reviewing Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind during my first semester in Ph.D. studies. I delved deeper into Forsyth’s thought when writing a dissertation dealing with preaching Christ in the Postmodern era. The one contribution that sticks out above all others is his insistence that one remains relevant to his times by keeping his focus on the unchanging Christ. He urged preachers to “preach to their age without preaching their age.”In Christology he sides neither with those who quested after a historical Jesus nor with the idealists who heavily emphasized the divinity of Christ. Neither adequately expressed Christ’s dual nature as both God and Man. In Forsyth’s earlier writings, he placed Christ at the center of his theology. In his later development, he sees Christ’s ministry on the cross as the central focus for theology.
Perhaps it is this focus on the person and work of Christ that causes him to write with a warmth of devotion and piety, causing one writer to say in appreciation of his writings, “To read these lines is to be challenged to think theologically, but it is also to be brought into a reflective and devotional mood.” That devotional style, as well as some insight into Forsyth’s reaction to modernity, can be seen in the following words of testimony: