Forsyth: ‘Christianity and Society’

forsyth-61Regular readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem can gear themselves up for some more Forsyth in the next few posts. Here’s a few nuggets from his 1914 essay, ‘Christianity and Society’ (Methodist Review Quarterly):

‘The Church’s true attitude and action in the world is Christ’s. It is that of him whose indwelling makes it a Church The question, therefore, of the Church’s relation to Society is really the whole question of Christology’. (pp. 3-4)

‘Christ is God by his eternal personal relation to the divine holiness, rather than by his essential relation to the divine substance’. (p. 4)

‘The Church is not simply the superlative of religious society. It is not spiritual Humanity coming to its own. Christianity is not the republication of the lex naturæ with supreme éclat. Grace is not a mere reēnforcement of nature. There is a new Creation. That is the vital thing’. (p. 5)

‘The principle of the Church is thus the antithesis of the world; and yet it is in constant and positive relation with it. They co-exist in a vital paradox which is the essence of all active religion. The Gospel can neither humor human nature nor let it alone. That is the grand collision of history, however its form may vary … Hence the first business of the Church is not to influence man but to worship and glorify God, and to act on man only in that interest. All its doctrine, preaching, culture, and conduct is a confession and glorification of the Saviour. The Church does not save; it only bears living witness and makes humble confession, in manifold ways, of a God who does. It is not a company for the promotion of goodness, but a society for the honor of God’. (p. 6)

‘The evil neglect of the theologian by the public today is in a measure his own fault. His truth has not kept pace with the growth of social interest. It has been too idealogical, and not enough social. His doctrine has not remained a living expression even of his own society of the Church. He has failed to show how necessary it is for the social interest itself. And he has not so construed the Gospel as to force a social regeneration on the Christian conscience. He has been often occupied with a God of substance, process, or ideas, instead of a God of act, life, and the Kingdom’. (p. 7)

‘Christianity has more and more to face a dechurched civilization. The circumstances are thus quite different from the mediæval state of things. The traditional civilization is turned more and more upon its own resources. Can they save it from anarchy? It is on its trial’. (p. 14)

‘… our eyes are being purged today to see many things. We feel the effects of a modernized Pelagianism, the effect of worshiping (if it is worship) a God whose revelation is too little of a moral crisis and re-creation of human nature, and too much of its glorification. We inherit a Christianity which allows too much to human nature, and therefore is conquered by it’. (p. 17)


  1. Jason,

    A great bit of Forsyth, and one of the few I have never seen before. In 1914 he was saying the theologian’s truth was too ideological. Prophetic that in the days before Cone, D. Williams and Spong. I like the new look of your site. Keep up the great work.
    Rick FLoyd


  2. Jason-

    This is very encouraging that you have put this up. I wonder just how many people have learned to read Forsyth. It took me a while to realize he was right on more times than not.
    “The question, therefore, of the Church’s relation to Society is really the whole question of Christology’”,
    is really the crux of so many questions of how believers are to relate to our cultures today. It is a perennial question the people of God have always struggled with. Forsyth is pointing us to the central point that we must start and always end our discussions with:what has God done once for all in the Christ event? When we see the reality of God’s new creation in Christ, then most of the questions of any given age don’t really matter at all, do they?


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