Forsyth on the current claptrap against theology

forsyth-13‘It is doubtful if anywhere so much ability is going to seed as in the pulpit, if so much toil, ingenuity, intelligence, and feeling are being wasted anywhere as in the thousands of sermons that go to their drawers as to their last cradle and long home, week by week, to haunt as feckless ghosts the preacher’s soul. Hence the restlessness that is observable in the ministry in various quarters, the sense of ineffectiveness, the desire to try a new soil with the same seed, in the hope that the Spirit may at last reward the effort and bring back His sheaves with Him. But it is not a change of sphere that is required most. That may but foment the unquiet, or else become the soul’s narcotic, It is a change of note that is needed, and a change that no new place can bring. If the lack is power, the cause of the lack is the absence of a definite, positive, and commanding creed which holds us far more than we hold it, holds us by the conscience, founds and feeds us on the eternal reality, and, before we can do anything with it, does everything with us. Every Church and every preacher is bound to run down without such a creed, and no amount of humane sympathy or vivid interests can avert the decline. In every direction, the Church is suffering from the inability to know its own spiritual mind, or to strike a stream from its own rock, and from its indisposition to face the situation or its impotence to fathom it. For a generation now we have been preaching that experience is the great thing, and not creed; till we are losing the creed that alone can produce an experience higher than the vagaries of idiosyncrasy, or the nuances of temperament, or the tradition of a group, or the spirit of the age … The current claptrap against theology is only an advertisement of the lack in religion of that passion of spiritual radicalism and mental veracity which will settle nowhere but at the very roots of things, and must draw its strength from the last realities of the soul’s intelligent life. The result of the defect is a vague sense of insecurity as to foundations and an insidious dubiety which, unconsciously to the preacher, conveys itself to his flock, and generates a malaise that nobody can explain’. – PT Forsyth, ‘Veracity, Reality, and Regeneration’, London Quarterly Review 123 (1915), 194, 195.

10 comments

  1. Jason – this is a stunning example of Forsyth at his infuriating best. That’s a compliment – I think one of the roles of the prophetic theologian is to upset the smug complacency of those who settle for less than the Gospel’s disruptive grace and table overturning outrage at religion as personal project. I’m going to post this on my blog after Holy Week, when it’s important for those who preach “to know Him in the power of his resurrection”. And if anybody doesn’t know what that means they should read more Forsyth – and Denney – and Dale – and then more Forsyth.

    Grace and peace.

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  2. Lovely quote Jason. I like his sense not just of reasserting the creed but of the inherent persuasiveness of the creedal vision of the Christian gospel. If we lack that our preaching might as well give up.

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  3. Jim. Just for you, I’ve replaced the ‘default insect’ with a ‘default wierdo’. I understand that in order to have a picture of yourself on a WordPress blog you need to have a WordPress account. Happy to hear from others about this.

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  4. Jason, I ask only because I am ‘still’ studying the issue of bible translations. If I am to agree with the idea that the Gospel produced the bible and that the bible is merely a record of history and an attempt to preserve as best as man could have the words of Jesus and the apostles, then I would need to be assured that the bible itself can be trusted.

    How can one know agree with this kind of statement if the bible has errors?

    Did not Francis Shaeffer (sp?) accuse Karl Barth of the same thing?

    Unpacking the word, “errors”? That’s what I would like to know.

    “The authority of the Bible does not come from its literal infallibility but from its evangelical. For it is not free from certain errors.” (19)

    The Efficiency and Sufficiency of the Bible

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  5. Amy. It is a fair question.

    The connection (leap?) you make between the Gospel producing the bible and the bible as ‘merely a record of history and an attempt to preserve as best as man could have the words of Jesus and the apostles’ is, however, an unnecessary one . It is certainly not one that Forsyth (or I) would agree with. The Bible is a product – even a sacrament – of the Gospel, the faithful and abiding witness of prophets of apostles to the Word who was made flesh. It is not interested in history as history, but only as history is the arena for the divine action to which it continues, by the Spirit, to bear infallible (or perfectly faithful) witness. It seems to me odd that Protestants work so hard to rid the Church of an infallible magesterium only to replace it with an infallible book. The assumption behind such a move is that the greatest human need is knowledge (the Enlightenment lie). It’s not. If it were, an infallible book would go some significant way to meeting that need. Our greatest need is the forgiveness of our sins, the healing of our diseased hearts and minds, our being found from the lostness of the far country and carried home to the Father. However important questions of historicity are (and they ought not be dismissed), they must not be our chief concern precisely because history can not proffer or secure our final assurance. If the Church is to face the spiritual situation that has been created by the collapse (via the critics) of Biblical infallibility, then it must resist the temptation to seek certainty elsewhere than where God has secured all things – in the cross of Christ which alone is God’s theodicy. It is to this reality that the bible speaks.

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  6. I appreciate your response, Jason. Thank you. But what if I said, “Your response has errors.” Would you not ask me to name or list or identify your errors? Would you not also ask me to offer some kind of reason for labeling such statements as errors?

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  7. Yes I would; but the Bible doesn’t.

    Forsyth was once asked about whether James – that ‘epistle of straw’ – should be thrown out of the NT canon. His answer is pertinent to your questions. He said: ‘Only if the standard of the N.T. canon be dogmatic consistency instead of evangelical unity. Nothing strikes me more as I read the N.T. in large sweeps [i.e. as it should be read, and preached!] than the incidental position of theology in it combined with its fundamental value. This is due to the pastoral and occasional nature of the writings. Probably the preaching of the Apostles was otherwise – was more theological, without, however, systematic congruity …’.

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