John McLeod Campbell

J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on Christ’s Vicarious Ministry

John McLeod Campbell

This Friday (11 September) I will be presenting a paper at the Christian Thought & History/Pastoral Theology Seminar at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies (University of Otago).

The title of my paper is ‘“Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan”: J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on Christ’s Vicarious Ministry’.

All are most welcome to attend. The seminar will take place in Seminar Room 4.C.11, 4th Floor, Arts/Burns Building between 15.00–1615.

PT Forsyth Group on Facebook

For those who appreciate the work of PT Forsyth (shame on you if you don’t) and wish to discuss it further, I’ve started a PT Forsyth Group on Facebook. Please visit us and join in the discussion.

The most recent topic invites discussion concerning Forsyth’s criticism of John McLeod Campbell’s notion of vicarious repentance? Do you think Forsyth has read Campbell fairly? Are his concerns fair?

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)

Forsyth’s sources and my resourcing

One of the things I am most enjoying about my research on PT Forsyth is mining the pages that he himself mined, tasting the words that he himself tasted, and chewing on some of the thoughts that gave rise to his own. Of late, I’ve been reading Alexander Bruce’s book, The Humiliation of Christ in its Physical, Ethical and Official Aspects. Along with Dorner and Gore, Bruce had a significant impact in the shaping of Forsyth’s own christology, not least his kenoticism.

Here’s a few words from Bruce to chew on:

‘… if descent into the legal standing of a sinner were at all possible, Christ would gladly make the descent. It was His mind, His bent, His mood, if I may so speak, to go down till He had reached the utmost limits of possibility.’ – Alexander B. Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ In its Physical, Ethical and Official Aspects (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1895), 317.

– [McLeod Campbell] speaks the truth, though it may be in an exaggerated form; for, without a doubt, it was the instinctive impulse of the Redeemer to impute to Himself the world’s sin, and in the light of such imputation, to regard the evils of His earthly lot as a personal participation in the curse pronounced on man for sin. It was a satisfaction to His heart to feel that, in being born into a family whose royal lineage and mean condition, combined, bore expressive witness to the misery that had overtaken Israel for her sins, in being subjected to the necessity of earning His bread by the sweat of His brow, in being exposed to the assaults of Satan, in having to endure the contradiction of sinners, in being nailed to the cross, He was indeed made partaker of our curse in this respect, too, our Brother, and like unto His brethren’. pp. 318-9.

I’m heading off tomorrow for a week up in the northern Highlands and to Orkney so it will be a post- and blog-free week. It is mostly the retracing of a trip that I made many years ago on my own and am now looking forward to taking my family. I’ve promised them that I’ll only fish for a day … or two. I’m taking three books: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Tommy and Me by Ben Stein, and True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey – in the hope that I may get at least half of one of them read

Grace costly and cheap

Like Jim, I spent much of the morning away from the keyboard and making the most of the Scottish sun. It was not poetry, however, that sustained my attention this morning (as it will tonight when I follow my evening ritual of reading a Les Murray poem before retiring). It was a sermon on hope by that awesome preacher of Rhu, John McLeod Campbell. Lamenting the lack of assurance and the attendant anxiety in his parishioners, he pleads with them to resist seeking assurance in good works, even though this is precisely where the anxious soul so often retreats. Rather than harass them, however, Campbell does what the preacher must do – reminds them of the Father’s heart for them, revealed in costly love and the fullness of grace:

Those who know that the heart of God yearns over them with a father’s love – those who know that the Son of God has redeemed them from the curse of the law – those who know that the Holy Spirit is given them through Jesus Christ – those who know that Christ will yet raise their mortal bodies incorruptible – those who know that they will be kings and priests unto God – these are they who can tread this earth as the sons of God – who can present a bold front, not in their own strength, but in that of Jesus, conflicting with the devil and all his servants, and trampling them under foot – these are they who are prepared for all trials and conflicts, who will be more than conquerors, and of whom it will be written, that they conquered by the blood of the Lamb – these are they who will come out of great tribulations and that gloriously, having washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb – these are they who will dwell for ever in the New Jerusalem; and that faith is the victory that overcometh the world. But that man has no such faith, who, amid all the weariness of this body of sin and death – who, amid all the devices of Satan, does not know whether God loves him or not whether he has a Saviour or not – whether he has the Spirit of Christ or not – whether he has a better and an enduring substance.

The spurious gospel obliges men, in their desire of peace of conscience, to forge graces, and to pass them for current coin. I do feel as if I had come to a country in which the people of the land had lost all the pure gold, and all the king’s coin, at the same time that they felt their need of a currency of some kind, and so had had recourse to the coining of lead, gilding it over, making it look like gold, and calling it gold.

After some meditation on these fighting words, I turned to prayer … and then to Forsyth … but that’s for another post.

Note: The photo really is of the Scottish sky.

Books on the Atonement

In the year of his passing (1917), the great James Denney’s The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation was published. Commenting on books written on the atonement, he penned the following:

‘Of all books that have ever been written on the atonement, as God’s way of reconciling man to Himself, McLeod Campbell’s is probably that which is most completely inspired by the spirit of the truth with which it deals. There is a reconciling power of Christ in it to which no tormented conscience can be insensible. The originality of it is spiritual as well as intellectual, and no one who has ever felt its power will cease to put it in a class by itself. In speculative power he cannot be compared to Schleiermacher, nor in historical learning to Ritschl, and sometimes he writes as badly as either; but he walks in the light all the time, and every thing he touches lives’.

Of course, the first half of the twentieth century saw some wonderful work done on the atonement. Forsyth’s The Cruciality of the Cross and The Work of Christ, and Denney’s The Death of Christ, being of, to my mind, the best. And in the previous century, Erskine’s The Brazen Serpent stands out alongside McLeod’s Campbell’s work.

But what of the second half of last century, and the first years of this one? What are the works that do (and should) stand out? Of whose work could it today be said, ‘There is a reconciling power of Christ in it to which no tormented conscience can be insensible’?

What works would you nominate?: Moltmann’s The Crucified God? Smail’s Once and For All? Torrance’s The Mediation of Christ? Gunton’s The Actuality of the Atonement? Bingham’s Christ’s Cross Over Man’s Abyss? Stott’s The Cross of Christ? Morris’ The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross? Schmiechen’s Saving Power? … ? What works would you nominate, and why?

Moreover, who is writing of the atonement today not as an onlooker but as one who has been there, and is there still?