Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

A Tribute to the Family Torrance

On my former blog, I once wrote an appreciation, as a Christian pacifist, of the Family Niebuhr. I may reprint it on this blog since I think it was nicely balanced between my genuine critiques of the shortcomings of their perspectives (especially Reinie’s) and an opened-mouthed awe at the gifts God had given this one family and the way they used them for the Church. I -have also written a similar post on the incredible Wesley family–amazed that God sometimes gifts the Church universal with whole  families of amazing servant leaders! (Similar cases could be made for the Family Barth, although Karl Barth’s immense contributions usually overshadow the contributions of Markus and Christoph; the Family Judson of pioneering Baptist missionaries; the father-son team of Thomas & Alexander Campbell; the father-son team of Alexander Mack, Sr. & Jr., founders of the Dunker/Brethren tradition; perhaps others.)

This post is similar, although the distance in theological perspectives is not as great as it was between myself and the Niebuhrs.  The Torrance family of Scotland are all Reformed and my faith is mostly Anabaptist (with some fragments from Puritanism, revivalism, the Social Gospel, liberation theologies, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann, and some charismatic experiences).  But, with Barth as the bridge, I want to pay tribute to the amazing gift of God this family is to church and theology.  There are fewer Torrance family members as ministers or academic theologians than it appears because the Torrances are so seemingly omnipresent that it often appears as if every 3rd theologian in (or from) Scotland is named Torrance!  Here are my brief, inadequate, tributes:

Thomas Forsyth (T. F.) Torrance (1913-2007) was one of the theological giants of the English-speaking world in the 20th C.  He was born in Chengdu, Szechuan, China where his parents were serving as missionaries of the Church of Scotland–a Reformed Protestant denomination flowing from the heritage of John Calvin (Jean Cauvin–1509-1564) and John Knox (c. 1505-1572) and closely related to the Presbyterians in England and North America.  His father was an ordained Church of Scotland minister and his mother, whom he thought the best preacher and theologian in the family, was a formally-trained Anglican missionary–very rare for women in those days.  Taught in a Canadian school in China, Torrance was horrified to find out on a furlough to Britain that he was woefully deficient in classical Greek and Latin and set about to overcome this through rigorous self-directed study. M.A. in Classics, University of Edinburgh, 1934; B.D. New College, Edinburgh, 1937; Won an academic scholarship to study theology with the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, who had long been a theological  hero. D.Theol., University of Basel, Switzerland, 1946.  Invited to teach theology at Auburn Theological Seminary (NY), in the U.S., a Presbyterian seminary which has since merged with Union Theological Seminary  , 1938-39. Offered the first position in theology at the new religion dept. of Princeton University in 1939 (at 25!), but had to turn it down because WWII was so obviously imminent. He returned to Scotlan to be with his people rather than stay safe in the U. S. A. Consistent with his Reformed acceptance of “just war theory,” Torrance volunteered as an army chaplain to Scottish troops, but there was a waiting list. He went to Oriel College, Oxford to work on his dissertation, 1940. He wass a parish -minister, Alyth, Perthshire, Scotland, 1940-1943; 1943-45, Torrance saw service in “Huts and Canteens” in Middle East, then was army chaplain to frontline troops in the Italian campaign–repeatedly nearly killed. In1944, for wartime service awarded an M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire). He also finished his  dissertation and returned to Basel for oral exams.  Torrance was awarded D.Theol., magne cum laude, 1946. He married Margaret Spear, an Anglican,  in 1946.  1947-1950, Torrance was again a parish minister, Beechgrove Church, Aberdeen, a large parish church that had previously been pastored by such Church of Scotland luminaries as James S. Stewart, A. J. Gossip, and, Torrance’s own professor, Hugh Ross Mackintosh.  In 1945, Torrance founded the Scottish Church Theology Society.  In 1948, he founded the Scottish Journal of Theology which he co-edited (with J.K.S. Reid) from 1948 to 1982.  In 1946, Torrance’s dissertation published as The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers.  In 1949, Published, Calvin’s Doctrine of Man as an attempt to settle the debate between Barth and Brunner over the relation of nature and grace, since both appealed not only to Scripture but to Calvin.

1950-1952, Professor of Church History, University of Edinburgh; 1952-1979, Professor of Christian Dogmatics, New College, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.  1952, Torrance assembled a team of scholars, including the brilliant choice of Geoffrey W. Bromiley as co-editor, to translate Karl Barth’s massive Kirchliche Dogmatik into the 16 volumes of Church Dogmatics.  If Torrance had done nothing else, this would have been a superb gift to the Church universal by itself. The translation and index was not completed until 1977!  Torrance retired from Edinburgh in 1979, but continued to lecture and write.

He made significant contributions to the dialogue between science and religion–and in 1978 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion because of these contributions.  He was instrumental in forging theological agreement between the Church of Scotland and Eastern Orthodox Christianity over the doctrine of the Trinity.  Torrance wrote several books on the Trinity, but also significant volumes on Creation, Atonement, Incarnation, Eschatology, and Pneumatology.

His works often constituted a “bridge” to Barth for evangelicals in the English-speaking world, especially in the UK and North America.  He also helped many a North American evangelical become more familiar with Patristic theologians.  And, as I can attest from 2 personal meetings, he helped convey a sense of the joy of Christian theology–that theology was a “joyful science” because one was seeking to better understand the gospel of the living God!

A major weakness from my own theological perspective is a lack of attention to theological ethics.  Barth’s own approach to ethics (deriving various dimensions of the Command of God from different theological doctrines) may be inadequate–I would argue that it is insufficiently exegetical and neglects the rich narrative ethics of both Jesus and the prophets!–but, at least, he spent considerable attention to these matters. Torrance did not–not even connecting his strong interest in the relation of theology and the sciences to the environmental crises. Nor did this army chaplain during World War II ever write anything (to my knowledge) on war and peacemaking, genocide, church-state relations, etc. In fact, though Torrance should be praised for going beyond his mentor, Barth, in engaging the world of Eastern Orthodoxy, he must be criticized for falling well below Barth in engaging Judaism! There is no hint in Torrance’s work that Christians living after the Holocaust need to confront the history of Christian anti-Semitism, including theological anti-Judaism–a history that distorts our view of Judaism and distorts our readings of Scripture because we fail to grasp how thoroughly Jewish the early Jesus movement was.  This must be counted as a major shortcoming of Torrance’s thought.

In 2004, the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Research Fellowship was formed, which gives some indication of the breadth of his continuing influence.

James Bruce (J. B.) Torrance (1923-2003), younger brother to Thomas.  Like his older brother, James was born on the mission field in China.  He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, with his first degree interrupted by being “called up” by the Royal Air Force in 1944. After his service in World War II, he earned an M.A. in philosophy from Edinburgh, taking First Class Honours and winning the Senior Medal in Moral Philosophy, Logic, and Metaphysics.  His influential teacher was Professor John MacMurray.  He earned his B.D. at New College, Edinburgh, and then an M.A. from the University of Marburg.  The conflict between Barth and Bultmann was at full-tilt during this period and, although James shared his brother Thomas’ regard for Barth’s work, he wanted exposure to the Bultmann first-hand.  Like his older brother, he finished his education with a D. Theol. from the University of Basel, where he studied with Karl Barth and Oscar Cullmann.  He did some post-graduate study at Oxford and then entered parish ministry, Invergowrie, near Dundee. It is reported that many were brought to living faith through James Torrance’s ministry there.  In 1963, as Thomas Torrance moved from teaching church history to theology at Edinburgh, the James was appointed Lecturer in the History of Christian Thought.  He spent 16 years on the Faculty of Divinity at Edinburgh, most of them as Senior Lecturer in Christian Dogmatics.  On the day he left Edinburgh, a packed Rainey Hall at New College gave him a standing ovation–rare even for beloved teachers and colleagues among the reserved Scots!  From 1979 until his retirement in 1989, Torrance was Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen, where he also served as Dean,  and was a major force (along with Methodist New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall) in leading Aberdeen to become, during this time, one of the most dynamic centers of theological education in the world.

During time teaching at Edinburgh and Aberdeen, James Torrance also traveled widely, especially in Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa, often lecturing and preaching up to five times in one day!  As a result, students flocked to study with him from all over the world.  He remained a faithful churchman, extremely active both locally and in ecumenical work.

He published much less than his older brother, contributing articles to dictionaries and scholarly journals, and writing one major book, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace.  However, some of his many unpublished works are beginning to be published posthumously.  He also co-wrote, A Passion for Christ with his brothers, Thomas and David Torrance.

Ian Torrance (b. 1949), son of Thomas and nephew of James.  Currently, serving as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen.  Torrance was the younger son of T. F. Torrance and born in Aberdeen, 1949. He grew up in the near-poverty that even academics faced in post-war Britain.  Because the government-run schools (what Americans would call “public schools,” but that term means something quite different in the UK) had been hit especially hard by the war, Ian’s family sacrificed greatly and sent him to Edinburgh      Academy, and Monkton Combe School in Bath, England. He earned his M.A. from the University of Edinburgh, B.D., University of St. Andrews, and his D.Phil., Oriel College, Oxford University.    After his doctorate at Oxford, he was ordained a Minister of the Church of Scotland, and served at Northmavine Parish, Shetland Islands (1982-1985) Territorial Army chaplain,1982-1997; Army Cadet Force Chaplain, 1997-2000; Convener, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland’s Committee to the Chaplains of the Armed Forces, 1998-2002; Moderator, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2003-2004; Represented the Church of Scotland at the Installation of Pope Benedict XVI.  Co-editor, Scottish Journal of Theology (1982-); Lecturer in New Testament and Patristics, University of Birmingham (1985-1993) (during which time he was on staff at Queen’s College, an ecumenical college for the training of clergy); Professor of Patristics and Christian Ethics, University of Aberdeen (1993-2004); Dean, Faculty of Arts and Divinity, University of Aberdeen, 2001-2004; Master, Christ’s College, University of Aberdeen, 2001-2004; President and Professor of Patristics, Princeton Theological Seminary, 2004-2012 and then retired and returned to Scotland to become Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen.  Torrance has paid more attention to theological ethics than his father and uncle.  Although he served as a military chaplain, he opposed the nuclear arms race.  Further, during his time as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, he used his office to call for the release of Libyan national, Abdelbaset al-Megrah, who was imprisoned (on flimsy evidence) for the Lockerby bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103.  Ian Torrance argued that the guilty verdict had more to do with pressure from the U.S. government and fear of al-Megrah as a Muslim than it did with evidence of his guilt in the act of terrorism.

Torrance also opposed Tony Blair and the British addition to America’s “coalition of the willing,” as it invaded Iraq in 2003.  He was not a pacifist and had served as a military chaplain.  But he believed that the invasion of Iraq did not meet the tests of “just war theory,” and warned that it would lead to a long occupation and would harm the moral reputation of both Christianity and the United Kingdom (and the U.S.A.)–which proved prescient. But Torrance would not make such criticisms from the sidelines. In his role as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, he risked life and limb to visit every unit of British troops serving in Iraq.

Torrance took a different kind of risk when he championed the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy in the Church of Scotland. His views were very controversial (2003-2004) and did not immediately carry the day, but his prominence and prestige opens the door to serious discussion of these and other, related, matters of sexuality within the Church of Scotland.

Because Torrance hasn’t written on theological ethics, we who were not his students, don’t know much about his method or his views on much besides war and sex, but we do know that he worked hard on this subject throughout his career.

Torrance has written on the Trinity, on Patristics and theology after the council of Chalcedon.  He has also been strongly involved in ecumenical work like his father and uncle before him, but, he has gone further than them in also being heavily involved in interfaith dialogue, especially Christian-Muslim dialogue.

I hope he writes more in his retirement.

Ronald S. Wallace (1911-2006), Brother-in-law to Thomas and Uncle to Alan and Ian. Born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1911 and was educated at The Royal High School, Edinburgh and graduated early at 15. At 16 he matriculated at the University of Edinburgh and took a First in Civil Engineering. Perceiving a call to ministry, he transferred to the Faculty of Arts and earned an M.A. in Philosophy, his Bachelor of Divinity from New College, Edinburgh.  He was ordained and became a Minister in the Church of Scotland.  In 1937, he married Mary Moulin Torrance, sister of Thomas Torrance.  They had a son, David, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Heather.  Wallace’s nephews include Ian Torrance and Alan Torrance; moreover his son-in-law, George McLeod Newlands, is also an academic theologian.  In 1940, Wallace became a parish minister at Pollock Church, Glasgow.  During World War II, he was a minister with the “Huts and Canteens” program of the Church of Scotland.  After WWII, he became, in 1951, Minister at St. Kentigan’s Church, Lanark. While there, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh with a dissertation on Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacraments.  In 1958, he became Minister of Lothian Road Church, Edinburgh.  From 1964 to 1977, Wallace was Professor of Biblical Theology, at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA (USA).  From 1977 until his retirement in 1995, Wallace was Professor of Biblical Theology and Dean of the Faculty at Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon.  Upon his retirement, Wallace returned to Scotland and died in 2006.  Wallace was an author of books of sermons, several popular commentaries on biblical books in both Testaments, an exposition of the 10 Commandments as an “ethic of freedom,” and a work of historical theology which examined the relationship of Calvin to the city of Geneva and the wider Reformation.

George McLeod Newlands, Emeritus Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, son-in-law to Ronald Wallace (see above).  Born  on December 7, 1941 in Perth, Scotland, Newlands was educated at Perth Academy,  the University of Edinburgh (M.A., Classics, 1st Class Honors; B.D., Ecclesiastical History, 1st Class Honors; Ph.D.; D.Litt.). He did graduate study from 1966 to 1969 on travelling fellowships at the University of Heidelberg, University of Paris, University of Zurich, University of Basel (where he attended Karl Barth’s last seminar and last lecture series). He earned an M.A. in 1973 at Churchill College, Cambridge University.  In 1970, he was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland, Presbytery of Glasgow and in 1982 became simultaneously a priest in the Church of England (License to officiate, Diocese of Glasgow).  From 1969 to 1970 Newlands was Assistant Minister in Muirhouse, Edinburgh.  Lecturer in Divinity, University of Glasgow, 1969-1970; Lecturer in Systematic Theology, University of Glasgow, 1970-1973; University Lecturer of Divinity, Cambridge University, 1973-1975; Elected Fellow of Wolfson College (Cambridge), 1975; Fellow and Dean (and Chaplain, 1982-1984), Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, 1982-1986; Elected Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, 1986; Head of Department of Church History and Theology, University of Glasgow, 1986-1992; Dean of the Faculty of Divinity, Glasgow University, 1988-1990; Principal of Trinity College (Church of Scotland), University of Glasgow, 1991-1997, 2001-; Director, Center for Literature, Theology, and the Arts, University of Glasgow, 1999-2002.

Newland has contributed in both historical and systematic theology and theological ethics.  His first work, Hilary of Portiers:  A Study in Theological Method (1978) was considered a landmark in the field.  In 1980, noting that Barth had done theology from the perspective of faith, and Moltmann from hope, Newland decided to re-think theology from the 3rd of the Pauline theological virtues, love.  The result was Theology of the Love of God (1980).  He followed this with The Church of God (1984) and his first work on Christian ethics, Making Christian Decisions.

Newland has made major contributions in the theological underpinnings of human rights and in interfaith dialogue.  He also went further than Ian Torrance as a straight ally for LGBT concerns in the church. He co-founded Affirmation Scotland, “a ministry of care, compassion, inclusivity, and advocacy” for LGBT concerns within the Church of Scotland.

Alan J. Torrance (b. 1956-), son of James and nephew of Thomas.  Like most of his family, Alan was educated at the University of Edinburgh (B.A.,  Philosophy; M.A., 1st Class Honours, Philosophy).  He earned his B.D.  with 1st Class Honours, at the University of Aberdeen.  He went on to earn his D. Theol. summa cum laude, from the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg. Currently, Professor of Systematic Theology, St. Mary’s College, St. Andrews University, St. Andrews, Scotland.  Previously lectured at King’s College, London University (1993-1998), where he was also Director, Research Institute in Systematic Theology. Previous to that post, he lectured at Knox Theologica, l Hall and the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Alan Torrance’s contributions in theology are still developing. He was awarded a Templeton Prize in Religion and Science to develop a course in science and theology at the University of St. Andrews, which he has done.

Alan Torrance’s writings, mostly well received, have been in Christology, theological anthropology, philosophical and systematic theology, and theological ethics.  He has reflected on the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to patriarchy (and its subversion). He has also written on the theological nature of forgiveness and reconciliation and their application to the socio-political realm.  He has continued the emphasis of Ian Torrance and George Newlands on the need for inclusion and equality of LGBT persons in the church and society.  Although not a declared pacifist, Alan Torrance is the first in this family of ministers and theologians to NOT serve in the military and he has seemed even more critical of nuclear weapons and institutionalized war system than the rest of his family.

Perhaps this amazing family will soon produce female theologians, too.  This family of theologians has been an amazing collective gift of God –not just to the Church of Scotland or to the Reformed tradition, but to the Church Universal.



July 3, 2013 Posted by | history of theology, theologians | Leave a comment

What is Methodism? Four (4) Interpretations

I’m not a Methodist. I WAS raised Methodist and most of my family of origin are still Methodist, but I have been an Anabaptist-type Baptist for longer than I was Methodist. So, I present this as an “interested outsider,” rather than an insider. I offer these interpretations especially to Methodist friends and colleagues inviting feedback–agreement, disagreement, modification. alternative proposals, etc. The discussion should prove interesting.

1) Methodism as Modified Episcopalianism. In this perspective, Methodism is a variation on Anglo-Catholic Christianity. Neither John nor Charles Wesley left the Church of England. British Methodists have entered into a covenant with the Church of England. Methodism is an evangelical/pietist renewal (or internal critique) of Anglicanism. In the United Methodist Church, the bishops are the institutional home of this perspective–whether or not they think reunion with the Anglican Communion desirable. (This may also be true for the African Methodist Episcopal, AME Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal denominations, but I have never met a bishop in any of the forms of African Methodism, so I couldn’t say.) Had the Anglican hierarchy welcomed (not resisted) the Wesley’s Evangelical Renewal movement, it would have remained in the Church of England.

2) Santification as Key: Methodism as Holiness Movement. This view doesn’t see the 19th C. Holiness Movement, with dozens of new denominations spinning off from Methodism, as a new development, but as the original heart of Methodism itself. Had Methodism remained true to its Holiness heart, this view goes, there would never have arisen Free Methodists, Nazarenes, the Wesleyan Church, the Church of God (Anderson, IN-non-Pentecostal), etc. Wesley was influenced by Moravians, who were radical Pietists, and also by the “salvation as deification” theme of Eastern Orthodoxy. The essence of Methodism, in this view, is a Pietist-Holiness emphasis that includes both individual and social sanctification.

3) “Heart Religion”: Methodism as Doctrinal Pluralism. This is the theme of liberal Methodism. John Wesley had said that he didn’t want Methodists to be known “for their particular opinions.” Wesley’s conversion at Aldersgate was not an intellectual change of mind, but finding his heart “strangely warmed.” This interpretation allows for a wide diversity of doctrinal conviction, united by an inner salvation experience. Examples would include the Boston Personalists (e.g., A. C. Knudson, Bordon Parker Bowne, Georgia Harkness, & L. Harold DeWolf), the many Methodist Process Theologians (John B. Cobb, Marjorie Schuchocki, Randy L. Maddox, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Schubert M. Ogdon), some feminist and liberation theologians.

4)Methodism as Part of the Free Church/Believers’ Church Tradition. In this view, Methodism’s soteriology and ecclesiology places it among the Believers’ Church traditions that include the Hussites, Waldensians, Anabaptists, Friends/Quakers, Baptists, the Stone-Campbell movement, Pentecostals. The major difference is that Methodists retain infant baptism since Wesley hadn’t attempted to formulate an entire “systematic” theology and accepted the structures of the Church of England. (Anabaptists–and Nazarenes–would say that Methodists are confused about baptism. Infant baptism doesn’t fit their soteriology or ecclesiology.) The social sanctification, the many Methodist struggles for justice and numerous Methodist pacifists are all explained by this perspective say its proponents. Some in this perspective include the late Franklin H. Littel, Justo Gonzalez, James Lawson, James Farmer, Elsa Tamez, Theodore W. Jennings, Donald W. Dayton.

Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive categories. They are different ways to “slice” the same phenomenon. Do my Methodist friends find this helpful? I await your comments and dialogue with much anticipation.

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Christian Denominations, Church, ecclesiology, history of theology, Methodists, theology, tradition | 1 Comment

CONSERVATIVE Evangelical Dialogue Partners

Reprinted from my previous blog,Levellers.


Previously, I posted a blog on “My Favorite Liberal Theologians” in which I listed the top 10 theological liberals whom I consider my “essential dialogue partners.” I promised a follow-up on evangelicals, but it has proven tougher because, broadly speaking, I am part of the evangelical tradition and because the parameters of “evangelical” are not all that clear. Liberals, who begin with human experience and intentionally adjust Christian doctrine to modern knowlege, are easier to define. Originally, the term  “evangelical” meant “Protestant,” then “Lutheran,” (in some European countries, “Evangelical” [Lutheran] is still contrasted to “Reformed”), then referred to the 18th C. renewal movements which became Pietism in Germany, the Wesley-Whitefield revivals in Britain, and the “Great Awakening,” in the U.S.  Beginning in the late 19th C., “evangelical” began to take on the meaning of “conservative Protestant,” but there were also “Evangelical Liberals.” Here, I have in mind that part of conservative Protestantism that essentially grew out of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies. Today, I list my essential dialogue partners among the conservative end of the evangelical spectrum. A follow up blog will list my dialogue partners among the wider evangelical spectrum. My continuing series’ on mentors and heroes will name/describe my theological “home,” whereas these posts, like my post on theological liberals, describe outside conversation partners. I think I will also do posts on essential dialogue partners among Catholics (liberal and conservative), Orthodox, Jewish thinkers, and (possibly) philosophical skeptics. Perhaps this is a sign that I am more eclectic than an original, creative thinker, but I find it impossible to do theology (even theological ethics, my specialization) except in conversation with others, including others who present strong challenges to my perspectives.

But no one can dialogue with everyone. Like others, I usually ignore voices that I don’t find helpful in some fashion. Thus, although the broadly Reformed tradition informs me (Baptists have both Puritan and Anabaptist roots; I draw more from the latter, but try not to ignore the former), I do not find its scholastic forms at all helpful: I have long since stopped reading anything from Kuyper or Dooyeweerd, nor the “Old Princeton school” of Hodge, Warfield, & Machen, nor their Baptist disciples: Boyce, Manley, John Piper, or Al Mohler. If you find them helpful, fine, but I cannot stomach them at all.

  • Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003) represents the best of the post WWII evangelical renewal in the U.S.–at least until the early ’80s.  His The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) pushed his fellow conservatives out of their apolitical slumbers–although an Eisenhower Republicanism was the most social conscience he allowed. An adult convert and former newspaperman, Henry went on to earn 2 doctorates (Th.D., Northern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ph.D., Boston University), and after teaching at his alma mater (NBTS), went on to help found Fuller Theological Seminary as an institution both ecumenical and evangelical (though it eventually defined the latter term more broadly than Henry desired) and then became founding editor of Christianity Today, so Henry’s influence cannot be underestimated. Henry represents what I call “evangelical rationalism,” a position whose strength is to push evangelicals away from a fear of reason, but whose weakness is a theology that has little place for mystery–either in a pentacostal or a sacramental direction. He also epitomizes evangelical obsession with epistemology–writing not a systematics or dogmatics, but 8 volumes defining and defending biblical inerrancy! I have read all of these volumes (indeed, when Henry came as a visiting prof. to SBTS–back when my alma mater was allegedly full of liberals!–, I had to nurse several conservative students through his God, Revelation, and Authority, who had gone to class expecting sermon outlines instead of serious apologetics), and they have many strengths, including more interaction with non-evangelical theologians than was common during the period Henry wrote. I have to say that I did not feel that Henry always understood his opponents–including Barth, Brunner, or even Pannenberg, try though he did. I find Henry’s overall approach sterile and lifeless, but his shadow is so large in American Christianity that I would be a fool not to read and interact with his work. But my biggest criticism of Henry is that he was a poor exegete. For me, that is a damning statement. No one who spends 8 volumes defending a particular view of biblical authority should be as inept at close readings of the biblical texts themselves! (This was true not only in his writings, but on the two occasions when I heard him preach.)
  • F. F. Bruce (1910-1990), by contrast was a first rate exegete and set new standards for evangelical biblical scholarship. I do not agree with him always (his defense of the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, for instance, remains unconvincing), but his love for Scripture and for the gospel showed in his careful handling of texts. He is a great example of how an education in the classics can prepare one for a career in biblical studies. I also appreciate his commitment to teaching in religious studies departments in secular universities rather than in confessional seminaries. (This partly reflects his “Open Brethren” tradition which has no ordained or paid clergy, and whose congregations are led by scholarly laity. Bruce preached and taught in Brethren pulpits–and those of other Christian denominations–throughout his career.) Bruce’s generous spirit toward “liberal” Christians, including Rudolf Bultmann, was also rare for his day. He showed by precept and example that one could be orthodox without launching a war on believers from other traditions.
  • Bernard Ramm(1916-1992) is another conservative evangelical whose works I greatly appreciate. His early writings included textbooks on the basics of biblical interpretation, studies on sin and soteriology, and attempts to reconcile science and theology, eventually adopting theistic evolution. His later works bear the impact of Karl Barth in a very healthy way. I also appreciate the way Ramm considered himself always a Baptist, but never wedded to any one Baptist convention. During his career, he taught at institutions related to the American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Baptist General Conference, Canadian Baptists, and Conservative Baptist Association–and did not see this as “switching denominations.” My only criticism is that Ramm saw Baptists as one branch of the Reformed tradition–period. Had he interacted with the Anabaptist dimensions of our heritage, would that have made changes to his theology–particularly his lifelong attempts to wed head, heart, and life?  I think so and I think those changes would have been positive.
  • The Australian Anglican, Leon Morris(1914-2006), was another sound exegete and one whose mild Calvinism tried to face seriously the challenges to that tradition from within it. I especially appreciate the way his later writings showed how he learned from criticisms of earlier work. For instance, early on Morris defended substitutionary atonement, and especially propitiation, as the only viable atonement theory. Later, while still insisting on the validity of these dimensions, Morris recognized that the cross event was bigger than any one atonement theory and attempted to incorporate other elements–relating each perspective to particular biblical texts.
  • Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Prof. of New Testament at Denver Seminary, was my Greek and NT teacher and academic advisor at Palm Beach Atlantic College in South Florida during my undergraduate days. I learned huge amounts from Craig and became friends with both Craig & his wife, Fran. I had already begun learning Greek from my home pastor, but Craig added more, reinforced my love for close exegetical work, and introduced me to liberation theologies–evangelical and otherwise. I was one of the few students at this conservative Baptist college who was (even then) more liberal than Craig, not holding to inerrancy (not even his nuanced version–and I delighted in citing his own teacher, I. Howard Marshall, on my side!) and defending evangelical feminism against his own complementarianism. (Ironically, in practice, Craig & Fran’s marriage always looked perfectly egalitarian to me and these days Fran is on staff at an emerging church congregation and is earning a Ph.D. in Missiology from the International Baptist Theological Seminary at Prague.) But Craig never tried to make cookie cutter followers of his students; he wanted followers of Jesus Christ, instead. When I teach, much of my teaching methods come from Craig–including his habit of assigning pairs of textbooks, one more “liberal” than his view and one more “conservative” than the approach he was taking. How many evangelical scholars, especially in the U.S., have co-written a dialogue book with a Morman theologian? Craig Blomberg has–and that kind of “critical openess” pervades his work. He has chided fellow evangelicals for blanket condemnations of liberation theologies and of pacifism (though I have yet to convince him to become a pacifist). His recent work, Contagious Holiness, is an important corrective to Marcus Borg’s contention that Jesus’ meals with sinners show a lack of concern with holiness/purity, but that, instead, Jesus’ compassionate and inclusive table fellowship attempted to spread holiness.
  • George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982), who taught New Testament at Fuller Seminary, worked hard to bring North American evangelicals to an eschatology that did not involve dispensationalism. Ladd also sought to engage the “Biblical theology” movement and the challenges of the 2nd wave of the “quest for the historical Jesus.” He was unfairly attacked from both the right and the left.
  • George R. Beasley-Murray(1916-2000), British Baptist New Testament scholar who taught at Spurgeon’s College (twice, including a stint as Principal), the Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland (now the International Baptist Theological Seminary and moved to Prague, Czech Republic), and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Like Ladd, Beasley-Murray also worked in New Testament eschatology, though, being British, he wasn’t constantly engaging Dispensationalism! Beasley-Murray, another of my teachers, was attacked by conservatives because his strong defense of Mark 13 as going back to the historical Jesus involved his concluding that Jesus was mistaken about how soon the End would come. He translated Bultmann’s commentary on John, although his own 2-volume commentary on the same book found far more historical material. A truly amazing exegete and biblical theologian. See an excellent tribute here. As with Blomberg above, I almost listed Beasley-Murray as a mentor, rather than a dialogue partner. It was a close call, but both scholars are so identified with “Evangelicalism,” that I could not omit them here.
  • Donald Bloesch (1928-2010), a Reformed theologian from the conservative end of the Presbyterian Church, USA, attempts to reincorporate the pietist tradition into evangelical Reformed thought. Bloesch really sees the dangers to evangelical thought of Henry’s rationalism. Although he continues to use the term “inerrant,” for Scripture, he stretches that term considerably in his interaction with Barth and Brunner. See also here.
  • G. C. Berkouwer(1903-1996), the Dutch Reformed theologian and conservative Barthian. Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture rescues its authority from liberal neglect and from Protestant scholasticism. His defense of perseverance of the saints almost convinced this born and raised Arminian. For years the leading theologian at the Free University of Amsterdam, Berkouwer led the Gereformeede Kerken in Nederland (“The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands,” a conservative splinter group from the Dutch Reformed Church) to join the World Council of Churches, becoming one of the first evangelical denominations to unite with the mainstream conciliar ecumenical movement. His 14 volume Studies in Dogmatics, map out a “middle orthodoxy” which is a firm middle ground between fundamentalist rationalism and liberal flights of fancy.
  • Augustus H. Strong (1893-1921) may have been the most important evangelical Baptist theologian of the late 19th and early 20th C. President and Professor of Theology at Rochester Theological Seminary in upstate New York (now merged as Colgate Rochester Crozier Theological Seminary), Strong, converted as a college student under the preaching of Charles Finney, worked to reformulate Calvinist-Baptist thought for the modern era. He abandoned inerrancy as indefensible, and had a mild view of election. He came to embrace theistic evolution.
  • James Leo Garrett, Jr., Emeritus Professor of Theology at Southwestern Theological Seminary also taught church history and historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before returning to his native Texas. His new 2 volume Systematic Theology is an excellent, centrist, evangelical Baptist work–and notable for its historical interactions.

There are many others from the broader evangelical tradition and I will try to post on those dialogue partners in the near future.

May 21, 2012 Posted by | blog series, history of theology, theologians, theology | 2 Comments

My Favorite Liberal Theologians: A List of Theological Liberals I Find “Essential” as Dialogue Partners

This reprints a post I wrote on my old blog, Levellers, in October 2006. It started a well-received series on “theological dialogue partners.” I will reproduce and index the entire series–and perhaps extend it on this blog.  I don’t find anything in this list I would change.


I must be a glutton for punishment. No sooner do I reassure many evangelical readers of this blog that I am “born again” with testimony of my conversion and faith in Christ, than I write about favorite liberals. What am I thinking? Actually, though, I had been working on this post for some time and, YES, I am planning a companion piece on essential dialogue partners among the Conservative Evangelicals (caps important).

First, let me make two things clear: 1) I do NOT use the term “liberal” in theology to refer to all people who reject biblical ‘inerrancy’ (a rejection I share). “Liberal” theologians, while they have many disagreements, are united in an anthropological starting point (i.e., they begin with some form of general human experience) and in some form of a “method of correlation” (Tillich) between theology and the Modern (Enlightenment and after) world. 2) I do not consider myself a “liberal” since I begin with God’s revelation in Christ through the biblical witness and since, at most, I believe only ad hoc correlations are possible.

The big influences on me theologically are neither “liberal,” nor “conservative.” Those influences: Yoder, Stassen, Marshall, Barth, Moltmann, McClendon, H.R. Niebuhr, Letty Russell, Rauschenbusch, M. L. King, Deotis Roberts, and some others have been or will be the subject of my ongoing series of blog postings on “mentors.” By contrast, the folks below are “dialogue partners,” as are those who will be listed in the companion piece on Conservative Evangelicals.

So, who are my liberal dialogue partners? First, from the Classic Liberal period 19th C.-mid-20th C.) :

F. D. E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), not only the “Father of Liberal Theology,” but the father of all modern and, yes, postmodern theology, too. The first to give theology a truly scientific and systematic shape beyond the summa or the handbook (Calvin’s Institutes clearly was simply a handbook). It is simply not possible to do serious theology since that time without building on Schleiermacher’s legacy, even when challenging or greatly revising it, as Karl Barth knew well. There is much in old Friedrich to deplore, including his anthropological starting point and his reductionism of Christian experience to a feeling of utter dependence, but his work  is a huge attempt to relate the Pietist tradition to the modern world and that remains, in my view, a worthwhile project. Link: Schleiermacher Society.

Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), gave an irreducibly moral shape to modern theology and helped recapture the centrality of the concept of the  Kingdom of God, which for centuries had just been understood as “heaven.” Ritschl’s view of the Kingdom is inadequate, as was Rauschenbusch’s who drew so much from Ritschl, but the recovery of its  theological centrality is still of incalculable importance. Ritschl’s contention that Christianity is characterized by 2 foci, individual salvation and social ethics, still seems right on the money, to me. Further info. here.

William Newton Clarke (1841-1912), the first in North America (taught in both Canada & U.S.) to write a systematic theology from a Schleiermachian perspective. Theologians debate how much Clarke borrowed from Schleiermacher and how much he simply thought along similar lines. There were also connections to Ritschl and Hermann.

Douglas Clyde Macintosh (1877-1948), Canadian-born Baptist theologian at Yale attempted to make theology an empirical science. He was an enormous influence on the brothers Niebuhr and later Process Theology, but also on the postmodern (ana)Baptist theology of my mentor, James Wm. McClendon, Jr.  Recent study found here.

Adolf von Harnack(1851-1930), for his incredibly encyclopedic knowledge and display of the history of Christian doctrine. (But his reduction of the “essence of Christianity” to the “Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man,” was incredibly weak–and patriarchal to boot.)

Top 10 Favorite Liberals: Contemporary and Recent Past


10. Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003), German feminist political theologian. See Sarah K. Pinnock, ed., The Theology of Dorothee Soelle.

9. Marjorie  H.  Schucocki (1933-), Feminist Process Theologian. Best 1 vol. systematic from a process perspective.

8. Gary Comstock, both for his early work on narrative theology (mapping out some of the varieties) and for his subsequent work on theology from an openly gay male perspective. Whatever one believes about “homosexuality” pro or con, one cannot ignore the theological challenge and Comstock is the best theologian among those proposing full inclusion. I do wish he would relate this to his earlier work on narrative theology so that one could judge the adequacy of connections.

7. Eric Rust, a British Baptist educated in both physics and theology, came to the U.S. after both pastorates and academic positions in the U.K. He taught for decades at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where he forged an “evolutionary theology” that was an early process theology not as fully dependent on the metaphysics of Hartshorne and Whitehead as most later versions. Rust helped many, many reconcile science and theology and was one of the first to see the challenge of the ecological crisis to theology. He related the covenant and salvation history themes of the Scriptures to evolutionary worldview in a very persuasive way.

6. Langdon Gilkey (1919-2004) Chicago’s giant from the early ’60s to the ’90s. Gilkey was a student of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, but, unlike the latter, he forged a “theology of culture” that could actually be understood! Gilkey’s book Naming the Whirlwind essentially demolished the “Death of God” movement. For more info. see here and here.

5. Hans Küng (1928-), the brilliant star of the radical Catholics whose work both led to Vatican II and charted the path further. Sidelined in Catholic life for challenging papal infallibility, Küng’s works On Being a Christian, and Does God Exist? are major apologetic works for our time which take seriously Christianity’s skeptical critics (as conservative apologists seldom do) without capitulating to them. He also has helped pioneer Christian interfaith dialogue in ways that are not just the nonsense of “all roads lead up the same mountain.” Biblio-blogger Chris Tilling’s excellent reflections on Küng’s importance are found here.

4. Daniel Day Williams (1910-1973), was a pioneer process theologian who work was far more connected to the major Christian tradition and its symbols than most in the Whitehead/Hartshorne school. Unfortunately, Williams’ most important works, God’s Grace and Man’s Hope; The Spirit and the Forms of Love; and The Demonic and the Divine are all out of print.

3. Howard Thurman (1900-1981) African-American mystic whom I profiled earlier as a Baptist prophet.  See the Howard Thurman Center at Boston University. There is also a Howard Thurman documentary film project here.  Morehouse College houses the Howard Thurman papers.  The interracial Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, which Thurman founded in San Francisco, is still in existence.  Thurman was a major influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.

2. Harvey Cox(1929-) — American theologian most in touch with the currents of culture.  Beginning with Barth & Bonhoeffer, Cox moved from celebrating “the secular city,” to being one of the first liberals to notice that secularism was dying. He rediscovered in a new way the centrality of Jesus in, of all places, his interfaith dialogue! Cox became one of the first mainline liberals to take Pentecostalism seriously, too. Never anything close to a systematician, Cox remains one of the most astute theologians of culture for North America. Currently the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University Divinity School.

1. Marcus J. Borg whose biblical work is among the strongest in the “Jesus Seminar,” but who also has sought to revitalize liberalism in ways that are easily communicable to laity. The Heart of Christianity renews the Pietist tradition of the heart in a radical post-modern world. Do I always agree? No. But it’s not your average liberal who advises congregations to have more Bible studies! More info. here and his books here.

Runners Up: Peter Gomes, John Cobb (for relating process theology to liberation thought and ecological theology); Clark Pinnock in “Open Theism” phase; L. Harold DeWolf & Walter G. Muelder for Boston Personalism; Rosemary Radford Ruether; Beverly Wildung Harrison; Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza; Carlyle Marney.

May 21, 2012 Posted by | biographies, blog series, history of theology, theologians, theology | Leave a comment

The 10 Most Important Christian Theologians in U. S. History

This kind of a list is necessarily subjective, but I am trying to base my choices not on “my favorites,” but on the basis of influence–both on other theologians and on the faith and practice of the churches.  After I post this list, my next posts will be a series of profiles of each of these ten. I do not think that either my choices or descriptions/evaluations are incontestable.  I invite others to submit their own lists and reasons for them–either in the comments or on their own blogs with links in the comments. I also invite readers from other nations to list the most important theologians of their nations. Our mutual enrichment could be considered a form of globalized “continuing theological education.” I hope you enjoy this series and I look forward to your responses. My list is in chronological order.

  1. Roger Williams (1603-1683).  Williams was a Cambridge educated English Puritan theologian who emigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony where his evolving views led to conflict with the colony’s religious establishment. He became a champion of religious liberty and church-state separation, as well as a friend and advocate for Native Americans. Banished (together with his wife) into “ye howling wilderness” by the Massachusetts Bay Colony authorities, Williams was saved by Native Americans of the Narragansett nation.  He founded Providence and secured a royal charter for the Colony of Rhode Island. He founded the First Baptist Church in North America in Providence, but soon withdrew himself from membership (believing all churches to be impure) to await the rise of a new apostleship. He wrote a grammar of the Narangansett language for English speakers, founded Rhode Island as the first colony to ensure religious liberty, and wrote many theological tracts that were influential on others, especially later Baptists.
  2. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Calvinist Congregationalist theologian of the Awakening, educated at Yale.  Although
    the stereotypes focus on his “hellfire and damnation” sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards was actually one of the foremost philosophical theologians of love.  He helped create the discipline of sociology in order to accurately describe the phenomena of
    the revivals.  His work Freedom of the Will re-thought the doctrine of Predestination.  Edwards reshaped Puritan theology to mold the Evangelicalism of the Great Awakening.
  3. Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Presbyterian theologian of the first generation of Princeton Theological Seminary, Hodge established the Calvinist orthodoxy of the central strand of American Evangelicalism.  He also began the form of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy (refined by his son, A.A. Hodge and by B. B. Warfield) that became so important to most U.S. conservative Protestants after the rise of the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy.
  4. Walter Rauschenbush (1861-1918). American Baptist pastor, church historian, and THE theologian of the Social Gospel movement.
    The son of an immigrant German Lutheran pastor (August Rauschenbusch) who converted to Baptist convictions. Educated at Rochester Theological Seminary and the University of Berlin, the largest theological impact on Rauschenbusch was his experience as a pastor of poor people in Hell’s Kitchen—one of the worst slums in NYC.  Rauschenbusch’s theology centered around Jesus’ inauguration of the
    Kingdom of God—in which both individual salvation and the struggle for social justice were incorporated.
  5. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Minister in the Evangelical Synod of North America (and, after the merger, with the Evangelical and Reformed Church)—an immigrant denomination of Germans influenced by the Heidelberg Catechism which combined Lutheran and Calvinist influences. (This is one of the root denominations of today’s United Church of Christ.) Educated at Elmhurst
    College, Eden Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and Yale University Graduate School (but his father’s death prevented him from finishing his Ph.D.).  Greatly Iinfluenced by his time as pastor in Henry Ford’s Detroit.  As Professor of Applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, Niebuhr reconfigured the Social Gospel of Rauschenbusch with influences from Luther and
    Augustine—especially on the nature of sin.  He called the result “Christian Realism,” and, for better or worse, it has dominated the American Christian approach to social ethics and political involvement ever since.
  6. H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962). Reinie’s younger brother and arguably the more brilliant, but less influential, thinker. Influenced more by Calvin than Luther, also Troeltsch and Karl Barth. Created the foundations of what became “narrative theology” and the post-liberal tradition.
  7. John Howard Yoder (1927-1997). American Mennonite theologian educated at Goshen College and the University of Basel.  Influenced by traditional Anabaptist theology, Harold Bender,  Karl Barth, Markus Barth, and Oscar Cullmann.  Yoder took these
    influences and forged a nonviolent theology of social concern that rejected the Constantinian synthesis of imperial Christianity that had dominated Christianity since the 4th C.  He was probably the most influential Christian pacifist theologian since World War II and certainly the most Christocentric.
  8. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). African-American Baptist minister who took traditional Black Baptist pietism, the Social Gospel, Christian Realism, Boston Personalist philosophy & Gandhian nonviolence theory to forge the theology of the nonviolent Civil Rights movement. Educated at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, Harvard University, and Boston University, King repeatedly turned down academic posts in order to keep his commitments as a pastor and leader of the grassroots Civil Rights movement.
  9. Letty M. Russell (1929-2007).  One ofthe pioneers in Christian feminist theology, one of the earliest women ordained
    by Presbyterians, Russell incorporated feminism into a much more mainstream Christian tradition than did other early pioneers like Mary Daly (who became a self-described “post-Christian”) and Rosemary Radford Reuther
  10. James Hal Cone (1938–).  The most influential of the pioneers of Black Liberation Theology.  A minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Cone was educated at Philander Smith College, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Northwestern University, Cone has spent most of his career teaching at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Influenced by traditional Black Methodism, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Power Movement, Cone has sought to re-think Christian theology from the perspective of the oppressed and to articulate a theology of liberation focused on the African American context, but in dialogue with other liberation movements and cultural traditions around the globe.

Well, there’s my list. I am deeply aware that it is dominated by white males, but the tradition has been so dominated for most of U.S. history and I am trying to organize my list in terms of influence.  I may believe (as I do) that Frederick Douglass should have been far more influential than Charles Hodge, but, at least at this point in U.S. history, it is not the case.

Even so, narrowing this list to 10 was not easy.  The omissions are glaring–and I hope your responses will help to fill them.


August 28, 2011 Posted by | blog series, church history, history of theology, theologians, tradition | 8 Comments

Theological Mentors #4 E. Glenn Hinson

One of my teachers whom I have not mentioned frequently is E. Glenn Hinson, church historian, contemplative & advocate of strong, disciplined practices of spiritual formation, ecumenist, peacemaker, and advocate of the liberal strand of Baptist theology. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Hinson grew up on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks near Sullivan. A poor Baptist farmboy growing up in the Great Depression and WWII, his path to success began with a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis where he earned a B. A. in history mathematics (correction from Sallie Lanier). As with many of us, university tested Hinson’s faith and he credits a wise counselor at the Baptist Student Union (BSU) on campus for showing him that if “all truth is God’s truth,” and if Christian faith was a relationship with the living God, then one could fearlessly investigate anything, test everything, and trust God through it all. That orientation led Hinson to reject fundamentalism and to see it forevermore as a kind of fear or even a “works righteousness” that desires to earn God’s favor through holding “right beliefs” and being intolerant of all, even other Christians, who see things differently.

Hinson took this new orientation and a call to ministry to the mother seminary of his denomination (Southern Baptist Convention), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. There he finished his B.D. near the top of his class (earning several awards) and took a Th.D. in New Testament, writing a dissertation in which he concluded that the Apostle Paul did not write the pastoral epistles–a daring conclusion for a Southern Baptist in the 1950s.

SBTS wanted to recruit the brilliant student from Missouri, but needed church historians more than Neutestamentlers. Hinson switched gears and pursued a second doctorate, a DPhil. at Oxford University in early church history. (He studied, of course, at Regent’s Park College, the Baptist theological college at Oxford.)  His background in New Testament has allowed him over the years to make many careful connections between the Apostolic era and the Patristic writings.

Becoming friends with Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and spiritual writer whose abbey (Gethsemani) was near Louisville, Hinson became deeply involved in the ecumenical movement of spiritual renewal–connecting the revivalist spirituality of most Southern Baptists to ancient and medieval spiritual practices. His ecumenical efforts included participation in the Faith & Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at a time when his branch of the Baptist movement was not a member of the WCC. He has lectured in Catholic, Orthodox, and many different Protestant institutions.

For 30 years, Hinson taught Church History at Southern Seminary, becoming one of the most published faculty members. He has written major works in early Church history (e.g., The Evangelization of the Roman Empire; The Church Triumphant; The Early Church: Origins to the Dawn of the Middle Ages) , biography (e.g., Seekers After Mature Faith; Love at the Heart of Things: A Biography of Douglas V. Steere); religious liberty(e.g., Soul Liberty; Religious Liberty: The Christian Roots of Our Fundamental Freedoms); spiritual formation (e.g., A Serious Call to a Contemplative Lifestyle; Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership), over 30 books and contributions to books in all.

Hinson has even used his NT scholarship and written Jesus Christ for the “Faith of Our Fathers” series in the early 1960s. This work was later to be the cause of some controversy, although the series died and few noticed Hinson’s volume at the time. The assignment by the publishers was for Hinson to write a “biography” of Jesus that included only what historians could prove or be reasonably sure of as historians. So, Hinson summarized the major conclusions of “historical Jesus” research at the time. He noted that the tools of historiography did not allow him as a historian to affirm Jesus’ resurrection, although as a believer Hinson could and did affirm Jesus’ resurrection.

Years later, in the 1980s, when Hinson was a major critic of fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention, Hinson’s enemies used that book to claim that Hinson did not believe in the resurrection–which is false. One can debate whether or not Hinson is right about the limits of historiography, but that is an argument about what historians can reasonably assert, NOT an argument over the resurrection itself. Trustees at SBTS repeatedly cleared Hinson of any charges of heresy, but one of the injustices of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention was that there was no such thing as protection against double jeopardy: Hinson and other professors could be cleared one semester only to face another individual or group putting forward the SAME CHARGES with NO NEW EVIDENCE the next semester.

When Pres. Roy Honeycutt retired from SBTS, Hinson retired rather than attempt to teach under a fundamentalist administration. From 1994-2000, Hinson was Professor of Church History and Christian Spirituality at The Baptist Seminary in Richmond (BTSR) and an Adjunct Professor at Union Theological Seminary of Virginia/Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He has also held many visiting professorships. Currently, he is Visiting Professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Senior Professor of Church History and Christian Spiritual Formation at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (a non-fundamentalist alternative to the now fundamentalist-controlled SBTS), and Visiting Professor at Lexington Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ). During this post-SBTS period, Hinson has affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

As with anyone, I haven’t always agreed with my beloved professor: Hinson denies the Anabaptist roots of Baptists, for instance, seeing English Puritanism as the sole root of the Baptist movement–a view I contest. I find less value than he does in the works of Teilhard de Chardin, whereas Hinson finds Teilhard’s work to provide a philosophy of history. But I have learned from him to appreciate the history of the entire church as MY history and learned steep myself in the “classics of Christian devotion” as guidance in spiritual formation and discipline. We share a deep commitment to Christian nonviolence (Hinson’s is more Quaker-influenced while mine is more Anabaptist in shape) and the work of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Hinson was the original editor of The Baptist Peacemaker.

His personal faith has also long been a source of personal inspiration: Hinson suffered a stroke and loss of some hearing in the late 1960s, but has persevered in service to Christ and the church despite this and much other adversity. I am glad to have been taught so much by this great mentor and friend.

Note: The Fall 2004 issue of the Review and Expositor (the oldest faculty journal of theology founded by Baptists in North America) is devoted as a Festschrift to Hinson.  The Spiritual Formation Network, dedicated to helping all Christians become spiritually mature, has created (in 2007) the E. Glenn Hinson Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation Scholarship.

October 8, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, blog series, history of theology, theologians | 3 Comments

Essential Theology Books of the Last 25 Years (1985-2010)

The Christian Century has asked a range of prominent contemporary Christian theologians to list their top 5 works in theology for the last 25 years.   CC  polled Stanley Hauerwas, Amos Yong, Emilie M. Townes, Lawrence S. Cunningham, Sarah Coakley, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, George Hunsinger, and Willie James Jennings.  Their results are here

It’s a good selection of thinkers and a good list, but I thought it’d be fun to poll the theoblogging and biblioblogging world for their picks.  Below are mine in no particular order.

  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon Press, 1996).  Won the Grawemeyer Award for religion.  Written in the wake of the Los Angeles uprising over an all white jury’s cynical aquittal of the racist police officers who beat Rodney King and in the wake of the ethnic cleansing in the civil war of the former Yugoslavia. (Volf is a Croatian-American.) Though not every part is equally satisfying, this is a powerful account of the necessity and difficulties of forgiveness.
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford University Press, 2008).   Even though modern theology and philosophy (since the days of European colonialism) are deeply involved in the construction of the flawed notion of race, the topic is usually ignored. Carter not only tackles it, but does it with more depth than I would have believed possible.  NO pastor (especially in the USA), evangelist, missionary, theologian or student of any theological discipline can afford to ignore this book.
  • Catherine LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life (HarperOne, 1993).  The late Catherine LaCugna gives one of the most powerful accounts of the Trinity I’ve ever read and shows how deeply important it is for Christian living. Far too many Christians (whether liberal or conservative) think of the Trinity as a “numbers game” which is abstract and remote and of no essential importance for Christian faith–whatever lip service they give to it.  All of them should read LaCugna and reconsider.
  • John Howard Yoder, For the Nations:  Essays Evangelical and Public (Eerdmans, 1997; repr. Wipf and Stock, 2002).  The last book Yoder published before his untimely death in December 1997.  Demonstrates clearly that the Anabaptist engagement with the state and the wider culture is anything but a “sectarian withdrawal.”
  • James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Systematic Theology (3 vols.) (Abingdon Press, 1986; 1994; 2000).  In 3 concentrated and dense volumes (Ethics, Doctrine, Witness) McClendon forges a Baptist (and baptist) theology for the new millennium that is both deeply catholic and which explains and defends the (Ana)baptist perspective to those trained in mainline (Constantinian) theology–whether liberal or evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox.

I look forward to your picks and reasons.  Yes, it’s hard to limit to just 5, but that is part of the challenge.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | book reviews, books, history of theology | 18 Comments

Barth Blog Conference 2010

The Karl Barth Blog Conference of 2010 has begun. I’ll be reading all the papers and responses, but won’t be commenting myself or doing further reporting on this blog–because it is getting plenty of coverage. So, I’ll just suggest that all those interested should go here and have a good time. I will.

September 27, 2010 Posted by | blog series, history of theology, Karl Barth, theologians, theology | Leave a comment

Silencing Women’s Voices in the History of Theology: Baptist Examples

Let’s face it:  Theology, like most academic disciplines, has been thoroughly dominated by male voices.  But the voices in Christian theology have not been exclusively male and recent decades have seen the recovery of female contributions to Christian theology in many eras (from the “Church Mothers” onward) and many branches of the Church catholic, East and West.  Yet, women’s voices continue to be omitted or downplayed in major surveys of historical theology.  Since criticism, like charity, best begins at home, I will illustrate this fault in my own tradition by focusing on two recent (and otherwise excellent) studies of the history of Baptist theology.

Now, the resurgent fundamentalism and scholastic (“high”) Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention has led the current shapers of that large denomination to be rather deliberate in their silence of women’s voices.  The post-fundamentalist takeover SBC  took away ordination as a local church matter in order to quash the ordination of women as deacons, pastors, and other ministers of the gospel.  The Convention’s statement of faith (turned into a rigid creed, unlike its historic function), The Baptist Faith and Message, was revised in 2000 to make explicit and permanent the subordination of women in family, church, and society ( in practice, many SBC fundamentalist leaders will vote for female politicians as long as they are rightwing Republicans like Sarah Palin, though their theologies should demand that they insist such women remain at home).  There was even a move a few years ago (which failed) to rename the iconic Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions because of the prominence given to pioneering woman missionary to China, Charlotte Diggs “Lottie” Moon.  But I want to focus on historical treatments by those who are in favor of the equality of the sexes and whose silencing of female voices is not conscious or deliberate–because this seems to me to be the larger problem.

William H. Brackney, A Genetic History of Baptist Thought (Mercer University Press, 2004).

Brackney is a brilliant church historian and historical theologian who has taught at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary( now re-named Palmer Theological Seminary) (an American Baptist school), McMaster Divinity College (Canadian Baptist), Baylor University (Baptist General Convention of Texas & Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), and is now Cherry Distinguished Professor of Theology and Ethics at Acadia Divinity College (Canadian Baptist).  His A Genetic History of Baptist Thought traces the theological influences on various Baptist groups since our 17th C. beginnings through confessions of faith, hymns, the influence of pastor-theologians, and through the study of major writing theologians in their institutional settings, i.e., Baptist-founded universities and seminaries and in diaspora at ecumenical institutions or other institutions outside Baptist circles.

Although concentrating on Britain, Canada, and the U.S., Brackney does an excellent job at recovering voices of African-American Baptist theology–all too often neglected in such surveys. His work would have been even more impressive had he not so narrowly defined “theology” in terms of “doctrine,” ruling out influential Baptist voices in biblical theology, historical theology, missiology, and Christian theological ethics.  That definitional restriction naturally eliminated some major female voices.  So, in a dense volume of 592 pages, Brackney only includes brief treatments of two women: the 18th C. British hymnwriters Anne Steele (1717-1778) (a Particular, or Calvinistic, Baptist) and Alice Flowerdew (1759-1830) (a General, or Arminian, Baptist). 

James Leo Garrett, Jr., Baptist Theology: A Four Century Study (Mercer University Press, 2009).

Garrett, a Southern theologian who was one of the last students of W. T. Conner (1877-1952) and who wrote his dissertation on Conner’s theology, taught theology and church history at Southwestern, Southern, and Baylor university.  He is a major theologian in his own right.  He and Brackney were writing at the same time and without knowledge of each other’s surveys.  Garrett also considers confessions, hymns, pastor theologians, and academic writers, but he defines theology in a broader fashion, so that he includes biblical theologians and missiologists.  Garrett also tries to study Baptist thought on all five (5) continents–a welcome inclusiveness.  He includes the roots of Baptist views in the early Church, the Reformers (including the Anabaptists), and is even more inclusive of submerged voices than Brackney, including numerous Latino as well as African-American voices, Asian, African, and Latin American theologians.  Yet, in 792 pages,  Garrett includes not a single female voice, not even in his “New Voices in Baptist Theology.”

What could be the excuse for such neglect?  Why do both these excellent surveys neglect such contributions to British Baptist thought as Anne Dutton (1692-1765), Marianne Farningham (1834-1909), or Muriel Lester (1885-1968)?  If one is going to include the thought of the Southern Baptist missiologist William Owen Carver (1868-1954), as Garrett does, why would one leave out the work of Annie W. Armstrong (1850-1938), or Mary Webb (1779-1861)?  Pioneering missionary Adonirom Judson was married 3 times because two of his wives died on the Burmese mission field.  All 3 women, Ann Hasseltine Judson (1789-1826), Sarah Hall Boardman Judson (1803-1845), and Emily Chubbuck Judson (1817-1854), were writers who influenced American Baptist views on many subjects, especially missiology.  Ann was an excellent student of Hebrew and Greek and helped Adonirom translate the Bible into Burmese and related languages. Her many letters to Baptist papers in America created the image of the missionary as a heroic figure in Baptist life.  Sarah translated Pilgrim’s Progess into Burmese and preached sermons to the Karen and Kachin peoples.  Emily wrote the biography of Sarah’s life, and numerous other works–many of which are now being reprinted by Mercer University Press.  A Canadian Baptist woman (originally from Sweden) who could have been included is Henriette Odin Feller (1800-1845) who founded a college for women.

Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934), a friend of Susan B. Anthony, is the only woman to have published her own translation of the Greek New Testament, and she was the first woman to head a major denomination when she served as President of the Northern (now American) Baptist Convention.  She was also a major proponent and interpreter of Christian missions and a social reformer who helped promote the Social Gospel in Baptist circles.  But neither Brackney nor Garrett mentions a word about Montgomery and her influence.

What is especially puzzling is Garrett’s omission of women’s voices in his chapter on “New Voices in Baptist Life.”  Why no treatment of Molly T. Marshall, now President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Shawnee, KS) and author of three monographs? Why nothing on Emilie Townes (now of Yale Divinity School), author or editor of four (4) books of theology and ethics (who could’ve also been included in Brackney’s chapters on African-American Baptists or Baptists in Diaspora)? Sheri Adams, now at Gardner-Webb University’s Divinity School, was actually a colleague of Garrett’s at Southwestern but he says nothing of her work which included interaction with Latin-American Liberation Theology.  He covers the work of New Testament theologian Frank Stagg (1911-2001) without mentioning the fact that his wife, Evelyn (1914-), though unable at that time to be a regular student at SBTS, got better grades in Greek than he did and was the uncredited co-author of all his books (finally being listed as such in the 1978 Woman in the World of Jesus). Nor is there any attention to Elizabeth Barnes (of Southeastern Baptist Seminary and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond) who wrote a major study rethinking Baptist ecclesiology with aid from the early Karl Barth and another pioneering work in narrative theology.  Missing is any discussion of Eastern Baptist (now Palmer) Theological Seminary’s Eloise Renich Fraser or Colgate Rochester Crozer’s Melanie A. May.  

Dozens of others could be listed in “new voices.”   As with almost all other Christian traditions, Baptist theology has been dominated by men and the increasing number of women in leadership in (at least some strands of) Baptist circles are hard pressed for role models and female influences.  But when surveys such as Brackney’s and Garrett’s neglect the female voices that have been present, it is needlessly disempowering.  It is also hurtful to men:  Conservative men who are biased against women’s leadership have their already unreasonable pride and arrogance reinforced.  Men who would be open to women’s voices and perspectives are deprived of a chance to be introduced to them.  Further, both men and women miss the important theological perspectives that only women can give. In short, this kind of silencing hurts the Body of Christ.  It’s past time for these kind of silences to end.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, book reviews, church history, history of theology | Leave a comment

May God Grant Us New Prophets and Teachers

This morning I was talking with a longtime friend about the deaths of so many major creative voices in theology and in the life of the Church Universal in the past decade.  I suppose it’s a sign of my own increasing middle-aged status (I’m 48), but I find it to be a startling list of voices who led or provoked, prodded, and served (for better or worse) the Church, often defining much of the landscape, for generations.

We who are left are the poorer for their absence and must pray that God raise up others just as creative–even those in the list I or some readers would consider heretical should be viewed as gifts of grace since their challenge(s) often clarified important issues.  (Always be thankful for your critics–they stimulate further reflection and, perhaps, repentance.)

Here are the voices I know we’ve lost since 2000. Please use the comments to add those I’ve missed or forgotten as well as add reflections on individuals in the list.  After 2 weeks, I’ll use the comments to revise the list.  As a Protestant, I do not pray for the dead in the sense that Catholics do, but I think it completely appropriate to give thanks for their lives (witness), to mourn their passing, and to pray for those they’ve left behind.  I encourage readers to add their prayers as appropriate.

  • Richard A. McCormick, S.J. (1932-2000), was for decades the leading American Catholic moral theologian, especially in the controversial area of medical ethics.  He taught at the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago (1957-1974), Georgetown University (1974-1986), and, as John A. Ryan Professor of Moral Theology, at the University of Notre Dame until his retirement (1986-1999). 
  • James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (1924-2000), pioneering Baptist narrative theologian.  One of the first white theologians to take Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously as a theologian (not just as a “civil rights leader”), he was later influenced by John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, by the philosophers J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein.  He was one of my mentors.
  • Frank Stagg (1911-2001), Southern Baptist New Testament theologian, pacifist, activist for racial justice, early advocate of the ordination of women.
  • Neville Clark (1927-2002), a British Baptist theologian about whom I know little, but see Andy Goodliff’s introduction here.
  • John F. Walvoord (1910-2002), a major voice of Dispensational theology (not a view I’m fond of) who led Dallas Theological Seminary for decades died in Dec. 2002 at the age of 92.
  • John H. Leith (1919-2002), a Reformed theologian in the Presbyterian Church, USA, who taught for decades at Union Theological Seminary of Virginia.
  • Daniel Jenkins (1914-2002), a British Congregationalist theologian and ecumenical leader.
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). I don’t know if he was a Christian, but this German philosopher had a HUGE influence on Christian theology, especially biblical hermeneutics.
  • William L. Hendricks (1929-2002), Baptist theologian. Student of Langdon A. Gilkey. Pioneer in interface between theology and the arts for Baptists.  Wrote mostly for laity.
  • Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003), major voice of post-WWII U.S. Evangelicals. One of the founding faculty members of Fuller Theological Seminary and the founding editor of Christianity Today.
  • Colin Gunton (1941-2003), British theologian in the United Reformed Church died suddenly and too early at aged 62.  I was a colleague of his for the summer of 1999 when we were both Visiting Professors at Fuller Seminary, staying in the same guest house.  I had previously been unfamiliar with Gunton, but found him a fascinating and challenging dialogue partner.  He was one of the founders of the International Journal of Systematic Theology.
  • Edward A. Dowey (1918-2003), a renowned Calvin scholar and Princeton seminary theologian died at 85.
  • Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003), pioneering (and usually controversial) German Protestant feminist theologian and political activist.
  • Langdon A. Gilkey (1919-2004), famed U.S. liberal Baptist theologian who taught for decades at the University of Chicago Divinity School. 
  • (Christian Frederick) Beyers Naudé (1919-2004), one of the few white church leaders and theologians in South Africa to have strongly opposed apartheid and worked at great risk for racial justice and reconciliation.
  • Henlee H. Barnette (1914-2004), Baptist theologian and ethicist. Another one of the few early white theologians to take Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously as a theologian. (In fact, Barnette got the trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to offer King a full professorship in Christian ethics in 1963–which Coretta urged him to take, but King declined because he felt God’s call to continue to teach “in the streets.”) 3 portraits hung in Barnette’s office: Those of Walter Rauschenbusch, Clarence Jordan, and Martin King–they defined his tradition as a radical Baptist theological ethicist.
  • Jan Milic Lochman (1923-2004), Ecumenical theologian from the Czech Brethren. 
  • Robert W. Funk (1929-2005), pioneer of the “new hermeneutic” and later very controversial founder and promoter of the “Jesus Seminar.”
  • Monika Hellwig (1929-2005), former nun who attended the Second Vatican Council, pioneering feminist theologian. After leaving her status as a nun, she adopted two children and raised them as a single mother, never marrying.  Defended Catholic intellectuals against a Vatican crackdown.
  • Gerhard O. Forde (1928-2005), famous Lutheran theologian died of Parkinson’s.
  • Stanley J. Grenz (1950-2005), pioneering “postconservative” Canadian Baptist theologian died suddenly of a heart attack.
  • Karol Wojytla, a.k.a., John Paul II (1920-2005), prominent Catholic leader in resisting Communism in his native Poland, took the Catholic church in a more conservative direction as pope than it had been travelling since Vatican II.  Defended peace and universal human rights, but tended to view all liberation theologies through the lense of his experiences with Stalinistic Communism in Poland.  One of the most globetrotting of popes and one of the most beloved.
  • Paul Ricoeur (1914-2005), French hermeneutical philosopher and faithful member of the Reformed Church of France which grew out of the 16th C. Huguenot movement.
  • Brother Roger of Taíze (1915-2005), founder of a French Protestant “monastic” order.
  • William Sloan Coffin (1924-2006), Chaplain to Yale University during Vietnam War, pastor of Riverside Church, NYC. United Church of Christ minister and social justice activist.  A prophetic voice for peace.
  • Corretta Scott King (1927-2006), wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a prophetic voice for justice and peace in her own right.
  • Krister Stendahl (1921-2006), brilliant New Testament scholar, dean of Harvard Divinity School, and Swedish Lutheran bishop.  Early advocate for the ordination of women to the ministry, but wary of some later feminist theology.
  • Arthur Peacocke (1924-2006), Anglican priest and theologian who worked in the relationship of science and theology.
  • Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006), Lutheran minister, church historian, and historical theologian par excellance.
  • Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007), probably the greatest British theologian of the 20th C. (and maybe in the English speaking world).
  • Vernard Eller (1929-2007), Church of the Brethren theologian. Pacifist, theological anarchist, student of Kierkegaard, Barth, Ellul. Early advocate of the ordination of women, but strong opponent of feminist inclusive language for God.
  • John Maquarrie (1920-2007), Anglican theologian who mediated Bultmann and Tillich.
  • Letty M. Russell (1928-2007), Presbyterian and pioneer feminist theologian. Interacted strongly with the work of Jürgen Moltmann.
  • Avery Cardinal Dulles (1918-2008), grandson of a Presbyterian minister, son of a conservative U.S. Secretary of State, he converted to Catholicism and became a major moderately-conservative theologian.
  • Ann Carr (1934-2008), Catholic feminist theologian and nun.
  • Henry Chadwick (1920-2008), Anglican priest and church historian.
  • Thomas Berry (1915-2008), American Catholic priest and pioneer of radical eco-theology.
  • Richard John Neuhaus (1937-2009), once liberal Lutheran pastor and theologian who became a neo-conservative, then converted to Catholicism, was ordained a priest. Leading conservative American Catholic theologian and founder of the journal First Things.
  • Olivier Clément (1929-2009), Eastern Orthodox theologian in heavily Catholic France.
  • Ray Anderson (1925-2009), theologian of the Evangelical Free Church, who taught for years at Fuller Theological Seminary and was a major pioneer in pastoral theology (in dialogue with psychology).
  • Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1915-2009), British born Anglican priest, church historian, historical theologian, and translator of numerous major German theological works into English.  After pastoral ministry in the UK, he taught church history and historical theology for decades at Fuller Theological Seminary.
  • Edward Schillebeecxx (1915-2010), Belgian Catholic priest of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and towering theologian, especially in the wake of Vatican II.
  • Mary Daly (1929-2010), former Catholic nun who attended Vatican II, became a radical post-Christian feminist philosopher.
  • Bruce Shelley (1928-2010), Conservative Baptist minister and church historian who taught for decades at Denver Seminary.
  • E. Earle Ellis (1926-2010), Southern Baptist New Testament scholar from a conservative evangelical perspective.
  • Clark Pinnock (1937-2010), Canadian Baptist theologian who went from scholastic Calvinism to “open theism,” died of Alzheimers.
  • Donald G. Bloesch (1928-2010), evangelical theologian in the UCC, died of cancer.

All in all, it has been a hard decade on theologians.  Please join me in praying for new voices of wisdom and courage.

Update:  Further reflection shows that the entire theological landscape in which my generation was raised and educated–the entire landscape, liberal and conservative, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox–is passing away.  The landscape the next generation will inherit is not clear, but they’re are both ominous and hopeful signs about which I’ll write in future posts.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | church history, history of theology, obituaries | 14 Comments