Monday, May 08, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. VI.

After a successful and happy pastoral ministry of eleven years at East Free Church, Broughty Ferry, James Denney was called by the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland to the chair of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at the Free Church College, Glasgow. While still at Broughty Ferry Denney had been invited to deliver a course of theological lectures at Chicago Theological Seminary. His lectures, published under the title Studies in Theology, had brought him to the notice of the Assembly's College Committee. They had also earned him a D.D. from the University of Chicago, and so it was as Dr. Denney that he took up his new post in Glasgow.
Denney did not forget East Free Church, Broughty Ferry. In a very real sense he was, as his successor in the pastorate said, "minister of the East Free Church till the day of his death." He appeared in his old pulpit every year for the rest of his life.

Glasgow is Scotland's second city, and the Free Church College wanted to be seen as superior to that in Edinburgh. Dr. Denney was quite a gain even to their faculty. After all, his lectures at Chicago had given him a worldwide reputation. Students came from all over the world to sit under Denney's teaching.
Denney recognised that a theological professor cannot simply be an academic, he must also be a pastor. Denney spoke of his work as being, to a great extent, "creating a conscience" in the students. For their part the students recognised his spiritual influence. Denney also tried to help the young Free Church students to develop good habits of study and preparation. He could come down in terrible wrath upon the student who had deliberately failed to prepare for a class. One man who had tried to speak in class without preparation earned the rebuke of "not having the ghost of a glimmering of an idea of what he is talking about."
Those students who were prepared to put in hard work, however, found in Denney a friendly, genial man. A little shy by nature, Denney made the effort to invite students to meet with him in his study, and even in his house. Some of the students thought so highly of him that a theological debate among Glasgow Free Church students was often ended with the question, "What is Dr. Denney's view?"

The college desk was Denney's native environment, and he took to it with delight. God willing, we shall look further at his professorial career next time.



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