Saturday, October 07, 2006

Marcus Dods - Victorian Emergent? IX

While Marcus Dods' teaching in a church in Glasgow hardly made waves in Scotland, in 1889 he was appointed to the chair of New Testament Exegesis in New College, Edinburgh, to succeed George Smeaton, author of 'The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit', 'Christ's Doctrine of the Atonement' and 'The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement' (all currently published by the Banner of Truth Trust). Why Dods was appointed to this post we are not sure. Up to that point his most well-known work had been editing a translation of the Works of Augustine. But he was appointed to the post.
It was at that moment that the conservative party in the Free Church objected. Already A.B. Davidson was applying the destructive criticism to the Old Testament in New College, with the appointment of Marcus Dods to teach New Testament only the higher critical view of the Bible would be presented at the denomination's flagship theological college.
Pamplets were written calling the church's attention to the professor's teaching on the Bible, the atonement, even the divinity of Christ and the resurrection.
Which is not to say that Dods denied either the divinity of Christ or the resurrection of the Saviour. No, what he DID say was that neither belief was necessary for a man to be a Christian. Preaching on 'What is a Christian?'in the High Kirk of Edinburgh, St. Giles. Cathedral, Dods had said:
"If, then, we are accepting God's forgiveness, and living humbly in the sunshine of His favour, we need not be seriously disturbed in spirit if we cannot accept what is known as the orthodox theory of the atonement (the very view Smeaton had written to defend! - H.H.). That theory is that Christ took our place and bore the punishment due to us, so that we can now claim forgiveness in His name and on the ground that our sins have been punished in Him..." After acknowleding that this theory is supported by the Biblical evidence Dods went on:
"It is open, however, to obvious objections. Men are conscious... that they bear the punishment of their own sins all their life... they cannot believe that God needed to be propitiated, but rather accept the statement of our Lord Himself, that God loved and longed for His children even when they had strayed from Him. They consider Christ's life and death to be a manifestatio... of His redeeming love... In point of fact both theories of the Atonement produce good Christians." (Quoted in Henderson, 'The Religious Controversies of Scotland' Pp. 235-6. lightly edited for this blog.)
On the divinity of Christ Dods had said:
"We must not too hastily conclude that even a belief in Christ's Divinity is essential to the true Christian." (Henderson, P. 237) The same, he maintained, was true of the resurrection. Even if a man could not believe that Christ's body had risen from the tomb, if Christ was 'a living reality' to him, he was a true Christian.

Next time, God willing, we shall see what Dods had to say for himself!



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