Thursday, October 05, 2006

Marcus Dods - Victorian Emergent? VIII.

Finally called as pastor of Renfield Free Church, Glasgow, Marcus Dods found himself in a pastorate in Scotland's Western capital, a place of influence. Still a young man himself, Dods turned his attention towards the young in particular.
But not the poor. By the 1860s the Free Church of Scotland, like all too many of the English nonconformists, had become middle-class and respectable. The thoughts of many of the leadership were turning to politics rather than evangelism, and it was left to just a few, such as James Hood Wilson of the Barclay Church in Edinburgh and James Wells in Glasgow's Wynd Free Church to try to help the urban poor who crowded into the cities.
Men like Marcus Dods, however, looked instead to the future leaders of the nation, young students at Scotland's universities. They worried that the Church seemed to be losing her grip on those men, and they made efforts to reach them.
That is commendable, after all the middle classes need Christ too. Unfortunately Dods, in trying to make the Gospel appeal to these students, capitulated to rationalistic criticism of the Bible.
He worked quietly, taking Bible classes and preaching, making pastoral visits. But Dods was not the sort of man who can be unnoticed for long. The opportunity came in the tangled web of the Robertson Smith case of the late 1860s and the 1870s.
Robertson Smith took the same views of the Bible that Dods took, limiting inerrancy to 'religious matters', and teaching that the Pentateuch was a late, post-exilic product of various writers.
In 1877 Dods entered the controversy, preaching a sermon entitled 'Revelation and Inspiration'. In that sermon Dods argued that the element of inspiration in Scripture was limited to matters of Salvation. What was more, he insisted:
"If revelation is to be conserved, it must not be bound up and made to stand or fall with a special theory of inspiration."
The Bible record was not to be seen as one hundred per cent reliable.
"No careful student of Scripture can well deny that there are inaccuracies in the Gospels and elsewhere - inaccuracies such as occur in ordinary writings through imperfect information or lapse of memory, sufficient entirely to explode the myth of infallibility."
What, then, was inspiration? We tend to identify the subjective view of revelation with the Neo-orthodox of the 20th century, but they were not the first to propound such a theory.
"I do not believe what Paul says, because I first believe him to be inspired; but I believe him to be inspired, because he brings light to my spirit, which can only have proceeded from God."

Because of the raging Robertson Smith case, Dods' sermon was hardly noticed at the time. But it was a sign of things to come. There was, Dods and his friends thought, a change in the way people were thinking. They had to adapt the way they preached, and their teaching on the Bible, to those views.

God willing, we shall continue with Dods' teaching next time.



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