Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Marcus Dods - Victorian Emergent? XI.

Marcus Dods had become known as one of the young radicals in the Free Church of Scotland. And publically Dods remained optimistic, the herald of a new 'age of faith'. Getting there, he admitted in public speeches, might be difficult, but the best was yet to come.
Was it? The volume 'Later Letters of Marcus Dods (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1911) reveals a rather different course of events. Dods taught that the New Testament itself was not final for the 'advanced' Christians: "The truth given us by the Apostles in the New Testament is merely, as Matthew Arnold said, 'thrown out towards the object,' and does not completely express it. But it helps rather than hinders, it keeps us in touch with reality until we outgrow it, and for those who never outgrow it it is the very truth" (letter in 1904, P. 101).

In fact Dods was by no means as optimistic as he appeared outwardly. "I am a backslider," the New College Professor admitted in 1898. "I used to enjoy prayer, but for years I have found myself dumb. Of course one can always make a prayer, as I do every morning for my class, but prayer in the sense of asking for things has not been in my case a proved force. The things I have chiefly prayed for all my life I have not got. Communion with the highest and consideration of Christ are of course efficacious to some extent; but I pray now not because my own experience fives me any encouragement, but only because of Christ's example and command." (P. 29). Should a man who regards the New Testament as less than final for faith expect any other experience, we ask? Can a man living in sin (the sin, namely, of disrespecting the Bible) expect answers to prayer? Or will he find himself under the chastisement of God.
Even the criticism that had once pleased him was now a burden. Writing to Henry Sloane Coffin of New York, a leading American liberal and later pastor of Riverside Church, he said: "I have been reading, with much enjoyment, Seeberg's 'Grundwahrheiten', which probably yoy have read long ago. It's a great relief from the worrying at the details of the Gospels which I need to read but of which I am sick and which only does me harm. I wish someone would stop the stream of criticism and say something convincing about the existence of a personal God." (P. 87).
And referring to a book by the Rev. James Moffatt, later a professor at Union Seminary New York, he wrote: "I wish there were more help in it. He leaves us just where Julicher and the rest leave us - and that, to my mind, is a most insecure position. It's rather striking how this type of literature should always spring from our Church?" (P. 42)
But it was unsurprising, seeing what Dods had been teaching.

Next time, God willing, we shall continue our look at the older Dods.



Post a Comment

<< Home