Thursday, October 12, 2006

Marcus Dods - Victorian Emergent? XII.

Marcus Dods had, in the 1860s and '70s, been an optimistic exponent of the 'New Evangelism'. But with old age came a different view of things. While publically he continued to preach success for his teachings, in private he sounded a more depressed note. In 1902 he wrote:
"I wish I could live as a spectator through the next generation to see what they are going to make of things. There is a grand turn up in matters theological , and the churches won't know themselves fifty years hence. It is to be hoped some little rag of faith will be left when all's done. For my own part I am sometimes entirely under water and see no sky at all." (P. 67)
Looking back on life the man who spoke so often of theological change could write, "College is a different place with Davidson gone and Rainy only occasionally appearing. I hate all changes, and the world is all change." (P. 70)
All confidence was gone. The movement that was to reshape the churches had done so - but those who followed Dods were not content to stop where he had, and he was left alone, a tragic figure.
"Across the whole of my life I see FAILURE written -failure in all the best things," Dods mourned in 1904. "We are left drowning, with but our lips underwater, and sometimes not that." (P. 154)
And, try as he might, Dods could not find support even in the Bible for what he was teaching. While he said that there were 'grave moral difficulties' with penal substitution he could not deny it was what Paul taught:
"Paul's view is quite clear - man is a guilty individual at God's bar, he is condemned to die, and Christ suffers in his room; and considering that Paul always recognised his union with Christ (as few others have recognised it), I don't think there is much repulsive in that. The writer to the Hebrews finds that men are excluded from God's presence, and that Christ by His holiness and sacrifice opens a way for them into God's presence and favour. A great deal in the Epistle seems to be written from the point of view that it is His personal worth (especially His obedience, see ch. v.), that constitutes Him priest, but that tenth chapter still rather seems to me to demand the supposition that the writer believed that Christ's death was a sacrifice in the then ordinarily accepted meaning of the word... I would like to think he only meant that Christ offered His body obediently to the law of death, but it is difficult to believe that. I go over the Epistle every year, and every year I try to find that meaning in that tenth chapter, and every year I fail." (P. 145-6).
Striving against God's Word, and knowing he did so, Marcus Dods could never be happy. Next time, God willing, we shall conclude this sobering tale.



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