Friday, October 13, 2006

Marcus Dods - Victorian Emergent? XIII.

Marcus Dods, as he reached the end of his life, found himself more and more alone. Many of his friends were dead, and his students had not rested content in his teachings but had moved on to more 'advanced' views. Instead of the confidence that had once marked his life Dods was tormented by depression. His religion seemed almost gone. Writing to a friend in March 1908 he complained:
"I am at no time a religious person, and I seem during the last six months to have been unusually irreligious. At first I prayed a little for better health, but I soon stopped that and fell back on my text, which seems to me to contain the whole of religion, 'Who... though He were a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered.' To obey, that is, to accept the spirit of Christ in the only form I have any consciousness or knowledge of a spirit of Christ." (P. 280)
As the end drew near Marcus Dods found no relief.
"Funnily enough I do not remember to have ever been so irreligious, so little inclined to pray, so cold on the spiritual side, so content to let things slide. I wonder if that is a common experience in sickness. I can't quite understand it." (p. 300). He wrote that on 1st October 1909. Soon after he was dead, 'failure' written, as he saw it, across his entire life.

Was Marcus Dods a Christian? It is hard to tell. Sometimes as I read through his letters I catch a glimpse, a spark, that seems to answer yes. Yet his teachings seemed to undermine the Gospel. But then again, Dods himself did not think that they did! He seems to have genuinely believed that, by letting a few things go, he could make Christianity truly more attractive to the younger generation. By adapting Christianity to the spirit of the age he hoped that he could bring the age over to Christ. Instead he and those like him set Scottish Christianity on a fatal down-grade on which it was broken.
And Dods himself was broken. No-one can read the 'Later Letters of Marcus Dods' without feeling that they are the letters of an old man who had lost his way.

What can we learn from the awful experiences of Marcus Dods? Surely we learn that it is a deadly mistake to try to adapt the message of the church to the spirit of the age. Whether it is called 'modernism' or 'postmodernism', it is the same thing - the World. Modern Pagan Scotland is the direct result of Dods and those like him.
We are not in the business of anathematizing anyone. We are in the business of warning. And this series has been written with deepening concern that what happened in the later 19th century in the Churches is happening again. Recall that THIS is the end of it all.



Blogger Ruben said...

Thank you for that series on Dods which I just found and read. How often capitulation to some current standard of rationality (ironically often debunked in the next generation by the people who are then the trendsetters in the world) leads to a total lack of faith in the end! If we would be wise, we must be content to be counted fools for Christ.

7:56 pm  
Blogger R M Walker said...

Was following up the Iain Murray address at this year's Shepherds' Conference, where he mentioned Marcus Dods and his influence on Scotland and came across this excellent series. What a sad tale of loss of faith, but I have too sadly seen this same experience today. I have just finished reading the life of Dr James Harper of the UP church - what a difference and what an example of dying in the confidence of faith.

Robert M Walker

12:58 pm  

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