Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Review: 'Fixing the Indemnity'

What is theological liberalism, and what are the boundaries of evangelicalism? These questions ought to be in the minds of all thinking Christians today. To answer them we must look to the past, for the battles of today are closely related to battles fought a century ago. Fixing the Indemnity, by Iain D. Campbell, is the first scholarly biography of Sir George Adam Smith (1856-1942) to be written. Smith was a Free Church of Scotland minister associated with Henry Drummond (whose biography he wrote) and the school known as the New Evangelists. A professor at the Free Church College in Glasgow between 1892 and 1910, Smith helped to popularise the so-called Higher Criticism in the Free Church, confidently asserting
"Modern Criticism has won its war against the traditional theories. It only remains to fix the amount of the indemnity."

Campbell gives a full outline of the life and work of Smith. At times we feel that he is too kind to his subject, but that is a fault in a biographer that is immeasurably better than the reverse. He shows that Sir George considered himself an evangelical from first to last. Despite his views on the nature of the Bible, prophecy and Old Testament religion, there never was a time when he saw himself as anything but. He was a close associate of D.L. Moody, and deeply involved in evangelism. Yet his treatment of the nature of the Bible, the nature of prophecy and other issues led to the overthrow of evangelical theology. Like many born into the Free church after 1843, he preferred German theology to Scottish, and was totally entranced by the subjective Criticism of the German schools. In fact men like Sir George contributed to a temporary debasing of the word 'Evangelical' in the English-speaking world.
So what did Sir George think Prophecy was? He saw the prophets as speaking to and of their own time, enlightened men, yes, but not enlightened so as to see the shape of future events (thus any such reference was to him an evidence that the prophecy in question was written after the events it described). He imposed an evolutionary (and therefore naturalistic) structure on the Old Testament, apparently failing to see that this, consistently carried out, undermined the New Testament as well.
Today we see history repeating itself. We fear that evangelicals who read little, particularly in the realm of history, are ill-equipped to handle the present crisis. Now those who read this blog are not in that category, so we recommend they buy the book, read it, and tell their friends what it contains.

Readers will notice that Sir George's dates span the First World War and that he died after the Second was declared. Campbell deals sensitively (Sir George lost both sons in the Trenches) and plainly with Sir George Adam Smith and the United Free Church's response to the war. He notes that liberal Victorian optimism left the church utterly unable to deal with the realities of war. With rose-tinted spectacles Sir George saw the war as a means of grace(!!!). The reality was far different. Here is another warning to us; the Church cannot identify itself with a jingoistic patriotism without losing some of its power to speak to the age. Nor should it see salvation in anything other than the cross of Christ. We are not pacifists, but at the same time there must be a realism in our views of war that Sir George sadly missed.

Taken all-in-all, this is an excellent book. It gives lessons for today in spades. Campbell has given us a feast of readable scholarship here.
Whether the £19.99 cover price is really justified is another matter, seeing as it is only a paperback. But we leave the conclusion to the reader, along with a hint.

Fixing the Indemnity by Iain D. Campbell is available for £19.99 from Authentic Media sell it for the somewhat more reasonable price of £13.19

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