Our Denominational Outlook by Augustus Hopkins Strong

Strong’s address to the Baptist Denominational meeting held on May 19, 1904 finds its spokesman opining about the successes of Baptists in the past numerically, financially, and progressively. He does note that Baptist growth in numbers has tapered off and that they could be a bit more giving. But these are all the stock and trade of a typical Baptist minister. Strong, however, was neither typical nor, strictly speaking, a minister. He was a Baptist seminary president who had been a pastor. He was such a man who would divide his allegiance between a progressive outlook for the future and a staunch orthodoxy from the past. This makes Strong a unique character: a sort of chimera – neither fish nor fowl.

In other works, Strong would subscribe to no single theory of inspiration while still claiming biblical authority on matters of faith and practice. He would hold that scholars make too much of alleged discrepancies in the text of Scripture even as he himself subscribed to a sort of theistic evolution. Strong takes the opportunity, in this address, however, to promote his ethical monism and his unique view of the atonement.

Here Strong delivers a not so subtle message that the laws of the universe are nothing more or less than “habits of Christ” (14). Furthermore, Christ is intimately related to man in that all men were in him before they were in Adam. This leads to an atonement that is at once substitutionary and also sharing. Christ shares in the sin of the race. Christ is in humanity and humanity is in Christ. In fact, Christ is providing the good impulses in unregenerate man by indwelling them (15). The substitution of Christ is merely the manifestation of Christ’s erstwhile sharing in humanity’s suffering from sin (17). Of course this raised more than a few eyebrows in orthodox circles. This was more than mere realism; it was an extreme form of realism.

Other than the promoting of Strong’s rather unique views about Christ, humanity, creation, and atonement, the address is rather pedestrian. It cites successes in the past, challenges in the present, and largely a promising future. Among other things, Strong believes that a more serious worship is in order (23), that evangelism ought to be commonplace among the rank and file membership (24), and that Christians ought to involve themselves in public service (25). He implores his listeners to take heed in view of the coming Christ, but he fails to give a clue as to his views on the millennium. We know from elsewhere that he was really postmillennial but claimed to also be premillennial.

The future outlook for the church and the challenges of the present find Strong promoting timeless truths. This address could be preached today with little change for his concerns of yesteryear are the same as ours today. They only interesting item is his creative injection of ethical monism into his address.

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