20th Century Theology, Baptist History, Fundagelicalism, Philosophy, Theology

Carl F. H. Henry on A. H. Strong

Henry’s dissertation at Boston University, entitled Personal Idealism and Strong’s Theology, was worked into this volume which maintains its scholarly style. It was fitting that Henry, the Baptist, would write a dissertation on the Baptist theologian, A. H. Strong. This book entails a correlation of Strong’s ethical monism with the personal idealism of the sort prevalent at Boston University during the tenure of Borden Parker Bowne. Personal idealism of the Bowne variety, however, is commented upon very little. Instead, a description of Strong’s ethical monism ensues from Henry’s pen. It can be argued that Strong’s ethical monism shares important affinities with Bowne’s personal idealism. Strong’s monism combines with the idealism in which Christ becomes the nexus for the personalities which make up reality.

In actuality, Henry spends most of his text describing Strong’s ethical monism, where it shows up in his corpus, and how it is worked through the various strands of Strong’s doctrinal thought. Strong held, somewhat paradoxically, that God is the constituent ground of everything observable and known to exist, material and immaterial, but that God exceeds this as well, making him also transcendent. Strong’s believes that Christ’s connection with humanity antedates his incarnation, beginning at Creation. Thus, Christ as God of the universe has been suffering with the sin of mankind ever since the fall.

Henry’s method of investigation is simple enough. First he traces the evolution of Strong’s theology up to his conception of monism in 1894 (Henry 95). Then Henry examines the remaining extant corpus of Strong highlighting anything that Strong says about monism and idealism. Especially helpful is Henry’s analysis of the editions of Strong’s Systematic Theology and the seminal works on monism found in Christ and Creation and Philosophy and Religion.

Toward the end Henry records the reaction to Strong’s monisim. It was not well recieved by liberal or conservative. To the liberal he did not go far enough in imposing the idealism over his view of reality as Bowne had done. To the conservative, Strong’s insistence on monism raised suspicions of a form of pantheistic liberalism. The old Calivinistic orthodoxy of Princeton and Caspar Wistar Hodge did not sit well with Strong’s novel ideas.

In the end, Henry himself doubts whether Strong’s monism is compatable with orthodox Christianity (Henry 228-229). He concludes that: (1) Strong’s monism went beyond the bounds of orthodoxy by proposing a new method and means of knowledge; (2) Strong only partially subscribed to the principle of knowledge, thus incurring the doubts of both liberal and conservative. (3) Strong’s own writings suggest the influence of Ezekiel A. Robinson, Hermann Lotze, and Borden Parker Bowne; (4) Strong’s odd mixture of liberal ideas and orthodox ideas placed his “ethical monisim” in both the orthodox realm and the personal idealist realm, but not without discontinuities with both of them; (5) Bowne’s personal idealism moved farther away from orthodox bibliology than Strong because Strong did not incorporate as radical an immanentalism as Bowne; (6) Strong insisted on an orthodox trinitarianism which put him at odds with the personal idealistic school; (7) Strong’s orthodoxy kept him from fully embracing the outcome of his monism. This is evident in his view of the atonement in which he espouses both substitution and sharing as the ground of the atonement.

20th Century Theology, Baptist History, Fundagelicalism, Philosophy, Theology

Augustus H. Strong and the Dilemma of Historical Consciousness

Grant Wacker writes this little book on A. H. Strong not so much as a biography in the traditional sense, but as an intellectual biography. He traces the inclinations of Strong from the standpoint of Strong’s progressive tendencies which he sees reaching their zenith at the turn of the century and digressing from that time to the end of Strong’s days.

The mode that Wacker uses is Strong’s sense of historical consciousness. This term,”historical consciousness,” is Wacker’s euphemism for modernism. Modernism is the quintessential form of thought that incorporates the concept of a historical consciousness. This historical consciousness is the sense that events, thoughts, and, to a large degree, perceived reality are progressing toward a goal. As such, the general course of history is one of betterment. The ideas of yesterday are replaced by the better ideas of today which will, in turn, be replaced by the even better ideas of tomorrow. In short, historical consciousness is the cult of the ever progressing present and the ever hopeful future.

To be sure, Wacker has Strong caught in a dilemma. Strong wants to remain open minded toward the scholarship that has developed up to his day. This fact is evidenced in a good many articles in Christ and Creation, Philosophy and Religion, and his two volumes of Miscelllanies. Strong constantly wages a campaign that all the new ideas somehow be reconcilled with the old ideas.

Strong’s dilemma happens precisely at the point of his acceptance of monism, which happens to be the overarching philosophy du jour for his time period. In the course of his mid-to- late career, Strong argues for a newer and better philosophical-theological nexus, the proper use of higher criticism, theistic evolution, an accommodating of criticism view of inspiration, and the progress of doctrine.

Interestingly, most orthodox theologians would agree with the progress of doctrine. Strong, however combines the power of the progress of doctrine with an almost Thomistic view of natural revelation in order to provide a modern theological outlook that is at once modern and orthodox. In the end, both the modernity and the orthodoxy are strained. Wacker argues that this dilemma winds down to a stress on orthodoxy toward the end of Strong’s life. Apparently, the end game of modernism proved to be too much of a “second Unitarian defection” for Strong’s taste. Ironically, the most progressive edition of Strong’s magnum opus, his Systematic Theology, carries with it the sternest warning against the theologically progressive.