Strong’s title article in Christ in Creation, is a preparatory opening salvo in his discussion of his views on ethical monism. It associated the second person of the trinity with the creation in such a way that the creation is a direct manifestation of God. It is not merely the evidence of his handiwork, rather, it is a presentation of who God is in much the same way as a face is to the mind behind it. One can easily see in this article, along with the two following articles on ethical monism, how some would come to see Strong’s views on Christ and his relationship to creation as tantamount to pantheism. This is, however, a charge that Strong would vehemently deny, in spite of the fact that one of the well worn analogies for pantheism and even process theology is the world as God’s body. Strong only uses the face of God for his analogy, but one would be hard pressed to see this as a significant difference between Strong’s theology and pantheism.
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.
Hutchison provides for the reader a concise, if not easily readable, summary of the history of modernism within American Protestantism. He traces the earliest modernist impulse back to the old Unitarians. His narrative maintains a distinction between liberalism and modernism. All modernists are liberals, but not all liberals are modernists. Liberalism could make headway within religion without the input of modernity. Modernism, however, made use of the modern Zeitgeist. Of course, this does not mean that liberalism and modernism are sealed off from one another. Very early on liberalism and modernism would become subsumed under the single referent, modernism. Hutchison primarily traces the American form of modernist Protestantism beginning with the Unitarians and ending with the Niebuhrs. As such, it makes a tacit statement that the modernist form of religious liberalism is primarily a bygone thing. Hutchison offers barely a hint of Process Theology or the ethnic-gender-socio-economic theologies. His scope seems limited when compared to Gary Dorrien’s ponderously exhaustive three volume history of religious liberalism. Hutchison’s treatment, however, seems to be an improvement on Kenneth Cauthen’s seminal work on American religious liberalism. I hope to be able to examine both of these works in the future. As such, Hutchison’s work stands prospective to Cauthen and retrospective to Dorrien.
Hutchison finds early religious modernism taking root under the auspices of what Marsden would call old evangelicalism. The denial of biblical authority in any orthodox sense and the entertaining of higher critical views with respect to the Bible first occur, in any lasting sense, within the fold of evangelicalism. The evangelical desire to affect culture not only connects it to the Social Gospel, but also aids in disguising a significant renovation of theology that was going on just beneath the surface of its social piety. This could, perhaps, explain why so many fundamentalists are still wary of any social component in the gospel or related to the gospel, and why later evangelicals would confess an uneasy conscience with respect to its neglect of the same. Hutchison relates the usual sordid details of the altercation. He relates events from the Presbyterian heresy trials to the slow takeover by modernists of all the mainline denominations and their service organizations. First individual pulpits, then seminaries, then mission boards file successively into the modernist fold. Hutchison takes time to differentiate between types of modernists. He demonstrates how different liberals may present their views. A particularly disheartening narrative is Hutchison’s depiction of the reaction of modernists to the fundamentalist uprising. Despite evangelicals and fundamentalists opining about the disruption brought about by the fight, Hutchison develops a narrative that leaves the fundamentalists as largely ignored. He does not deny that they had talent and that they had valid arguments, but by the time they mounted any real offence, modernists had largely moved on. I tend to think that those living at the flashpoints of the debate probably saw more than mere disinterest by liberals in the fundamentalists’ contentions, but Hutchison’s broad sweep of the events in retrospective does seem to provide a procrustean bed for his assertion. For all of this, Hutchison lacks interest in providing an ample description of the roots of American modernism within Europe. That seems to be his point. American modernism, to a certain extent, was a domestic brand. European thought may have influenced it, but American modernism was unique in its own right. In like manner, Hutchison depicts the next stage of religious theology
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.
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.
The constructive mind is of a higher order than the destructive. The proclamation of positive truth wins converts where the denunciation of error attracts only transient attention. Wordsworth said well that ” we live by admiration, hope, and love.” I determined to mark out for myself a new course as a teacher. I set out to be a man of faith, to be a great believer, to hold the truth in love, and to make love my helper in all my intercourse with students. I was gifted with a fellow-feeling for the young. I put myself side by side with my scholars, assumed no dignity, insisted on no technical rights or prerogatives, made my instruction familiar and interesting, and, above all, infused it with all manner of practical religious suggestion and stimulus to faith and prayer. I have always rejoiced to teach theology because I could talk about everything in heaven and earth and under the earth and could make all things illustrate the greatness of Christ and the power of his gospel. I have made a pulpit out of a professor’s chair and have tried to be a pastor to my pupils.
— Augustus Hopkins Strong. Autobiography of Augustus Hopkins Strong, p. 221.
On Bach’s Mass in B Minor:
Its most mystical portion is the ‘Incarnatus’ in the ‘Credo’, and there the effect is due to the faint whispering, lingering sequence in the fugue structure, dying away pianissimo. The held breath and hushed sounds of the passage, its wierd cadences, sinking away in lessened thirds, its pauses and syncopations, and its rise and fall in astonishing semitones, which renders so well the sense of awe-struck wonder–all this serves to express the mysterium by way of intimation, rather than in forthright utterance. And by this means Bach attains his aim here far better than in the ‘Sanctus’.
–Rudolf Otto, John W. Harvey, trans., The Idea of the Holy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 70.
Where or where can we find theologians that have a grasp of what music is doing after the manner of Otto?