Hugh Ross Mackintosh's Scottish Theology

Dan Graves, MSL

Hugh Ross Mackintosh's Scottish Theology

Theology is created in Germany, corrupted in America and corrected in Scotland." Probably Hugh Ross Mackintosh had a twinkle in his eye when he said those words. He was one of the nineteenth-century Scots who "corrected" theology.

Holding the seat of systematic theology at New College in Edinburgh, Scotland, he had a great deal of influence. Students such as Hugh. T. Kerr remembered him as a well-organized, systematic teacher who went to great lengths to really instruct his pupils rather than to just lecture them. "I learned to appreciate how much time and effort Mackintosh's mimeographed sheets represented. It is an excellent method for teachers (and preachers), but it's not for those who can't live by a disciplined schedule, and it's about ten times as much work as talking from notes."

Hugh had a real appreciation of the work being done by liberal German theologians such as Ritschl and Schleiermacher, even when he disagreed with their conclusions. Rooted in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity-- especially the divinity of Christ--he could still see the value of translating German work so that English speakers might have insight into what these thinkers were saying. Because of the translations he made, he was accused of being a liberal himself.

His most important book was The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ. He took a "kenotic" view: that is, he taught that when Christ became man, he actually emptied himself of powers and abilities that he had held as God, giving his mind, for example, genuinely human limits. "Kenotic" carries the idea "to empty" and is used by Paul in his description of Christ in Philippians 2:7.

Traditional orthodox views see Christ as retaining his full Godhood while limiting himself by coming into union with humanity. Hugh taught that "God in Christ, we believe, came down to the plane of suffering men that he might lift them up. Descending into poverty, shame and weakness, the Lord was stripped of all credit, despoiled of every right, humbled to the very depths of social and historical ignominy, that in this self-abasement of God there might be found the redemption of man." He felt that traditional interpretations of Christ left him with too many godlike powers, that they made out that " His descent He stopped half-way."

In another book, he wrote, "Faith means admitting Christ to an inward union with your mind and heart and life. By God, who looks on the heart and sees things as they are, the man who has faith is seen as one with Christ, and thus, astoundingly but not immorally, is forgiven."

He insisted that there will be a real end to the world, a definite moment of truth at which God reveals himself to mankind. His own moment of truth came when he died on this day, June 3, 1936.


  1. Hart, T. A. "Reformed Theology in Scotland."
  2. "Kenotic Theories," and "Mackintosh, H. R." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  3. Kerr, Hugh T. "What My Teachers Taught Me." v35-3-editorial1.htm
  4. Mackintosh, H. R. "How Can I Be Sure God Has Forgiven Me?" quoted at
  5. Mackintosh, H. R. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1951 reprint.
  6. Various other internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

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