P.T. Forsyth's Unique Perspective

Dan Graves, MSL

P.T. Forsyth's Unique Perspective

P T. Forsyth wasn't the kind of Christian who tries to crush an opponent. When R. J. Campbell issued his New Theology in 1907, Forsyth reasoned against its ideas but was one of the few orthodox clergy who continued to show him friendship. Campbell claimed that humanity was divinity seen from below and that divinity was humanity seen from above. Forsyth's unwavering warmth was such that it helped Campbell eventually repudiate his New Theology and become re-ordained as a priest in the Church of England.

Perhaps Forsyth was so concerned for Campbell because he himself had come perilously close to perishing in similar errors. A brilliant student, learning meant so much to him that he damaged his health studying strenuously in Scotland and Germany. Thanks to the German influence, when he entered the pulpit, it was as a liberal, holding Romantic poets on a level with scripture. But after a few years, Forsyth recognized that liberalism was bankrupt (although he never abandoned higher criticism) and he went through a gradual conversion.

"I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from a lover of love to an object of grace. And so, whereas I first thought that what the churches needed was enlightened instruction and liberal theology, I came to be sure that they needed was evangelization, in something more than the conventional sense of that word..."

Indeed, his change was prompted primarily by his growing sense of personal sin. "It also pleased God by the revelation of his holiness and grace, which the great theologians taught me to find in the Bible, to bring home to me my sin in a way that submerged all the school questions in weight, urgency, and poignancy."

He would later say, "...it is below the authentic note of Christian faith to regard [Christ's] person apart from the cross, to treat him as Jesus, the soul's dear friend, or as the gracious figure of certain artists and happy pietists." He insisted on the importance of regeneration (a new birth from God). Rejecting Christ, we are condemned. "Our worst condemnation is not that we have sinned, but that we have refused to be saved from our sin."

As he matured in faith, Forsyth openly bucked the theological trends of his day. Nonetheless, he could say, "A live heresy is far better than a dead orthodoxy." He meant that it is better for someone to be in a true relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, even if holding mistaken ideas than to adhere to a creed, church pronouncements, or the exact words of the Bible while remaining spiritually dead. Christ's present grace is the key. "Christianity is found in the historic Jesus. It was not merely founded by him."

A Scot Congregationalist, Forsyth's life underwent many deepening experiences. At one point he suffered a breakdown. At another, he lost his first wife while she was still relatively young, a cause of deep grief to him. His health was always frail. Nonetheless he lived 73 years, dying on this day, November 11, 1921 His work remains influential because of its focus on the importance of the Lord. His most famous book was The Person and Place of Jesus Christ. To the last he insisted on the human need for atonement.

Bibliography:

  1. Brown, Robert McAfee. P. T. Forsyth; prophet for today. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1952.
  2. "Forsyth, Peter Taylor." New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954.
  3. "Forsyth, Peter Taylor." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.

Last updated June, 2007

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