Monday, 11 February 2013

THE NEW THEOLOGY

THE BOOK OF THE WEEK

"The New Theology." By the Rev. R. Campbell. M.A., Minister of the City Temple, London. Chapman &, Hall.

An objection frequently raised to Mr. Campbell's teaching is that it is not new. But it is new enough to have attract practically world-wide attention, and have stirred theological circles to a degree unknown since the appearance of the famous "Essays and Reviews," upwards 40 years ago. With thoughtful readers the question will be, not whether the New Theology is really new, but whether it is true. To pronounce upon this point is of course beyond the province of a secular journal. At the same time it would be taking narrow view of the functions of such a journal to suppose that a convulsion in the spiritual world is any more beyond its ken than a convulsion in the material world. There is a special reason why it is a matter of general interest to know the grounds upon which go prominent a religions teacher as Mr. Campbell pleads for a reconsideration of the cardinal tenets of Christianity. On the one hand, we are confronted with the spectacle of churches not as full as they ought to be, to say the least. On the other hand as the booksellers assure us and as, indeed, the immediate sale of 10,000 copies of Mr. Campbell's book ought to show, there never was a greater call for religious literature of the progressive kind. If the churches are not full, the reason must be sought elsewhere than in indifference to the great problems affecting the origin and destiny of the race. Mr. Campbell finds it in the growing inability of intelligent men to swallow the beliefs which went down easily enough with people living in a pre-scientific age. Spiritual needs are not stationary things. They advance. This is not a view peculiar to Mr. Campbell. Father James Adderley, without endorsing the New Theology, frankly admits that there is much in Mr. Campbell's book that will "make it easier for an intelligent person to accept Christianity." And this fact seems to be that the New Theology brings as many into the churches where it is taught as it drives away. Yet, to be fair to Mr. Campbell's opponents, it must be owned that the shock given to the feeling of the orthodox is not unintelligible For there is scarcely a fundamental tenet of orthodoxy which he does not fling into the melting pot. The Fall and Atonement, the Virgin Birth the infallibility of the Scriptures, and the evangelical views on judgment, heaven, hell, all go, for they belong to the Old Theology, which it is the aim of the New Theology to displace. What is the New Theology, and how did it come by its name?

Where or when the name New Theology arose I do not know, but it has been in existence for at least one generation. It is neither of my invention nor of my choice. It has long been in use, both in this country and in America, to indicate the attitude of those who believe that the fundamentals of the Christian' faith need to be rearticulated in terms of the immanence of God. Those who take this view do not hold that there is any need for a new religion, but that the forms in which the religion of Jesus is commonly presented are inadequate and misleading, what is wanted is freshness and simplicity of statement. The New Theology is only new in the sense that it seeks to substitute simplicity for complexity, and to get down to moral values in its use of religious terms.

That there is need for the New Theology Mr. Campbell holds most strenuously. It is the one thing, he says, that can save the churches from perishing.

If they consent to be bound by dogmatic statements inherited from the past they are doomed. The world is not listening to theologians to-day. They have no message for it. They are on the periphery, not at the centre of things. The great rolling river of thought and action is passing them by. To put the matter in a nutshell, popular Christianity (or rather pulpit and theological college Christianity) does not interpret life. Consequently the great world of thought and action is ceasing to trouble about it.

To the extent that the churches have any support at all, at least among the thoughtful it is due, Mr. Campbell maintains, to their purely moral, as distinguished from their theological teaching. Of this he finds evidence in the hearing they always get when they cone to close quarters with social wrongs. There are ministers who hold that it is not the province to "meddle" in political affairs. This is often their way of keeping out of hot water. The New Theology, as expounded by its apostle, is free from the pulpit vice of cowardice. It does not adjust its teachings to the rich who contribute the bulk of the clerical stipend. Mr. Campbell makes a special appeal for the co-operation of the workers.

The New Theology is the gospel of the kingdom of God. Neither socialism not any other economic system will permanently save, and lift mankind without definitely recognised spiritual sanctions—that is, it must be a religion. The New Theology is but the religious articulation of the social movement.

But we have not yet answered the question—What is the New Theology? Here it is, as expounded in the chapter on "God and the Universe":—
To all eternity God is what He is, and never can be other; but it will take Him to all eternity to live out all that He is. In order to manifest even to Himself the possabilities of His being, God must limit that being. There is no other way in which the fullest self-realisation can be attained. Thus we get two modes of God—the infinite, perfect, unconditioned, primordial being, and the finite, imperfect, conditioned, and limited being of which we are ourselves expressions. And yet these two are one, and the former is the guarantee that the latter shall not fail in the purpose for which it became limited. Thus to the question Why a finite universe? I should answer, Because God wants to express what He is. His achievement here is only one of an infinite number of possibilities. It is a Divine experiment without risk of failure, and we must interpret it in terms of our own highest.

That the New Theology, is pantheism, Mr. Campbell denies. A belief in the in-dwelling of the Infinite in the Finite, of the Divine in the Human, is consistent with the acutest possible sense of human responsibility:—
Where, then, someone will say, is the dividing line between our being and God's? There is no dividing line except from our side. The ocean of consciousness knows that the buoy has never been separate from itself, although the buoy is only conscious of the ocean on the outer side of its own being. But, the reader may protest, this is Pantheism. No, it is not. "Pantheism" is a technical term in philosophical parlance, and means something quite different from this. It stands for a fate god, a god imprisoned in his universe, a god who cannot help himself, and does not even know what he is about, a blind force which here breaks out into a rock and there into Ruskin, and is equally indifferent to either. But that is not my God.

My God is my deeper self, and yours, too. He is the Self of the universe, and knows all about it. He is never baffled, and cannot be baffled; the whole cosmic process is one long incarnation and uprising of the being of God from itself to itself. With Tennyson, you may call this doctrine the Higher Pantheism, if you like; but it is the very antithesis of the Pantheism which has played such a part in the history of thought.

No creed, we are told, could offer greater scope for prayer and adoration and for the various forms of Christian devotion than does the New Theology. Nor is the New Theology to be confounded with Unitarianism. Unitarianism used to declare that Jesus was man, not God; Trinitarianism maintained that He was God and man; the oldest Christian thought, as well as the youngest, regards him us God in man— God manifest in the flesh. But here emerges a great point of difference between the New Theology on the one hand and traditional orthodoxy on the other. The latter would restrict the description. "God manifest in the flesh" to Jesus alone: the New Theology would extend it in a lesser degree to all humanity, and would maintain that in the end it will be as true of every individual soul as ever it was of Jesus.

The Infinite Being, as Spencer said, is Unknowable, but He can be thought of in terms of humanity, for between God and humanity there is no such antinomy as the Old Theology would have us believe. And if we seek for an expression of the Eternal Divine man we cannot do better than think of Jesus. While it does not make the orthodox view of the Atonement more credible to suppose that Christ had one parent iThe Advertiser 27 April 1907nstead of two, that dogma, Mr. Campbell holds to be mischievous as suggesting a difference in kind between Deity and humanity, which he does not believe to exist. The Atonement, as Mr. Campbell understands it, is not a sacrifice. It is simply the abandonment of the self to God, or, in other words, the merging of the one into the other, exemplified supremely in the life as well as the death of Christ. This doctrine, the author insists, is the doctrine of Paul.

Paul always thought of Him, and truly, as the Lord who came down from Heaven; but he does not draw a sharp line of detraction between Him and the rest of humanity. He calls Jesus "the first born among many brethren." He speaks of the summing up of all things in Christ, and of the final consummation when God shall be all in all. Here is the New Theology with a vengeance. Paul requires to be rescued from the inadequate and distorting interpretations his thought has received in the course of its history. He brought this conception of the eternal Christ into Christianity from pre-Christian thought, saw it ideally revealed in Jesus, and then bade mankind respond to it and realise it to be the true explanation of our own being.

The New Theology endorses Paul's definition of men as "Sons of God and co-heirs with Christ." The position of Christ as the centre of the Christian scheme is untouched by the New Theology, but there is an end to the dogma of "vicarious sacrifice." Christ, whether we regard him as an Elder Brother or a forerunner who has reached the goal of His spiritual evolution sooner than His fellow-beings, becomes a mere partaker, with them, though in supreme degree,with the Divine Spirit. As exemplifying what is possible to frail human nature, He is the Redeemer, but He ceases to be a sacrifice for the appeasement of the Divine Wrath. There are no pages more interesting than those dealing with the Atonement—the atonement, as Mr. Campbell calls it, with a proper regard for etymological exactitude. As Mr. Campbell does not believe in the Fall, it stands to reason that he does not believe in the cardinal doctrine of Christianity, as popularly understood. If the illicit consumption of an apple did not bring death into the world and all our woes, then there was no reason why the "brutal murder"—as Mr. Campbell terms it—of Christ on Calvary should have been needed to nullify its frightful consequences to the entire human race. In the Christian scheme Adam's disobedience and the crucifixion are related as cause and effect. They must stand or fall together. If the death of Jesus were looked upon, as in Mr. Campbell's opinion it ought to be, "from the purely human standpoint," it would be seen that there is nothing to distinguish it beyond the illustrious character of the victim from countless other crucifixions equally shocking and arguing in their perpetrators the same depravity as was exhibited by the murderers of Christ.

His execution was a judicial murder done to gratify sacerdotal spite and popular passion, and the men who took part in it were guilty of what has proved to be the blackest deed in history. The same type of man exists to-day, as he has existed in every age, and if Jesus came again without saying who He was history would repeat itself.

There is a sense in which the Atonement is true, but it is not the sense given to the word by the typical theologian. As all sin resolves itself into selfishness, so there can be no virtue without self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is the one way by which mankind can rid itself of sin; in other words, can make itself "at one" with the Divine Spirit.

Sin is the divisive, separating thing in our relations with one another, and with God the source of all, so the assertion of our oneness involves getting rid of sin. It we ask how this is to be done, the answer is simple enough; the only way to get rid of selfishness is by the ministry of love. What is it that is slowly winning the world from its selfishness to-day and lifting it gradually into the higher, purer atmosphere of universal love? There is but one thing that is doing it, and that is the spirit of self-sacrifice. Wherever you see that, you see the true Atonement at work. But, then, some will say, what has the death of Jesus effected in the unseen so as to make it possible for God to forgive us? Nothing whatever, and nothing was ever needed. God is not a fiend, but a Father, the source and sustenance of our being and the goal of all our aspirations. Why should we require to be saved from Him?

When confronted with the problem of Evil, Mr. Campbell is in no way dismayed. He refuses to consider it insoluble, asserting that in human thought it was solved ages before Christianity began:—
What I have to say about it now is ancient thinking, confirmed by present-day experience. Evil is a negative, not a positive term. It denotes the absence rather than the presence of something. It is the perceived privation of good, the shadow where the light ought to be. "The devil is a vacuum," as a friend of mine once remarked, to the no-small bewilderment of a group of listeners, in whose imagination the devil was anything but a vacuum. Evil is not an intruder in an otherwise perfect universe; finiteness presumes it. A thing is only seen to be evil when the capacity for good is present and unsatisfied. Evil is not a principle at war with good. Good is being, and Evil is not being. When consciousness of being seeks further expression, and finds itself hindered by its limitations, it becomes aware of evil. . . . In our present state of existence evil is necessary in order that we may know that there is such a thing as good, and therefore that we may realise the true nature of the life eternal.

Elsewhere he says, "The imperfection of the finite creation is not man's fault but God's will, and is a means towards a great end." In more than one of his sermons Mr. Campbell gave utterance to the paradox. "Sin is a quest for God." The phrase has an odd sound wrested from its context, and some of Mr. Campbell's clerical opponents did not scruple to invest it with a context of their own. Mr. Campbell was represented to have invoked the sanctity of, the Deity for all the devilry ever perpetrated, and his own explanation was deliberately ignored, as though it had never been uttered. If we may describe virtue as identical with happiness, than we may say that the evil-doer, whose gospel is one of self-indulgence, in striving, though vainly, after happiness, is seeking God. He is going wrong because it is his own happiness that he is thinking of. He would be going right, or, in other words, would have found God, if he thought, instead, of the happiness of others. Mr. Campbell does not hold that people should be always thinking of the eternal happiness of "number one." He rather believes that salvation will be found in looking after the present happiness of number two—as he credits the Socialists with doing. Again, the phraseology of the New Testament may have lent itself to much erroneous teaching, with its suggestions of a physical resurrection and of a heaven to be enjoyed by the material body.

The moment we succeed in disentangling ourselves from all literal and limiting New Testament statements about the connection between sin and physical death, the physical resurrection, the distant Judgment day, and such like, we find ourselves in a position to appreciate the beautiful spiritual experience in which these very terms become symbols of inner realities of the soul. Till we can do this New Testament language is sure to be a hindrance to any true apprehension of the moral value of the Gospel of Christ. The only salvation we need trouble about is the change from selfishness to love—"We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love." This change, is equivalent to a resurrection, the uprising of the eternal Christ, within us. It is also an ascension—the uplifting and uniting of the soul to the eternal Father. . . . Heaven and hell are states of the soul, and the latter implies the former. It is life that suffers, not death. When a guilty soul awakens to the truth hell begins, but it is because heaven wants to break through. The aim and object of salvation are not the getting of a man into heaven, but the getting of heaven into him.

Some of Mr. Campbell's critics have suggested that he has come by his views through lack of theological training—an argument which, of course, might equally serve in defence of the Genesis account of the creation against Darwin's onslaught. Mr. Campbell's reply is that he would burn down most of the theological colleges, the existence of which he holds to be an outrage upon "the law of an enlightened conscience." He says—"The true seat of authority is within, not without, the human soul. We are so constituted as to be able to recognise, little by little, the truth of God as it comes to us." The most devout among the adherents of the churches will be found in the last resort to prefer their own conscience to any other authority, for they would refuse obedience to a clerical injunction to commit rape or murder. But an infallible book in Mr. Campbell's eyes is as impossible as an infallible church. "When a modern preacher dramatically declares that he takes his stand and bases his Gospel upon an infallible book, he is either a fool or a rhetorician." As for Paul's opinion, "it is only Paul's opinion, and not necessarily an adequate statement of the truth." The New Theology needs no new church to advance its tenets, for as a matter of fact it embodies all that is good in every church. It is the unifying principle underlying all religious systems. "For my part," says Mr. Campbell, "I would not take the trouble to turn a single Roman Catholic into a Protestant. Let every man stay in the church whose spiritual atmosphere and modes of worship best accord with his temperament, but let him recognise the formal unity that lies below the formal creed." After all, what is God but that Mysterious Power which is finding expression in the universe and is present in the tiniest atom just as it permeates the wondrous whole? Belief in this God, whatever form the belief may take, is a logical necessity. "To disbelieve in God is an impossibility; everyone believes in God if he believes in his own existence." It is a belief that even Haeckel in some form must hold. So must Mr. Blatchford, though he calls himself an infidel.

It matters comparatively little that this man should think he is destroying supernaturalism, and scoffs at the possibility of the future life. His moral earnestness is the mark of his Christhood, and his work a part of the Atonement. Not another Christ than Jesus, mind! The very same. Mr. Blatchford may laugh at this, and call his moral aspirations by quite another name. Well, let him; but I know the thing when I see it.

It is no wonder that Blatchfords abound when the teaching of the churches is so pitiably inadequate. What a travesty of the truth is their conception of God!

They talk as though He were practically a finite Being stationed somewhere above and beyond the universe, watching and worrying over other and lesser finite being?—to wit, ourselves. According to the received phraseology, this God is greatly bothered and thwarted by what men have been doing throughout the few millenniums of human existence. He takes the whole thing very seriously, and thinks about little else than getting wayward humanity into line again. To this end He has adopted various expedients, the chief of which was the sending of His only-begotten Son to suffer and die in order that He might be free to forgive the trouble we had caused Him.

Very different is Mr. Campbell's notion of the Deity. "The whole cosmic process is one long incarnation and uprising of the Being of God from itself to itself." The real Christian shows his Christianity not by hebdomadal genuflexions and vocal noises, but by the suffering he inflicts upon himself for the good of others. With Mr. Campbell mere dogma goes for nothing:—

I question whether we should ever have heard of the Old Testament if it had not been for Jesus; and the New is only a statement of what some good men thought about Jesus and His Gospel at the beginning of the Christian history. What becomes of the whole fabric of popular Protestant theology regarding the plan of salvation, the judgment day, and the atoning merits of the Redeemer? No, this kind of incoherent theologising will not do. No one really believes it, and the churches will have to give up professing to believe it.
Again:—
The true Church of Christ in any and every age consists of those, and those only who are trying, like their Master, to make the world better and gladder and worthier God. The mission of the New Theology is to brighten and keep burning the flame of the spiritual ideal in the midst of the mighty social movement which is now in progress.

Enough has been quoted to show the passionate moral fervor which underlies the book, the breadth of its author's sympathies, religious and social, but a conception of its literary force, grace, and clearness can only be gained by the perusal of the volume as a whole. Dr. Horton, indeed, goes so far as to rank it with Augustine's "City of God," Anselm's "Our Deus Homo," and Calvin's "Institutes." Space must be found for one more striking passage, throwing light as it does on Mr. Campbell's standpoint:—
As I write these words I am seated before a window overlooking the heaving waste of waters on a rock-bound Cornish coast. It is a stormy day. The sky is overcast towards the western horizon; on the east shafts of blue and saffron have pierced the pall of darkness and flung their radiance over the spreading sea. The total effect is strangely solemnising. The suggestion of Titanic forces conveyed in the rush of wind and wave upon the unyielding cliffs, conjoined to the majestic march of the storm clouds across the heaven from the west, is somehow elevated and composed by the mystic light tint streams from the east. I have never seen anything quite like it before. It tells me of a beneficent stillness, an eternal strength, far above and beyond these finite tossings. It whispers the word impossible to utter, the word that explains everything, the deep that calleth unto deep. So my God calls always to my deeper soul, and tells me I must read Him by mine own highest and best, and by the highest and best that the universe has yet produced. Thus the last word about God becomes the last word about man; it is Jesus.

 The Advertiser 27 April 1907,

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