Growing Stronger with Strong

strongI’ve just finished my latest reading project, and am now embarking on another. I’ve decided to read a good deal of Augustus Strong’s Systematic Theology text. Strong’s work was the old standard in many Baptist seminaries for most of the 20th century. It was first published in 1886, and he released the last edition in 1907. It’s largely been replaced by Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology , which was first released in 1983 and recently went into it’s third edition (2013).

I spent a great deal of time with Erickson last year, and read through perhaps 50% of his systematic. This year, I plan to do the same with Strong. I haven’t read much from him. Strong’s ecclesiology (i.e. doctrine of the church) is, of course, superb. He still has the best systematic doctrine of the church I’ve read anywhere. Contemporary Baptist theologians from the fundamentalist-evangelical tradition still reference his work.[1]

In addition, Strong’s discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity was extraordinarily helpful to me years ago. It’s also the best discussion of that doctrine that I’ve ever read from a systematic theology. It’s better even than Erickson, who’s written on the Trinity at length in separate works.[2]

So, all that gives me good confidence that Strong will be well worth my time. Having said that, I thought I’d share these encouraging words from the preface to his text. This was clearly written in the context of the ongoing fundamentalist-modernist debates of his era, but Strong’s passion for theological truth and the “fundamentals” of the faith should be encouraging to any Christian:[3]

Neither evolution nor the higher criticism has any terrors to one who regards them as parts of Christ’s creating and educating process. The Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge himself furnishes all the needed safeguards and limitations. It is only because Christ has been forgotten that nature and law have been personified, that history has been regarded as unpurposed development, that Judaism has been referred to a merely human origin, that Paul has been thought to have switched the church off from its proper track even before it had gotten fairly started on its course, that superstition and illusion have come to seem the only foundation for the sacrifices of the martyrs and the triumphs of modern missions. I believe in no such irrational and atheistic evolution as this. I believe rather in him in whom all things consist, who is with his people even to the end of the world, and who has promised to lead them into all the truth.

Philosophy and science are good servants of Christ, but they are poor guides when they rule out the Son of God. As I reach my seventieth year and write these words on my birthday, I am thankful for that personal experience of union with Christ which has enabled me to see in science and philosophy the teaching of my Lord. But this same personal experience has made me even more alive to Christ’s teaching in Scripture, has made me recognize in Paul and John a truth profounder than that disclosed by any secular writers, truth with regard to sin and atonement for sin, that satisfies the deepest wants of my nature and that is self-evidencing and divine.

I am distressed by some common theological tendencies of our time, because I believe them to be false to both science and religion. How men who have ever felt themselves to be lost sinners and who have once received pardon from their crucified Lord and Savior can thereafter seek to pare down his attributes, deny his deity and atonement, tear from his brow the crown of miracle and sovereignty, relegate him to the place of a merely moral teacher who influences us only as does Socrates by words spoken across a stretch of ages, passes my comprehension.

Here is my test of orthodoxy: Do we pray to Jesus? Do we call upon the name of Christ, as did Stephen and all the early church? Is he our living Lord, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent? Is he divine only in the sense in which we are divine, or is he the only-begotten Son, God manifest in the flesh, in whom is all the fulness of the Godhead bodily? What think ye of the Christ? is still the critical question, and none are entitled to the name of Christian who, in the face of the evidence he has furnished us, cannot answer the question aright.

Under the influence of Ritschl and his Kantian relativism, many of our teachers and preachers have swung off into a practical denial of Christ’s deity and of his atonement. We seem upon the verge of a second Unitarian defection, that will break up churches and compel secessions, in a worse manner than did that of Channing and Ware a century ago. American Christianity recovered from that disaster only by vigorously asserting the authority of Christ and the inspiration of the Scriptures. We need a new vision of the Savior like that which Paul saw on the way to Damascus and John saw on the isle of Patmos, to convince us that Jesus is lifted above space and time, that his existence antedated creation, that he conducted the march of Hebrew history, that he was born of a virgin, suffered on the cross, rose from the dead, and now lives forevermore, the Lord of the universe, the only God with whom we have to do, our Savior here and our Judge hereafter.

Without a revival of this faith our churches will become secularized, mission enterprise will die out, and the candlestick will be removed out of its place as it was with the seven churches of Asia, and as it has been with the apostate churches of New England.

I print this revised and enlarged edition of my “Systematic Theology,” in the hope that its publication may do something to stem this fast advancing tide, and to confirm the faith of God’s elect. I make no doubt that the vast majority of Christians still hold the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, and that they will sooner or later separate themselves from those who deny the Lord who bought them. When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will raise up a standard against him. I would do my part in raising up such a standard.

I would lead others to avow anew, as I do now, in spite of the supercilious assumptions of modern infidelity, my firm belief, only confirmed by the experience and reflection of a half-century, in the old doctrines of holiness as the fundamental attribute of God, of an original transgression and sin of the whole human race, in a divine preparation in Hebrew history for man’s redemption, in the deity, preëxistence, virgin birth, vicarious atonement and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, and in his future coming to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe that these are truths of science as well as truths of revelation; that the supernatural will yet be seen to be most truly natural; and that not the open-minded theologian but the narrow-minded scientist will be obliged to hide his head at Christ’s coming.

The present volume, in its treatment of Ethical Monism, Inspiration, the Attributes of God, and the Trinity, contains an antidote to most of the false doctrine which now threatens the safety of the church. I desire especially to call attention to the section on Perfection, and the Attributes therein involved, because I believe that the recent merging of Holiness in Love, and the practical denial that Righteousness is fundamental in God’s nature, are responsible for the utilitarian views of law and the superficial views of sin which now prevail in some systems of theology.

There can be no proper doctrine of the atonement and no proper doctrine of retribution, so long as Holiness is refused its preëminence. Love must have a norm or standard, and this norm or standard can be found only in Holiness. The old conviction of sin and the sense of guilt that drove the convicted sinner to the cross are inseparable from a firm belief in the self-affirming attribute of God as logically prior to and as conditioning the self-communicating attribute. The theology of our day needs a new view of the Righteous One. Such a view will make it plain that God must be reconciled before man can be saved, and that the human conscience can be pacified only upon condition that propitiation is made to the divine Righteousness. In this volume I propound what I regard as the true Doctrine of God, because upon it will be based all that follows in the volumes on the Doctrine of Man, and the Doctrine of Salvation.

The universal presence of Christ, the Light that lighteth every man, in heathen as well as in Christian lands, to direct or overrule all movements of the human mind, gives me confidence that the recent attacks upon the Christian faith will fail of their purpose. It becomes evident at last that not only the outworks are assaulted, but the very citadel itself.

We are asked to give up all belief in special revelation. Jesus Christ, it is said, has come in the flesh precisely as each one of us has come, and he was before Abraham only in the same sense that we were. Christian experience knows how to characterize such doctrine so soon as it is clearly stated. And the new theology will be of use in enabling even ordinary believers to recognize soul-destroying heresy even under the mask of professed orthodoxy.

Notes

[1] Rolland McCune, for example (A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, 3 vols. [Detroit: DBTS, 2010], 3:195 – 297) relies heavily on Augustus Strong’s Systematic in his own discussions on Baptist polity.

[2] See, for example, God Made Flesh: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000) and Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009).

[3]  Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), vii–xi.

2 thoughts on “Growing Stronger with Strong

  1. Tyler, I would be interested in your comments on Strong’s doctrine of inspiration. I have heard he is weak there, though I haven’t read it. As well, although I think he was personally orthodox, he presided over such men as Walter Rauschenbauch as one of his teachers in his seminary. I think he has to be classified as a moderate in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. Which is to say, a traitor to truth.

    Strong was asked to write the introduction to the book of sermons from the Baptist Fundamentals meeting (the pre-convention conference that ultimately became the FBFI). He refused. He didn’t like the militancy of some of the leaders, like W. B.Riley. I commented briefly on him here: https://www.proclaimanddefend.org/2016/09/23/comments-on-baptist-fundamentals-fidelity-to-our-baptist-heritage/

    Anyway, curious about your take on that section.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    1. I’ll let you know. Strong intrigues me. He protected Rauschenbauch for some bizarre reason. Yet, in his preface to his systematic he clearly paints himself as an orthodox man in opposition to theological revisionism. He seems like a moderate to me; a guy who had orthodox convictions but was more irenic. Who knows? I’ll let you know what I see in the inspiration section. I already know he gave in to theistic evolution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s