In the intellectual commerce of Britain and America the publication of the present volume is an enriching event for America. As manful thought on a vital theme, it deserves the interested respect of every free mind which apprehends religion as the supreme human concern. But from a host of us who have come by way of Calvinism to the theological revisions of the twentieth century it commands more than respect; its rightful meed is earnest gratitude.

Not lightly nor without an awareness of loss have we been induced to discard a considerable portion of those rigidities in which Calvin framed his conception of the ways of God with man. Unable to believe all that he believed, we have yet been profoundly conscious that by disrupting his "system of doctrine" and leaving part of it aside, we have forfeited a solidity and substantiality of conviction in respect of which our newer constructions compare but ill with his great monument of the religious mind. Our building is better in its spires than in its foundations. From those spires we scan our modern horizons and are persuaded that distantly we descry truth more radiant than Calvin was ever permitted iv to have in vision. But when our moods of exaltation give place to serious self-criticism, it is painfully borne in on us that, however spacious our outlook, we have not searched the farther reaches of our belief along any such patiently plodded pathways as Calvin followed. In speculative imagination we sweep a large territory, but we have not mapped it with rod and chain as he did.

This lack of thoroughness marks the worst weakness of what in these days is by some execrated and by others extolled as liberal Christian thought. It will be execrated by fewer and praised with restraint of extravagance by many more when stronger expositors arise in its name to discipline its thinking and to require of it imperatively the three intelligent essentials of carefulness, consistency and completeness. Recovering thus a robust capital of precise ideas and achieving the art of expanding those ideas without vaporizing them into thin air, the modernminded church would escape its most uneasy embarrassment the ever haunting sense that Christian liberalism, as regards both its hold on its adherents and the force of impulse that it imparts to them, suffers by comparison on one side with old-time dogmatic Protestantism and on the other with still more ancient and more positive Roman Catholicism.

Both of these afford a fixity on which the foot treads firmly. And it is not strange that crowds of pilgrims continue to prefer solid roads, hard trampled by many generations safely gone on before, rather v than new trails which the first explorers have not successfully cleared of obscurity. If therefore a liberalized and liberalizing treatment of Christian doctrine has any mission for these and succeeding times, it must attain a definiteness of teaching, an unevasive lucidity of dealing with questions which experience poses for the living soul of man, and a dynamic of motive for sacrifice and service, such as to this day the later theology has not produced in any satisfactory equivalence to the older theology. To this end it is not enough that modern theology should be truer; it must intellectually be as thorough v and as affirmative, and spiritually it must be more intense.

The significance then of "Grace and Personality" lies primarily in introducing to American readers, at a moment when this need is conspicuous and daily growing more urgent, a mind that seems singularly adapted to the defining and teaching function here invoked in liberalism's behalf. Dr. Oman would of course deprecate being called either a prophet or the son of a prophet. But it is better still to be a father of prophets a forerunner of enlighteners and it is a sober appreciation, neither fulsome nor ecstatic, which turns these pages with increasing faith that to just such herald's duty, ushering in a clearerthinking future, God may have appointed this earnest British teacher. Without violent imagination one might see an age turn on this stout stake which he has set up. For here in small compass is a vi restatement of Christian theology, less stately, less copious but in scope hardly less comprehensive than Calvin's own and not wholly unworthy to be compared even with the massive "Institutes" for "system" -- patent principles exactly defined and their implications pursued to the end of unwavering logic. It is not, however, "remorseless" logic, as logic is proverbially said to be, but full of goodness and mercy as befits the ultimate Author from whom both logic and theology derive. A document so well conforming to the Lord's description of the work of an instructed scribe, who out of his treasure brings forth things new and old, might readily be the charter of a better era of more powerful faith.

A book from which radical consequences on the future are anticipated, it is common habit to stamp "revolutionary," whether the epithet is intended as a label of honor or a brand of discredit. But for all the novelty in Dr. Oman's thinking and the uniqueness of his writing, "Grace and Personality" is distinctly not revolutionary. In essence Dr. Oman is as Calvinistic as Calvin himself. That is indeed the secret of his successful criticism of Calvin. For no man could so perfectly and definitively excise from the imposing body of Calvin's thought its one supreme blemish except he began where Calvin began in seeking to conceive the meaning of the world. The Genevan oracle founded his whole philosophy of creation, life and destiny on the primitive and everlasting fact of the Sovereignty of God. vii And on that foundation Dr. Oman also stands up as stalwartly and immovably. "All is of God," is to this clear-minded writer in decided contrast with the typical trend of "modernism" a proposition not only unqualified but unqualifiable. Pelagianism gets no tolerance from him; even semi-Pelagianism is dismissed as impossibly in conflict with experience. If a man is to be saved out of his sin, only God can save him; if man is salvable, it is only because God has wrought into him the capacity of salvation. Here this present-day Cambridge professor travels by the highroad of the strictest Reformation orthodoxy.

How happens it then that he is no longer found in Calvin's company when the latter is seen proceeding down the rocky defile of limited atonement, unconditional election and irresistible grace? Where has he turned aside and whither? Has he discovered a straighter and loftier highroad? Dr. Oman does not doubt it nor is it easy to think of an unprejudiced reader who will not be drawn to follow him in this matter by his simple declaration of his own faith. In effect John Calvin is complained of for having (unconsciously, of course) limited the Sovereignty of God by his own Gnostical weakness of imagination. Like the Gnostics he could not quite imagine the awful and exalted majesty of the Infinite Creator, filling the heavens of heavens, as great enough to reach all the way down to the mundane plane of humanity. Calvin could never have thought, like viii Lanier, of making himself "a nest in the greatness of God," for the simple reason that he never saw God's greatness level with high-tide mark in the sea marshes. Calvin's God had height but not depth.

Instead the grim and grand old Genevan had to have a Sovereign God "high and lifted up." He could not even give full value to the psalm-saying: "Though Jehovah is high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly." It was God on a throne, God an autocrat, God disposing the destinies of mankind as arbitrarily as the destinies of their subjects were disposed by those earthly tyrants whose day darkened toward twilight on the morning that Calvin was born this was the Emperor God that the Calvinistic theology brought in to rule the Christian religion as well the world's secular affairs. And by necessity it followed that such a God, if genuinely sovereign in his world, must show it by deciding independently whom he would save and whom he would not, and must save those whom he did save according to his own choice and election, regardless of foreseen character, bad or good, in themselves transactions as individual but as impersonal (to take advantage of one of Dr. Oman's most illuminating distinctions) as, for example, a public assessor's imposition of taxes.

But Calvin missed the truth, says our author with bold and satisfying finality, only because he did not see that Jesus had long before solved all this difficulty of his about Gdd's greatness and man's littleness ix by delineating the Divine Sovereignty under the aspect of Fatherhood. Nay, more; Jesus showed that in God Sovereignty was and by his nature ever must be Fatherhood. In place therefore of the old dream of a measureless exaltation above the world of men, the good news came by Jesus Christ that "the tabernacle of God is with men and he shall dwell with them" just as a father should with his dependent children. And from thence Dr. Oman follows his chain of linked logic scripture logic with scripture links to a triumphant theology of Fatherhood which meets every requisite of the modern call for the simplest and straightest possible interpretation of the evangel, based on the single presumption that Jesus most meant to teach what his life and death most directly exemplified.

Clearly, for Jesus, saying "Our Father" was not the happy accommodation of an illustrative phrase; it was an absolutely factual utterance of the essential character of God. It was the only definition of God ever attempted by the "First-born among many brethren," the Son of God among all his sons who knew him best. Wherefore, Dr. Oman argues, as this reader understands him, the regulative question by which to guide every effort to search out the secrets of God's dealings with men is this: "What would a Father do?" He believes that Jesus knew no limit beyond which it was unsafe for a man to judge God by that criterion of confidence.

Above all else Dr. Oman is sure that a Divine, x Father could not pick and choose favorites among his children. What for Calvin's monarchical God was simply in accord with the native manner of kings it is impossible to attribute to a Sovereign Father. "The elect," therefore, are no closed class of selected aristocracy; "they who are called according to his purpose" is as broad a classification as "they that love God," and for them all impartially "all things work together for good." Even for the rebellious and disobedient there is naught but love in the Father's heart. But how can it be that a Father who loves all his children does not estop them from wandering into sin does not forcibly drag them back from incurring the punishments which his necessary law attaches so inevitably to sin? Answering these profound puzzles of theodicy Dr. Oman reaches his clearest heights.

Do "the fathers of our flesh," he asks, rejoice in obedience to which they must compel their children? Or can they compel it when children are come to full age? Is not always the true reward of wise and faithful parenthood realized in the fellowship of children who respond to parental ideals from willing and gladsome hearts -- the self-motived and unconstrained fidelity of love? And shall God desire less -- and be content to be served by driven slaves? Truly he "dealeth with us as with sons." And that means how true and discerning is the author's psychology! that he deals with us as persons moral persons "in his own image." But what is, or xi conceivably could be, moral in compelled goodness? Even immaculate purity, if imposed, could not be goodness -- Dr. Oman is "very bold" to say that, but can it be denied? Even God would not dare to make grace irresistible. "Grace can be conceived as irresistible only if it be thought of as something less than gracious." But God's love for us is "a gracious personal relation" -- the author has put Christendom in his debt for that shining phrase -- and neither as a gracious Father nor as an honorable gentleman will our God compel us to do for him what is not in our hearts to do willingly.

The Sovereignty of God and the free will of men -- from immemorial time the philosophers have pronounced that an insoluble antinomy. But what solution shall the practical man wish better than this truly gracious truth God the Father so much prizes the friendship of free children that he will not destroy their freedom even to win their friendship? And those whom God will not compel let men -- whether dogmatists, prelates or potentates -- beware of putting under bondage. "The liberty of the glory of the children of God" has "so mighty a Defender" -- He who is the Source and Bestower of it -- "Our Father who art in heaven." And Dr. Oman speaks as a commissioned champion representing that Defender.

To be sure, there are defects in the book. It is not in man that writeth to direct an impeccable pen. Personally I am least content with the author's xii treatment of the atonement; he seems inadequately to apprehend some profound aspects of the cross of the Son of God -- particularly the "patripassianism" it revealed. The call of the cross for our penitence would be a slight voice if it should be assumed that forgiving us costs our Father nothing but the gesture of waving our sins aside. Sin has results, as Dr. Oman justly teaches, and neither the forgiven sinner nor his fellow men ever suffer out all of those consequences. God himself suffers the heavier remainder. And so the cross speaks to all generations.

Yet the general judgment which the work invites stands superior to all flaws of detail. The volume is documentary and exemplary proof that a liberal theology can have under it a foundation -- a foundation as safe as the unfailing will of God and as beautiful as the revelation of the Eternal Fatherhood through the gracious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. On that foundation even the adventurous building of man's freedom is a divine construction which it is gross presumption for timid ecclesiasts to call insecure.




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