Horace Bushnell As A Theologian -- By: Frank Hugh Foster

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 059:236 (Oct 1902)
Article: Horace Bushnell As A Theologian
Author: Frank Hugh Foster


Horace Bushnell As A Theologian1

Rev. Frank Hugh Foster

The theological labors of Bushnell will never be understood and appreciated till his distinctive position is clearly conceived and carefully kept in mind. He was preeminently a preacher, and his work as a theologian was such as a preacher is qualified and naturally led to perform. He never held academic position after his life-work was fairly begun, and never engaged in the instruction of candidates for the ministry. There were great advantages in this position, and decisive influences proceeding from it to determine the lines and character of his work. The academic teacher is to a degree imprisoned in routine. He must pay attention to every department of his subject, for he has to teach them all. He may be thus diverted at important moments from studies which might otherwise prove largely fruitful. He gains in comprehensiveness and critical quality, for he must know and judge many opinions, and must be a man of books; but he loses in originality, spontaneity, and freshness. The preacher, on the contrary, need pay no

attention to routine. He will best serve his people when he is most fully himself. He is regularly engaged in work which is largely creative, and thus his originality is receiving constant stimulus and training. And, above all, he is constantly brought into direct contact with men, with life, with the pressing problems of the living present, with the needs which the day and hour have created, and which the theology of the day needs to meet. Hence if the preacher becomes a theologian, the theology is likely to become one of life and of power. This effect Bushnell amply illustrates.

At the same time there are disadvantages in this position, from which have flowed most of Bushnell’s defects. As we are to be occupied with the positive estimate of his services, we shall best prepare ourselves, as well as relieve the discussion of a certain burden, if we briefly note some of these disadvantages at this preliminary stage of our theme.

His lack of historical knowledge was one disadvantage. After he had written his chief contribution to the discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, he reviewed the matter in another work, in which he wrote: “On a careful study of the creed prepared by this [the Nicene] council, as interpreted by the writings of Athanasius in defense of it, I feel obliged to confess that I had not sufficiently conceived its import, or the title it has to respect as a Christian document.”2 He might have gone further and said that he had not even then “sufficiently conceived the import...

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