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For Faith and Freedom

1956 to 1957
University of Glasgow

The present volume is the second course of Leonard Hodgson's Glasgow Gifford Lectures which were delivered in 1956/7. These ten lectures constitute the third part of Hodgson's overarching theological project, which began in his previous course of lectures with an exploration of his own theological and philosophical predispositions and concluded with a description of the sources of natural theology. In contrast to the general thrust of other Gifford Lectures, Hodgson's second course of lectures is explicitly centered on the content of Christian theology, which he argues is both revealed and natural.

Hodgson begins his discussion of Christian theology in Lecture I, “The Bible,” by asserting that the Bible is the ultimate source of authority on God. It is the ultimate and most significant means of God s self-revelation and expresses not only who God is, but what God wills for human and cosmic destiny. Although it is the locus of revealed truth, Hodgson is quick to complement his high view of the role of scripture with a fairly objective and naturalistic understanding of the nature and transmission of scripture. The Bible, accordingly, is understood by Hodgson to be a collection of documents which have been composed and redacted through a long history of reception and transmission. In this sense, the Bible functions as an object of the natural world and as a product of history. Like both nature and history, it is used by God to reveal himself.

Moving from the primary source of God's self-disclosure, the Bible, in Lecture II, “God,” Hodgson seeks to illustrate what scripture, the universe, and religious experience tell us about the nature of God. It is interesting to note that although human reason can provide one with a certain level of knowledge about God, this knowledge is only made available through God's involvement within the processes of human reason itself. Knowledge of God is always knowledge of God's self-revelation.

To understand God's activity in the world, one must also grapple with the problem of evil. In Lecture III, “God and Evil,” Hodgson explores the “fundamental antinomy” of the existence of evil in the face of God's perfection. Discontented with the understanding of evil argued for by pragmatists, behaviourists, and idealists, Hodgson admonishes the reader to take comfort in the Christian doctrine of creation, which can enable one to seek “ultimate explanations [for evil] in terms of His [God's] personal will.” (67) In keeping with his belief that God continues to reveal himself to humanity through the development of human knowledge, in Lecture IV, “Christ,” Hodgson contends that the recent turn towards demythologisation, in addition to the quest for the historical Jesus, provides the believing Christian with a greater degree of knowledge about the person of Jesus. Truer knowledge about Jesus corresponds to a greater sense of analogy between his life and one's own life that is lived in the present. Christ, for Hodgson, is the point of contact between time and eternity.

An ardent Trinitarian (note the appendix to the printed volume), in Lecture V, “The Holy Spirit,” Hodgson discusses the historical antecedents to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. According to Hodgson, the Spirit's work is to be found in the continued revelation of God through the processes of history. The Holy Spirit is that aspect of God which enables the human body and mind to be enlisted in Divine service. The Spirit gives humanity the capacity to know the will of God, as revealed in scripture and nature, and to respond to God's revelation through work and service. The possibility for encounter with the Spirit is discussed by Hodgson in Lecture VI, “The Christian Church.” It is only within the Church, which is the messianic and eschatological community of God that one can encounter Christ and be enabled by his Spirit to understand the revelation of God. The church is an elect community, which extends the work of Christ into the world. Hodgson's ecclesiology, however, does not advocate the removal of the individual Christian from other forms of service within the secular world, but situates all rightly-oriented Christian action within the broader context of God's gracious activity. To this end, in as much as the church is an extension of the work of God on earth, it is also a vessel of God's grace.

In Lecture VII, “Grace,” Hodgson identifies grace as the activity of God in our lives and our world. It is that which develops in humanity a desire for true freedom, and is signaled by God's ongoing creative relationship with the cosmos. Within the church, grace is the outpouring of the redemptive work of Christ, both within the sacraments and also in the actions of service done by Christians for the world.

In his final three lectures, Hodgson engages with increasingly difficult theological issues. In Lecture VIII, “Prayer and Providence,” Hodgson unpacks his understanding of Divine action in the world, through a discussion of the relationship between prayer and God's nature. Although Hodgson allows for providential action, he rules out the use of evil as a means for advancing God's will or achieving God's glory. In the face of suffering, though, he calls the individual Christian to believe in the providential ordering of life which ultimately works out to the good despite outward appearances to the contrary.

In the penultimate lecture, Lecture IX, “Eschatology,” Hodgson advocates a Hebraic rather than a Hellenistic understanding of the eschaton, which emphasises the goal of the cosmos instead of its end. Eschatology is an expression of God's creative will and is described in terms of God's ultimate purpose for creation, rather than as an end to creation in the sense of a final and ultimate judgment. Seen accordingly, the Christian belief in the resurrection of the Body is understood to be a sign of the personal wholeness (self-unification) that is promised to the believer in the Messianic age. To live forever in the eschaton is to be made a durable and unified person whose wholeness is guaranteed by the redemptive work of God in Christ, by way of one's place within the Church — God's messianic and eschatological community (201).

In his conclusion, Lecture X, “Freedom and Faith,” Hodgson discusses the imperative of faith if one is to truly achieve human freedom. Although freedom in the present age seems limited by the presence of dominating technologies, the media, and “brain washing” (222), by an appeal to faith and by striving to understand God's activity in the past, one can see promise in the face of the abyss of existential uncertainty. Faith, Hodgson would argue, is implied in the universal quest for knowledge. When placed under the rubric of Christian revelation, faith provides one with the strength to find the meaning of life and promise for the future.

Michael W. DeLashmutt
University of Glasgow