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Reconciliation and Religion

University of Glasgow

Reconciliation and Religion is H. H. Farmer’s second course of Glasgow Gifford Lectures, presented in 1951. In its day, the lectures were met with less than enthusiastic response, which contributed to Farmer’s choice not to pursue their publication. Indeed, it was once believed that Farmer was so displeased with this course that he burned his notes to prevent the lectures from ever receiving further public scrutiny. In fact, Farmer chose not to publish his lectures because he believed that contemporary work in the Christian theology of world religion was already being sufficiently produced by other more eminent scholars in his day. It was only in 1998 that his second course of lectures became available for publication, following their re-discovery by Professor Christopher Partridge of the University of Chester. Partridge, whose doctoral thesis was on Christianity and its encounter with world religions, discovered Farmer while researching his PhD at the University of Aberdeen. He found in Farmer’s first Gifford Lectures a great deal of resonance with his own work and wished to provide the academy and church with greater access to this, the conclusion of Farmer’s Gifford project.

After securing the permission of Farmer’s estate, Partridge edited and publishedReconciliation and Religion, which has been released in limited circulation. Partridge’s volume makes slight corrections to Farmer’s original manuscript, but only where Farmer’s notes indicated that these changes, deletions and additions were merited. Partridge also provides citations for almost all of Farmer’s quotes (something which Farmer’s original manuscript did not), and includes the most complete bibliography of Farmer’s work available to date. Also of interest is Partridge’s introductory essay, which situates Farmer’s thought within his own life and time. A few structural changes in the published volume differ from the original oral address. Though Farmer’s original course would have consisted of ten lectures, the published volume contains only seven chapters. The first two lectures (‘Introductory’ and ‘Religion and Theology’) were combined, as were lectures 5 and 6 (‘Morality and Religion’) and lectures 7 and 8 (‘The Significance and the Non-Significance of the Self’). As with all of Partridge’s editorial changes, these concatenations were indicated first in Farmer’s notes.

In chapter 1, ‘Religion and Theology’, Farmer reviews his previous course of lectures and states the two central problems which will occupy his present study, namely, the apparent tension within mystical experience and the need for systematic theological thought. At the heart of this tension is the difference between what constitutes religious feeling and what constitutes religious thinking. This is further explored in chapter 2, ‘Immanence and Transcendence’, in terms of the two forms of God’s activity within the world. Religious thinking about God explores the idea of Divine transcendence, which is described by Farmer as the ‘godness of God’ (44), that is, the nature of God as the absolute and holy other. Religious feeling, on the other hand, centres on the immanence of God, which is understood to be God’s presence within the world, known through the context of a living religion. In chapter 3, ‘Time and Eternity’, Farmer examines how God’s character described previously in terms of immanence and transcendence manifests itself within the context of human history. In particular, he notes how eternity functions symbolically as an object of theological hope that indicates the transition from human time to the plane of Divine temporality.

The heart of Farmer’s message can be found in chapter 4, ‘God’s Demand and God’s Succour’, where the author explores the nature of justification and atonement in light of the law of God. The idea of demand and succour, Farmer argues, is present in all religions insofar as they possess or advance any kind of ethical norm. Within Christianity, however, God uniquely provides the means of attaining genuine succour through the offer of forgiveness and unconditional love. This equates to the ultimate fulfilment of the demand of God’s law through the overabundance of Divine grace. Of course, if Christianity offers genuine succour, there exists the possibility for an inauthentic succour. This topic is explored in chapter 5, ‘Morality and Religion’, where Farmer discusses the possibility of a nonreligious morality that responds to the universal awareness of moral sensitivity. Though morality is possible outside Christianity, Farmer argues that the ability to choose the moral is limited when pursued beyond of the strictures of Christian revelation.

In chapter 6, ‘The Significance and the Non-Significance of the Self’, Farmer approaches the doctrine of humanity by discussing the problem of evil, the relationship between self and world, the tension between feeling and knowing and the nature of personal and communal religious involvement. He concludes by arguing that faith in the incarnation of Christ offers individual selves confidence in the moral sphere, knowledge of what constitutes a true humanity and an example of what constitutes true sociality.

In the final chapter, chapter 7, ‘The Self and Other Selves’, Farmer explores what he calls a ‘Christian morality’. For the Christian, all moral choices must stand up under the ideal of love, which requires that all interpersonal relationships must conform to the selfless example of the incarnation of God in Christ.

Michael W. DeLashmutt
University of Glasgow