P. T. Forsyth

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P. T. Forsyth.

Peter Taylor Forsyth, also known as P. T. Forsyth, (1848–1921) was a Scottish theologian.


The son of a postman, Forsyth studied at the University of Aberdeen and then in Göttingen (under Albrecht Ritschl). He was ordained into the Congregational ministry and served churches as pastor at Bradford, Manchester, Leicester and Cambridge, before becoming Principal of Hackney College, London (later subsumed into the University of London) in 1901.


An early interest in critical theology made him suspect to some more 'orthodox' Christians. However, he increasingly came to the conclusion that liberal theology failed to account adequately for the moral problem of the guilty conscience. This led him to a moral crisis which he found resolved in the atoning work of Christ. The experience helped to shape and inform a vigorous interest in the issues of holiness and atonement. Although Forsyth rejected many of his earlier liberal leanings he retained many of Adolf von Harnack's criticisms of Chalcedonian Christology. This led him to expound a kenotic doctrine of the incarnation (clearly influenced by Bishop Charles Gore and Thomasius). Where he differed from other kenotic theologies of the atonement was the claim that Christ did not give up his divine attributes but condensed them; i.e., the incarnation was the expression of God's omnipotence rather than its negation. His theology and attack on liberal Christianity can be found in his most famous work, The Person and Place of Christ (1909), which anticipated much of the neo-orthodox theology of the next generation. He has sometimes been coined the 'Barthian before Barth', but this fails to account for many areas of divergence with the Swiss theologian's thought.[citation needed]

While many of Forsyth's most significant insights have largely gone ignored, not a few consider him to be among the greatest of English-speaking theologians of the early twentieth century.

In his Christian Theology: An Introduction, Alister E. McGrath describes Forsyth's Justification of God (1916). The book

represents an impassioned plea to allow the notion of the “justice of God” to be rediscovered. Forsyth is less concerned than Anselm for the legal and juridical aspects of the cross; his interest centers on the manner in which the cross is inextricably linked with “the whole moral fabric and movement of the universe.” The doctrine of the atonement is inseparable from “the rightness of things.”[1]

In his Theology and the Problem of Evil, Kenneth Surin points to Forsyth's Justification of God as offering a theodicy based on the cross. God can be justified for creating a world with so much pain and suffering “only if he were prepared to share the burden of pain and suffering with his creatures.” Surin concurs with Forsyth.[2]

Forsyth wrote The Justification of God,[3] while the first world war was killing ten million and wounding another twenty million from around the world.[4] Through the lens of biblical faith, Forsyth saw even “a world catastrophe and judgment of the first rank like the war” as “still in the hand and service of God.” [5]

Before the start of World War I, widely held views about God and human progress muted the theodic question. “Popular religion” had preached a God whose sole purpose was “to promote and crown [human] development.”[6] The “doctrine of progress” (first formulated by Abbé de Saint-Pierre) dominated Europe.[7] As Forsyth observed, but the war’s “revelation of the awful and desperate nature of evil” exploded these optimistic views and raised the theodic question about the goodness of God to full force.[8]

There was no theodicy extant to which Forsyth could turn. In spite of his extensive theological studies, he could find no satisfactory “philosophical theodicy or vindication of God's justice.”[9] From this, Forsyth concluded that

no reason of man can justify God in a world like this. He must justify Himself, and He did so in the Cross of His Son.[10]

Forsyth began formulating what he called “God’s own theodicy”[11] with Romans 1:17: “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith”.[12] There he found the righteousness of God revealed in the Christ who “is the theodicy of God and the justifier both of God and the ungodly.”[13]

[Christ] brings God's providence to the bar of God’s own promise. In Christ, God is fully justified by Himself. If any man thinks he has anything to suffer in the flesh, God more. In all their afflictions He was more afflicted.[14]

For Forsyth, “God’s own theodicy” stood in contrast to theodicies devised by humans.[15] God’s own theodicy provided Forsyth no philosophical answers to why in God’s “creation must the way upward lie through suffering?”[16] “The tactics of providence cannot be traced,” but “His purpose we have, and His heart. We have Him.”[17] God’s own theodicy is a theodicy of reconciliation and relationship, a theodicy that enables trust in God in spite of unanswered questions.

Forsyth’s understanding of “God’s own theodicy” as enabling a right relationship with God rather than a philosophical justification of God correlates with the two connotations of the word theodicy. Theodicy derives from the Greek words theos and dikē. Theos is translated “God.” Dikē can be translated as either (a) just (and its derivatives justice, justified)[18] or (b) right (and its derivatives righteousness, righteoused).[19] Righteoused is an obsolete verb meaning “made righteous.”[20] A theodicy designed to justify connotes rational arguments.[21] A theodicy designed to righteous connotes relationship because in the Bible righteousness is primarily a relational term.[22]


  • 'Pulpit Parables for Young Hearers'. With J. A. Hamilton. Manchester/London: Brook & Chrystal/Simpkin, Marshall & Co.; Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1888.
  • 'Religion in Recent Art: Being Expository Lectures on Rossetti, Burne Jones, Watts, Holman Hunt, and Wagner'. New York: AMS Press, 1972 (reprinted from the 3rd edition, 1905; 1st ed. 1889)
  • 'The Charter of the Church: Six Lectures on the Spiritual Principle of Nonconformity'. London: Alexander & Shepheard, 1896.
  • 'The Holy Father and the Living Christ'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1897.
  • 'Intercessory Services for Aid in Public Worship'. Manchester: John Heywood, 1896.
  • 'Rome, Reform and Reaction: Four Lectures on the Religious Situation'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1899.
  • 'The Taste of Death and the Life of Grace'. London: James Clarke, 1901, included in God the Holy Father. Blackwood: New Creation, 1987.
  • 'Positive Preaching and Modern Mind: The Lyman Beecher Lecture on Preaching, Yale University, 1907'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1907.
  • 'Missions in State and Church: Sermons and Addresses'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1908.
  • 'Socialism, the Church and the Poor'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1908.
  • 'The Cruciality of the Cross'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910.
  • 'The Person and Place of Jesus Christ: The Congregational Union Lecture for 1909'. London: Congregational Union of England and Wales/Hodder & Stoughton, 1909; London: Independent Press, 1948.
  • 'The Power of Prayer'. With Dora Greenwell. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910.
  • 'The Work of Christ'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910.
  • 'Christ on Parnassus: Lectures on Art, Ethic, and Theology'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911.
  • 'Faith, Freedom and the Future'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912.
  • 'Marriage: Its Ethic and Religion'. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912.
  • 'The Principle of Authority in Relation to Certainty, Sanctity and Society: An Essay in the Philosophy of Experimental Religion'. London: Independent Press, 1952 (1913).
  • 'Theology In Church and State.' London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1915.
  • 'The Christian Ethic of War'. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1999 (1916).
  • 'The Justification of God: Lectures for War-Time on a Christian Theodicy'. London: Independent Press, 1957.
  • 'The Soul of Prayer'. London: Independent Press, 1949 (1916).
  • 'The Church and the Sacraments'. London: Independent Press, 1947 (1916).
  • 'This Life and the Next: The Effect on This Life of Faith in Another'. London: Independent Press, 1946.
  • 'Christian Aspects of Evolution'. London: The Epworth Press, 1950.
  • 'Congregationalism and Reunion: Two Lectures'. London: Independent Press, 1952.
  • 'The Church, the Gospel and Society'. London: Independent Press, 1962.
  • 'Revelation Old and New: Sermons and Addresses'. (ed. John Huxtable). London: Independent Press, 1962.
  • 'God the Holy Father'. Blackwood: New Creation Publications, 1987.
  • 'The Preaching of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ'. Blackwood: New Creation Publications, 1987.
  • 'Christian Perfection'. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1899.
  • Forsyth’s works are available online at http://www.luc.edu/faculty/pmoser/idolanon/Forsyth.html.
(Forsyth died in 1921, and dates after that are re-prints of earlier publications)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 5th ed, 2010), 330. Also see McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edition, 2012), 227.
  2. ^ Quoted in Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil (Basil Blackwell, 2004), 67, as cited in Karen Kilby, “Evil and the Limits of Theology,” Theologyphilosphycentre.co.uk, Accessed October 23, 2009.
  3. ^ Peter Taylor Forsyth, The Justification of God: Lectures for War-time on a Christian Theodicy (Independent Press, 1916 and 1957; Latimer House, 1948.) Online at http://www.luc.edu/faculty/pmoser/idolanon/ForsythJustification.pdf.
  4. ^ According to “World War I," The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (January 10, 2010). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-WW1.html. "To calculate the total losses caused by the war is impossible. About 10 million dead and 20 million wounded is a conservative estimate. Starvation and epidemics raised the total in the immediate postwar years."
  5. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 11.
  6. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 25.
  7. ^ Christopher Dawson, Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry (Sheed and Ward, 1929; reprint Catholic University of America, 2001), 3.
  8. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 28.
  9. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, v.
  10. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 122.
  11. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 6.
  12. ^ "Righteousness - Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology Online". Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  13. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 169.
  14. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 130.
  15. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 14.
  16. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 136.
  17. ^ Forsyth, The Justification of God, 23.
  18. ^ "Genesis 1:1 (KJV)". Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  19. ^ "Genesis 1:1 (KJV)". Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  20. ^ Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), s.v. “righteoused.” Online at http://dictionary.die.net/righteoused.
  21. ^ "Definition of JUSTIFY". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  22. ^ Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, s.v. “Righteousness,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/ (also available in print edition, Baker Books, 1996) and “Exploring right relationships,” http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=6937&key=48121967. Accessed October 18, 2013.

External links[edit]