Evangelical Theology: A Course of Popular Lectures, by A. A. Hodge. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990. 402 pages plus index. Hardcover. $20.95. [Reviewed by the Editor.]
Evangelical Theology is a reprint of the book originally published in 1887 as Popular Lectures on Theological Themes. As the original title indicated, the book consists of popular lectures given by A. A. Hodge on basic Presbyterian doctrines. Hodge followed the standard Presbyterian format, beginning with the doctrine of God and concluding with the doctrine of the last things. Subjects treated included the doctrines of Holy Scripture; of the Trinity; of predestination; of the covenants; of the offices of Christ; of sanctification; and more.
Archibald Alexander Hodge was the illustrious son of the renowned Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge. A. A. Hodge was professor of systematic theology at Princeton Seminary from 1877 to 1886, when he died. The reader of this volume, therefore, will catch something of the flavor of the Princeton theology in the time of its glory.
Added to the original volume in this reprint is the memorial discourse of Francis L. Patton upon Dr. Hodge’s death. This is a valuable, brief biography of Dr. Hodge. Since Dr. Patton was himself a professor of theology (also at Princeton Theological Seminary), it is permitted to him to jibe at the preaching of professors of theology: “(they) preach old sermons full of the bones of theology which, like those of Ezekiel’s valley of vision, are very many and very dry” (p. xxviii).
Unfortunately omitted in this reprint is the entire last section on prayer that appeared in the original work. Pages 107-116 of the original work were a refutation of “prayer cure,” or as we would say, “faith healing.” In the course of this refutation, Hodge stated excellently the Presbyterian position on the charismata, or extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. At a time when notions of “prayer-cure,” faith-healing, and the presence in the church of the charismata are gaining popularity among Presbyterian and Reformed people, it would have been useful to have included Hodge’s criticism of them.
Hodge gives sound explanation and good defense of certain of the fundamental biblical truths covered in the book. The reader will learn something about Presbyterianism and, therefore, about biblical Christianity. There is also incisive comment on contemporary issues. Hodge gives a damning indictment of irreligious public education (p. 245) and passes a devastating judgment upon Christian parents who send their children to public schools:
Who is responsible for the new doctrines of secular education which hand over the very baptized children of the Church to a monstrous propagandism of naturalism and atheism? (p. 247).
Nevertheless, the evangelical theology of A.A. Hodge is weak and erroneous in basic areas of the Reformed faith — astonishingly so. Like the Princeton men in general, Hodge is concessive toward evolutionary science. He is open not only to a very old earth but also to the evolutionary origin of all things, including man, although he insists on the creation of man’s soul. He virtually concedes that Genesis 1-11 is pre-history, thus calling into question, if he does not out rightly deny, the historicity of these chapters.
He does not think that the doctrine of predestination as set forth in the Westminster Standards is fundamental to the Christian faith. In his treatment of predestination, he does not even mention reprobation. The explanation of Jesus’ priestly office emphatically teaches universal atonement in important respects, although Hodge also likes to salvage particular redemption. When he comes to the issue of the freedom or bondage of the will, he vigorously defends freedom of the human will as the position of Calvinism. What he has in mind is “psychological” free will, not spiritual and moral free will. But the latter is the real issue in the conflict; and this is what Hodge ought to be addressing by a vigorous defense of the bondage of the will.
Fallen man retains the image of God, we are told, inasmuch as Hodge identifies the image with man’s intelligence and will. Not averse to drawing out the astounding implication of this doctrine, Hodge assures us that “the devil is in the image of God, because he is an intelligent spirit” (p. 155). This is to reduce the concept of the image of God to meaninglessness, if not to absurdity. The implication ought to have sent Hodge back to the theological drawing-board regarding the content of the image of God.
The lecture on “God’s Covenants with Man” is completely unsatisfactory. It is Arminian to the core. The essence of the covenant is supposed to be a conditional promise (p. 166). Accordingly, in the covenant with Adam a covenant of works according to Hodge – “God offered to man in this gracious covenant of works an opportunity of accepting his grace and receiving his covenant gift of a confirmed, holy character, secured on the condition of personal choice. God gave Adam and Eve the best chance he could . . .” (p. 168). In the covenant of grace, “which makes human redemption possible,” God gives salvation through the gospel “upon the condition of faith” (p. 172). This is to make the covenant of grace in reality another covenant of works. The work now is faith.
Hodge’s doctrine of the church is very broad. Arminians are the spiritual brothers of Presbyterians inasmuch as the Arminian party “holds all essential truth” (p. 136). The better class of Arminians complements Calvinism and is necessary to “restrain, correct, and supply the one-sided strain” of Calvinism (pp. 136, 137). “Romanists” are also the brothers of Presbyterians since they practice the one baptism with Calvinists (p. 338). Hodge disparages the institute of the church; advocates the pluriformity of the church; and minimizes doctrinal differences. He denies that Christ ordained a specific form of church government and church organization.
This is latitudinarianism with a vengeance. It gives support to the ecumenical efforts of the World Council of Churches. It has difficulty justifying the separation of the churches of the Reformation from Rome. It conflicts with Article 29 of the Belgic Confession on the marks of the true and of the false church. It differs with the judgment of the Canons of Dordt on Arminianism as the heresy of Pelagius out of hell (II, Rejection of Errors/3). It cannot be reconciled with the Heidelberg Catechism’s teaching that those who look to the saints for part of their salvation are unbelievers and that the church that practices the mass is guilty of accursed idolatry and a denial of the one sacrifice of Christ (Questions 30, 80).
If this was the theology of old Princeton in the days of its glory, the refusal of hundreds of Presbyterian ministers to condemn fundamental departures from the faith and to take a stand for the truth in the early 1900s becomes understandable. Indeed, it is understandable that the Presbyterian Church apostatized into modernism. And if this theology is the theology of evangelicalism at the end of the 20th century – and the sounder evangelicalism at that – evangelicalism today is in no better shape. Nor is its future any brighter.