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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Dyk, Leanne van


The Desire of Divine Love. John McLeod Campbell’s Doctrine of the Atonement.


Frankfurt/M.-Berlin-Bern-New York-Paris-Wien: Lang 1995. 186 S. gr.8° = Studies in Church History, 4. Pp. DM 76,­. ISBN 0-8204-2647-4.


G. R. Evans

John McLeod Campbell ran into difficulties early in his career as a minister in the early nineteenth century because he had been preaching that God’s forgiveness in Christ extends to every human being; that he loves all alike; that the token of being a Christian is a positive assurance of one’s own salvation. In March 1830 twelve of Campbell’s parishioners filed a complaint against him with the presbytery of Dumbarton. In the ensuing ecclesiastical process against him, which went ’up the ladder of ecclesiastical assemblies’ to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Campbell had many supporters, but there was much to be desired in the matter of due process. Campbell was deposed. There is a great deal of interest and importance in this story for what it shows of the problems of ensuring that investigation into allegations of doctrinal deviance is properly carried out in the churches (for example, it was not thought necessary to examine Campbell’s original accusers to see whether they fully understood the doctrinal implications of the positions they were challenging, so as to assess whether they really understood what they were accusing him of). This study is valuable in the first instance for its handling of these matters and although more might have been got out of the implications of the failures of due process, this is a useful account.

The main body of the book is concerned, in four chapters, with the structure of Campbell’s theology of the Atonement, the way it fits into the conspectus of ’typologie’ of Atonement theories, ’difficulties’ with it, and its claims to show continuities with Calvin and the Reformed tradition. Campbell had a number of insights which give his account of the Atonement distinctive qualities. He tried, for example, to work from the Gospel accounts of Christ’s life on earth rather than from abstract prin

ciples, such as those to do with the imperatives of divine justice. He had a strong sense of the ’parental’ character of divine love for man, and this made vivid for him the character of the relationship of Christ to his Father and to humanity.

All in all, this is a subtle and sympathetic analysis of the work of a relatively neglected figure. In places the machinery of the criticism is laboriously apparent, but perhaps that is a fault on the right side.