Attributes and atonement : the holy love of God in the theology of P.T. Forsyth
The noted British theologian P.T. Forsyth (1848-1921) used the distinctive expression 'holy love' to refer to God's nature, and found the words especially useful in delineating a doctrine of the atonement that stressed the harmony of the love and holiness of God. An introductory chapter provides the historical context for what follows. It outlines the history of this expression in nineteenth-century theology, traces its emergence in Forsyth's writings, and notes a significant parallel with his own theological conversion. A survey of the literature related to the thesis topic is provided in a separate chapter. Forsyth's religious epistemology, and particularly his understanding of the possibility of a natural knowledge of God through conscience is examined. Building on this foundation, the subsequent chapter considers God's attributes revealed in Jesus Christ, and examines specific divine perfections in order to draw general conclusions. Forsyth makes a prominent place for God's love, but to focus on that love alone is theologically inadequate, leading to a loss of the transcendent and a merely exemplary doctrine of the atonement. An emphasis on holiness remedies this imbalance. As defined in Christ, such holiness is a key feature of the atonement, which Forsyth interprets as an atoning sacrifice, made by the sinless and obedient Son, who acknowledged and satisfied the Father's holiness, from within the human context. According to Forsyth, there is no strife of attributes between God's saving love and God's judging holiness; rather, both are operative harmoniously in Christ's death. The holy love of God, seen in a trinitarian perspective, seeks and saves. When experienced by sinners, God's holy love is grace. A final chapter considers the future of holy love, both historically in the period 1921-1993, and theologically as to its usefulness and importance.