Friday 27 June 2014

Book Review: Charles Hodge by Don Fortson

This short biography brings the life of Charles Hodge (1797-1878) out of what will be “relative obscurity” for most readers. It is written in a way that is interesting, accessible, helpful and theologically engaging. Hodge’s life spanned such important events in the life of America as the Civil War, the emancipation of slavery and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the church, his association as a teacher of theology at the renowned Princeton Theological Seminary for half a century is what he is most known for. There is perhaps no equal to Hodge in the history of the Reformed church in North America because he trained almost 3000 students who became gospel ministers, missionaries and professors.

This accessible biography carries great potential use in that it will introduce the readers to whole range of doctrinal debates, ones which Hodge had to get involved with. These diverse issues include the revivalism of Charles Finney, debates over church polity with James Henley Thornwell, the necessity or otherwise for the rebaptism of Roman Catholics and the church’s connection to national politics. Hodge’s life provides a “lens” through which to view a range of topics that have ongoing and perpetual significance.

This giant in the faith was unashamedly Calvinistic. He was also unashamedly presbyterian. However, this does not mean that readers will agree with every stance that he took on the many debates and issues that he got involved with. On some matters, one may deem he was too soft, on others, maybe he won the day due to his huge influence rather than due to holding the right line of doctrinal logic. It is this reviewer’s opinion that the debates that Hodge held with Thornwell on church polity are perhaps a case in point: Hodge won the vote at the General Assembly, even though Thornwell presented a stronger argument.

In sum, this book is highly recommended and enjoyable. It will introduce the next generation of Christians to the necessity for sound doctrine in a time-frame spanning from Archibald Alexander to B.B. Warfield. Hodge as a man is someone to be followed, in that he emulated a passion for academic rigour concerning the Word of God along with pastoral warmth and care. The Reformed church needs robust theological training for its future ministers and hopefully this book will further spark desires for a theologically educated ministry within evangelicalism in the U.K.

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