From: Outlines of Christian Theology or Theological Hints, by J.M. Conner. Little Rock, Arkansas. Brown Printing Company, 1896
NEVER in the history of the Christian Church did the sacred truths of Divine revelation have to wrestle with so many insidious and ensnaring enemies, as have been projected and embellished within the last one or two decades. Rationalistic interpretations of Biblical doctrines have been supplemented with false premises, corrupt, but garnished philosophies, and illogical conclusions have been reached and palmed off on the reading world by the glare of mere rhetoric, when, in fact, these opposing theories are nothing but the fascinations of imaginary hypothecations, which, instead of being denounced by the scholars of the Church, are too often lifted to the plane of respectability – by assuming to give them scholarly battle, when, in most instances, they should have simply hurled against them the battering-rams of denunciation. The reason is the highest faculty which God has imparted to man, and is the most powerful agent in reducing the doctrines of Christianity to their component parts; analogical reasoning is an indispensable factor in simplifying those doctrines. But no logical postulate, in all human experiences, has been sufficient to guide man as to his life and conduct. God has, therefore, placed in our hands a supernatural and sufficient revelation of His will to enable us to understand and practicalize the virtues and graces which should ornament us here, and prepare us for a felicitous eternity, because this revelation is addressed to our understanding, and thereby to our hearts and consciences. And, while it is judged and authenticated by our intellectual faculties, reason serves as an interpreter and shows its harmony with the divine law by the blessings obedience to that law impart. But God, per se, is above all reason, and Christianity, including regeneration, sanctification, and all that comprehends growth in grace, is also above reason; and that class of scholars who assume that God is not beyond reason, is too often led into the mazes of doubt, and terminate their investigations in the clutches of agnosticism, which, in our day, is the most seductive foe with which the Church has to wrestle. An agnostic, after all, is simply a know-nothing in religion. Indeed, he is a know-nothing about all that involves heaven, hell, a judgment, retribution and the Triune God himself. And, still further, he holds that exist in any form, beyond and behind phenomena, is unknown and unknowable – a condition which, when reached, is not only lamentable but absolutely awful.
The vast number of books which are now being written and published, and the multitude of book agents who are canvassing for their sale, with their flattering recommendations, are disseminating among the uncultured masses every imaginable theory in the prowess of unsanctified ingenuity. Thus, we are living in a dangerous period – while it is a period of great enlightenment and progress. A large majority of the reading world accept any theory, however foreign to the truth, as a veritable declaration, because some neatly bound and, possibly, the gold-gilt book so states. Beyond that, they seem to have no thought; and, instead of being able to formulate some counter-argument, to rebut the many wild sophistries. Especially is this the case with any people who have not been accustomed to classic books, and are passing through a transitional state. No era in the history of the world has been so pregnant with the reading matter as the present. Every railroad train is laden with dime novels, nickel papers, and obscene literature, while the daily, weekly and monthly periodicals abound with science, so-called; and, when sifted by a rigid investigation, is found to be not only vulgar and corrupting to good morals, in too many instances, but in many cases a tissue of suppositions, which are not entitled to the respect of decent fancy. The standard magazines are made up of a stolid indifference to truth and veracity, which often makes the vehicles of false and dangerous thought. To meet this condition of things, and counteract its ruinous influence upon the young and inexperienced, and that class of readers whose intellects have not been trained to analyze the different subjects often treated, and throw off the rubbish, Christian men of ability, and more particularly ministers of the gospel, who possess native talent and have had the advantage of learning, should employ every opportunity in writing upon all moral and religious questions, and thus show that the Church is able to take up every gauntlet thrown down by the theorists and sophists of our time, and to meet the seductive and soul-blighting influences which the enemies of God are manufacturing, to subvert His reign in the hearts of men.
Rev. J. M. Conner, A. M., S. T. D., who has not yet reached the prime of life, and whose learning and present industry argue great achievements for the future, has rendered the Church, and his day and generation, an incalculable service, and has placed those contemporaneous with him, and the next generation at least, under lasting gratitude for this work – “Outlines of Christian Theology” – and more especially, as the times not only demand it, but the race of which he is an honorable representative is in need of it. We believe he is the third divine in our Church, out of our thousands of ministers, who have dared to lift his pen theologically in the defense of our common Christianity, and so systematize the great code of moral truth that our ministers in all parts of the world, and others of every hue and shade, may be better prepared to preach the gospel with that point and edge, and orthodox solidity, which will make it efficient and potential for good in this life and the life to come. A living ministry is the great want of the Church. A ministry that will move the people, convince the skeptic, and demolish the theories of the pantheist and the atheist, as well as show the folly of agnosticism, which is now the chief citadel of the unbeliever. Christian Theology comprises that science which treats of the existence and attributes of God; the reciprocal relations between man and his Creator; the dispensations of His providence; His pleasure with regard to our actions, and His purposes with respect to our destination. We use the words Christian Theology in contra-distinction to the theologies of Homer, Plato, Orpheus and others, who were denominated theologians, which the Christian fathers consecrated by the term to comprehend biblical truths. While the word was first used to denote the systems of heterogeneous fables of the poets and philosophers who wrote of the gods of ancient Greece, and still more ancient Egypt, on account of their sublime speculations, it was afterwards employed by primitive writers of the Christian church to include those sublime and abstract truths which are not speculative, but embrace the great scheme of redemption and all of its concomitants; for, after all, in the language of the great historian of reformation: “Jesus Christ is the purpose of God in history,” and we might say with equal propriety, that Jesus Christ is the purpose of God, as made manifest in the teachings, elucidations, and manifestations of the Divine purpose in all Christian theology. Remove Christ and the prophecies, types and shadows, symbolic sacrifices, the Star of Bethlehem, followed by the magi, the baptism of John, including the miracles, and terminating in the death, resurrection and ascension, and all that pertains thereto becomes a sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, and theology itself becomes a delusive figment. But, with Christ as the heart and vitalizing arteries of the grand system of morals, comprehended in theological lore, mankind of every race variety, with all of their learning and metaphysical prowess, may come and learn, study, digest and practicalize, until humanity itself takes on the qualities, characteristics and the grandeur of a God, so far as it is possible in the flesh and the expansive, evolving and progressive conditions of the spirit world, which will enable him to consort with angels, cherubs, and seraphs through all eternity.
While our time has been too much absorbed with the many duties and responsibilities connected with our official position in the church to carefully examine the portion of manuscript submitted to us for inspection, we feel safe in presuming that Dr. Conner has not wavered from the fundamental doctrines held by orthodox Christians in every age of the church. While language arrangement and sentence construction may vary, to impart more simplicity and enable the novitiate reader to better comprehend the great doctrines of Divine revelation, there can be but one basic truth, while there may be varied in detail. It is natural to suppose that Dr. Conner will prominently stand out in the treatment of the various subjects he has discussed, yet being satisfied that he has followed in the wake of the illustrious Wesley and other champions of Methodism, and above them, the revealed word of God, we commend this book to the present and coming ministry of the Church.
H. M. TURNER
ATLANTA, GA., October 24, 1895