Theological contribution of Robert William Dale
Gould, William Blair
The full impact of nineteenth century thought has been most deeply felt in the last ten years. There is a growing realisation that the problems with which the Victorians struggled a hundred years ago laid the foundations for the issues which we face today. This is particularly true in religion. If the present crisis in thought is, as many believe, essentially of a rel igious nature, then on what the last century b&sed its faith is of particular importance to us. The Victorian scene is incomplete without an appreciation of the role which Non-conformity played in influencing the religious and philosophical thought of the times. In many ways, the Free Church was the most unrestricted of the theological voices. It was neither, like the Church of England, hampered by ties to the State nor was its freedom of thought censored by the growing Papal authority of Roman Catholicism. To a great extent, the Non-conformist witness was expressed through its leaders, of whom P. T. Forsyth and Alexander Fairbairn are outstanding. These figures·of Victorian·Non-conformity are being "discovered" by our age and have rewarded our interest by giving us deep and lasting insights.into their problems which, in so many ways, are ours as well. R. W .Dale has been almost totally forgotten except for occasional references in sermons to the incident in his later ministry where he arose from writing a sermon with a deep personal sense that the Living Christ was alive here and now. In recent studies on the ministry of the Church Dale's ideas on Congregationalism have been quoted and discussed briefly. Some books on the Atonement still criticise his view of Christ's Sacrifice. As yet, no attempt has been made to present his theology in a systematic manner, or to give a critique of his thought as a complete entity. This is the task to which this work is dedicated. The purely expository nature of most of his writings and his ponderous style do not make Dale too popular with the average reader. He lacks the theological vigour of a Fairbairn and the coherence and imagination of a Forsyth. A study of Dale is richly rewarding despite these criticisms. For he deals with the major issues of the faith, reflecting an honesty of purpose and a sound theological basis, which make him one of the important representatives of Victorian Non-conformity. For the most part, I have preferred to let Dale speak for himself on the great topics of the faith: God, the Person and, work of Christ, the Church, Christian Ethics, and Immortality. For this reason, I have avoided interpretation in the major part of the thesis. Part of Dale's relevancy comes from the unique place that he and his fellow Non-conformists occupied in the age itself. The introductory chapter, therefore, aims at giving a detailed appraisal of the framework within which his work was written. In the final chapter, I have attempted to point out the facts of his theology which have particular meaning at the present time and to indicate also to what extent Dale is consistent within his own thought.