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Thomas Chalmers Preaching

Dr Thomas Chalmers

Thomas Chalmers - Enthusiast for... Mission: The Christian Good of Scotland and the Rise of the Missionary Movement. Parish minister, popular preacher, social reformer, lecturer in moral philosophy, economics, and theology - Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was the leading Scottish Evangelical in a golden age of intellectual and social development that found its theological expression in debates over ecclesiastical power, social responsibility and the world-wide mission of the church.

Today Chalmers is almost the only figure since Knox that Presbyterian churches and institutions around the world are named after. His vivid sayings - such as "the Christian good of Scotland", "the expulsive power of a new affection" and "show me a people-going minister and I will show you a church-going people" - are still heard. His ideas on welfare and community responsibility are still debated. His name is invoked in causes from theories of creation to the prevention of cruelty to animals. A theology chair and the home of the Faculty of Divinity Graduate School and Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World are named after him at the University of Edinburgh. North American interest in Chalmers was substantial even allowing for the differences in social circumstances from those he addressed in Britain. As subsequent generations have asked questions about science, Calvinism, church and state, church union, the ambiguities of social welfare, or the relationship between religious and national identity, it is still considered necessary to discuss his ideas. His commitment to parish ministry remains a powerful example.

He is remembered particularly for his role in the events leading to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland in 1843, though this should not overshadow his integration of ideals from both parties which split at the Disruption: the socially liberal Evangelicals, and the politically conservative Moderates. He contributed to changing theological attitudes. His preaching, social concern, parish experiments and interest in bible societies and missions, made him famous in Britain, well known in North America, and respected in France. His holistic philosophy as well as his enthusiastic, experimental approach to mission was reproduced and expanded by his students who became missionaries, educationalists and church leaders around the world.

It is important for the Evangelical tradition that it can own Chalmers as a model of what a key stream of that tradition is about. He believed in a free Gospel. He believed in education. He was excited by science. His sense of the foundational importance of the Bible included an awareness that its inspiration related "not to the thing recorded, but the truth of it". Church order was something for people to decide. He saw theology as historically conditioned. He thought in terms of general principles as well as concrete details. He had an eye for the important questions of his time. He was impatient of creeds and tolerant of Catholics. He was influenced by Methodists and Moravians, and a friend of Anglicans, agnostics, Baptists, the first British Charismatics, Quakers, a good number of Moderates and not a few judged to be heretics. If Scots and others find they cannot study the 19th century and the mission of the church without studying Chalmers, it is not a bad situation to be in.

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