Peter Taylor Forsyth

1848-1921. Congregationalist theologian. A postman's son in Aberdeen, he was educated at the university there, then studied at Göttingen under A. Ritschl.* After serving various Congregational churches in England, he became in 1901 principal of Hackney College, London, a post he retained until his death. Keenly interested in historical critical theology, and concerned to open the way to a “better, freer, larger Church,” he took part in the Leicester Conference which had such aims in 1877, and was suspected in his denomination of heterodoxy.

Although he never went back to the earlier conservative scholastic theology, Forsyth gave increasing emphasis to the need for using the new theological critical freedom to live by and for the evangelical realities, not to supplant them. Writing with learning, passion, and an idiosyncratic style, he argued that man must not take God's central place in theology; that God's love, being holy, was necessarily wrathful against sin, which could not be explained away. He stressed that atonement was by the cross, in which God as well as man was reconciled at cost. In his greatest work, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ (1909), he made a creative contribution to Christology in suggesting that kenosis (self-emptying) and plerosis (fulfilling) are the two movements from God to man and from man to God which savingly occur in Christ.

In this later period he was increasingly respected as a Congregationalist leader. He developed a high doctrine of the church, ministry, and sacraments (including preaching), and was a sharp critic of the laymindedness, individualism, and tendency to nondoctrinal religion prevalent in the Free churches. He opposed the “New Theology” of R.J. Campbell. His churchmanship was not an imitation of Anglican or Roman Catholic forms, but a disciplined working out of Christian truth according to basic Congregationalist principles.

See G.O. Griffith, The Theology of P.T. Forsyth (1948); and R.M. Brown, P.T. Forsyth: Prophet for Today (1952).