Poor Charles Garland. An affable reverend respected by his congregations around Victorian New Zealand. Destined to become a Principal of the theological training institution.
The Bearing of Higher Criticism On Leading Evangelical Doctrines
But he was pilloried by some laity and clergy. And Garland's ghosts continue to haunt the creaking, groaning institution of the Methodist Conference.
It happened like this. Garland was given the honour of presenting the 1893 Conference lecture.
He called it “The Bearing of Higher Criticism On Leading Evangelical Doctrines”.
It sounds as dry as dust. But it wasn't. Higher Criticism sounds grand, but is just a term. It means the reader has to consider a number of factors other than the open bible in front of him or her.
These factors might be who write it, when was it written, what was the context of its times and so on.
In what ways is true? is also a critical question.
Today there's a little army of biblical scholars worldwide who debate these and similar questions. In Garland's time the army was more like a platoon.
That he brought all these problems into the open at a Methodist Conference is his greatest legacy. And how he did it was quite superb.
Like Jesus, many centuries before, he talked about a conversation he'd had with a child. A Sunday School lad. Garland had asked the boy how could we explain the two variant readings of an Old Testament story.
Here's how it goes.At 1 Samuel 16:31-40 it is clear that Saul knew who David was. Next chapter at verses 55-58 it's clear that Saul does not know who David was.
Garland puts the question to the boy. He replied “the documents of which the story was compiled had got mixed”. The boy then “directed me to the Cambridge Bible for our Schools and Colleges.” I think that has to be the best line I have ever read in New Zealand Methodism, old and new.
Garland not only introduced Higher Criticism to the Conference but also Charles Darwin and the truths of evolution. Well, I say introduced but Darwin had been well and truly debated before 1893.
It was just that Garland put it rather well. He called Darwinism 'faith's friend'. It was red-rag to the evangelical bulls.
Do watch the Practical Theology Channel again next week on Thursday 20:00 when we look at how the incomparable William Morley, and he how handled the same issue of Higher Criticism seven years later.