The People's Theologian and Heart of the Gospel

Article by   December 2012
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Iain D. Campbell and Malcolm Maclean, eds., The People's Theologian:  Essays in Honour of Donald Macleod. Ross-shire: Christian Focus Mentor Imprint, 2011.

Iain D. Campbell, ed., Heart of the Gospel: Meditations on Christ and the Christian Life, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 1995. 

One day early this summer, while perusing the Christian Focus website, I came across two books that caught my eye. A very informal survey of my friends, leads me to believe both of these books are relatively unknown in the United States. In fact, the first book The People's Theologian: Writings in Honour of Donald Macleod, contains two essays by a former seminary professor, yet I had never seen the book before.  The other, Heart of the Gospel, is a collection of sermons notes from two Free Church of Scotland preachers. I will take them both in turn in this brief review. 

The first book, The People's Theologian, is a wonderful collection of historical, theological, and practical essays. This collection cover areas of MacLeod's long and very fruitful ministry. His own son, John, opens the volume with  a detailed and extensive biographical essay. John walks the reader through his father's childhood education, his profession of faith, and his father's parish work (1964-1978). He also helpfully recounts Dr. MacLeod's long tenure as professor of theology at the Free Church College in Edinburgh (MacLeod officially retired in 2011).  

Next comes a bibliographical section which covers Donald MacLeod the writer.  Iain Campbell traces this history of MacLeod's 1977 to 1990 tenure as editor of The Monthly Record, the monthly magazine of the Free Church of Scotland. Iain Campbell tells us that MacLeod the editor "both spoke to the church and for the church. Many of MacLeod's theological writings first appeared as columns in The Monthly Record. While his editorship was not without controversy, his long tenure reflects that his fellow churchmen respected and trusted him enough to let him continue his post."

After this bibliographic section, the book takes a theological turn and becomes less personal, though all the essay are offered in honor of MacLeod and the authors do not disappoint the honoree with their efforts. The third section covers historical theology and gives the reader fascinating treatments of the sacraments in the Reformed tradition. 

From history we move to systematic theology. The essays on union with Christ and the covenant of redemption are very edifying and enriching.  Indeed, the essay on Christ's priestly intercession by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. is worth the price of the book. Gaffin's chapter is some of the richest, and at the same time encouraging and practical theology, I have ever read--and I don't think that is an overstatement.  

The fourth and final section presents essays on how theology relates to the life of the church.  These essays on practical theology are especially good and helpful. Carl Trueman reminds us of the importance of systematic theology in preaching and the need for application of biblical texts to congregations. He offers a helpful corrective to those who misrepresent the redemptive historical approach by thinking all they have to do play "where's Waldo with Jesus" in the Scriptures. One of the most stimulating chapters in the book is Fergus Macdonald's explanation of how the psalms can be used to build a bridge for reaching the postmodern world with the gospel. Preachers will want to read Alasdair I. Macleod's very useful treatment of how preachers should approach the Scriptures as they prepare sermons.  

This excellent volume ends with several personal appreciations offered to Donald Macleod.  These bear witness to the intellect but even more so the character of one of this generation's greatest reformed theologians. This outstanding collection of essays will appeal to pastors and seminarians, as well as any interested in stimulating treatment of Reformed theology and practice.  

The second book I would like to mention serves as a compliment to the first. Heart of the Gospel is a collection of sermon notes by two great Scottish preachers, John Maciver and John Mackenzie. These two Free Church pastors were brothers-in-law and their sermon notes reveal a depth of theological understanding and clarity of thought not often found in today's preaching.  This book makes for great devotional reading for all Christians. 

Editor Iain Campbell divides these sermon notes into two main sections: "The Person and Work of Christ" and "The Walk and Welfare of the Christian." John Maciver's ministry coincided with a great revival in Lewis, Scotland. John MacKenzie's was not marked by such a work of the Spirit and yet the two men are more alike than different. As Campbell assures in the introduction, both men focused on the word of God and kept Christ and his finished work at the center of their preaching.  

In addition to devotional reading, this book will appeal to preachers, both young and old, and serve as an example and model of how to preachers of a previous generation prepared their sermons. Though some of the chapters are brief, as they are only notes and not manuscripts, it is clear that both men were thoughtful and theological astute. These sermons were not written on the Saturday before they were delivered! For the more seasoned preacher, this volume offers short and helpful insights into texts and topics that will help with your own sermon preparation.  The best way to get familiar with his book is to read through the table of contents.
Taken together, these volumes are a shining example of the richness of the Scottish branch of the Reformed tradition. Though often overlooked, the reader is reminded of the great influence of the Scottish heritage has on the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, and even in the larger evangelical world, in both Europe and the United States.

Jason Pickard is the RUF International campus minister at Texas A&M University.  


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