Friday, March 04, 2011

The Lesson of David Swing

While the internet has rocked with information about a prominent minister who has denied the reality of hell, being more historically minded, I couldn't help but think about David Swing.

Most people don't know who David Swing was--but in the 1870s and 1880s, David Swing was the most popular minister in Chicago: bigger than D. L. Moody, more significant than anyone else. As Swing's New York Times obit put it, at one point, he had the largest church and the largest salary of any minister in Chicago.

He was also heterodox. Swing, then minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church, was tried by his presbytery for heresy in 1874. Among his aberrant doctrines were his views on the Trinity (he veered toward unitarianism), salvation (he urged that people were saved by works that supplemented their faith), and hell (he suggested there was no such place). [See the NY Times report on his sermon, "Hell and a Revenging God."] One of Swing's more famous statements in his defense came during his trial in the Chicago Presbytery, when he looked around at his brethren and said, "Not one of you, my brethren, has preached the dark theology of Jonathan Edwards in your whole life. Nothing could induce you to preach it, and yet it is written down in your creed in dreadful plainness."

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