Charles Hodge by S. Donald Fortson III (128 pages, 2013)
For the past few years Evangelical Press has been publishing a series of “Bitesize Biographies” designed to introduce contemporary evangelicals to some of the great figures of the past. Drawing from both well known figures (such as Whitefield, Hodge, or Schaeffer) and names that have been forgotten by many (Savonarola, Renee of France, or Kivengere). In this contribution, S. Donald Fortson (a church history professor at RTS Charlotte) offers a pithy survey of the life of that great American Princetonian theologian: Charles Hodge.
In keeping with the goal of the series, Fortson’s book is brief. In a mere 128 pages he provides us with a timeline of Hodge’s life, an introduction to the book, eight chapters, and a list of recommended reading. Fortson’s table of contents gives us a good feel for the scope of the book as he covers: 1) Family and Education, 2) The Professor, 3) The Great Schism, 4) Seminary Life, 5) The Church Question, 6) War and Reunion, 7) Legacy, & 8) The Impact of Charles Hodge’s Life. Reading through the book leaves you with a sense of awe at the massive impact that Hodge made on his world. During Hodge’s fifty years of teaching at Princeton seminary, “Dr. Hodge trained almost three thousand ministers, missionaries, and professors who had carried the gospel message throughout the United States and to many parts of the globe” (p. 11). His position as a noted professor at the most notable seminary in the United States at the time gave Hodge tremendous influence; and his three volume Systematic Theology has had an abiding influence to this day.
Fortson writes well and has given us a worthwhile read in this little volume. The chapters are brief, the content is clear, and Fortson does a good job of both orienting the reader to the landscape of 19th century American church life while also providing us with interesting facts about Hodges life (for example, did you know that when Hodge studied theology in Europe his German teacher was none other than George Müller (pg. 27) or that his wife was a descendant of Benjamin Franklin (pg. 23)?) Hodge was certainly an impressive figure, and Fortson does a good job of giving us a sense of familiarity with his life without getting too bogged down in the details. The theologian in me would have liked to have seen more of Hodge’s theology coming to the fore, but perhaps too much detail would have detracted from the flow of the narrative. Fortson seemed to draw out the theme of Hodge’s ecumenical spirit quite strongly. I was never quite sure whether this was a theme that was prominent in Hodge or simply if it was one that Fortson wished to emphasize. Again, I’d be curious to dig deeper into the details of Hodge’s own thinking and theologizing on this point. Nonetheless, this is a fine introduction and well worth a read. If you don’t know much about Hodge, this is as good a place to start as any.