Dale Moody (1915-1992) is a Baptist pastor and theologian from Stanford, Texas. Raised and baptized in a Landmark church, Moody went on to become pastor of his first church when he was just seventeen years old. Between Th.M. and Th.D. degrees at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Moody went back to Baylor to finish his B.A. (he had left college early to attend seminary) and served as teaching assistant to Paul Tillich at Union Seminary in New York. The theologian also received a D.Phil. from Oxford, producing a dissertation on baptism. Moody studied with such notable minds as Emil Brunner (on whom he wrote his Southern dissertation) and Karl Barth. During his tenure at Southern Seminary (1948-1983), he taught Systematic Theology, Old Testament theology, New Testament theology, historical theology, and philosophy of religion. Unfortunately, his urging the school to change the Abstract of Principles in addition to several conflicts with Southern Baptists concerning apostasy precipitated his early retirement in 1983. Moody’s works also include Spirit of the Living God (1976) and Letters of John (1970).
The Word of Truth (1981) is an ecumenical book surveying historical and systematic theology with the aim to wed biblical criticism and scientific research with legitimate study of Scripture. It very much embodies the liberal/modern spirit of its age. Moody states clearly his belief in the ability to learn from all confessional traditions, defining Christian theology as “an effort to think coherently about the basic beliefs that create a community of faith around the person of Jesus Christ.” (1) The author identifies the major philosophical system influencing 20th century theology as existentialism. In response, he posits a biblical posture of “critical conservatism” and “dialogical method” – systems where biblical criticism and modern science are tempered by God’s Word. Ultimately the Easter event is the “fulcrum for faith” and nothing else. (5) To begin, Moody identifies the Gospel as extensions of apostolic teaching and creeds as restatements of traditional faith. In surveying church history, the theologian from Louisville identifies three roots: the polemical (Irenaeus), the exegetical (Origen), and the catechetical (Augustine). As an overview, the distinction between the Eastern and Western churches is deduced to spirituality vs. sacramentalism. In the realm of Protestantism, Moody identifies the polemical root with Zwingli, the exegetical root with Melanchthon, and the catechetical root with Calvin. (16) Centuries later, the rise in nineteenth century liberalism Moody credits to the work of Immanuel Kant, flowing forth in the thought of Hegel (“a new Aristotle”), Schleiermacher (“father of modern theology”), and Ritschl. According to the author, there is “no going back to a pre-critical and pre-scientific posture in Christian theology.” (23) Karl Barth’s transcendent God and Emil Brunner’s personal God are dichotomized as the ongoing modern dialectic over the nature of God. The radical theology of “Hegelian” Paul Tillich and his “ground of Being” philosophy typifies for Moody the shift toward Christian pantheism.
The Baptist theologian defines special revelation as “an event in which God discloses himself to those who are ready to receive him.” (38) In his liberal bias, he then defines the Bible as “the record of the historical revelation and the story of the land and the people to whom the original revelation was made known and who made the first response.” (40) Reception of revelation is faith. God’s Word is threefold: prophetic, proclaimed and personal. Moody seems to hold to A.H. Strong’s “dynamic theory” of inspiration, including both human and divine elements. (not plenary verbal) The framework of his biblical theology rests on the two ages or two covenants, which he calls “the very hinge of salvation history.” (54) Therefore God’s covenant relation with His people is “the very spine of special revelation,” although extra biblical visions and dreams are deemed possible by the author. (57) “Supreme” revelation itself, however, was in the form of Christ in the days of his flesh. The interpretation of Scripture, on the other hand, requires biblical criticism and historical science (textual, form, higher, redaction).
Apologetically, Moody identifies four primary arguments for God’s existence: ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral. In a survey of His divine attributes, Moody deems God’s holiness as “the ground on which all religions meet.” (94) As holiness is Moody’s starting point, so love is the “high point” in God’s revealed nature. The perfection of God’s love is the “peak” of all special revelation. By His revelation, we come to know His “multiplicity.” Trinitarianism, although beginning in church history as incipient binitarianism, is consistent with Jewish monotheism. Since the beginning of the difficult doctrine, the East has been continually faced with accusations of tritheism and the West with Unitarianism. Moody identifies Karl Barth as the theologian who ended the Western Trinitarian “eclipse.” (124) The God of creation is the God of the Holy Trinity, not simply God the Father. All three divine Persons are involved in the act: creation, continuation, and consummation. A proper view of these three acts avoids the extremes of pantheism and Deism. In opposition to the catastrophic and “concordistic” views of creation, Moody advocates the “constructive” view, one combining a critical view of Scripture with a scientific/historical bent. A faulty creation doctrine leads to aestheticism and confusion regarding the purposes of God. Moody defends his view against a dysteleological view of the universe. On the other hand, the author believes that, for example, John Calvin bordered upon fatalism. A form of human freedom is promoted. According to Moody, “prayer is the basic form of faith. Believing is praying.” (156) Human “co-operation” occurs due to the fact that God works in us and alongside us. Our dependence upon God is concurrent with our responsibility before Him.
Moody’s anthropology features a man whose flesh comes from humanity and a spirit that comes from God. (At times the author gives off a strong Nestorian-esque vibe) While there is some degree of psychosomatic unity, the soul is, in many ways, the center of the self. Wary of Apollinarianism, Moody upholds the full humanity of Jesus and the distinction between His Spirit and the Holy Spirit. As a result, Moody advocates “dynamic traducianism” that unites creation and procreation in process, uniting human spirit and human body in a living soul. (181) The doctrine of creation also introduces classic hamartiology: the sin in Eden is a model for the Christian’s disobedience against God. Because of this biblical continuity, and because of Adam’s type to Christ, there is a typology of two Adams: a corporate Adam and a corporate Christ. Thanks to later discoveries in archeology and science, Moody places creation somewhere “more than twenty-five thousand years ago.” (205) The relationship between man and woman he describes as a “partnership.” (213) Their primary relation Moody also describes as “social,” entailing the sexual component. Moody recognizes the demise of modern society due to the decline of proper marital roles.
The imago dei is described in terms of three main domains: the living soul, dominion over creation, and likeness to God. (226) Being renewed in the image of Christ, however, is both a future and a present process. Moody finds Calvin and Luther’s exegesis of Gen. 1:26 “ambivalent and unsatisfactory” and seems to include Catholic and Barthian elements in his view of the divine image – seeing both reason and relation as well. Concerning the issue of conscience, and true to his Baptist identity, the author believes that the magisterial reformers did not follow their view of “freedom” of the conscience to its natural conclusion in the church-state realm. Contrary to Joseph Butler who regarded the conscience as a “safe” guide, Moody sees sin as searing the conscience.
Western Christianity has historically defined sin more in terms of “disruption” of the “perpendicular relation with God” with horizontal consequences. (273) Man’s ignorance is thus a “breach of the covenant with God.” Romans 1 attests that the nature of sin is found in ungodliness and unrighteousness. Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, has viewed sin more as “sensuality,” the likes of which have been rejected most vigorously in the twentieth century by Reinhold Niebuhr. The primary sin, in the eyes of Western orthodoxy, is pride. According to Moody, the Pauline notion of “flesh” is both physical and psychological and can best be described as “egocentricity.” (285) Moody rejects the Augustinian view of inherited guilt, emphasizing the distinction between sin and transgression made in Romans. For the author, salvation is one way, two sides (God’s grace and man’s faith), and three stages (past, present, and future). Moody makes no distinction between the external and internal (irresistible) call. Regeneration is progressive, denoting a new order or new life. Perfect sanctification is future, and progressive sanctification is present in a twofold manner: body and spirit. (324) Reconciliation is peace with God, as God as its subject. Redemption Moody defines as “freedom from death,” while rejecting a deterministic definition of the word “predestination.” For him, predestination is really about the predestination of Christ: Christians are predestined (not doubly predestined) in Jesus. For Moody, contrary to his Baptist roots, the possibility of apostasy is real and present in Scripture. He rejects appeals to John and 1 John for the doctrine of perseverance. For him, the Remonstrants at Dort were vindicated in “modified translations of Calvinism.” (359)
The Baptist theologian’s Christology is similar to that of the Reformation’s three fold office structure: prophet, priest, and king, or as Moody labels alliteratively, “potentate.” (378) For him, the pre-existence of Christ is not taught in the Synoptics or Acts. The Gospel of John is rich in eternal, Trinitarian relations. Moody goes through the four (really seven) ecumenical councils to defend orthodox Trinitarianism and Christology. His scientific and biblically critical approach does not allow him to step into kenotic or skenotic Christologies. (422, 424) However, Moody is suspect at times when he chooses to describe Christ’s hypostasis more in terms of “indwelling” than in “union.”
The author is adamant that “mission is basic to the meaning of the church…where there is no mission there is no church.” (427) That mission is threefold: witness, service, and fellowship. Moody distinguishes state religion from a more Americanized faith; however, he warns against the “sin of American Christianity”: abusing the notion of freedom to sin against Christ and others. (439) The Baptist ecclesiology allows for a local church as well as a “church universal.” (e.g., Dagg) Christ is the head of every man, the head over all rule and authority, and the head of the church as his body. Moroever, the koinonia of Spirit is threefold: baptism of Spirit, the gift of Spirit, and the unity of Spirit. (447) Moody supports the usual Protestant offices of deacon and elder and pastor, even the office of deaconess. (458)
Due to the primacy of faith in baptism, pedobaptism is dismissed as unscriptural. The value of the Lord’s Supper is found in reflection and in a future significance for the eschatological banquet: “Self-examination is a necessary practice if the New Testament meaning is to be recovered. Not only should there be fervent prayer and the confession of sins, but each person should examine himself as to his fellowship with Christ and his Christian brothers.” (472) Moody defines worship as “devotion to that which is of supreme worth.” (473) This includes a polarity: the objective system of devotion as well as the subjective response of the worshipper. Protestant worship, for example, shifted from the centrality of the sacrifice to that of Scripture.
Moody’s last chapter on consummation features a discussion on eschatology, chiliasm, the kingdom of God, and a new Eden. The author examines the historical millennial understanding of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian followed by the amillennial framework of Augustine. According to Moody, “chiliastic apocalypticism was also suppressed in Calvinism.” (483) Protestant orthodoxy continued largely with a “two-realm eschatology” of heaven and hell. In what Moody calls “personal eschatology,” the earthly Christian life is united with the heavenly life. Eternal life is both a future hope and a present possession. From this lens, Moody defines death as “the disembodiment of man in his historical and earthly existence, the severance of the self from its organ of expression.” (492) The resurrection is the Christian answer to death, with our resurrection serving as an organic corollary of Christ’s resurrection: “The goal of the redemptive process is the resurrection of the body.” (507) Revelation history is synchronous with salvation history, and the power of the kingdom has been fulfilled in Christ, the Messiah of the coming age. His kingdom and its inheritance requires a balance between the spiritual presence of Christ today and the glorious parousia tomorrow. Therefore His kingdom is both immediate and imminent: “God’s greatest revelation is yet in the future.” (539) Moody concludes his eschatological examination with a look at the freedom of creation and the recreation – Christ the Redeemer serves as Christ the Creator. (1 Cor. 8:6) Jesus achieves cosmic reconciliation in the end. The symbolism of the garden serves for Moody as an assuring reminder that God in Christ will return His church to the eternal, joyful life in Eden. God has revealed to His people His plans to return to His holy city: “This is the good life that now is and the eternal life that is to be.” (594)
Moody, Dale. The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1981.