What is Canadian Theology?

Clint’s recent post at Cowboyology has given me pause to think about the nature of theology in Canada. As a Canadian and an aspiring theologian, I have to ask the question, do we have a “Canadian theology”? Even having to ask this question brings to me a pang of shame. My ignorance of Canadian history is quite bad, but my ignorance of Canadian theology is even worse! Maybe I can give a reason as to why this ignorance might be the case.
From my earliest childhood I was taught to love reading. Both my mother (actively) and my father (passively) gave me a great desire for books. One of my favourite topics to read about was history, whether fictional or factual. As well, my grandfather fought in the British Army during the Second World War, which was a contributing factor to my love of history. From the early days of the American frontier, to the battle fields of Euprope, I absolutely devoured anything historical. In fact, I can remember doing a reading report in Mr. Ashworth’s grade five class on tanks that was absolutely thrilling!
Yet, for all of my love of reading and history, nothing disinterested me so much as learning Canadian history. It might seem odd to say that, but I found Canadian history to be utterly boring. As a relatively new country, our history only includes a couple of interesting, but minor battles. It was only in recent years that we finally separated from Britain, unlike the American War for Independence, that was a glorious, albeit bloody battle for freedom. We had the Riel Rebellion and the FLQ Crisis, the Plains of Abraham and the French/Indian war, but nothing of the magnitude of the English Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Lewis and Clark expeditions, etc.
Likewise, I have found myself quite ignorant of Canadian theological formulation, and that may be as a result of the baggage I carry regarding Canadian history. I must admit however, since living farther into Canada’s borders than I once did, my interest of Canadian history has grown and I hope continues to grow. Canada isn’t as boring as I once thought! Nonetheless, something needs to be done to remedy my failure to understand Canadian theology, if there is one.
Granted, I have learned a lot from Dr. Haykin about the fundamentalist/modernist controversy that involved Toronto Baptist Seminary. For that I am quite thankful. But aside from a few piecemeal bits of history, including missionary ventures into Catholic Quebec, I know almost nothing. I am beginning to wonder if the same historical agnosticism concerning Canada has resulted in a weak theological understanding among Canadian evangelicals? If it happened to me, why not others?
Has Canada ever had the equivalent of a John Calvin or a John Owen? Or what about a Robert Murray M’Cheyne? Have we ever had massive denominational splits like the Great Disruption in the Church of Scotland? What about ecclesiastical generals like Cromwell? Have we ever had evangelical Calvinists on both sides of a war, writing theology, like Hodge and Dabney? What about itinerant preachers like Whitefield or Wesley? And more important to my overall point, do we have a Canadian theology? And if so, what is it?
I would really like to generate discussion on this to determine where Canada is at in church history, and where further theological developments are likely to take us. If I plan to remain as a theologian in Canada in the future, this has important consequences for my line of work. Who are we as Canadian evangelicals???


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6 responses to “What is Canadian Theology?

  1. Darrin

    Those are good questions…I would have no clue who our Canadian equivalents would be, of those you mentioned, if any exist at all. Think back to history in primary school. The Canadian curriculum taught us about Jacques Cartier, the beaver fur trade, the war of 1812, followed by a trip to Pioneer Village; none of which inspire a great love for Canadian history (IMO). Once you write the book, I would love a copy. ;-)

  2. Clint

    Fyfe, Macgregor among Baptists.

    Among Presbyterians, Dr. Robert Burns of Knox College.

    Among Methodists, in Alberta, the McDougalls (George and John, see here)
    Also Ryerson of Toronto.

    But Canada’s established institutions only took shape in the early 20th century, making their birthdays well within an age of declension.

    One exception is the Bible College movement, yet today it has decayed to the point of nearly complete assimilation.

    Is there a Hodge, Calvin, Carey or Edwards here? Probably not. But there may be more examples of godliness than we are aware of.

  3. C G

    Or, as someone once said to me, if you can’t read the history, make the history.

  4. Ian

    Clint: surely MacGregor and Fyfe are good examples of Baptist theologians in Canada. There are others, including our own Shields. But these men, as you’re aware, existed and influenced a particular area, whereas someone like Owen was writing theology that influenced much of Britain at the time as well as the continent. With Calvin, it was vice versa. Edwards was read across the Atlantic and influenced many.
    You’re right, the timing of Canadian theological history is too recent. I would think that the nature of Canadian theological publications are a factor. Did anyone like Fyfe or MacGregor write major treatises on theological issues, or a systematic theology?
    So the question is, do we have a Canadian theology? Maybe we don’t.

  5. Dan S.

    Look forward to the discussion. I’m just hoping that when we’re done, we don’t end up having Canadian theology most prominiently defined by the Toronto Blessing. Yikes!

  6. Anonymous

    Not sure. Chanced across this guy recently… Arthur Custance. http://custance.org/library_menu.html

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