Theological learning as formation in holy love : the lives and works of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen & Alexander John Scott

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This dissertation investigates the lives and works of two underappreciated nineteenth-century Scottish theologians, Thomas Erskine of Linlathen (1788-1870) and Alexander John Scott (1805-1866). In their writings, theological engagements, and cultivation of communities of learning, Erskine and Scott claimed that the pursuit of ‘knowledge of God’ (and thus, theological learning) received its proper orientation when animated by the telos of at·one·ment, with God, in holy love. Both men held that Christ’s atonement was for the sake of creation’s at·one·ment, with God: ongoing, personal being-in-relationship with God that, much like a good friendship, transforms who and what we love, but also how we know and are known. I argue that their sometimes-countercultural enactment of at·one·ment retrieves an orientation towards theological learning (and an epistemology appropriate to it) that continues to be relevant for theological education today.

In Chapter 1, I provide an historical survey of Western theological education and assess how its objects, modes, and meanings have been circumscribed over the last two centuries. In Chapter 2, I outline Erskine’s atonement theology and his schema of at·one·ment, noting his emphasis on the ontologically and epistemically constitutive nature of being-in-relationship with God. Because friendship is a critical metaphor here, in Chapter 3 I reappraise the fluid interplay of Erskine’s poetics and practices of friendship, elucidating connections between relational theology and the communities of theological learning he cultivated. In Chapter 4, I reconstruct Scott’s ‘practical theological epistemology’ based on writings around his trial before the General Assembly of 1831. In Chapter 5, I trace congruencies between Scott’s emerging at·one·ment, framework and his later educational involvements with women, working class men, and Nonconformists. In Chapter 6, I conclude by assessing how reorienting theological learning through a telos of at·one·ment, with God, in holy love, helps to reframe contemporary dialogues about theological education.
Date of Award16 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJudith Wolfe (Supervisor) & Trevor Andrew Hart (Supervisor)

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