Content and Method in Christian Theology: A Case Study of the Thought of Nels Ferré

By Alan P.F. Sell

An exploration of how methodological approaches can affect theological conclusions, using the Swedish-American theologian Nels Ferré as a case in point.

ISBN: 9780227174487


“For three decades, he flashed like a meteor across the theological horizon, and then vanished.” So writes Alan P.F. Sell of Nels F.S. Ferré (1908-1971), a widely published and widely travelled theologian of the mid-twentieth century whose work is largely neglected today. While Professor Sell speculates upon the reasons for this inattention, the primary concern of his enquiry is to show that Ferré’s works raise timeless questions about the relations between content and method in Christian theology. How far do the personal convictions of theologians influence their theological method? May methodological decisions yield attenuated accounts of Christian doctrines?

Through his in-depth analysis of Ferré’s thought, the author deftly elucidates the doctrinal consequences of Ferré’s predilection for the ontological above the moral, particularly in the case of the doctrine of the atonement. Content and Method in Christian Theology is a cautionary tale concerning the importance of the choice of starting-points for theological reflection and construction and will prove an invaluable resource for theologians and historians of Christian thought, whilst also remaining an approachable and instructive text for all those with a general interest in theology.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 238

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Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Alan P.F. Sell, of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and the University of Chester, is a philosopher-theologian and ecumenist with strong interests in the history of Christian thought. He has held ecclesiastical appointments in England and Geneva, and academic posts in England, Canada and Wales. He publishes widely, and lectures at home and abroad. His works include Philosophy, Dissent and Nonconformity (James Clarke & Co Ltd, 2003), Christ and Controversy (2012), Philosophy, History, and Theology (2012), Confessing the Faith Yesterday and Today (James Clarke & Co Ltd, 2013), and The Theological Education of the Ministry (2013).



1. Introduction: The Nature and Structure of this Enquiry
2. Nels Ferré’s Career, Character and Devotional Centre
3. The Philosophical Context and Ferré’s Starting-point
4. Recurrent Epistemological Themes
5. The Theological Environment
6. Searchlights on Christian Doctrine
7. Ethics and Society, Mission and World Religions
8. Conclusion

Index of Persons
Index of Subjects


Endorsements and Reviews

With his characteristic incisiveness, judiciousness, and wide-ranging knowledge, Sell presents the thought of Ferré, an under-remembered twentieth-century theologian. His work conveys the breadth of Ferré’s work, while throughout Sell adopts a courteous ‘critical stance’ in dialogue with his subject. The result is a first-rate analysis and an intriguing study of a fascinating theologian who maintained a vital Christian faith even as he probed its content and proclaimed his vision of it.
Donald K. McKim, Editor, Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith

With rare acuity and sophistication, Alan P.F. Sell has shed light on the most foundational question in contemporary theology: the relation of theological method to theological content. This book is essential for anyone who wishes to take a sustained look at the way that a theological method actually functions.
Lee Barrett, Stager Professor of Theology, Lancaster Theological Seminary, PA

Sell’s elegantly reasoned work give an enlightening overview of a forgotten theologian – and provides a cautionary tale to his successors.
Christopher Villiers, in Journal of Theological Studies, Vol 66, No 2

Sell’s book has the virtue of intense engagement with the primary sources. There has not yet been not a more thorough reckoning with the full scope of Ferré’s theology. Sell’s broad and deep attention to Ferré’s writings is helpful to those of us who have not so completely read his works.
Stephen Waldron, in Reviews in Religion and Theology, Vol 23:1

This is a very good book for all who should be concerned about the relation between philosophy and theology, if only to learn from Ferré’s adventurous mistakes.
The Rt Revd Christopher Hill, Church Times, 20 May 2016