Early in the 19th century a Scottish intellect made an unusual decision: required to give up his Edinburgh practice of law to attend to responsibilities on his family estate, Thomas Erskine chose to turn his rural home – called Linlathen – into a refuge that combined learning, dialogue, and hospitality.
'Erskine of Linlathen' was well-schooled in theology, philosophy, and literature. A seasoned traveller, he cultivated many literary and personal relationships both in London and on the Continent; his delight in his own heritage increased, rather than inhibited, his delight in the cultures of others. He was also committed to his own rural community – modeling his understandings of both parish and education upon those of friend and mentor Thomas Chalmers.
Like Chalmers, Erskine’s theology was passionately relational. Emphatic that dogma should never impede relationship with an infinitely loving God, his theology was “informed by the pride of place which he gave to the catholic doctrines of incarnation, trinity, and atonement.” (Hart 19)
Erskine’s conviction that faith must be a relational engagement shaped by the ‘holy love of God’ – never merely an intellectual act – led to his modeling the practice of making both one’s home and one’s conversation places of communion. This resulted in a hospitality – a practiced theology – in which not only was discussion and exploration of 'the ways of God to man’ invited and encouraged without condition, but one in which sustenance and sanctuary were also offered to the weary. Although a capable writer and speaker, Erskine focused his energies on creating a space at Linlathen in which friends and new acquaintances from diverse theological perspectives – including agnostics and atheists – not only felt safe to engage, but felt truly welcome.
With respect and admiration for Erskine’s effort to provide and cultivate an atmosphere of Christ-like hospitality in the midst of theological practice and learning, and with a sincere desire to strive for the same, this series of annual lectures will carry the name Linlathen. We cannot offer a country estate, however we do have use of an old Ottawa Valley farmhouse. We cannot proffer the level of experience or even the breadth of education of Erskine, but we bring what we have – combined with the experience and learning of our guests. Our theology may not align with Erskine's on all matters, but on those we deem of greatest import, it does. Following his lead, our desire is to practice Romans 12 here in the Ottawa Vally – and to invite others to do the same.