Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Liberal Theology part 2 Albrecht Ritschl

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Albrecht Ritschl

Schleiermacher is called the "father" of liberal theology, but the other foundational figure which spured the development of liberal theology in the 19th century was Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889).German Protestant, taught theology at Bonn (1851-64) and Gottengin (1864-89). His major work translates into English as The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation (Vol. I and III, 1872 and 1900).(Columbria Encyclopedia, Barelby.com

Further works by Ritschl:Instruction in the Christian Religion, (1875); Theology and Metaphysics,(1881).

Ritschl was in line with Schleiermacher's thinking, he believed religion was primarily a matter of revelation and personal experience. He worked agaisnt Hegel and his ilk in ridding theology of speculative metaphysics and philosophical frameworks. This puts him in line with Schleiermacher since Hegel hated Schleiermacher (the two had been class mates in college) and Schleiermacher's feeling of utter dependence worked directly against Hegel's notions of philosophical speculation. Ritschl sees theology as practical and not speculative. He grounds his inquiry in historical criticism and history, and in the revelation of God through Jesus Christ.

With Ritschl we see three lines of theological development shaping up. The first being Schleiermacher and Ritschl with religious experience and historical criticism. The second is an indirect line running through several seeming contradictory figures: Hegel,theologian A.E. Beidermann (1819-85), New Testament scholar F.C. Bauer (1792-1860)--Bauer taught Ritschl but was rejected by him, Philosophers Ludwig Fuererbach (1804-72) Karl Marx (1818-83) Soren Keirkegaard (1813-55).

The third line demonstrates the way the first two began to come together toward the end of the century to produce a distinctive liberal climate for theology. This line is dominated by Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), but just began his carrer at the even end of the century. Johannes Weiss (1863-1814). William Werde (1859-1906), Martin Kahler (1835-1913) Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) (Troelstch would turn out to be the teacher of Paul Tillich). By the end of the century a vast aray of skeptical style theology had been produced, with theolgoians and Bible scholars more skeptical of the validity of the Bible than any atheists every thought about being.Most of what we see on the net, with skeptical boards like the Secular Web are rehashes of arguments raised by ministers and Bible scholars from this era. The emphasis was upon de-mythologizeing the Bible. Christianity was seen primarily as an ethical forum, or a social organization devoted to helping society make a better world.


Liberal Theology in the 20th Century


Until the end of World War I liberal theology proceeded as it had done in the previous century. The first world war changed everything. Liberal theology had become an ivory tower pursuit with nothing to say to the common man. Suddenly Europe found itself in a crushing war, thousands dying everyday, a whole generation slaughtered on the battle field. Massive disillusionment set in as no one found liberal theology comforting. Karl Barth arose with a new take on theology which came to be called "Neo-Orthodox." Barth was a liberal Calvinist, he understood the Bible not as the word of God but containing the word of God. He understood revelation through a dialectic between the reader and the text. Thus theology was infused with divine comfort in the face of over whelming tragedy. Liberal theology responded after the war by seeking out the existential roots in Christian thought. Theology in that century, before the second world war, was dominated by two major camps, Bartian neo-Orthodoxy, and Bualtmannian existentialism (led by Rudolph Bultmann). Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr (as well as his verbose brother H. Richard) would be major champions in the existential camp. This basic division held throughout the rest of the century, but in the 1960s it began to change tremendously.

Theology in the sixties was very exciting. This was the era when liberal theology came into its own. The major event that put liberal theology front and center was the conference called "Vatican II" held in the early 60s. The Church reformed many aspects of its liturgy modernizing itself both in cosmetic appeal and theology. It adopted a position of ecumenism allowing for the salvation of those outside the catholic or even Christian camps. It took most of the Latin out of its Mass, allowed the use of native instruments such as guitar, nuns began wearing civilian clothes and so on. In the field (Latin America) even more radical steps were taken. Priests began joining revolutions and fighting for social change. Some Priests even took up arms and joined liberation forces in the mountains. The first priest to do so was Father Camillio Tores in Columbia. Out of this period a whole movement evolved known as "liberation theology." It swept through Latin America, it was a major force in the U.S. anti-war movement (the Barigan brothers, both priests went to jail for pouring blood on draft records). Martin Luther King Jr. was a liberal theologian. His doctoral dissertation was on Paul Tillich's concept of God as Being itself. The whole civil rights movement was infused with Christian participation and leadership (such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and this fed into the anti-war movement and contributed to the popularity of liberation theology.

Soon Feminist theology followed, just as Feminism grew out of the civil rights and anti-war movements. New calls for all kinds of theologies were going out all the time. It was a very exciting period of ferment. Theology was a battle ground. The popular musical Godspell was written by a theology student at that time and was basically a musical "Gospel according to the hippies" (Godspel = Gospel). The most radical movement of all was the God is dead movement. The major leader was Frederick J.J. Altizer. He argued that God poured himself out in Hegelian dialectic, just as Christ gave up his life on the cross, the God himself poured is very life into his creation giving it (man) the ability to make his own way. The phrase "God is dead" began with Nietzsche who meant by that that modern Western culture had killed the spirit of true reverence for the good by codifying it in a hypocritical institution like the church. Altizer just turned that around into a positive act by God on man's behalf. The movement fragmented, it's core idea was never really understood, the mainstream church reacted very harshly. The net outcome was the liberal church turned its focus to the world. An army of liberal Christian social workers and sociologists went forth to serve the good of humanity, to fight in revolutions, to lead political activism, to feed the hungry and protest war and so forth. Marxism was its chief tool for social analysis.

Rather than death of God theology, the new army of socially minded Christian liberals took up process theology. This allowed them to regard God as a depersonalized ideal of Goodness and yet still be motivated by a sense of divine truth. Process theology became the spiritual force of liberal theology in the last quarter of the twentieth century, thus united it with its late nineteenth century forbearer. Process theology and Marxist analysis drove liberal theology pretty much form the 60s to the 90s. After the fall of communism, in the early 90's liberal theology turned to identity politics and postmodernism. After the Jesus seminar and 911 and the war in Irak liberal theology has moved off center stage. The decline in popularity of postmodernism and lumping in identity politics with the "pc crowd" has pushed liberal theology into the background. It has no real social focus now. Some sort of ferment is taking place, a synthesis of the emergent church idea, identity politics, posternmodernism. Some segements may have gone more into a neo conservative phase.

Sources for StudyThe best source for study would be to obtain The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology. This is the authority on modern theology. It is expensive, it comes in to major volumes. One volume is about doctrines, the other is about people. You can look up ideas by the name of the theologian that made them famous, or get a run down on the basic thoughts of the major theologians of the last few centuries, in the theologian volume. Or look up ideas such as "God" or "Bible" in the doctrine volume. This would be crucial for anyone seeking to really understand theology. Another very important book would the History of Christian Thought by Paul Tillich. These are lectures Tillich delivered somewhere and they give an excellent run down on all of Chrsitian theology form the first century to Tillich's own views.

on line resources:

Religion online.org has a very through list of topics linked on their site. Here's a source I love:
Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology, a fine collection of short essay each dedicated to a different major modern theologain:they have them all!Wisdoms Children an intelligent blog, very literate, featuring major theolgoical and liberal arts thinkers. God Web, with an excellent article on Tillich and other liberal theological issues.

Last, and very probably lest, but in the interest of getting people to stop attributing to me ideas I do not espouse, my own theological credo on Doxa.





1 comment:

Joe Hinman said...

someone said he is sick of the political stuff and only reads my blog for the theology,so where is that guy in the comment section? This stuff is the height of theology. Thus is what really turns me on, this is the stuff that drove me to seminary.