Yesterday, we began to review the liberal theological approach of Friedrich Schleiermacher; today we will examine Schleiermacher’s view on theology proper, sin, redemption, and the person Christ.
For Schleiermacher, God is unknowable. Again, Kant’s influence is most evident in theology proper and cosmology. He states that God is creator, and then defines creation as an ongoing preservation. Because the world is absolutely dependent on God, he becomes the eternal, omnipotent cause of all things. These are the two greatest attributes of God, with omniscience and omnipresence working as corollaries (of omnipotence). John Cooper has described Schleiermacher as a panentheist, and for good reason. He does not make a clear distinction between Creator and creature: man is so dependent upon God, that the boundaries of God and human blur. This is odd because of how Schleiermacher appropriates the phenomenal-noumenal divide.
Schleiermacher defines sin as a lack of God-consciousness. He rejects a historic fall, and makes sin the product of every single individual. Though a Reformed preacher, he does not address the issues of Covenant theology, and the imputation of Adam’s sin to all the human race because of his federal headship. But he says enough to know that he denies the imputation of guilt to the human race. Instead, he explains that in every man there is both animalisic and sensual desires and also a God-consciousness. Both of these exist in humanity. Sin is the employment of the former and the ignorance or disuse of the latter. In the case of Jesus, he was ‘sinless’ because he was always conscious of God.
Based on his view of God, the cosmos, and sin, Schleiermacher has a hard time explaining the origin of sin. Since God is causal in all ways, he will assert that God is responsible for sin; but then he takes that back to say that evil in the world is the result of sin, and that sin originates with men who do not absolutely depend on God. In the end, he brings an unsatisfactory answer that God caused sin in the world in order to bring about grace, which for Schleiermacher is a large consideration.
In time, redemption begins with the conviction of sin which is the experience of pain over a lack of God-conscience. It is not caused by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), as much as it is encounter with the perfect Christ. Since Christ as a perfect man reveals what true God-consciouness is, the message about Christ reveals to men how men have failed to be God-dependent.
Key for the idea of redemption is regeneration. Like nearly all technical terms in Schleiermacher, regeneration is the corporate idea of regenerating all of humanity. Like a pebble thrown into a pond, Christ, as the first true man, has the effect of bringing regeneration to all the human race. He asserts that regeneration happens one-by-one, but it is more a force that hits the whole world that individuals being converted by God.
Christ himself is a Redeemer, but not as the divine Son who dies on the cross to pay for the sins of the world. Rather, he is an utterly unique man, one who is perfectly God-conscious, who functions much like a charismatic, political figure (or Joel Osteen) who inspires people to live a more God-dependent life.
As it concerns sin and redemption, it is interesting to see the way Schleiermacher selectively chooses to interact with church history. Under this loci, he denies Manicheeaism because sin and evil are not simply perceived; they are a real things. And he also rejects Pelagianism, because man cannot save himself. He needs effectual grace, which is deposited in the soul of a man in his election—which is another convoluted doctrine to be mentioned below.
For Schleiermacher, the person of Christ is never considered metaphysically. Again, there is nothing metaphysical in his work. He is a functional savior, who is part man, part God. The God-part is simply the God-consciousness that he perfectly exhibits. In this way, his nature just like the rest of humanity. Schleiermacher admits that Christ could have sinned-there is nothing naturally impeccable about him—but he did not sin because he perfectly embodied dependence on God. Schleiermacher is concerned heretical views of Christ—namely Docetism and Ebionism but he does not see how his own views contradict Chalcedonian Christology.
The Cross of Christ
On the Atonement, Schleiermacher advocates a moral exemplar view. His work is prophetic not priestly. Jesus shows the world his great love for God and his willingness to die in order to show how far he was willing to show his love for men. However, he rejected Catholicism’s “wounds-theology” which focused too much on the suffering of Christ. He also denied vicarious substitution (penal substitution), because it made God look like the one who ordained the death of his Son (which he did, Isa 53:10; Acts 2:23), and because it required retributive justice—something that Schleiermacher opposed, as is evidenced again in his assertion of eventual, universal salvation.
Schleiermacher’s doctrine of salvation is also reworked. While maintaining language like justification by faith and union with Christ, his understanding of faith is not belief in some objective work done by God in Christ. Rather, it is the subjective appropriation or (self-generated) feeling that one is a child of God. Once again, Schleiermacher shows incredible consistency in wrapping every doctrine around the personal subject. Likewise, sanctification for Schleiermacher is never positional. It is only progressive. In one section, he makes a Romans 7-like case for an interior struggle for Christians, but this struggle is not the flesh and the Spirit (aka Paul), but the wrestling between God-consciousness and sense-experience.
Tomorrow, we will look at Schleiermacher’s view on the church, eschatology, and the Trinity
Soli Deo Gloria, dss