Four Ideas That Led Margaret Sanger and Others to Deadly Consequences

sangerBecause ideas have consequences, it matters what a leader believes. This is true in general, but it is also true with the mother of abortion in America, Margaret Sanger.

Over the last week, I read the book Killer Angel: A Biography of Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger by Presbyterian pastor George Grant. The book, commended by R.C. Sproul and Michael Milton, uncovers the dark life of Margaret Sanger. In Grant’s book, he exposes many of the underlying ideologies which fueled Sanger. To understand what drove her and what still drives her disciples, its vital to know her story, and Grant’s book is excellent. (Here’s my summary of it).

In what follows, I want to make four summary observations from Sanger’s life and legacy that show how her views of sex, culture, eugenics, and money led her to start an organization that continues to prey upon the most vulnerable in our country. My prayer is that by knowing more of her story it will help us to be better equipped to expose Planned Parenthood’s lies and bring hope to those who women targeted by their organization. Continue reading

What Does Revival Look Like?

fireWhen the First Great Awakening occurred in the 1730s and 1740s, Americans experienced a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. Many cried out in terror from a deep awareness of their sins. Many more wept for joy as they experienced genuine forgiveness and the power of the Spirit giving them new life.

Concurrent with these works of God, many false professions were also reported. While the Spirit “awoke” many from their spiritual tombs, Satan also manifested himself as an angel of light by deceiving many into believing they had experienced God when, in fact, they had not (cf. 2 Cor 11:14). As pastors of the era observed, many reported having heavenly visions while others heard God speak sweet words to them. Yet, what made these experiences prove false was the way that such people showed no corresponding change in behavior (i.e., holiness towards God and love towards others), nor was there explicit trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.

What does revival look like?

This was the question being asked in that era. And today, we ask it from another angle: How would we know revival if it came? Would it merely increase religiosity in our culture? Would it mean less crime, better families, or improved race relations? Or is there something more Christ-centered, even cross-centered, that must be seen? These are vital questions when considering revival and perhaps the best answer can be found from the Great Awakening itself. Continue reading

Why Should You Study Church History?

chIn the introduction of his book, Christian History Made Easy, Timothy Paul Jones gives a compelling answer to that question. Let me quote him at length.

In a classic Peanuts comic strip, Sally carefully labels her paper, “Church History.” As Charlie Brown glances over her shoulder, Sally considers her subject.

“When writing about church history,” Sally scrawls, “we have to go back to the very beginning. Our pastor was born in 1930.

Charles Schulz’s comic strip may be amusing, but it isn’t too far from the truth. In sermons and devotional books, Christians encounter names like Augustine and Calvin, Spurgeon and Moody. Their stories are interesting. Truth be told, though, most church members have a tough time fitting these stories together. The typical individual’s knowledge of church history ends with the apostles and doesn’t find its footings again until sometime in the twentieth century.

Still, the story of Christianity deeply affects every believer in Jesus Christ. The history of the Christian faith affects how we read the Bible. It affects how we view our government. It affects how we worship. Simply put, the church’s history is our family history. Past Christians are our mothers and fathers in the faith, our aunts and uncles, our in-laws and –in a few cases—our outlaws!

When a child in Sunday School asks, “How could Jesus be God and still be like me?” she’s not asking a new question. She is grappling with an issue that, in AD 325, three hundred church leaders discussed in a little village named Nicaea [ni-SEE-ah], now the city of Iznik in the nation of Turkey. Even if you’ve never heard of Iznik or Nicaea, what those leaders decided will influence the way that you frame your response to the child’s question.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why are there so many different churches?” the answer is woven somewhere within two millennia of political struggles and personal skirmishes. When you read words like “predestined” or “justified” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, it isn’t only Paul and your pastor who affect how you respond. Even if you don’t realize it, Christian thinkers such as Augustine and John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards also influence how you understand these words.

So, if the history of Christianity affects so much of what we do, what’s the problem? Why isn’t everyone excited about this story? Simply this: A few pages into many history books, and the story of Christianity can suddenly seem like a vast and dreary landscape, littered with a few interesting anecdotes and a lot of dull dates.

Despite history’s profound effect on our daily lives, most church members will never read Justo Gonzalez’s thousand-page The Story of Christianity. Only the most committed students will wade through all 1,552 pages of Ken Latourette’s A History of Christianity. Fewer still will learn to apply church history to their lives. And so, when trendy novels and over-hyped television documentaries attempt to reconstruct the history of Christianity, thousands of believers find themselves unable to offer intelligent answers to friends and family members.

What we don’t seem to recognize is that church history is a story. It’s an exciting story about ordinary people that God has used in extraordinary ways. What’s more, it’s a story that every Christian ought to know. (Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones, pp. 6–7: Book and DVD)

Do you believe that? I hope you do. Continue reading

Saint Patrick: Separating Missionary Fact from Fictitious Malarkey

What comes to mind when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? 

Leprechauns.  Ireland.  Wearing green.  Or drinking green beer.  If that is it, you may want to re-read the record books.  

A few years back, Russell Moore gave a brief history lesson on the real Patrick that should make every missionally-minded Christian sit up and take notice.  Drawing on the Philip Freeman’s 2007 book, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, Moore summarizes Freeman’s work:

Freeman helpfully retells Patrick’s conversion story, one of a mocking young hedonist to a repentant evangelist. The story sounds remarkably similar to that of Augustine—and, in the most significant of ways, both mirror the first-century conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Freeman helpfully reconstructs the context of local religion as a “business relationship” in which sacrifice to pagan gods was seen as a transaction for the material prosperity of the worshippers. Against this, Patrick’s conversion to Christianity was noticed quickly, when his prayers of devotion—then almost always articulated out loud—were overheard by his neighbors.

The rest of the narrative demonstrates the ways in which Patrick carried the Christian mission into the frontiers of the British Isles—confronting a hostile culture and institutionalized heresy along the way. With this the case, the life of Patrick is a testimony to Great Commission fervor, not to the Irish nationalism most often associated with the saint. As a matter of fact, Freeman points out that Patrick’s love for the Irish was an act of obedience to Jesus’ command to love enemies and to pray for persecutors.

Likewise, Kevin DeYoung, also from the archives (ca. 2011), provides a brief missionary biography of Patrick.  He says,

Here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

In his Confessio Patrick writes movingly about his burden to evangelize the Irish. He explicitly links his vocation to the commands of Scripture. Biblical allusions like “the nations will come to you from the ends of the earth” and “I have put you as a light among the nations” and “I shall make you fishers of men” flow from his pen. Seeing his life’s work through the lens of Matthew 28 and Acts 1, Patrick prayed that God would “never allow me to be separated from His people whom He has won in the end of the earth.”  For Patrick, the ends of the earth was Ireland.

According to one historian (again I am citing DeYoung’s research) “[Patrick] was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally” (Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity86)  meaning that he was the first person to take the Great Commission as a command.  Rightly, Patrick read Matthew 28:19 as a calling for him, and so he left home to take the gospel to pagans of Ireland. 

This literal and personal reading of disciple-making needs to be reissued today, because some still think Jesus’ words are for someone else. Tragically, they relegate Jesus’ missionary imperative to a bygone era or for some special class of people.  Yet, as Patrick’s life and labors show, when men take seriously the call to be a disciple-making disciple, God will bring great blessings.  Fifteen centuries later we have much to learn from Patrick.

I encourage you to read the rest of Moore’s blogpost (What evangelicals can learn from Saint Patrick) and DeYoung’s foray into history (Who was Saint Patrick?).  Together these two brief posts will help you determine fact from fiction.  They will give you many reasons to thank God for the missions-minded Brit who brought the light of the gospel to the whole nation of Ireland.

May Patrick’s brave example spur us on to share the gospel with our own pagan nation and hostile neighbors. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Beauty of the Incarnation

When God created the world, he filled it with splendor and beauty.  The sky above flashes a myriad of colors, and the world below is covered with majestic mountains, lush valleys, winding rivers, hidden lakes, and fields filled abundant wildlife.  All of which highlight the wise creativity of our God.

The beauty of our planet is so pervasive, that many give their lives for the preservation of the environment or the thrill of filming the most exotic locales.  Yet, God’s beauty is not just seen in creation.  The pages of history, while smeared with darkness and death, display a redemptive beauty that in the end will swallow death.  Aside from the death-defeating resurrection itself, nowhere is the jaw-dropping beauty of God’s sovereign story-telling more evident than in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Thus, as we think about aesthetics and the beauty of God in creation, history, and redemption, we must behold Christ’s humble beginnings.

Continue reading

Getting to Know Friedrich Schleiermacher (4): The Church, Eschatology, and the Trinity

Yesterday, we looked at Schleiermacher’s theology of God, Sin, Redemption, and the person of Christ. Today, we will examine his views on the church, eschatology, and the Trinity.

The Church

The last section of his systematic theology is on the church.  This breaks down into three sections—the origin, existence, and perfection of the church.  On the churches origin, he speaks of election and the Holy Spirit.  Concerning election, Schleiermacher vacillates.  On one hand, from the vantage point of the decree (which he speaks about but doesn’t really fit his system) God is the causal agent of all things in the world and thus he causes the election of those in the church, but on the other, as the one who knows all things, he elects based on future knowledge. Schleiermacher seems confused on this matter, and this is one the stress points of his system.  Concerning the Holy Spirit, Schleiermacher denies any deity to the Holy Spirit; instead, the spirit is the common spirit of the church.  The shared experience and feeling of Christ unites the church, and thus there is this universal spirit.

On the existence and practice of the church, Schleiermacher lays out six aspects of practice that are organized with the three offices of Christ.  So the church focuses on the Word of God and preaching as a means of the prophetic office; the church performs baptism and the Lord’s Supper in conjunction with Christ’s priestly office; and the church is invited to pray in the Lord’s name and exercise the keys of the kingdom in conjunction with Christ’s royal office.  In all of these, Schleiermacher reformulates doctrine.  So for instance, communion is not an ordinance laid down by Jesus, it is man’s demonstration of need for grace and the expression of his Godward dependence.  Likewise, prayer for Schleiermacher is not to a God who is outside of space and time; rather, prayer is the inward longing for God and his kingdom to be exercised in the world.

Eschatology

Finally, on the perfection of the church, there is no true doctrine.  It is only an idea.  Since doctrines are those things which church communities experience and record, there has not yet been an experience of a perfect church, and thus what the historical theologians have described as eschatology are merely conjectures.  He renames these doctrines “articles” and offers very scant evidence for them.  Instead, with great agnosticism, he states that we cannot know for sure what the resurrection, intermediate state, and the final judgment will be like.  In the end, he qualifies the doctrine of heaven and hell, to insist that in some way, all men will be reconciled and perfected.  In this, his view of election and universalism are similar to Karl Barth, who is one of Schleiermacher’s greatest critics.

The Trinity: An Appendix

Finally, in an appendix, Schleiermacher relegates the doctrine of the Trinity.   Its position there shows Schleiermacher’s connection with church history—it would be impossible to be a Christian theologian and not talk about this central doctrine.  And yet, because of his Kantian presupposition, he decides that the Trinity is neither practical, nor knowable.  And thus should be mentioned but not greatly used.

While, all these features of Schleiermacher’s theology mentioned above and over the last few days require a great deal more consideration, it is a start.  Tomorrow, we will look at how we should evaluate this theological giant whose shadow still looms until today.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Getting to Know Friedrich Schleiermacher (3): Theology Proper, Sin, Redemption, and Christ

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.

Theology Proper

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.

Sin

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.

Redemption

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.

Christ

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

Getting to Know Friedrich Schleiermacher (2): Introduction to The Christian Faith

Yesterday, we looked at the life of Friedrich Schleiermacher; today we will begin to explore his aberrant theology as articulated in his 760-page The Christian Faith.

The Christian Faith

The Christian Faith is the mature expression of Schleiermacher’s theology.  Published in 1831, it showcases his views on every major doctrine of orthodox Christianity, but what is apparent from start to finish is that Schleiermacher has created from the recesses of his own experience a version of Christianity that is different in every area of theology.  In this way, reading his theology is much like approaching the thought-world of J.R.R. Tolkien.  In Middle Earth, much of the language and experiences are similar to our world, but the place, the people, and the story is yet distinct;; likewise, in Schleiermacher, much of the language is the same but the whole project is something other than Christianity.  As J. Greshem Machen will say a century later, when Schleiermacher’s liberal theology had come into full blossom: Liberalism is not another kind of Christianity, it is another religion.

To get a handle on Schleiermacher’s doctrine, the rest of this essay will outline a number of his key doctrines and give commentary along the way.

Prolegomena

Like many systematic theologies today—which ironically take their shape from Schleiermacher’s work—Schleiermacher begins with a lengthy prolegomena.  In this section, he lays out his central organizing principle that religion is one of absolute dependence on God.  Against the likes of Descartes, he denies religion based on intellectual rationalism; and against the likes of Kant, he rejects religion as simply an ethical imperative.  Instead, following his pietistic roots and Romantic presuppositions, he calls for a religion that is based purely on feelings and experience.  He qualifies that this is not an individual experience, but a shared experience among those who have found absolute dependence and God-consciousness through the man Jesus Christ.

Schleiermacher explains the relationship of Christianity with the other world religions.   Prefiguring the history of religions school, he articulates a view of Christianity that arose from other previous religions that also experienced God-consciousness.  He contrasts Christianity with Islam and Judaism, which he likens to fetishism (or idolatry).  While recognizing the fact that Jesus was a Jew, he strongly divides Judaism and Christianity.  By the end of his work, he makes an exclusive claim for Christianity, but one that will engulf the whole world.  One wonders what today’s pluralistic culture would think of this liberal theologians exclusivity?  It is equally shaming that so many evangelicals today are gladly inclusivistic, when the father of liberalism is blatantly Christ-centered.

The Bible

For Schleiermacher, the Bible is not divinely inspired; rather is was written by inspired men—much like Bach, Beethoven, or Shakespeare were inspired composers/authors.  And it is not an authoritative source for theology.  The Bible is simply a recollection of the church’s experience with Christ.  This explains why the OT is unimportant.  Nothing of value is found in it that is not contained in the NT.  And since Judaism was a parochial religion, it is more akin to idolatry that a universal religion of Jesus Christ.  In Scripture, he delineates three types of speech: poetic, rhetorical, and descriptive didactic.  Only the last is good for theology; and the last is little used in Scripture.  Thus, Schleiermacher relegates all NT exegesis to biblical studies.  In his classroom, Schleiermacher taught through all the NT numerous times, but in The Christian Faith, biblical exegesis is absent.  This is comes about because of his views of how to do theology—doctrines are simply the articulate description of Christian experience, and thus they do not depend on Scriptural exposition or appeal.

In the end, Schleiermacher’s view of Scripture encapsulates the deistic views of his era.  Since God cannot speak across the phenomenal-noumenal divide, we do not have a verbally inspired Bible.  Experience becomes authoritative, but because experiences differ, the doctrines will shift over time.  In this way, Schleiermacher prefigures the postmodern mood of the contemporary church.  His theology is worked out today in all sorts of parochial theologies (e.g. black, liberation, feminist, etc).

Stop back tomorrow when we will look at Schleiermacher’s view on theology proper, sin, redemption, and the person Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Getting to Know Friedrich Schleiermacher (1): The Making of Friedrich Schleiermacher

Between the Reformation and John Calvin and the modern period of theology and Karl Barth, it is arguable that Friedrich Schleiermacher was and is the most influential Protestant theologian.  Like Newton in physics, Darwin in biology, Freud in psychology, Schleiermacher’s approach to religion and theology served to introduce a whole new system—what would in time be called ‘liberal theology.’  Though, he did not found a school, his influence has been more far-reaching, as theologians ever since have imbibed his methods or reacted to this proposals.  In what follows, we will consider the historical context from which Schleiermacher arose and the contribution of his systematic work, The Christian Faith.

I will argue that in different ways the three previous centuries of Christian and philosophical thought—conservative and liberal—had an impact on Schleiermacher.  We will take these centuries in turn.

The Protestant Reformation’s Impact on Schleiermacher

The sixteenth century was one of tumult and revolution.  In an era that was dominated by the political and intellectual influence of the church, the Protestant Reformation was cataclysmic—not to church alone, but to Western civilization at large.  Thus, when Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli sought to bring about reform in the Catholic Church, it affected everything.

Though, more than two centuries removed, Schleiermacher was a child of the Reformation. While he would become the father of liberalism, he was a Reformed preacher and professor.  From 1809-34 he preached regularly at Trinity Church. He was the son of military chaplain and both grandfathers were Reformed ministers.  By association, therefore, he was an heir of the Protestant Reformation.  The emphasis on preaching, the ‘denomination’ of which he was apart, and the place of the Bible and theology that occupied his classroom teaching all demonstrate that he was working against the backdrop of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin.  In The Christian Faith he often used language borrowed directly from his more conservative forebears—speaking of union with Christ and justification by faith.  However, as it will be demonstrated below, any orthodox term that Schleiermacher might use is redefined by his subjective system.

In the seventeenth century, Protestant Scholastics sought to systematize the doctrines coming out of the Reformation.  These systems frequently appropriated the tools of philosophy to explain various doctrines, and while some have noted (wrongly) that theology hardened during this time, it is true that the proclamation of the sixteenth century became the analysis and systemization of the seventeenth century.  Carrying the DNA of protest in its blood, the seventeenth century church continued to think deeply about theology.  They set up many schools and sought to educate their clergy.  These ecclesial colleges would house many of the theologians and philosophers in the next century, when these churchmen began to turn away from Sola Scriptura towards more rationalistic approaches to the Bible.  Schleiermacher’s professorship and pastorate would benefit from these logistical realities.

The Enlightenment

While Schleiermacher was an offspring of the Reformation, and while he followed in the footsteps of those who aimed to systematize theology, his greatest influences come from the eighteenth century Enlightenment.  Often described as the “age of reason,” the Enlightenment saw a radical shift in Western thought.  While the Western tradition of philosophy had always been ‘rational’—in that it had always sought to think and explain the universe through the use of the mind—it had simultaneously (since the inception of the church) given authority to the Bible as the Word of God.  In the Enlightenment this all changed.

Philosophers began to question the assumptions of the Bible, and the authority given to Scripture and tradition was replaced with an authority given to man.  Man was now the standard by which to judge all things.  This was the inception of the modern era of philosophy and thought.  Whereas in the past, questions of metaphysics were primary, now questions of epistemology were of greatest import.  And in the eighteenth century, numerous voices arose to explain how we know anything.

In the United Kingdom, Berkeley, Locke, and Hume arose to argue that knowledge comes by way of empirical evidence.  Through observation of the universe, we learn what is and what is not.  Generally speaking, man cannot explain anything more than he can observe and conclusively prove.  So, Hume would deny miracles because what appears to be true is only appearance, we cannot conclusively prove that the miracles of the Bible were divine because there could be another naturalistic answer.  Likewise, by reason of analogy, since miracles do not occur today, it is untenable that they would be true in ancient days.

On the other side of the English Channel, continental rationalists (Spinoza, Leibnitz, and Descartes) argued that all knowledge is based on mental cogitation.  We cannot trust sense experience, because man’s senses have been known fail.  So for instance, Descartes sought to find an ultimately basic belief, something that could be ‘proven’ without a shadow of a doubt.  What he concluded was that he knew that he was thinking, therefore he existed: “I think therefore I am.”

These two streams of thought—the British Empiricism and Continental Rationalism—dominated the eighteenth century.  Even as Schleiermacher’s Romanticism stood against rationalism, he could not escape the a-theistic Sitz Em Leben of his day.  Thus, his methods of interpretation would be anti-supernaturalistic (a presupposition that became common place in the Enlightenment and among Deists) and regularly historical-critical (a method of studying Scripture, pioneered by Semler, which reduced the Bible to a document composed by men, whereby interpreters battered the text with questions such that the unity and theological message of the Bible was exchanged for philological studies on words and historical studies on minor sections of Scripture).  N. B. His critical interpretation of the Bible does not show itself in The Christian Faith because dogmatics is bifurcated from biblical studies.  As another effect of the Enlightenment, systematic theology was disjointed from exegetical theology.

Still, there is one other influence in the eighteenth century that stands above the rest: Immanuel Kant.  Kant sought to bridge the gap between Britain and the Continent, by espousing a view of knowledge that was essentially empirical (i. e. men learn by sense experience), but that incorporated a rational explanation for how men process, or categorize, the data they encounter.  He posited that inherent to the mind’s of men were a certain number of categories (such as time and space), which functioned as means of processing information.

One of the categories in Kant’s system is that of the noumenal realsm—a realm of existence that lay outside the bounds of human sense-perception.  As a kind of empiricist, Kant argued that men could only know or come to find out that which occurred in the world around them—that which they could experience with the senses.  He called this phenomena.  By contrast, the noumenal realm was undiscoverable.  Hence, if God existed, he existed in this spiritual-noumenal realm where men could not attain knowledge.  This divide would be the primary influence which shaped Schleiermacher.  His entire systematic theology sought to solve this problem—how does man who lives in the phenomenal world, experience God who dwells in the noumenal realm.   As we will see, Kant’s divide caused Schleiermacher to turn theology away from God towards the subject of man.

Romanticism and Pietism

Closer to home—domestically and chronologically—were two schools of thought, which directly impacted Schleiermacher.  The first was Pietism. Schleiermacher grew up the son of a Reformed military chaplain.  At the age of ten, Schleiermacher’s family experienced a great evangelistic revival when Moravian visited eastern Prussia.  Much like later Wesleyan’s, the Moravians called for a heartfelt piety that was rooted in experience.  This pietistic influence continued for the young Schleiermacher when he went to a pietistic school at the age of fourteen. In short, his home life was filled with experiential Christianity, which would shape his later theological writings.

In 1796, Schleiermacher moved to Berlin to serve as a hospital chaplain.  There in Berlin he fell in to a group of young artists, writers, and philosophers who were reacting against the cold rationalism of the eighteenth century.   This group, led by the likes of the Schlegel brothers would be the prominent voices for what became known as Romanticism.  Instead of seeking knowledge through the use of the mind, this group urged for feelings, emotions, and experience as the source of all knowledge.  This fit very neatly with Schleiermacher’s pietism, and gave philosophical credibility to his earlier ‘faith.’  Still, many of these cultured men and women were unbelievers.  Thus, through the prompting of others like Schlegel, Schleiermacher wrote On Religion: Speeches to Cultured Despisers in 1799 as an apologetic for the Christian Faith.  Of course, what for him was the Christian Faith was radically different from the doctrines of his father, or previous generations of the Reformed Faith.

With his literary work, Schleiermacher launched out into a world of explaining the Bible, theology, philosophy, ethics, and hermeneutics.  He taught New Testament exegesis, theology, and ethics for decades at the University of Berlin.  His output include commentaries on many books of the New Testament, a substantial work on hermeneutics, and a posthumous work on the life of Christ.  Schleiermacher was a theological giant, and though his Reformed theology is worlds apart from John Calvin or Michael Horton, whose work ironically carries the same title, The Christian Faith, it is without a doubt that he has had an impact on the church that continues to this day.

Tomorrow, we will begin to look at his theology.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Ways of Our God: God’s Order (1)

In The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie subdivides his multithematic approach into main four categories: God’s Order; God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way.  Under each banner, he writes five chapters, and today we will consider his first section in his “sketch of biblical theology.”  For sake of space, let me list the headings and provide a few reflections.

  1. The Living God.  Scobie begins with God and His revelation in creation and history.  According to the Scriptures, Scobie argues that God is King, and taking his cue from the Decalogue and the Shema, he outlines his chapter with three concepts that establish “the very core of the OT understanding of God” (107).  These are the self-revelation of God’s Name(s), the unitive oneness of God, and the personal nature of God.  He examines each of these as they are initially proclaimed in the OT and more fully developed in the latter prophets and in the NT.  One of the highlights from this chapter is the way that each section (i.e. Proclamation, Promise, Fulfillment, and Future Consummation–also the framework of every other chapter) concludes with an explanation and affirmation of the Scripture’s canonical development at each stage of revelation.  In a chapter focusing on Theology Proper, he argues for Scripture’s essential role in revealing the one, true, and living God.  Additionally, Scobie emphasizes God’s relationship to both the created order and the historical order–this is expanded in chapters 2-3.
  2. The Lord of Creation.  Scobie writes this chapter out of a concern that biblical theology and recent biblical studies have devalued God’s relationship to creation, and have focused only on God’s role in the historical order.  He illustrates this by referring to those who begin their BT with Exodus and not Genesis; however, as he points out, this misses the way in which the canon is itself telling the story of God as Creator and Redeemer.  Scobie shows convincingly that God loves creation and has made creation for our enjoyment and his glory (cf. John Piper, “The Pleasure of God in His Creation” in The Pleasures of God).  He shows where creation is emphasized in the OT (Gen. 1-11; Pss. 8, 95, 104, 148; Isaiah; and the wisdom literature–Job 38-39; Proverbs 8), and argues that the NT maintains the same view of creation as the OT, only adding Jesus’ instrumental role in its creation and maintenance (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-3).  He introduces the distinction between apocalyptic eschatology which is alligned with God’s created order and prophetic eschatology which corresponds with redemptive history.  Just as the Bible begins with creation (Gen. 1-2), it ends with new creation (Rev. 20-22), and thus all the Bible is looking forward to the renewal of this fallen world. 

    His concluding application section would make the editors of the “Green Letter Bible” happy; it shows how the Bible does address many environmental concerns, but in a Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, sort of way, Scobies goes too far concerning the ways in which consumerist evangelicals have neglected the environment and are in need of confessing our “guilt for the ecological crisis” (186-87).  The ‘guilt’ rests not with Western evangelicals, but with the whole Adamic race. In the end, this chapter is a helpful commentary on what the Bible says about creation and its place in biblical theology.

  3. The Lord of History.  Scobie begins with a cursory review of the books of the Bible, and then proceeds to walk through the stages of redemptive history, before highlighting six ways in which God has worked in history.  These six characteristics of salvation history are (1) divine intervention, (2) [appointing] divinely inspired leadership, (3) salvation & judgment, (4) providence, (5) blessing, (6) and suffering love (198-202).  Scobie does not retain God’s work in history to veiled acts of redemption, though, he also posits that God has worked in history through revealing himself by speaking to his people (202-04).  Thus, redemptive acts of God are only recognized and understood when God also inspires a biblical author to interpret the meaning of the event (i.e. the exodus, the Babylonian exile, or the crucifixion).  The chapter is a helpful summary of salvation history, though he is theologically imprecise when speaking of God’s “suffering love,” a term most often associated with Jurgen Moltmann, and more recently Richard Bauckham, that ascribes suffering to the divinity of the Godhead, instead of assigning suffering to Christ’s humanity.  (For more on this see my post, Can God Suffer?).
  4. The Adversary.  Scobie presents a very balanced survey from the biblical text that walks through the Scriptures highlighting the passages of Scripture that concern the enemies of God, reprobate angels, and Satan himself.  He avoids the two extremes of spiritual warfare fanaticism and the modern mindset that makes the devil a cartoonish fable.  He chastens those who like Greg Boyd attempt to say too much about Satan and are required to import ideas from other Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries.  However, he shows the reality of the demonic realm and of the antichrist.  Like all of his chapters I have read thus far, his biblical content presents a helpful catalog of all the applicable texts on the subject.
  5. The Spirit.  Scobie is open to the continuous presence of miraculous gifts today because there is no hermeneutical reason, he says, to deny their continuation (296).  However, in his explication of this subject, Scobie is unfortunately imprecise and inconsistent.  In one place he states that “Christian baptism confers the gift of the Spirit” (283), yet later as he makes his summary he says “all believers receive the gift of the Spirit when they become Christians” (296).  I guess you could ask, “What makes someone a Christian,” but it seems that he inconsistently attributes the giving of the Spirit to baptism, and blurs the transitional period of Acts with what is now normative in the church today.  Like in chapter 2, Scobie emphasizes the Spirit’s role in and with creation, appealing to the Eastern Ortohodox tradition which includes Psalm 104 in its daily liturgy (295).  He spends little time on the revelation of the Spirit and its inclusion in the Trinity, because as he believes, the Bible gives triadic data but not trinitarian doctrine (297).  On the whole, this chapter shows a developing continuity throughout the Bible for the doctrine of the Spirit, but its synthesis leaves a lot of questions unanswered because of such short statements on things like tongues, the gifts, and the relationship of baptism to the Spirit.

More than a quarter of the way through this massive volume, I am pleased to report that the reading has been edifying and that any serious student of the Bible would be rewarded by reading it.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss