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