Archive for the ‘Schleiermacher’ Category

Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part I)


I want to offer couple of brief talking points on CH 1-2.

1) The Source of Theology – Pannenberg offers a history about the source of theology for both Protestant and Catholic dogmatics. Early Protestant dogmatics grounded its theology firmly in the Word of God. Of course, the Enlightenment criticism of the unity of Bible “destroyed the biblical statements by drawing attention to contradictions and antitheses in biblical statements” (26). Pannenberg notes that the accommodation theory (the notion that differences in the Bible can be explained by the idea the Spirit adapts to the language and culture of the Bible’s various authors) replaced the doctrine of inspiration. The doctrine of accommodation exposes the true problem of the doctrine of inspiration, which is that it “handled the divine truth of scripture as the presupposition rather than the goal of theology” (35).

2) Barth and Schleiermacher – For Schleiermacher, theology must be grounded in the subjective experience of the believer. He also presupposes that truth was “always decided already in advance” (42). Unlike the inspirationists, scriptural unity is replaced by the “subjective faith consciousness” (42). Of course, this severs theology from the argumentation for the truths of Christian doctrine because what ultimately matters it the subjectivity of the individual Christian. Although Barth was tirelessly critical of Schleiermacher’s project, Pannenberg believes that Barth again committed the sin of “basing dogmatics on faith as risk if not on faith as experience” (44). Barth intended to base theology on the priority of God’s self revelation, but Pannenberg argues if we want to move beyond this fideism ought we not to “abandon the assumption that the reality of God is a presupposition of dogmatics from the very outset?” (45). Pannenberg goes so far to say that Barth “demonstrates the tragic embarrassment of theology at this point. So long as one thinks that the truth of Christian doctrine must be established in advance of all discussion of its content, and given the demise of both the infallible authority of the church’s teaching office and the older Protestant doctrine of inspiration, there is little choice but to appeal to an act of faith, where as experience or as risk or venture” (47). For me, this is Pannenberg at his best. The later Bonhoeffer comes to mind who likewise criticized for Barth’s ‘positivism of revelation’. Bonhoeffer argues that there are degrees of importance and decisions to be made theologically. We have to discriminate and argue without demanding that all of it must swallowed completely.

3) Truth – Pannenberg outlines his methodology as one that will attempt to argue for the truth of Christian doctrine. The real task is not to assume the truth of Christian doctrine, but rather to “face the contesting of the reality and revelation of God in the world” (50). Pannenberg recognizes that it is simply impossible to do theology without presuppositions. Similarly, he understands that the subjectivity of the theologian also comes into play although it does not determine truth. However, the truth will ultimately be determined by God. He considers that doctrines should be conceived of as “hypotheses” (56). Since God is the source of truth, systematic theology “must be a systematic doctrine of God and nothing else” (59). All different doctrines emerge from and “have their truth in God” (59). Finally, a systematic theology must be critical of previous dogmatics, which area incomplete and open to revision.


Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 2


I’m going to offer some brief reflections on Tillich’s Systematic Theology Volume II

1) Atonement – Tillich is right to note “God is the subject not the object of mediation and salvation. He [sic] does not need to be reconciled to man, but he [sic] asks man to be reconciled to him [sic]” (91). He goes on to say that Christ does not represent “man to God but shows what God wants man to be” (91). Tillich criticizes the three major theories of atonement. He rejects Christus Victor because it lacks the subjective response of man’s participation and relegates salvation to a cosmic struggle that does not involve man. For man to be properly healed of his anxiety and guilt, it requires that God’s law and justice are emphasized. Tillich faults Abelard’s theory for not considering the objective aspect of reconciliation. Finally Tillich questions Anselm’s view of the atonement (following Aquinas) believing that the subjective side is de-emphasized. Outlining his own approach Tillich suggests there are five principles to any proper doctrine of atonement: 1) God alone atones, 2) No conflict exists between God’s justice and God’s love, 3) Reconciliation can not simply overlook the guilt and estrangement of man, 4) God actively participated in existential estrangement and self-destructive consequences, and 5) The Cross manifests the divine participation in estrangement.

2) Historical Criticism – Tillich makes the interesting point that only Protestant Christianity, of all the world religions, has had the courage to subject its holy texts to historical criticism and research. Tillich believes this move has enabled Protestants to become more genuinely honest and he criticizes those groups who reject historical research based solely on dogmatic prejudice. This acceptance of historical consciousness has allowed Protestantism to not be forced into irrelevant spirituality (a la Schleiermacher). Perhaps we sense here why Barth’s theology is so awkwardly placed between liberal and conservative theology. He pays lip service to historical critical research but then acts as if the Bible is completely reliable. As much as I respect his effort, one has to wonder if Barth’s refusal to take sides is, in fact, a retreat from the truths of Biblical studies. I completely understand why Harnack et al. were totally bewildered by Barth’s move in Romans. Perhaps Tillich’s somewhat speculative theology is one of the last great efforts to return theology to the ontological task after the Bible had been dethroned in Protestant theology. Rejecting the Biblicism from both the right (infallibility) and the left (Ritschl), he opens up the path for a theology of culture that is fully secular. However, I suspect that Tillich’s legacy will ultimately be forgotten years from now because the ontological architecture he imposes on Christian thinking is bound to become outdated and strange. Although I imagine Tillich would only respond with the charge to “keep theologizing” since his very method of correlation, suggests that theology is a continually creative task that requires constant re-invention and renewal based on man’s current situation.

3) Christology – In Volume I of his ST, Tillich laid out his argument that God is “beyond existence and essence” (147). Given that his definition of divinity implies that God is beyond existence, this raises questions about the Chaledonian definition that describes Christ as possessing two-natures. Christ lived in 1st century Palestine and was clearly not beyond essence and existence. This finite existence precludes a divine nature in Tillich’s theology. Instead, Tillich rejects that God-man idea and replaces it with ‘God-Man-hood”. Unlike the static essence of divinity, this conception is dynamic and relational. Although Tillich recognizes his Christology resembles Schleiermacher’s, he believes his Christology has an ontological character whereas Schleiermacher’s Christology only has an anthropological one.

Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Part I)


My task is to offer some reflections on the introduction and Part I of Tillich’s ST Vol 1.

A. Methodology – Tillich’s theology is apologetic, an answering theology that responds to the situation of the day with the “power of the eternal message” (6). In this sense, his theology stands firmly in the liberal tradition started by Schleiermacher which tried to make Christianity relevant to modern society.) Tillich opposes Schleiermacher for relegating religion to the merely emotional realm. He views this retreat as essentially a refusal to engage modern thought. Here Tillich is perhaps at his best theologically in the way he easily engages modern psychology, philosophy, and religious studies. He also rejects the Barthian approach to make the Bible the sole source for theology. Instead, Tillich wants to have many sources of theology including: “Bible, church history, history of religion and culture” (40).

B. Christian triumphalism – “Apologetic theology must show that trends which are immanent in all religions and cultures move toward the Christian message” (15). This is perhaps my biggest fear about his theology. Why this method of correlation? I understand the relevance, but there’s an assumption Tillich makes that Christian revelation possesses the truth to the question modern man poses. He’s ruled out, a priori, that modern questions might actually challenge the truth of Christian revelation. Moreover, as much as I find his interdisciplinary approach admirable, I feel as if theology is restored to its place as the “queen of the sciences”. Not in the sense that theology is somehow true and all other disciplines that disagree must be critiqued (Tillich explicitly says it’s not the business of theology to accept or reject, e.g. Freud’s theory of libido (131)), but in the sense that theology is assumed to possess all of the answers. Pannenberg is much better here when he allows other disciplines to actually challenge theological ideas. The boundaries are much more porous. If anything, Pannenberg’s methodology restores hope in the idea that theology could once again exist in the academy as a respectable discipline. Barth’s theology is weakest here with his severe allergy to be in conversation with other disciplines. Instead he returns to the Bible for the timeless truths and completely bypasses the historical criticism of liberal theology, a major mistake in my opinion.

C. Return to ontology – Philosophy must “address the question of reality as a whole” (20). Tillich is critical of current (1950’s) trends in philosophy that refuse the ontological task of philosophy. Neo-Kantians have attempted to reduce philosophy to epistemology and ethics while logical positivists have attempted to reduce philosophy to logical calculus (19). Similarly, Tillich criticizes Biblicists (evangelicals and liberals like Ritschl) for trying to construct a non-ontological biblical theology. I think Tillich is entirely correct here that the theologian must address ontological issues. Trying to avoid the ontological task by hiding in the Bible is ultimately untenable as it weakens the relevance and importance of theological reflection.

Harnack – What is Christianity? (Part 2)


My task is to cover the second part of Harnack’s What is Christianity? I really appreciated Part I and found his interpretation of scriptures to be interesting. I also enjoyed his discussion about the social nature of the gospel. His position is that Christians must be in solidarity with the poor to be true followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, despite his individualistic emphasis on the gospel being about what happens between God and the soul.

Four observations:

1) Pauline ambivalence and Christological anxiety – I expected Harnack to deride Paul as someone who had perverted the gospel and transformed a living, praxis-based faith into a doctrinal faith, but his stance is more nuanced. On the one hand he praises Paul because he ultimately liberated Christianity from the shackles of legalistic Judaism. On the other hand, according to Harnack “it is a perverse proceeding to make Christology the fundamental substance of the Gospel is shown by Christ’s teaching, which is everywhere directed to the all-important point, and summarily confronts every man with his God” (198). As Harnack had said earlier, the Gospel is about the Father not the Son (154). This is a fairly standard liberal trope that pits the historical Jesus vs. the Christ of faith. I don’t know how Harnack can maintain this position, since Christianity has always been eminently concerned about the Son. In fact the very identity of the Son (Christology) is what gives rise to the consideration about the nature of the Godhead (Trinity). Although Harnack would consider this doctrinal emphasis an aberrant development in the history of Christianity, he has to avoid so much of history to argue for his sublime, simplistic individual religion that takes place between the soul and God. In fact, as much as Harnack wants to argue for some time in the past when Christianity was not ‘perverted’ with a focus on Christ, there never was a time when Christianity was not absolutely centered on the Son. I’m not simply attacking Harnack’s denial of Son’s unique identity with the Father, but the fact that he seems to think Christianity is about the Father (although to be fair many traditions implicitly act as if only the Father is really God). One could potentially deny Jesus’ divinity and still recognize that Christianity is primarily about the person and work of Christ. Instead, Harnack (much like Schleiermacher) seems intent on defending a strong monotheistic reading of the tradition. However, Harnack, unlike Schleiermacher who recognizes that the redemption won by Christ is central, ends up elevating a simple relationship with the Father to be THE essence of Christianity. I have sympathy with Barth’s rejection to Harnack by rightly shifting dogmatics back to the Trinity, which is ultimately grounded in a Christological re-reading of doctrine.

2) Mistrust of dogma – Harnack scapegoats Greek philosophy for being responsible for the corruption of the simple gospel Jesus preached into a complex doctrinal system. Primarily, Harnack takes aim at what he dubs the “intellectualism” of Greek philosophy that threatens to diminish, if not completely annihilate, the zealousness of primitive Christianity.

3) Prejudice against the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church – Harnack is especially critical of “Greek Catholicism”. He goes so far to claim that for over 99% of these believers the Christians religion means nothing more than adherence to “ceremonious ritual”. Harnack goes so far to claim that these Greek Catholics are like the Jews and that “[i]t was to destroy this sort of religion that Jesus Christ suffered himself to be nailed to the cross, and now we find it re-established under his name authority!” (255). He also suggests that the Greek Catholicism is, in actuality, simply Greek religion dressed up in Christian drag. His next victim in this declension narrative is Roman Catholicism. Similar to the way he sees Orthodoxy as being a continuation of Greek religion, Harnack believes Roman Catholicism is nothing more than a continuation of the old Roman Empire, except the Pope has replaced Caesar. He is especially distrustful of Roman Catholicism because it emphasizes the importance of liturgy and sacrament as opposed to the soul’s personal (unmediated) relationship with God.

4) Lutheran leanings – Unsurprisingly, Harnack is a big fan of Lutheranism (I’m sure Luther’s German heritage has nothing to do with this). Harnack believes Luther was both a reformer and revolutionary. He is especially in favor of Luther’s reduction of sacraments down to two (Eucharist, baptism) and his emphasis on the importance on the individual’s faith in God. However Harnack believes Luther was not revolutionary enough because he still was dogmatic in believing the creeds and thinking that “[w]e are the true Church because we have the right ‘doctrine’” (314). One also gets the sense that Harnack’s obsession with his Greco-Roman-Germanic narrative can simply not allow for expressions of Christianity outside of these three national identities. Perhaps this explains why he has no use for Calvin in his chapter on Protestantism and diminishes the significance Reformed thought has had on Protestant religion.

Closing thought: After reading Part 2, I was not at all surprised that he had signed the Manifesto in 1914 since he seemed excessively fixated on the relationship between religion and nationalism.

Bohache – Christology from the Margins


Bohache’s Christology from the Margins is an impressive work. It is divided into three parts: Traditional Christologies, Contextual Christologies, and Queering Christ. The first section is composed of three chapters, which focus on pre-Nicene Christology, the development of orthodox Christology (from Nicaea to 20th century modern theology) with a final section on historical Jesus studies. The first part will mostly be a review for students of theology. There is nothing especially new in Part I, although it serves as a nice introduction to orthodox Christology. Although the second part was simply a literature review of Christology from the perspective of liberation theology, I found this to be the most compelling section. Bohahce does fine job of summarizing the various contextual Christologies and presented them in a coherent manner. Chapter 4 focuses on Christology from the perspective of race and culture, with a primary emphasis on the discussion of black liberation theology (James Cone) and Asian liberation theology (CS Song). Next, he presents a discussion of Christology from Latin America (Segundo, Sobrino, Boff, etc). The sixth chapter presents Christology from the feminist perspective including a historical discussion about the rise of feminist theology. Again, the coverage is quite comprehensive, discussing everyone from Daly to Brock to Johnson. The final chapter of Part II focuses on Christology from women of color. He discusses the various Christological proposals from womanist theology along with a brief review of Christology from a mujerista perspective.

Part III is the heart of the work. Bohache spends the first chapter discussing not only the homophobia of Christians, but also the Christophobia of homosexuals. He remarks that many homosexuals have given up on Jesus Christ considering that he has been a source of terror in their lives. Chapter 9 focuses on “queer” as a social location along with a review of the gay and liberation theology. Although Bohache appreciates the work of Comstock and Clark, he criticizes them their anti-Christology. These gay theologians have discouraged an engagement with the person of Christ because of the damage Christ has had on queer communities. He is more receptive of the work of Robert Goss who famously published his queer theology in his famous Jesus ACTED UP. Bohache is encouraged by Goss’s work with his more positive focus on Jesus, especially his focus on the Reign of God. However, Bohache believes he does not properly develop a comprehensive Christology since his primary interest is to create a political queer liberation theology.

In the final two chapters Bohache develops his own queer Christology. He is unconcerned with question about Jesus’ own sexual activity and more interested in developing a queer Christ who “stir[s] things up and even perhaps spoils them, in order not to settle for the easy answers of the status quo. The queer Christ articulates a solidarity with the ‘fags’, ‘bitches’, and ‘niggers’ of his day and our day” (213). This chapter reviews four types of queer Christologies: 1) an anti-Christology, 2) a Christology of queer embodiment, 3) a radical Christology, and 4) a mystical Christology. I’ve already discussed the first type of queer Christology, and next he focuses on the body theology of Isherwood as representative of a queer incarnation Christology. He next reviews the radical Christology of Goss and Althaus-Reid. Bohache is quite critical of Althaus-Reid believing her Christology remains quite vague and cryptic. It appears that Bohache does not see the value of Althaus-Reid’s project of perverting and ‘indecenting’ theology “unless something constructive results” (223). Bohache claims that his discomfort with Althaus-Reid’s Bi/Christology does not result from being prudish but rather a desire to say something constructive for queer Christians in the church. Althaus-Reid is post-Christian in many respects, and unlike Bohache, does not give a damn about the institutional church. Hence, it is no surprise given Bohache has spent the majority of his career pasturing a queer-affirming church in New Jersey. Ultimately, Bohache charges Althaus-Reid for displaying the Christophobia and anti-Christology he finds to be common in early gay and lesbian theologies from the 80s.

In the final chapter Bohache develops his own Christology grounded in his reading of the Gospel of Matthew. Although he recognizes many liberation theologians (especially from Latin America) have used Luke to argue for God’s preferential option for the poor, Bohache prefers to focus on the notion of inclusion and welcoming of queer individuals in the Matthew’s Gospel. Bohache believes that “this Christ presence dwells in all people, that is innate to our being and our consciousness” (235). From his perspective, we are all on a journey to cosmic Christness. Bohache’s Christology is a queer appropriation of Schleiermacher’s idea of Christ’s perfect God-consciousness. Unlike Althaus-Reid who criticizes the annunciation (as rape of the Virgin Mary), Bohache elevates it to great significance for queer Christology. Bohache wants to emphasize the central affirmation he finds in the annunciation, namely, that God calls us to do great things. He then takes the reader through a queer journey through the Gospel of Matthew. He argues that baptism can signal the coming out process for queer individuals. Perhaps the most interesting move is to read the passion, death, and resurrection through the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who “was beaten, tied to a fence and abandoned to die alone in the wilderness” (254). Bohache writes “I believe that Matthew Shepard is the most famous example of the crucifixions of gays and lesbians that have occurred for generations. His humiliation and suffering were meant, like the scarecrow, as a warning for queers and to ‘keep away’ from ‘decent’ people, and, like ancient crucifixions, as an example to queers of what might happen if they ‘flaunt’ themselves on heteropatriarchal territory” (254). Resurrection is queer because God stirred the pot by raising from the dead a political criminal. A queer resurrection would be God’s absolute NO to homophobia and heterosexism.

At end of the work Bohache writes “I have intentionally sought not to shock, although I may have inadvertently done so, for it has been my intent in creating this Christology to appeal to the so-called ‘middle-of-the-road’ gays and lesbians as well as the ‘cutting-edge’ queers” (261). In Elizabeth Stuart’s work Gay & Lesbian Theologies she notes that queer theology has tended to either borrow heavily from the methodology of liberal theology or liberation theology. I think here we see the tension in Bohache’s work. There’s a sense in which his queer theology is apologetic hoping to not offend liberal Christians. However, by trying to walk the fine line, I worry Bohache’s work ultimately suffers by trying so hard not to offend. His constructive chapter on Christology does not offer anything particularly new, and I suspect most liberal theologians would find nothing offensive or queer, despite his best intentions. I’d recommend Bohache’s work for the great literature review on the liberation theology’s Christology, but I worry his desire to appeal to his less radical queer Christians ultimately removed the offense of the gospel.

Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§120-172)


Given my interest of all things ecclesial, as fate (or Providence, take your pick) would have it, I find myself posting on our closing section of Schleiermacher’s “The Christian Faith.” Sections 120-172 largely devote themselves to features (i.e. characteristics) of the Church in its relationship to Christ and to the world.

The world as it relates to Schleiermacher’s notion of redemption, is found in the institution of the Church (§113). Schleiermacher states that Church is, in itself, founded on three principles: its origin (by God’s election of individuals in faith), its distinction from the world (through its features), and its consummation with Christ (the prophetic doctrines, cf. §157-63). Regarding distinction, sanctification is ultimately an inward impulse among believers. Because individuals are affirmed in a common spirit (the Holy Spirit) they are driven inward toward each other, forming what Schleiermacher notates as the “inner fellowship.” The “outer fellowship” is comprised of concerned individuals who have yet to receive the transformative event of regeneration (the beginning of a new life in Christ, as told in Col. 3). While Schleiermacher dismisses this nutshell version of Church as “novel and merely confusing,” he nonetheless admits the inward nature of sanctification (stated above) as one of the constituting factors regarding the Church.

Schleiermacher’s role of the Holy Spirit is a unifying force for the Church, but I have been to many churches in my life and only few I could confidently claim to be spiritually led. (And surprisingly enough, those few would balk to use a word like ‘church’ to describe themselves.) Additionally, as a good Methodist, I can’t help but comment on Schleiermacher’s assessment of Sanctification as an inward impulse of the Spirit. While I agree with the basic conception of Sanctification as the continual regeneration through faith in the individual (presenting the image of Christlike-ness), it is the inward impulse (supplementarily: the inner/outer fellowship) with which I see as problematic. Sanctification, if it is to be the continual spurring on of the individual to be one with Christ, does not drive oneself inward, but instead should drive forward and outward the actions of Christ from within the individual! Sanctification is not an inward impulse, but is naturally one that forces the individual in faith towards his neighbor (not to himself).

In a similar vein, I would like to discuss Schleiermacher’s conception of the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. At first, Schleiermacher affirms the inward impulse in sanctification as parallel to the Eucharist, for the taking of the elements is a confirmation of the already gathered fellowship. Schleiermacher notes that the supplementary action of the Church’s participation in the Eucharist is joined with the original action of Christ’s sacrifice (the cross) in relation to redemption. Thus the Church, in its partaking of the Eucharist, participates in a similar sacrifice (albeit symbolical). Again the purely symbolical nature of the Eucharist is lost to me; just as with sanctification, the partaking of the Eucharist is ultimately an outward action towards one’s neighbor.

Schleiermacher closes “The Christian Faith” with an affirmation of the Divine Trinity as essential to doctrine. Trinitarian theology is based on the being of God assumed in the being and work of Christ; if it cannot stand, then the whole of Christianity falls with it. In regards to what I have said above regarding the outward nature of Sanctification, not mentioned by Schleiermacher, is (as I see it) expressed well in his affirmation of the Trinity. For, if the “being of God assumed in the being of Christ” is essential to doctrine, and doctrine is essential to the Church, then the kenotic movement of godliness to humanity is referenced in the Church’s kenotic movement from itself to the world.

Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§86-120)


Schleiermacher is often seen as something of an antagonist in modern theology. The trenchant criticisms of Karl Barth and other theologians of the so-called neo-orthodox movement have left the reputation of the great 19th century German Dogmatician – to that time without modern equal – somewhat tarnished.  I was, coming myself from the theological milieu which looked askance at Schleiermacher, thoroughly unprepared for how great Schleiermacher’s works is. Really, this was a misjudgement.  Karl Barth, in his own Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, says that Scheleiermacher’s own remarks about Fredrick the Great apply to the theologian himself: Schleiermacher founded not a school, but a whole era. I once met the claim, made in fact in the preface to this work, that Schleirmacher’s The Christian Faith is a superior to Calvin’s Institutes with some credulity. Now, however, I’m not so sure. In retrospect, I probably should not really have been surprised by Schleiermacher’s brilliance, given even Barth’s reverence for the master, but I certainly did not expect his The Christian Faith to be as great as it is.

Schleiermacher covers a lot of dogmatic ground in his work, but I want to concrete on what I found the most interesting part of my portion of the readings: his conception of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth in §97:

For Schleiermacher, the doctrine of the virgin birth is one that he views with some suspicion. In fact, he questions both its (i) historicity and (ii) its dogmatic utility, but without simply discounting the doctrine altogether.

i.) Schleiermacher notes that the New Testament witnesses to the virgin birth are scarce. The stories are not referred to any in apostolic work outside their mention in the birth narratives in the gospel. Because all indications lead one to assume that the apostolic and early church did either not know or place any great emphasis on the idea of a virgin birth, Schleiermacher sees no reason to place any historical emphasis on the doctrine either, and says that one can certainly “believe in Christ the redeemer without believing in his supernatural conception in this sense” (404).

ii.) Schleiermacher’s critique of the dogmatic value of the Virgin Birth is even more scathing. First, he takes cognisance of the theological position that states that sin is inherited. Christ, because he was not being produced through sexual generative power, does not inherit sin. Schleiermacher observes that Christ would still inherit sin, in this rather venereal view of transmission, through his connection with his mother. Of course, certain segments of Roman Catholicism have postulated that Mary was herself born sinless (the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception). Schleiermacher notes the infinite regress involved with this tenuous position. Because, he says, there has been no tradition postulating a series of sinless mothers from Mary backwards, this doctrine is therefore dogmatically superfluous.

The only grounds one has, Schleiermacher says, for holding this doctrine is related to one’s doctrine of scripture. That is, on how one interprets the New Testament, and not on any theological foundations relating to Christ’s divinity or sinlessness. Schleiermacher also rejects two corollaries that have arisen related to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. The notion that Mary remained a virgin all her life is to be rejected as baseless, and we must also reject the notion that the doctrine of the virgin birth is to be taken as some sort of condemnation of sexuality as such, “as if its satisfaction was something sinful and productive of sin” (406).

What do other people think of Schleiermacher’s view of the virgin birth given its place in the Creeds? And, furthermore, what of the dichotomy he establishes between a Virgin birth in the particular sense, and supernatural birth in the more general sense?  Schleiermacher says, “Similarly anyone who cannot accept them [the biblical accounts of the virgin birth] as literally and historically true is still quite free to hold the doctrine proper of the supernatural conception. But if it is superfluous to set up a doctrine of the virgin birth proper, it is also inadvisable to do so, for this involves one all too easily in investigations of a purely scientific character which lie outside our sphere” (406). I, for one, think Schleiermacher is veridical; the doctrine of the virgin birth is not gynaecological.

Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§46-85)


I want to focus the majority of my comments on this section of The Christian Faith on the attributes of God, which I found it be the most interesting part of this section.

1) God’s eternality suggests that God’s timeless causality conditions all that is temporal, including time itself. Man’s religious self-consciousness is contingent on the idea of God’s eternality and omnipotence. According to Schleiermacher, “religious consciousness…becomes actual only as consciousness of His eternal power” (§52). The feeling of absolute dependence demands that no change in God is posited. The doctrine of divine immutability has of course been challenged more and more by twentieth century theologians. Interestingly enough, Schleiermacher has to ignore a significant amount of biblical material to maintain this doctrine, which seems more beholden to his romantic philosophy than to the biblical narrative.

2) Schleiermacher refuses to acknowledge a distinction in God’s omnipotence between the possible and actual, or between God’s power and God’s will. The omnipotent causality of God is absolute and undifferentiated. It is worthless and confusing to try and posit any distinctions in God’s omnicausality.

3) As I mentioned in a comment in the previous post, it is very interesting to notice what Schleiermacher excludes from his dogmatics. In §59 he discusses Leibniz’s idea of the best world. Schleiermacher dismisses this as a product of speculative rational (natural) theology. Although he endorses the original perfection of the world, he is skeptical of Leibniz’s doctrine of the best world. Instead he prefers to think of this world as good (which of course is faithful to the creation myths in Genesis). The reason he rejects this speculative doctrine is because it is not a product of religious consciousness and because it attributes to God anthropomorphic ideas such as mediate knowledge (which would imply an imperfection in God) and alternative choice.

4) In an attempt to maintain God’s unlimited omnipotence we must come to terms with the idea that sin “is ordained by God as that which makes redemption necessary” (§81). From Schleiermacher’s perspective, redemption can only be ordained by God if sin is likewise is ordained by God. However, Schleiermacher refuses to think of God as the author of sin apart from God as the author of grace (in Barthian terms, God’s No is always in service of God’s Yes). Although this is difficult to accept, it is mandatory lest we fall into two heresies: Manicheanism (which argues that sin has an independent existence from God) or Pelagianism (which waters down the stark opposition between grace and sin)

5) In §85 Schleiermacher rejects mercy as an attribute of God. He believes this cannot be attributed to God because it introduces a sensuous sympathy in God’s character. This is not befitting of God because, like kindness, it posits that God can experience events or circumstances as agreeable or disagreeable. I was curious what others thoughts of this passage. Although his logic is impeccable, the fact that something as important as the mercy of God would be excluded from his dogmatics might suggest some inherent issues in the system. He will allow the mercy of God to have a place in preaching but not in dogmatics. I was especially thinking of Islam, and the fact that the mercy of God is actually the most used attribute in the Qur’an to describe God’s character.

Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§1-45)


Dogmatic. I imagine a heavy, convincing voice issuing the word in a large room of which the perfect level of reverb emerges. The word itself has a strong presence, a force to be reckoned with. My connotations are mostly negative, based in that authorities (both past and present) have used their power to quash the voices of truth and justice (however opposed to the status quo) when they arise from the margins. Such is the weight and force of the dogmatic.

However, in spite of this, we are precisely concerned with the dogmatic work of Friedrich Schleiermacher in The Christian Faith (Ed. by Mackintosh, H. R., and Stewart, J. S., T. & T. Clark, 1928). Schleiermacher’s study of Christian dogmatics initiates with its definition, for we cannot rightly say anything useful about dogmatics before first knowing where it originates (§1). Continuing, Schleiermacher wishes, alongside a definition, to point out the ‘method’ of dogmatics; for we wish to know how Dogmatics will affect the Christian life, as evidenced by the title of this work. (While I do not have the space to hash out every aspect of Schleiermacher’s comprehensive propositions, my interest in ecclesiological matters led to the author’s focus on the Church in regards to Dogmatics.)

Schleiermacher, from the outset, contends that Dogmatics can only happen in the wake of religious communion (§1). First, he discusses modes of consciousness which lead to a religious self-consciousness. Piety as “a state in which Knowing, Feeling, and Doing are combined,” (11) is consummated in the self-awareness of absolute dependence–forming a relationship with God (§4). The maturation of consciousness (to absolute-dependence) is the context which necessitates communal development and allows for the religious self-consciousness to open up and embrace the self-consciousness of others–forming community (27).

From Church–as a community of religious self-conscious individuals–there is preaching (drawing on the original preaching of the gospels). Preaching is the “self-renewing circulation” (29) of the religious self-consciousness within communion. Schleiermacher asserts dogmatics can only be considered a complete system when dogmatic expression of preaching is brought into a coherent relationship with dogmatic propositions (87). In other words, the work of dogmatic theologians ensues the expression of church life; Schleiermacher establishes an interdependency between communion and dogmatic theology. Because of this interdependency, dogmatics is situated in the historical realm: “Each presentation confines itself to the doctrine existing at a certain time… Text-books of the seventeenth century can no longer serve the same purpose as they did then… and the same fate will one day befall the present ones too” (87).

I should also note, that in regard to particularity and method, he also emphasized that dogmatics is focused on the person of Jesus and the effect of his redemption. Essentially, no dogmatic proposition can fit in without adhering to these two presuppositions (§11).

After composing a pertinent definition and methodology for dogmatics, Schleiermacher opens with his doctrine of creation; one must begin with defining our absolute dependence on the world we find ourselves. He claims absolute-dependence can only remain pre-eminent so long as we claim that nothing could have come into existence unless it is from the work of God (§§40-41). Schleiermacher affirms the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (153), creation from nothing, to belay the absolute-dependence of man in relationship to God. Admitting that God did not create, from nothing, everything would erode the foundations of humanity’s relationship with God (153). In doing so, he highlights an inconsistency with classical rabbinical work on creation. In my personal exegesis of the creation story, I found the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo to be largely un-biblical. The Hebrew text closes off the experience of the reader to the primordial event of creation–the moment, the divine fiat, of creation is unknown to us. Schleiermacher seems to admit a problem in the relationship between creation and time, but quickly dismisses its relevance to the feeling of absolute-dependence–critical to his doctrine of creation (155).

Reader’s Guide to Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith


I began reading Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith this evening. I’ve gotten through Chapter I of the introduction, and I am pleasantly surprised with his elegant and succinct style . Anyway, for those following along with us, I’m attaching an excellent resource. It includes short summaries of each section of The Christian Faith. Also, I’ve added a new page for the reading weekly reading schedule.