There is only a handful of men who have rocked the western theological world over the past 2000 years. Some have been a Godly influence, such as Augustine, Luther and Calvin. Others have been instrumental in the apostasy of the Church. Chief among these is Frederich Schleiermacher.
Today, few have ever heard his name. But in many respects, we are living in a Schleiermacher-shaped world, thinking that this is the way things have always been. To one degree or another, our thought patterns and paradigms are molded by his long arm. His teachings are ever-so-delightful to the unbelieving world; and they are a pernicious influence on those of us who claim the name ‘Christian’.
So, here’s a brief look at the fundamental shift in theology that he was able to accomplish.
Let’s start by defining the Bible. What, really, is it? In one respect, it is the collection of 66 ‘books’ written over a period of 1400 years, but assembled together because of a unifying factor. The Old Testament was assembled by the Jews as each new book was recognized that it belonged; then New Testament was collated and added to the Old by the Church.
What is that unifying factor? The orthodox stance is that every one of these ‘books’ is ‘God-breathed’. The writers were superintended by the Holy Spirit in such a way that they produced works without error in factual data, and contain information that explains the origin, purpose and destiny of mankind. It reveals things about God and man that can be found no where else. For those who believe it, it is the authority for morals and ethics. It provides the guide for faith and practice, giving assurance for the forgiveness of sins. For those who reject it — either in whole or in part — it will be used as the indictment when men are called to give an account of their lives.
The path to understanding the Bible is no different than the path to understanding any other writing. It is apprehended by applying the intellectual faculties of the mind which can organize and systematize the information in a logical fashion. Once done, it satisfies man’s innate drive for rationality and coherence.
Before Schleiermacher, these things about study and learning were well-understood. It was considered self-evident. Bible study gave rise to creeds, catechisms, doctrinal statements, confessions of faith, commentaries, and scores of other types of works. All were done to expound truth and to persuade people to conform. As the Bible puts it, doctrinal truth is built in the minds of men ‘line by line, precept upon precept.’
Now comes Schleiermacher’s shift. For him, truth is not apprehended through intellectual processes of the mind. Rather, it is apprehended through ‘feeling’; that is, through the emotional inclinations of man. Bible is not the authority that past generations believed it to be. Now, we have entered into a new era, where religious feelings, or affections, are source of truth. For him, the ‘feeling of dependence’ upon God was the key. Man’s emotions would now rule the day, and trusting those emotions would be the guide to faith and practice. No longer is it ‘precept upon precept’; now it is ‘feeling upon feeling’.
This is the heart of Liberalism.
The wise man has said, ‘It it difficult to rise above one’s time’. To that degree and only to that degree, one or all are now liberals.
More to come on Mr. Schleiermacher…