20 June 2020

Shift in Theology

Although the Reformation had rid the church of the humanistic elements which had come into it in the Middle Ages, a more total form of humanism entered the Protestant church, and has gradually spread to all the branches of the church, including the Roman Catholic. The concept of man beginning from himself now began to be expressed in theology and in theological language or we can say that the theologians accepted the presupposition of rationalism. As the Renaissance had tried to synthesise Aristotle and Chrisitianity and then Plato and Christianity, these theologians were attempting to synthesise the rationalism of the Enlightenment and Christianity. This attempt has been called religious liberalism.

Liberalism was embarrassed by and denied the supernatural, but still tried to hold on to the historic Jesus by winnowing out of the New Testament all the supernatural elements. This came to a climax with Albert Schweitzer who was well known for his humanitarianism in Africa. The rationalistic theologian could not separate the historic Jesus from the supernatural events connected with Him. History and the supernatural were too interwoven in the New Testament. Albert Schweitzer himself was left with what has often been called a poetic ethical pantheism.

After liberalism has failed, Karl Barth stepped into the vacuum with his Kierkegaardian theology which accepted the existential methodology and its dichotomy. Barth viewed the BIble as having many mistakes – this meant that theology had now been added to all the other things which had been put into the area of non-reason.

Following the advent of the existential methodology there arose the neo-orthodox existential theology, which says that the Bible in the area of reason has mistakes but nonetheless can provide a religious experience in the area of the non-reason. Neo-orthodox theologians do not see the Bible as giving truth which can be stated in contentful propositions, especially regarding the cosmos and history, that is, as making statements which are open to any verification. For many of them, the BIble does not give moral absolutes either. For them, it is not faith in something; it is faith in faith.This finally brings them to the place where the word God merely becomes the word and no certain content can be put into it. Ther new theologians also have no way to explain why evil exists, and thus they are left with the same problem the Hindu philosophers have – they must say that finally everything that is, is equally in God.

Modern people and modern theology, in trying to start from man alone, are left where the brilliant German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) found himself. He was the first one who said in the modern way that God is dead, and he understood well where people end when they say this. If God is dead, then everything for which God gives an answer and meaning is dead. And this is true whether it is a secular man or a modern theologian who says, “God is dead.”. Nietzsche knew the tension and despair of modern man. With no personal God, all is dead. Yet man, being truly man (no matter what he says he is), cries out for a meaning that can only be found in the existence of the infinite-personal God, who has not been silent but has spoken, and in the existence of a personal life continuing into eternity.

The extremes of liberal Protestantism have long suffered from the deficiency of truth. We have noted that the enemy Satan is an expert in distorting the truth and he can even dress as an ‘angel of light’. We can be certain that he was and is actively involved in making sure that truth presented in the BIble is no longer the truth that man ended up with.

Heavily stressing the leap of faith, decreeing a divorce between facts and faith, turning history into myth, removing all solid ground for reasonable belief, liberals and progressives have reduced the credibility of faith to radical uncertainty. Meaning is no longer what God means about Himself to human beings, but rather what human beings mean as they search for God and express themselves in human terms.

Fundamentalism initially came about to oppose liberalism but extreme reaction in fundamentalism shows the same weakness. Extreme fundamentalists too stress the leap of faith and make irrationality almost a principle. They dismiss the serious questions of seeking modern people as intellectual smoke screens or diversions to conceal deeper personal problems.They have consciously or subconsciously betrayed their basis of faith by failing to understand the shift in the concept of truth and by not replying with an eye to the basic premise of modern thought. For modern people to speak of absolutes in the area of morals, universals in the area of reason, and objective truths in the area of theology is meaningless. We need to understand that the swing from absolutes to relativism, from objectivity to subjectivity, from universals to the existential is a hallmark of modern thinking (no thanks to the evil one). Both liberalism and fundamentalism have made equally mistaken though opposite reactions when dealing with the thinking and understanding of modern people. Liberal theology is merely secular premises shifted to the religious dimensions. By mixing biblical and secular premises, it can never be anything but irrational. Extreme fundamentalism is equally irrational but for different reasons. Pride in purity of doctrine drives fundamentalists to scorn the very suggestion of compromise or capitulation. Their mistake is to fight the battle where it is no longer being fought instead of fighting it at the point where the battle is currently raging. They defend the BIble as the Word of God but fail to appreciate the liberal critique that this is not so much mistaken because of details but meaningless because of premises.The failure to understand not only results in a failure to communicate, but stiffens into and intellectual stance that is at best nonrational and at worse incredible or absurd.

This deficiency of truth is also seen in ecumenism movement which stresses unity at the expense of truth rather than unity on the basis of truth. Christians certainly need a deep and genuine spiritual experience, but the tendency of the charismatic movement has been to stress experience at the expense of truth rather than experience within the framework of truth. The net effect of all these movements – liberalism, extreme fundamentalism, ecumenism, pentecostalism -has been to devalue truth, blur the uniqueness of the Christian faith, and leave the historic Christian faith shorn of its greatest strength – its claim to be true.