RLST 270, Vered Arnon
1. This passage is from Adolf von Harnack’s What Is Christianity?. He wrote advocating a more modern stance on Christianity and the Gospels, a softer Protestantism so to speak, stressing how the important thing was one’s personal relation with God. He advocated a positive pro-human view of love and salvation, a dramatic change from the previous Protestant stance that viewed humans as wretched and sinful and deserving judgement and condemnation from God. Harnack said instead that humans are good, and we know this because God loves us, and thus the message of Christianity should be seen as a message that the human soul is a positive thing and it finds peace and rest and joy in union with a benevolent fatherly God.
2. This passage is from Coleridge’s Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit. In this work he argues against the notion of plenary inspiration, and says that the bible can only be properly understood if one accepts that it was written by men. However, and he thinks it is very important to also understand this: the fact that the bible was not word-for-word divinely inspired does not in any way make it less holy or sacred. The fact that when reading it one feels uplifted and deeply touched is evidence that the Holy Spirit is transferred through the words. If one doesn’t take this into account and view the bible as a humanly created vessel of the Holy Spirit, then Coleridge feels that one will lose the essential humanity and soul-stirring profundity of Christianity. It is precisely because words of men can move the human soul with the Holy Spirit that Christianity is powerful and the Gospel is meaningful to human beings.
3. This passage is from The Word of God and the Word of Man by Karl Barth. He wrote a very dialectical Kierkegaardian sort of analysis of Christianity. He was a minister and when he reflected on his place as a minister in the world after the First World War, he felt the need to reevaluate Christianity and reconcile it with the existential crisis of a world that had been torn apart and didn’t seem to show any evidence of God’s presence. He developed a theory that God is not present in the world, God is utterly totally distant and unreachable from the world. The only connexion the world has with God is through God’s incarnation as the man Jesus. This specific passage is referring to the fact that God is utterly Other and inaccessible, but ministers are obligated to speak of God even though they as men are not actually capable of speaking of God. This is dialectical and paradoxical, but he feels that recognising this is the only option a Christian in the modern world has, and in recognising and speaking of it, one nonetheless gives glory to God and fulfils one’s responsibility as a minister.
4. This passage is from Schleiermacher’s On Religion. He is arguing that intuition of the universe’ is the ultimate basis of all religion, and religion itself is thus universal and intuitive. The universe shapes and determines religion. He claims that Christianity is the most fundamental religion. He argues that Christianity is an intuitive understanding of the basic essential nature of the universe.
6. Biblical criticism and Darwinian theory both challenged Christian thought in the nineteenth century. In my view, biblical criticism posed a much greater problem than Darwinian theory. Those who felt that Darwinian theory threatened Christianity could simply insist that it contradicted with the bible and was flat-out wrong. Darwinian theory itself was a scientific theory, and not directly related to religion. Christians could thus simply close the door in its face and deny it. The Church could, and did, declare that it was just plain wrong.
Biblical criticism, on the other hand, dealt directly with the bible, and thus had the ability to be a more direct and focused attack. It opened up Christian scripture and doctrine to a critical evaluation that allowed secularists and sceptics to challenge specific dogma etc, and even challenge the validity of the central Christian texts themselves. Biblical criticism encouraged an exploration and focus on the historical events in the Gospels and the historical person of Jesus. Anything biblical critics said was directly in relation to Christianity and couldn’t be ignored like Darwinian theory. The Catholic church responded by attempting to ignore biblical criticism altogether, or on a much smaller scale using it to their own advantage to bolster and strengthen the Church’s interpretation of the bible, but it wasn’t as much of an issue for the Catholic Church as it was for the Protestants. The Protestants often relied almost completely on their doctrine of ‘sola scriptura’, so biblical criticism was a direct attack against the foundation of their faith, and the result was that Protestantism became a lot more secular in the 19th century and the modern world was able to undermine and erode it significantly, to the point that atheist critics like Marx etc were able to gain wide acceptance of their views.
7. Both liberalism and evangelicalism can be seen, in part, as efforts to respond to the apparent conflict between traditional Christianity and modernity. In my opinion, evangelicalism deals more successfully with the challenge. Liberalism, in my view, seems more like a succumbing to modernity than a successful attempt to deal with it. Liberalism seems to have abandoned much of what is traditionally considered ‘Christianity’. But evangelicalism is more like a vehement lashing-out at modernity in its literal stance regarding the bible and its focus on transformative emotional experiences. It rejects the modern intellectual abstract stance on religion that is the main foot-in-the-door of secularism. It maintains the focus and passion of people, and strengthens itself by creating an intense emotional atmosphere that really becomes and entire lifestyle. It also takes advantage of modernity and uses things like television to successfully deal with the challenge of a huge materialistic population. Evangelicalism is much ‘stronger’ in the sense that it stirs people into passion and keeps people very focused on Christianity, and very focused on spreading the Gospel, while liberalism is ‘weak’ in the face of modernity in that it is very open and accepting and strives to be intellectually accommodating rather than gain and keep converts.