The End of Liberal Theology

Contemporary Challenges to Evangelical Orthodoxy

by Peter Toon

Crossway Books, 1995



Preface                                                   (through Chapter 3 this page below)


        On Theology and Doctrine

        Addressed to the Mind

        For Further Reading

1.     A Case Study: The Anglican Way

        The Anglican Way – As It Was

        The Anglican Way – In the Process of Changing

        For Further Reading

2.     Heredity: Liberal Theology and Its Children

        The Adam and Eve of Protestant Liberalism

        Adam and Eve’s Children

        Liberal Theology Outside Germany

        Evangelical Response

        Rebellious Children: The Rise of Neo-Orthodoxy

        Adam and Eve’s Grandchildren

        For Further Reading

        Appendix: Roman Catholic Theology

3.     Environment: The Context of Modern Theology

        New Worlds Without and Within

        The Fact and Consciousness of Choice

        A New Middle Class

        On Individualism and Community


        Aspects of Crisis

        A Social Portrait of the Theologian


        For Further Reading

        Appendix: Major Influences on Roman Catholic Theology

4.     The 1960s                                                     (Chapters 4 through end)

        The Two 1960s

        Honest to God

        Rudolf Bultmann

        Paul Tillich

        Dietrich Bonhoeffer

        From Christian Atheism to a Theology of Hope

        Process Theology

        For Further Reading

        Appendix: Roman Catholicism in the 1960s

5.     Typology: Describing Modern Theology

        Who Is God?

        An Ecumenical Proposal

        The Use of Typology

        The Typology of Donald G. Bloesch

        The Typology of Peter Berger

        Further Comment on Typology

        For Further Reading

        Appendix: Types of Modern Roman Catholic Theology

6.     Four Types of Theology

        The Deductive Approach

        The Inductive Approach

        The Reductive Approach

                i.              Black Theology.

                ii.             Liberation Theology

                iii.            Feminist Theology The Regulative (Narrative) Approach For Further Reading

Epilogue: Evangelical Theology

        Three Considerations

        A Typology of Evangelicalism

        Contemporary Challenges to Evangelical Orthodoxy

Works Cited

Index of Names (omitted for web)




      In this book I attempt the difficult task of introducing non-specialist and (primarily) evangelical readers to modern forms of Christian doctrine and theology, both Protestant and Catholic.  The emphasis is on the word modern, for I describe both that which did not exist before the modern period and that which partakes of the spirit and ethos of modernity.

      But when did modernity begin, and what is modern?  In this book I assume that what is generally understood as modern has its origins in the scientific, industrial, and technological revolutions that began in the late eighteenth century and were in full swing at the end of the nineteenth century.  However, my primary concern is to describe the varieties of theology that have appeared since World War I (1914–18) and, more particularly, since the 1960s.

      Although such expressions as postmodern and postcritical are used today to point to the latest phase of Western civilization, I have not made use of these phrases except when I am quoting from the writings of others.  My reason is that they are imprecise terms and seem not to have any fixed or agreed meaning.

      However, I cannot escape using the word modernity.  By modernity I understand the spirit and structures of the modern world produced by capitalism, technology, and telecommunications.  This reality is of course global, encircling the earth.  Also it is intrusive, entering the soul of each person.  Sociologists refer to the effects of modernization as placing an “iron cage” around human life and/or of smashing traditional institutions and moralities as with a “gigantic steel hammer.”

      The method that I have adopted to describe and analyze modern theology is, I hope, neither too complicated nor too simplistic.  I begin by taking a specific tradition of doctrine and theology – that of the Anglican way.  I do this case study in order to show the basic differences between doctrine in its pre-modern expression (in this case from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) and in its modern expression in and after the 1960s.  This comparison introduces the reader to what he should expect in the descriptions of modern theology that are to follow.  It also raises appropriate questions and problems concerning recent theology.

      Since my reader will now have a general idea as to the ethos and content of modern theology, I proceed to trace its heredity and pedigree in chapter two.  Portraying liberal theology as a family with a late-eighteenth-century parentage, I describe the history of the family up to the present time, referring to specific theologies since the 1960s as the grandchildren of the first parents.

      When today we think of heredity, we also think of environment.  So in chapter three I attempt to sketch the intellectual, social, and cultural environment in which modern theology has developed and been expressed.  I do this in broad terms for the whole modern period and in a more detailed manner for the last thirty or forty years.  In doing this I suggest that evangelical modes of theology have been affected by cultural context just as much as have liberal forms of theology.

      The heredity and environment of modern theology are also concerns in chapter four, where I seek to describe the way theology was affected by and expressed within the 1960s.  I do this because I believe that the decade of the sixties was extremely important for both American culture in general and Christian theology in particular.

      In chapter five I attempt, with the use of typology, to offer various ways of analyzing post-1960s theology.  If I were to take every form of contemporary theology and to examine the system of each theologian, the result would be extremely long, tedious, and repetitive.  The use of typology (as developed by social scientists) enables the reader to see the limited variety of intellectual constructs around which the greater variety of modern theologies are built.

      Having offered several typologies of modern theology, I choose one of these in chapter six in order by it to analyze recent theological approaches, methods, and systems.  The typology I use contains four basic approaches – the deductive, the inductive, the reductive, and the regulative.

      Finally, in the epilogue I attempt to look briefly at modern evangelicalism with its varied theologies.

      At the end of each chapter there is a list of books under the heading “For Further Reading.”  This is to guide the reader if he wishes to study further the themes handled in the chapter.  In addition, four chapters have appendixes in which I specifically treat Roman Catholic theology.  In the ecumenical climate of today there is no satisfactory way of treating Protestant and Roman Catholic theology in isolation from each other.

      I have deliberately written in a traditional style, not using inclusive language either for human beings or for God.  This represents not a “statement” by me, but a carefully thought-out theological understanding of the use of language to reflect what I call “divine order in creation and in redemption.”  My commitment is wholly to the equality and dignity of men and women and simultaneously also wholly to the principles of divine order as revealed by God within sacred Scripture.  Therefore, I use what is not only the traditional style but also the style that contains within it that principle of divine order.  Of course, when I describe the views of others and quote their words I work with their concepts and language.

      I dedicate this book to the dean and president, Ray Sutton, the faculty, the staff, and the students of the Philadelphia Theological Seminary in appreciation of their kindness to me during the year 1993–94, when I was a visiting professor at their new campus at 7372 Henry Avenue, Philadelphia.

Peter Toon

Easter 1994



      This book is intended to be a guide to the variety of forms of contemporary theology.  It is also a map of the relationship of modern theologies to each other and to their predecessors.  Further, it is hopefully a yardstick by which to begin to make critical judgments and evaluations of the doctrines and theologies offered in the 1990s in both the old-line and the new-line denominations, as well as among both liberals and conservatives.



      A good question to ask right at the beginning of this study is: What is the difference, if any, in meaning between theology and doctrine?  Let us try to get some clarity by beginning with their Greek and Latin roots.  Theology is from two Greek words, theos meaning “God” and logos meaning “rational study.”  From the twelfth to the seventeenth century we find that Roman Catholics and Protestants both agree that theology is the study or science that treats God, His nature and attributes, and His relations with angels, man, and the universe.  In brief, it is the science of things divine.  Put another way, what was called in Latin textbooks theologia is the knowledge of God and what God reveals, pursued not merely for academic ends but so that man should enjoy and glorify God forever.  Normally it was studied after preliminary work in the liberal arts known as the “trivium” and “quadrivium.”

      Therefore, theology has traditionally been the word that covered and included that whole body of knowledge that (since the nineteenth century) has been subdivided into what we call disciplines (or autonomous subject areas) and that we know, for example, as the study of the Old Testament, the New Testament, the creeds, Christian morality, and the history of the church.  In fact, what was once the purpose of the whole science of theologia – a systematic presentation of truth as revealed by God and understood by man – has now become one part or discipline of the whole and goes by the title of “systematic theology.”  As such it is equal to the other disciplines even though it seeks to utilize some of their conclusions in its own presentations.

      The profound change in the Western appreciation of what is theology, how it is studied, and for what purpose it is pursued came about primarily because of the adoption of the principles of the Enlightenment within the universities of Europe, particularly in Germany, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  (The Enlightenment, it may be recalled, was a cultural movement of the eighteenth century that challenged traditional modes of thought based on authority and in their places set forth critical, rational, and historical ways of understanding.)  Theology, along with other subjects in the universities, came under the general principles of “proper evidence” (in contrast to the previous authoritative norms and principles deduced from Scripture and tradition), and as such it was subject to pluralization and specialization.

      Here we may stop in our tracks and recall that the word divinity, from the Latin divinitas meaning either “the Godhead” or “the study or science of God,” has also been (and still is) used as a synonym for theology in its older and fuller sense.  A long time ago I received from the University of London in England the Bachelor of Divinity degree, and my work for that degree included the study of the whole Bible, the creeds, church history, and so on.  Today many people in North America gain the degree of Master of Divinity (which used to be called the Bachelor of Divinity).

      Over the last century there has been a growing specialization in the disciplines of the post-Enlightenment universities.  Academics have become experts in less-and-less knowledge.  So we find that within what used to be called the faculty of theology (and is often now called “religious studies”) there are subsidiary departments of Old Testament, New Testament, church history, and so on.  Among these will be the Department of Systematic Theology.  While there is a certain necessary cooperation between these departments, it is often the case that members of each discipline feel a closer bonding with members of similar departments in related institutions of higher learning than they do with members of the next department along the corridor from them.  Then there are, of course, professional associations for each of these subsidiary areas, and so each separate discipline has a certain autonomy.  And what is true of the university is also true of the seminaries, for they have followed the universities in the way theology is studied.

      Students working for their Master of Divinity degree today get a little of many things, but rarely do they receive an ordered, rational understanding of God, His nature, and His attributes from their years within the faculty of theology.  Most likely they receive an intellectual, religious box containing an assortment of virtually independent parcels of knowledge that will not easily be tied together.  To use concepts associated with Isaac Newton and the law of gravity, we may claim that instead of modern study being centripetal (tending toward one center), it is more often than not centrifugal (flying off from the center).  This is well illustrated by the book What Theologians Do (Healey, 1970).  Its twelve contributors (and each one is called a theologian) provide a description of a specific discipline within the modern faculty of theology.  So there are essays in the book by the distinguished academics on these topics – the New Testament, the Old Testament, the inter-testamental literature, church history, creeds and confessions of faith, Christian doctrine (systematic theology), scientific study of religion, philosophical theology, applied (pastoral) theology, worship (liturgy), Christian ethics, and ecumenics (ecumenical theology).  Yet, apart from a brief introduction by Healey, there is nothing concerning the unity of theology as theology, divinity as divinity.  Theology is merely described as including these subject areas, and it is pointed out that it is necessary to study all the subjects in order to grasp what is involved in professing-Christian belief today.  In fact the book could be said to illustrate (from a seventeenth-century and pre-Enlightenment perspective) the rebellion of the disciplines of theology against the classical meaning and purpose of theology as a unitive study.

      Theology as the science of things divine is apparently now a shattered spectrum in the West.  At best, systematic theology, or as the English Anglicans say, Christian doctrine, is the attempt of one discipline within the Department of Theology to appear to do what the whole science was intended to achieve in earlier times.  Regrettably, it is often the case that where it exists, that which is now called systematic theology is something very different from the old subject of theology as theologia!

      Further, and this somewhat complicates the picture I have drawn, we need to recognize that, especially since the 1960s, theology has also been used to mean the ordered religious thoughts of specific interest groups within, or on the fringes of, liberal denominations.  So a person working in any of the disciplines of a faculty of theology or religious studies who supplies an intellectual presentation of a contemporary social concern will both call and find others calling his contribution “theology.”  Well-known examples are black theology, feminist theology, and liberation theology.  What usually occurs here is that a legitimate social concern is set in a religious context, given a justification on religious grounds, made into a call for action, and then called theology.  Such a theology will use, according to the stance of the writer, a variety of sources.  These will normally include the Christian Bible but may include the holy texts of other religions as well, together with whatever other sources are deemed appropriate and useful in the enterprise.  Obviously, the main themes here are not “God, His nature and attributes” understood in the traditional sense; rather they are specific social, political, and economic concerns.

      Roman Catholic seminaries often refer to theology under three or four headings –fundamental theology, systematic theology, practical theology, and spiritual theology.  In these areas they cover much the same type of material (but from a different perspective) as do Protestants in apologetics, systematic theology, pastoral (or practical) theology, and spirituality.  Like Protestants, Catholics have been deeply affected by the winds of modernity primarily since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s and thus much later than liberal Protestantism.

      It is perhaps obvious to my reader that I much prefer to use the word theology in its older, comprehensive sense as theologia and to see students getting a comprehensive, unified body of knowledge; but I must be realistic and pragmatic and recognize its contemporary usage.  Let us then be clear as to what this modern usage is.  First of all, theology remains as a kind of umbrella word referring to the title of the faculty wherein the various disciplines of the study of religion are pursued.  On the same reasoning it refers to all that is studied in a seminary and is part of the requirements for the Master of Divinity degree.  Second, theology refers to the specific work and products of those who seek to engage in the specific discipline of systematic theology.  Amongst this small group there will be found a great variety of methods of doing theology and of the use of sources that are deemed to be authoritative.  Then also, the different schools of thought within modern theology will be represented (e.g., process and narrative theology).  In addition, there will be those attached to the theology of specific writers – the theology of Karl Barth or the theology of Paul Tillich, for example.  Finally, theology refers to the contribution of specific interest groups and their spokespersons – groups such as blacks, feminists, the poor, and those concerned with the physical environment (the ecologists).  In this book we are concerned primarily with the second and third meanings.

      Now to the word doctrine, which comes from the Latin word doctrina, meaning “teaching.”  It has no specific religious meaning, and so in the past we find that a body of Christian teaching is called sacra doctrina, “sacred doctrine.”  It is sacred or holy because of its subject matter, the holy God.  In England I taught for some years that which the Church of England (the Anglican Church) then officially called Christian doctrine, and thus I was known in my college as the tutor in doctrine.  (Had I been in Presbyterian Scotland, I would have taught systematic theology.)  In teaching doctrine, it was assumed that, as a minimum, I was explaining in a modern way, relevant to our times, the official teaching of the Church of England.  Perhaps it is true to say that in general the word doctrine is used today primarily of official statements of faith, be they from a denomination, a parachurch organization, a missionary society, or a college or seminary.  There is, of course, no reason why it cannot be used of both that which is taught by a specific person, normally a distinguished teacher, and that which is the general position of an interest group.  Thus, it makes perfect sense to speak both of the doctrine of John Calvin and the doctrine of the movement for the ordination of women.



      This book as a guide, map, and yardstick is primarily intended for the intelligent person who desires to understand what has happened to theology in the churches, seminaries, universities, and colleges during this century, and specifically since the 1960s.  I assume only that my reader is intelligent and is able to separate his heart from his mind in the making of judgments.  Our task is obviously not to get in touch with our feelings but to exercise our intellects in a major effort of understanding.  Theology, whether it be good or bad, is addressed in the first place to the understanding and so must be evaluated intellectually.  It is so easy to allow deep feelings of prejudice to prevent even the beginnings of the understanding of those theologies that have names such as black theology or feminist theology or political theology.  Also it is so easy, living in what has been called, with good reason, a therapeutic society, to allow not only one’s first but also one’s last evaluation of a system of thought to be via one’s emotions in terms of how it appeals to me or how it meets my needs.

      The dominant dualism of today is not between body and spirit but rather between feeling and thought, or emotions and reason.  Therefore, it is no doubt appropriate and proper, after the intellectual study of good theology, for the enlightened mind to drop into the heart so that the affections, emotions, and will are rightly informed, motivated, and guided in the will of God by right teaching.  However, our task here is both a preliminary and an intellectual one, and it is intended only to inform the mind.  It is open to any person of average intelligence who is willing to make the effort to try to comprehend the intellectual streams that have gone into the producing of the nature and content of the modern expressions of liberal theology.

      This said, I could begin by immediately launching into a description of representative forms and expressions of modern theology (e.g., liberation theology and political theology), inviting my reader to make a tremendous effort to understand them.  Yet this would be like putting someone in front of a computer screen and asking him or her to operate a system for which no previous training had been given.  We all know that there is a greater likelihood that a person who has had an introductory training session will be able to operate such a system than one who has not had this benefit.

      Therefore, I invite my reader to engage with me in two preliminary intellectual exercises before actually joining me in the description and evaluation of contemporary theologies.  First of all, there is the task of establishing the heredity of modern theologies and of ascertaining their pedigree.  We need to know whose chromosomes they have and what they have inherited from their forebears.  Secondly, there is the task of noting the environment in which these theologies have been born and nurtured, and have come to maturity.  Through the work done by sociologists over the last century we are all aware of the importance of the influence of the environment on the way we grow and mature from childhood into adulthood.  Likewise, the family of liberal theology has been deeply affected by the European and then the worldwide cultural and political content.

      Only when we have some general idea of the heredity and environment of the cluster of theologies that make up what we call contemporary theology shall we really be able to appreciate and judge what it is that they are really trying to say to the churches and to the modern world.

      However, before beginning these preliminary studies (which will be the content of chapters two and three), we need to get what I call – for want of a better expression – a bird’s-eye view of Protestant theology in the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries.  Such a view is necessary because the family tree of the theology of the post-1960s cannot be traced in any simple, direct way to the original doctrines and theology of the major Protestant Churches – Lutheran, Calvinist, Reformed (Presbyterian), and Anglican – of the sixteenth century.  As we shall see later, there is a fundamental break in these traditions that began to make its appearance in the early nineteenth century and that has greatly widened in the late twentieth century.  So today certain forms of contemporary Protestant theology show few if any signs of belonging to the classical Protestant traditions.  This is especially true if we recall what was the original (and correct) meaning of the word Protestant, as used at the Diet of Speyer in 1529.  A Protestant is he who protests on behalf of the Bible as it was received and interpreted in the early church (i.e., up to A.D. 500).

      The best way to provide this view for my reader is, I believe, to take a case study of one of the major traditions of Protestantism.  This means choosing from the Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), or Anglican traditions.  (For my Baptist readers, may I explain that I see the Anabaptist tradition of the sixteenth century as a minor, not a major, Reformation tradition.)

      Since I am an Anglican, and since I know this tradition from the inside both as a clergyman and scholar, it seems best to attempt to provide an interesting and brief account of the changing face of Anglican doctrine and theology.  This will reveal, I hope, that the contemporary forms of Anglican doctrine and theology, which inform the modern developments in worship and ethics, for example, owe little to the original Anglican doctrine and theology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.



Farley, Edward.  Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.

Healey, F. G., ed.  What Theologians Do.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1970.

Kelsey, David.  To Understand God Truly: What’s Theological About a Theological School?  Louisville, Ken.: John Knox/Westminster Press, 1962.


Chapter 1 – A Case Study: The Anglican Way

      In the mid-sixteenth century the Church of England lost most, if not all, of its medieval doctrines, associations, and ceremonies and sought to become a reformed, catholic church, faithful to the Word of God.  What had happened to the church on the continent of Europe in Germany and Switzerland had made its impact.  The teaching of both Martin Luther and John Calvin (not to mention others such as Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon) was received into England and flavored the way the reformation of the national, established church proceeded under Henry VIII, his son, Edward VII, and his daughter Elizabeth I.



      The theological basis of the English Reformation is most conveniently explained in terms of its commitment to one Bible, two testaments, three creeds, four councils, and five centuries.  This was the simple yet profound approach taken by the most prominent early apologists of the reformed Church of England John Jewel, Richard Hooker, and Lancelot Andrewes – and shows that they had the same basic understanding of the meaning of Protestant as that set forth in Germany at the Diet of Speyer in 1529.


One Bible

      For most Protestants today there is no difference between two equations: the first is: one Bible = two Testaments; and the second is: two Testaments = one Bible.  Logically there is perhaps no difference; yet for the Reformers, following the patristic and medieval church, the first equation is the right one.  To begin with the concept of the unity of the Bible affects the way we approach and view the contents of the whole Bible.

      To speak of one Bible is to speak of one and the same God to whom both testaments witness.  The Lord God whom Moses met at the burning bush and who inspired the prophets of Israel to proclaim the word of the Lord is the same living God manifested in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  To speak of one Bible is also to speak both of one self-revelation by this Lord God and the one salvation that He provides.  Of course, there is a historical development in the way the revealing and saving God is known and encountered in space and time, but the essential point is that the unity of the revelation and salvation (based in the very unity of God Himself) underlies the differences in historical manifestation.

      The Reformers of the sixteenth century insisted on the authority of the whole Bible in the church.  Article 6 of the Church of England reads:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.  In the name of holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the church.

In the official Book of Homilies there is a powerful sermon on the same theme entitled: “On the Reverend Estimation of God’s Word.”  Further, the prayerful approach to the whole Bible is well caught by the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent:

Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Of course, the Reformers did not believe that all the books of the Bible are strictly equal in terms of their value for the church.  Naturally they gave pride of place to the books of the New Testament (and to the Gospels in particular) in terms of the daily readings in the lectionary for the whole year.


Two Testaments

      The Bible of the early church was what we now call the Old Testament, and to this was added over a period of time those writings that we now call the New Testament.  In other words, the one canon was expanded to include the writings of the apostles and evangelists.  The new collection certainly had two parts, but it was one collection.  So it was said of it that the essential message of the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament, and thus the basic purpose and forward movement of the Old Testament is revealed or made clear by the New Testament.  Thus, a key way to read and interpret the Old Testament is via the use of typology.  In the Old Testament are the types, and in the New Testament are the antitypes; Jesus as the Lamb of God is the antitype, and the lambs of the sacrificial offerings of the temple are the type.

      Article 7 says this of the Old Testament:

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man.  Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises.  Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from obedience of the Commandments which are called moral.

      Here the “old Fathers” are the patriarchs of the Old Testament to whom, it is stated, God gave promises unto everlasting life.  Further, the moral content of the revelation from God (in contrast to that revelation that was solely for Israel as a theocratic nation with a limited life span) in the Old Testament is seen as binding for all time.  As a result, Christians have traditionally been taught the Ten Commandments, which are inscribed on the walls of many Anglican churches.  Additionally (and the article does not say this), from the “Ceremonies and Rites” have been taken types pointing to Jesus Christ and the new covenant and inaugurated by His precious blood.

      In contrast today, because of the specialization and the division of theology into disciplines in the university and seminary, there is professional study of the Old and the New Testaments.  However, there is rarely any study in the modern theological curriculum that presumes and sets forth the unity of the Holy Scriptures and interprets the Old by means of typology.  This is nearly as true of evangelical as of liberal seminaries.  The logic and practice everywhere followed seems to be that of two Testaments = one Bible, with little emphasis on the unity.


Three Creeds

      The Bible as Holy Scripture never existed apart from the church of God in space and time.  So it is appropriate to speak of the Bible as an authoritative collection (made by the early church) of authoritative books (the author of each being inspired by the Holy Spirit).  The church that made the collection of books had a doctrinal basis.  This is found in its clearest form in its creeds, which are summaries of basic biblical themes and teaching.  These were used for baptism and for stating what is believed, taught, and confessed by the church.

      The creed known as the Apostles’ Creed was used as the basis for the confession of faith in holy baptism.  Thus, it is simple and is easily committed to memory.  That known as the Nicene Creed was produced by the bishops of the church at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 and then fine-tuned at the next council in Constantinople in 381.  The Nicene Creed began (in 325) as a statement of what the church holds to be the truth concerning the relation of Jesus Christ to the Father and then developed (in 381) into a statement of God as the Holy Trinity.  It became the profession of faith said by all believers in the Eucharist of the Sunday worship of the churches.

      The third creed was only used in the West from the fifth century on and is known either as the Athanasian Creed or as the Quicunque Vult (the first words in the original Latin).  This is longer than the other two and gives a precise statement of the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of the person of Jesus Christ.  In the Church of England it was appointed to be used on Trinity Sunday and on other specific days.

      It can be argued that most of the seminal writings of the Reformers, including their catechisms and confessions, were in one way or another expositions of the creeds.  This is, of course, also the case with John Calvin’s famous book, The Institutes of the Christian Religion.


Four Councils

      A basic claim of the Reformers was that they wanted to reclaim and recover the faith of the early, undivided church of the first five centuries or so – before the division between East and West and before the beginning of the so-called Dark Ages.  So, they laid great emphasis on the teaching officially sent forth from the first four councils – Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451).  From these councils they learned the fundamental doctrines that answered the questions: Who is God?  Who is Jesus?  What is the Gospel?  However, as the Reformers insisted, they only received these doctrines because it was obvious to them that they were truly faithful to the teaching of Holy Scripture.  Further, they fully recognized that such councils could err, and in fact later medieval councils did err.

      It is sometimes asked why they did not opt for seven councils, for there were (by common agreement today) seven truly ecumenical councils in which East and West were involved.  The answer is that they knew little or nothing about the seventh (Nicea II, 787) and judged the other two (Constantinople II, 553; Constantinople III, 680–81) only to have fine-tuned the Christology set forth in the Definition of the Faith by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.


Five Centuries

      This affirmation goes with that of the four councils.  It was a recognition that the Reformed Church of England would follow the general lines of development of theology, liturgy, and polity of these five centuries.  This included: the recognition of Sunday as the Lord’s Day and as the day of worship; the use of the church year from Advent through Christmas and Easter to Trinity season; the reading of the Bible through a structured lectionary; liturgical worship rather than extempore worship; the celebration of the Holy Communion on Sundays and holy days with daily prayer in the morning and evening of every day in the church; and the retention of the three-fold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon.

      The doctrine within and arising from this basis and method became both the lex credendi, “the law of believing,” and the lex orandi, “the law of praying,” of the Church of England.  This doctrine is found within the Book of Common Prayer (first edition in 1549; revised editions 1552, 1559, 1662), which provided the services for the public worship on weekdays and the Lord’s Day, as well as the occasional offices (e.g., baptism, marriage, and the burial of the dead) of the church.

      Hence, the doctrine set forth in the three creeds and articles of religion addressed both the invisible and the visible structure of the form of words of the daily offices, of the administration of the Lord’s Supper, and of all the other services.  Further, an integral part of the Book of Common Prayer is the catechism, which is an exposition of the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Then, of course, a lectionary is part of this whole liturgy; and where this is followed, the whole Bible is read through systematically each year and the Psalter is prayed once a month.

      It has been claimed that the Church of England (and, therefore, the Anglican Communion of Churches developing from it) is not a confessional church like the Reformed and Lutheran (who have their carefully constructed confessions of faith).  Even if this claim were true, it is also true to say that classical Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism share a common view of what is theology.  Theology is reflection on Scripture in the light of the doctrinal position or confession of faith of the church in order to cultivate a right mind that delights to worship God and practice the Christian virtues.  This makes theology and doctrine closely and perhaps inextricably linked.  Within Anglicanism, the work of theologians may be seen over the centuries not only in careful expositions of the creeds and the articles of religion but also in the traditional Book of Common Prayer.  The latter has been the basis for reflection because it contains the lex credendi in the form of the lex orandi of the church.

      Obviously, the exposition and teaching of this faith was not identical in all the parishes of England, and neither was it uniform in books explaining the Anglican Way.  The Church of England has always had a spectrum of interpretation of doctrine that goes from very Protestant to very Catholic.  It has always contained schools of thought or churchmanship ranging from high to low in terms of the use of ceremony and the frequency and interpretation of the sacrament of Holy Communion.  What can be clearly said of all theologies genuinely arising from the doctrines of the Book of Common Prayer and the articles of religion is that they are classically catholic and Trinitarian in their teaching concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and they are classically Protestant (or Augustinian) in their teaching that salvation is by the grace of God through faith.

      It may be claimed that as long as the traditional prayer book was the basis for worship, it was always obvious to the alert worshiper whether or not the parish priest in his teaching and preaching was straying into other views of God, of Christ, of salvation, and of sin than are provided within the book.  Having said all this, I must freely admit that sound, orthodox doctrine, as is found in the successive editions of the Book of Common Prayer, lives best in lively, God-fearing hearts and in the devout worship of faithful congregations.  No prayer book, however good and however prominent in the pews, can by and of itself preserve godliness and orthodoxy.



      Since the 1960s the churches of the Anglican Way, from Australia to Canada and from England to South Africa, have seen the development and adoption of new prayer books.  In some cases they have replaced the classic Book of Common Prayer (as in the USA in the Episcopal Church), and in other cases they have come alongside as an alternative to the classic book (as in Canada and England).  The actual doctrinal content of these new prayer books, when carefully examined, represents a major revision of that found in the traditional prayer book.  This revision is not always immediately obvious because the traditional language of Zion is still used and, further, most worshipers who were brought up in the use of the old book tend to read what they have known into the text of the new book.  So differences that are obvious to the specialist are not usually seen by the average parishioner until they are pointed out to him and carefully explained.

      The fact that there has not been a greater outcry from clergy and laity concerning this revision of doctrine now written into the new liturgies probably is best explained in terms of a changing context.  In the universities and seminaries, the older view of doctrine and the pursuit of theology as deduction from Scripture and tradition has gradually been giving way to new views that claim to be in tune with modern ways of study and in harmony with the scientific spirit.  In 1970 one of my teachers, the late Professor Ian Ramsey of Oxford University, claimed that “theology is at present in turmoil....  Theology seems often to the outsider just so much word-spinning, airborne discourse which never touches down except disastrously” (Models for Divine Activity, 1973, 1).  In a similar fashion and writing about the same time, Paul L. Holmer, professor of theology at Yale, spoke of the loss of control and authority in theology by such churches as the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, the Lutheran, and the Reformed or Presbyterian.

In the name of theology, there is now a vast array of teachings, not quite in agreement with one another, but all of them bidding for attention within these groups.  It is very hard, indeed, to make sense of it all.  Theology looks almost promiscuous even where confessional views, Biblical allegiance and Christian authority are loudly asserted.  For even these time-honored safeguards and criteria have been caught up in the whirl of ideas that counts as theology.  (The Grammar of Faith, 1978, 1–2)

      Then, also, major changes had been taking place in the general culture, especially in and from the 1960s, and ordinary parishioners had been gaining a modern mind-set, without perhaps realizing that their thinking patterns were being molded by the powerful winds of modernity.  These winds at least conditioned them to turn inward and look for God more in present feelings and personal experience than in the transcendent, objective nature of majestic worship or in the disciplines of Bible study and self-denial.  (In chapter four we shall be paying particular attention to the effect of the 1960s on the Christian faith.)

      If we focus our attention on the new prayer books being used by Anglicans in North America, we find that there are three we have to consider.  In the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) there is The Book of Common Prayer (1979) that is now the official book, this is supplemented by a book of trial liturgies, widely used and known as Prayer Book Studies, 30 (1990).  In the ECUSA the latest edition of the traditional prayer book was 1928, and this was the official book until it was replaced by the very different 1979 book.

      Turning to Canada, we find that the latest edition of the traditional book was 1962 and that their new book, similar to the American 1979 book, is called The Book of Alternative Services (1985).  Both books are used in Canada, but there is a very definite move by the majority of the bishops to persuade congregations to use the new book.

      In my recently published study of the new liturgies, I have attempted to show that alongside a certain respect for the traditional services and doctrines, the current prayer books contain new doctrines of the Trinity, of the person and work of Christ, of the nature of man and his sin, of salvation, and of Scripture.  They also show a growing readiness to use inclusive language both in the translation of sacred Scripture and in the provision of prayers and praises.  For details I must invite my reader to see my book Proclaiming the Gospel Through the Liturgy: The Common Prayer Tradition and Doctrinal Revision (1993), along with its predecessor, Knowing God Through the Liturgy (1992).

      Perhaps I can most easily bring to the surface the new theology, informing liturgical revision not only in Anglicanism but also through the whole ecumenical movement, if I set it out in terms of a 1 through 5.  This way my reader can quickly and easily compare the theological foundation of classical Anglicanism with that of modern Anglicanism.

      The original 1 through 5 (as I set it out above) appeared to last until recent times.  In fact it survived in structure but not in content.  Although the Bible remained the Bible with its two testaments, it was gradually viewed differently.  It was studied via the developing historical-critical method; and while this brought benefits, it also tended to make the Bible into the inspired words of men about God rather than words inspired by God concerning God and His relationship to man.  Also, while the creeds were retained, the Nicene and Athanasian were seen as containing what scholars were calling the hellenization of doctrine.  That is, in their presentation of the dogma of the Holy Trinity and of the person of Jesus Christ it was judged that they contained Greek philosophical concepts (e.g., one substance) and so were not appropriate statements of faith for modern man.  Further, it was held that the onward movement of historical research raised a whole series of questions concerning the viability of building a doctrinal structure on either the theology of the early centuries or of the Reformation.

      Modern Anglicanism (like Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Roman Catholicism, and Methodism) has intermarried with the family of theologies we know as nineteenth-century liberal theology and its modern developments (for that see the next chapter).  The way it is heading now in terms of the contents of its prayer books (which provide the clearest evidence of the general effect of modern theology on the church) may be described as: (1) experience as the one and only foundation; (2) experience, however, of two kinds – that recorded in the Bible and in Christian history, and that which we enjoy today; (3) the third century after Christ as the century offering most guidance to us today; (4) benefiting from four revolutions; and (5) making available five or more (a plurality of) forms of worship.


Experience, the Only Foundation

      We are dealing here with a very large and broad foundation.  Personal experience originates in an encounter with the world, other persons, and one’s own self.  Further, such experience is continuous, and so what you or I experience now is affected in one degree or another by previous experience yesterday or the days before.  Experience obviously includes the various reports of the five senses as well as basic feelings, attitudes, moods, and bodily expressions.  Then also, there is a common and shared experience, so that people claim a common experience and are drawn together because of it – e.g., an association of families who have suffered and do still suffer the pain of having lost children through drugs and wish to help each other.

      Added to direct personal experience, there is the study of human beings as experiencing persons.  Such study can be of their inner life (psychology), their social relations and context (sociology), their communal practices and customs (anthropology), and their physiological, animal state (biology).  Increasingly over the last century, experience has had the meaning of “observation of facts and events as a source of knowledge.”

      So it is not surprising that for liberal Christianity experience (personal, social, and from empirical study) has been and is understood as a medium of disclosure about the nature of the world as well as that which is “beyond” it.  Additionally, since experience is many-sided and multi-relational, results and findings from aesthetics as well as science, ethics as well as economics, and religious as well as secular studies are all considered.

      In the most basic sense it may be claimed that experience is the many-sided product of complex encounters between what there is and beings capable of undergoing, enduring, taking note of, responding to, and expressing this product.  Moreover, such experience is the result of an ongoing process since our experiences are not isolated but are related to what has gone before.  Finally, this approach to experience includes but is far more than what traditionally has been called religious experience.  Anyone who carefully studies the new experimental services of the Episcopal Church found in Prayer Book Studies, 30 will see how contemporary experience in the world is making its mark on theology and worship.  What used to be seen as the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil is now beginning to be seen as the presence and work of the Holy Spirit of God.


Biblical and Post-Biblical Experience

      Liberal Protestantism has consistently taught that the Bible is the inspired record of the religious experience of Israel, Jesus, and the apostles of Jesus.  That is, it is not (as orthodox Protestantism had claimed) the words of God in the words of men, but it is rather the words of men about their experience of God.  As such, the Scriptures are precious and indispensable, though the sacred books do not give us revealed teaching from God.  It is the work of the contemporary theologian to use the record of the experience of God in the Old and New Testaments as the basis for his own reflection today, using the inductive and empirical method rather than the old, deductive method of pre-Enlightenment days.

      As greater thought has been given to this approach since the 1960s, it has been pointed out (by feminists and others) that the experience recorded in the Bible is primarily the experience of males, written by males.  In other words, it probably (certainly?) suffers from the diseases of patriarchalism, androcentricism, and sexism, for it was written in a male-dominated society for the benefit of males!  Therefore, it has to be studied and used with great care by those who want to produce a liberated and just society.  Even so, it is valuable if for no other reason than that it is primary – without it there would be no record of the origins of the Christian religion.

      So, there is biblical experience.  Since the writing of the New Testament there also has been a continuing stream of what can be called religious experience.  This is recorded in a variety of sources from liturgical texts through autobiographical statements to books on prayer and spirituality.  In the holy tradition of the church a claimed experience of God is channeled into specific rituals (forms of worship), celebrations (festival days), and ascetic duties (e.g., the keeping of Lent).  Within specific types of Christianity (e.g., Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran) there has been a specific tradition of worship and spirituality in which it has been recognized that the faithful will have had an experience of God.  Such religious experience is another source for theology; but here again there is the problem that much of it was written by males for males and from within patriarchal and racist societies.

      Thus, the claim is made today that it is necessary for the modern theologian to add to what can be learned of God from the religious experience recorded in the Bible and available through the traditions of the church.  What she or he must add is the study of experience that is not flawed through being interpreted through a patriarchalist and sexist bias.  We find, for example, that the testimony of minorities (or of women) to discrimination and deprivation becomes an important source for modern theological reflection.  It is hardly surprising, then, that conclusions drawn from the study of selected contemporary experience are often given preference over clear teachings found in the New Testament.  For example, it is often said today that a homosexual relationship is acceptable to God if the couple remain faithful to each other.  Such a statement flies in the face of the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments on sexual morality if that teaching is taken at its face value.

      A few moments of reflection will lead one to see that once experience becomes the basis for theology, there can be a spectrum of possibilities from the conservative to the radical.  Theology can then be constructed by an inductive method from:

      1.  The record of religious experience in the Bible.

      2.  The record of religious experience in the Bible and in holy tradition (or in a part thereof).

      3.  The record of religious experience in the Bible, Christian tradition, and the other theistic religions of the world (Islam and Judaism).

      4.  The record of religious experience in the Bible, Christian tradition, and all the religions of the world.

      5.  The record of religious experience (from all religions) and the study of the modern experience of women and/or minorities, as well as the reception of the “assured results” of study from the sociological and behavioral sciences concerning the nature and needs of human beings.

      Originally, in the nineteenth century (as we shall see), liberal theology worked from numbers 1 and 2, but in recent times such combinations as numbers 4 and 5 have become common.  That is, modem theologians tend to choose from the vast possibilities of total experience those aspects that further their position and cause.  (See also below chapter six, “The Inductive Approach.”)

      An indication of how this approach has entered the Anglican tradition of theology is best illustrated by reference to what has often been called the three-legged stool.  Since the late-sixteenth century, the basis of the Anglican Way has been explained in terms of a commitment to the authority of the Holy Scriptures (see numbers 1 and 2 above), to tradition (see numbers 3, 4, and 5 above), and to reason (sanctified reason seeking to make clear to any one generation what the Lord God has revealed and taught to His church).  In recent decades there has been talk of a four-legged stool, with the fourth leg being, at first, specifically religious experience and then, more recently, such human experience as had a bearing on modern religion.  Thus, instead of the Bible’s and traditional theology’s judging contemporary ideas of religion, morality, and spirituality through rational study, the authority of modern experience invades and virtually takes over the exercise, and the three-legged becomes not a four-legged but in fact a one-legged stool!

      The preface to the new Canadian Anglican prayer book of 1985, the Book of Alternative Services, tells how experience was a major factor in the creation of the new services.  Writing in 1981 of the influences on those who created the new American Episcopal prayer book of 1979, the then dean of the University of the South at Sewanee, Dr. Urban T. Holmes, wrote:

The new prayer book has, consciously or unconsciously, come to emphasize that understanding of the Christian experience that one might describe as a postcritical apprehension of symbolic reality and life in the community.  It is consonant with Ricoeur’s “second naivete,” and is more expressive of Husserl, Heidegger, Otto, and Rahner than Barth or Brunner.  (Worship Points the Way, 137)

      One does not need to know anything about the European philosophers and theologians on this list to gain the impression that they were not the ones supportive of traditional orthodoxy.

      As we shall see later in this book, Karl Rahner is the German Catholic theologian whose transcendental method has done much to change the traditional neo-Thomism or neo-Scholasticism of the Roman Catholic Church and open the doors to pluralism in theology.  Rahner’s many books were avidly read by leading American Episcopalians in the 1960s and 1970s.  Even as Rahner made use of the existentialist philosophy of Martin Heidegger, so a leading Episcopal theologian, John MacQuarríe, translated the major work of Heidegger, Being and Time, and in the early 1960s published his own existentialist theology based on Heidegger, entitled The Principles of Christian Theology.  This textbook was widely used in Episcopal seminaries for twenty years or so.  In contrast, the two names that are set aside, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner (to whom we turn in the next chapter), were the heralds and the exponents of the new orthodoxy (neo-orthodoxy) of the twentieth century.  Barth ranks as one of the greatest of Western theologians of all time.  It was Barth and Brunner and others (as we shall see in chapter two) who led the movement away from the liberal theology that had dominated academic theology from the middle of the nineteenth century.

      Perhaps I should add that in the middle years of the twentieth century, existentialism and personalism were the two preferred philosophies.  Existentialism, as expounded by Martin Heidegger, for example, raised questions concerning human life that could be called religiously relevant; Karl Rahner made much use of it in his interpretation of Catholic theology.  Personalism, as expounded by Martin Buber, for example, emphasized the fact that human personality, the I, is the most important phenomenon in this world. Brunner’s neo-orthodoxy is heavily dependent on this personalism.  There was also great interest in hermeneutics – the philosophical investigation of the process of interpretation of texts and of religious symbolism.  Paul Ricoeur, along with Hans-Georg Gadamer, were the leading lights in this task.  The “second naivêté” of Ricoeur points to a sophisticated understanding of traditional truths (e.g., the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary) in terms of non-literal but symbolic truth.


The Third Century

      Within the Anglican Church, with its traditional liturgy that had been in use since 1549, those who wanted to introduce theological changes through liturgy had to find a different structure for the services into which they could introduce new doctrine.  However, this structure had to be from the past, and preferably from the patristic era, in order to satisfy the inherent Anglican appeal to history.  Thus the appeal to the third century – an appeal that was made also by Roman Catholic scholars during and after the Second Vatican Council (1962–65).  This century was the period when the church was in (it was claimed) the multicultural, pluralistic culture of the Roman Empire and when there was flexibility with regard to both doctrinal statements and liturgical forms.  This was also the period when the church was free of state control; it was not until after Constantine the Great became emperor early in the fourth century that Christianity became a lawful and then a preferred religion of the Roman Empire.  So this was the period, it was claimed, most like the modern West, and thus the one to look to for inspiration!

      Looking back to the church of the third century (of which our knowledge is minimal and hazy), liturgists produced new structures for the Eucharist and then filled the structures with a mixture of traditional and modern, doctrine.  They were able to introduce the new teaching because, having chosen a point in history before the ecumenical councils and before the development of dogma in the fourth and fifth centuries, they were set free from that classical teaching.  In his book Rites for a New Age (1986), commending the new Canadian prayer book, Michael Ingham makes much of the similarity between the culture of the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries and that of North America today.  Further, the leader of the liturgical revision in the Episcopal Church, Massey H. Shepherd Jr., wrote an essay in 1980 to point out that the 1979 book was based on this appeal to the third century (The Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, vol. 53, 221–234).


Four Revolutions

      The doctrinal content of the new prayer books has been filtered through at least four revolutions.  First, since it is in the language of the people and is a rejection of Western medieval ways, it has obviously come through the Protestant Reformation.  In the second place it has come through the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, for it is theology that begins with man (humankind) and works from man to God, rather than from God’s self-revelation to man.  It is basically a theology “from below” rather than a theology “from above.”  It begins from man’s experience rather than from God’s self-revelation.

      Third, it has come through that so-called liberal or modernist theology (based on experience – as explained above) that has characterized liberal Protestantism since the nineteenth century, beginning with the seminal work of Friedrich Schleiermacher (see chapters two and six).  A careful study of the catechism in the American 1979 prayer book will quickly confirm the observation that the theology has come via liberal theology.  For example, the catechism begins with talk of human nature (not of the self-revealing God), and there is a rejection of the doctrine of original sin (i.e., as sickness and disease of the soul) in favor of seeing sin only as the abuse of freedom.

      Finally, it has participated in the revolution that followed the Second Vatican Council.  That council opened windows through which blew a mighty gale to dislodge traditional doctrine and liturgy and make space for innovations in both theology and liturgy.  (For further details I commend Klaus Gamber, 1993.)  Anyone who compares the new Anglican liturgies with those of the Roman Catholic Church will see many similarities.  Moreover, when the modern are compared with the premodern, many major differences not only of structure but also in doctrine will be seen.


Five Eucharistic Prayers

      In the traditional Books of Common Prayer from 1549 to 1962 there was always only one liturgical form for the administration of the Lord’s Supper, the service of Holy Communion.  The point of this was to present the most excellent form possible for universal use so that there was unity not only in spirit but also in thought and words in the church.  This had the advantage that wherever the Anglican traveled and went to divine service he felt at home.  In the new books there are at least five and often more such liturgical forms.  In addition, there is the proviso that more such forms of service can be constructed to fit local conditions and desires.

      Diversity is justified on the dubious basis that before the fourth century of the Christian era there was variety and not uniformity among churches.  It is also justified on the basis of meeting modern needs, allowing a local congregation to choose what it thinks best serves its own particular situation.  I might also add that diversity keeps the liturgists in business, for there is, in principle, no limit to the possibilities of new forms.  It also means that the principle of relativism is built into this approach to worship, for one form is said to be as good as another, and what serves best is that which is felt to be right and appropriate in any given place at any specific time.  Thereby, not only the principle of excellence but also the principle of authoritative, revealed doctrine is lost.

      Perhaps now the claim of the modern liturgical movement both in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and through ecumenism (the World Council of Churches) that the lex orandi (the law of praying) is the lex credendi (the law of believing) can be seen for what it is.  Via the new liturgies, which contain new doctrine, major changes in what the church believes, teaches, and confesses are being introduced.  People are participating in new liturgies that still use the language of Zion, and thereby they are receiving into their minds and hearts a new theology – even perhaps a new religion.  Such a route is probably a more effective one for the entrance of modernity into the liturgical churches than any other!

      Modern liturgists are not, however, content merely to create the law of believing through their law of praying.  They want also to proclaim that the only valid, primary theology is theology that is based upon the liturgy; thus we hear a lot about liturgical theology.  Also, as the experience of the last decade has shown, the so-called liturgical theology of the law of praying is also easily adaptable to become the vehicle for the expression of the modern theologies of ecology, feminism, liberation, and equal rights for any self-proclaimed, disadvantaged group.

      Why do these churches emphasize the Eucharist so much when they apparently do not want to make much of the sacrificial death of Jesus?  The answer comes in terms of the celebration of community.  The coming together of individuals to form a community of celebration and to share a symbolic, common meal seems to be the major theme of the modern Eucharists.  The emphasis is not upon the encounter with, and feeding by, the heavenly Christ who comes to His people who are gathered in His name as the Lord of glory; rather, it is upon the discovery of God’s presence in and with those who come together to celebrate and affirm each other.  This is why so much is made of the so-called peace – the greeting of each other by hugs and handshakes.  Obviously, such an understanding and practice harmonizes with an experiential theology (numbers 1 and 2 above) and to a doctrine of God who is primarily, if not wholly, the immanent (in contrast to the transcendent) God.

      Hopefully this presentation of the differences between classical or traditional Anglicanism and modern or contemporary Anglicanism will prepare the reader for what is to follow in the rest of the book.  There appears to be a massive gap – symbolized by the Grand Canyon – between the method and ethos of theology in the sixteenth century and those of recent decades.



The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada.  Toronto: The Anglican Book Center, 1985.

The Book of Common Prayer ... of the Church of England (1662).  Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1955.

The Book of Common Prayer (1928) ... of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1928.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979) ... of the Episcopal Church.  New York: Seabury, 1979.

Gamber, Klaus . The Reform of the Roman Liturgy. Its Problems and Background.  San Juan Capistrano, Calif.: Una Voce Press, 1993.

Holmes, Urban T . “Education for Liturgy.”  In Worship Points the Way.  Edited by Malcolm C. Burson.  New York: Seabury, 1981.

Toon, Peter . Knowing God Through the Liturgy.  Largo, Fla.: Prayer Book Publishing Company, 1992.

—.  Proclaiming the Gospel Through the Liturgy.  Largo, Fla.: Prayer Book Publishing Company, 1993.

—.  Which Rite Is Right? The Eucharistic Prayer in the Anglican Tradition.  Swedesboro, NJ.: Preservation Press, 1994.


Chapter 2 – Heredity: Liberal Theology and Its Children

      Liberal theology is a cluster or family of theologies that originated in Europe in the confidence of the early nineteenth century.  It was the theology of liberal Protestantism.  That is, it was an accommodation of the teaching of historical Protestantism (e.g., Lutheranism) to an increasingly scientific and secularist age.  It was motivated by a deep sense of the need to adapt the received faith to the intellectual, social, and moral needs of the new epoch in Western history.  To use the analogy of a family (as developed by the late Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen), liberal theology was the offspring of two nineteenth-century parents.  In this marriage of ideas, one parent was the new intellectual outlook of that age that had emerged from the European Enlightenment.  The chief mark of this outlook was a new confidence in the power of reason to discover truth.  The way to find things out, it was claimed, was not by believing what someone else in authority said, but by considering the evidence, reflecting on it, and accepting only what could be proved at the bar of reason.  The other parent was the genuine religious resurgence of that period (in contrast to the general lack of religious vitality in the European churches of the late eighteenth century).  Yet, as we will see, a major casualty of this marriage was the gradual erosion of the notion of doctrine as a body of authoritative teaching that prescribed and explained what the Christian faith means and demands of believers.



      From the one parent, whom we will designate as the male, came two basic endowments.  The first was an intellectual perspective expressed in an openness to receiving new truth from experimental and empirical science.  With this went a critical approach to the historical documents, holy traditions, and the varied legacy of Christendom.  The second endowment was a basic theoretical assumption that there is a continuity between special revelation, recorded in the Bible, and natural revelation, known by the inductive method from the study of the cosmos.  Connected with this there is also a basic relation with, rather than opposition among, Christianity and other religions, for all religion is the interpretation of claimed experience of the supernatural or the divine.

      Thus, the characteristics of the endowments from the “father” included faithfulness to the truth wherever the truth led, deference to the findings of theoretical and empirical science, commitment to the historical-critical method in the study of the Bible and Christian literature, and a tentativeness as to the certainty of any knowledge belonging to the field of metaphysics (that which is above and beyond the natural world).  Religiously, this meant that God was more likely to be sought as the unifier of the universe than as above and beyond the universe; thus there was an emphasis on the immanence rather than the transcendence of God.

      From the other parent, whom we will designate as the female, also came two basic endowments.  The first was a spiritual vitality and power, expressed in lofty ideals, moral consciousness, and a sense of unity with the spiritual wisdom and moral achievements of the past.  The second was a central and regnant conviction that the Jesus of history, known by historical research, and the living Christ of today, known in religious experience and in Christian worship, are a single organic, indissoluble, personal reality.

      Thus, the characteristics of the endowments from the “mother” pertained to the authority of religious experience in its subjective, individualistic, and spiritual reality as the presence of God, the living Christ, in the souls of believers.  Parallel to this was commitment to the humanity of Jesus, to the so-called historical Jesus, to His personality and teaching, to the finding and knowing of His God as a kind father, and to the treating of fellow human beings as brothers and sisters.

      The offspring of this union also inherited a conscious rejection of what seemed to them to be a spiritually barren, even dead, Protestant orthodoxy in either its Reformed or Lutheran form.  New wine could not be kept in old wineskins.  This meant the setting aside of traditional metaphysical assumptions (e.g., the claimed knowledge of God-as-God-is-in-Himself; the Blessed Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and His eternal attributes), and the adoption of seemingly practical doctrines (e.g., knowledge of God-as-God-is-toward-us, around and within us).  It also meant the bringing of what had been previously known as the inspired, infallible Bible to the bar of the judgment of reason; here it was deemed to be not the Word of God in the words of men, but the words of men describing their experience of God.  Human experience of God, rather than a claimed self-revelation by God, then became the basis for theological reflection in the faculties of theology.  Within the churches, the slogan “life, not doctrine” communicated the priority of activity over study and inner experience over doctrinal norm.

      These confident offspring were affected by the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Pietism because they emphasized rationality, feeling, and genuine religion.  In their genes were the inheritance of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), the great thinker that we associate with the Enlightenment, and the insights and feelings of the first great modern theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) of Berlin.  In Schleiermacher we encounter both a response to the Enlightenment and the mood of Romanticism in (what he judged to be) the service of Jesus Christ – and all this from a personal background within Pietism.

      Schleiermacher is rightly called the father of modern or liberal theology.  In brief, he held that religion is of the heart, the feeling of absolute dependence on God, and that in Christianity the religious purpose is to experience that same dependence on God that Jesus Himself experienced.  In fact, it is the extent of Jesus’ God-consciousness and His perfect realization of the human ideal that sets Him apart from other men and makes Him the Savior, for His disciples are to seek to experience that consciousness of God that He experienced in fullness.  Thus, the church is that part of mankind that participates in and also shares the Christian consciousness.  Theology is an ordered account and interpretation of religious experience – a task done brilliantly by Schleiermacher in his Christian Faith: Presented in Its Inner Connections According to the Fundamentals of the Evangelical Church (1830).

      In this book, Schleiermacher attempts to show that true religion is neither knowing nor doing but is operative at a deeper level of the soul.  In his propositions 3 and 4 he wrote:

The piety which forms the basis of all ecclesiastical communions is, considered purely in itself, neither a Knowing nor a Doing, but a modification of Feeling, or of immediate self-consciousness.

      The common element in all howsoever diverse expressions of piety by which these are conjointly distinguished from all other feelings, or, in other words, the self-identical essence of piety, is this: the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, or, which is the same thing, of being in relation to God.

At the very center or core of the human being there is a religious awareness. In other words, a self-awareness, at its deepest level, involves both awareness of human finitude and of the infinity (God) on which human beings depend. So one can say that the basis of all human experience is truly religious experience.

      Much earlier in his On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799), Schleiermacher described this immanent, human spirituality (which in Kantian terms could be called transcendental) in these glowing terms:

The man who does not see miracles of his own from the standpoint from which he contemplates the world; the man in whose heart no revelation of his own arises when his soul longs to draw in the beauty of the world and to be permeated by its spirit; the man who does not, in supreme moments, feel with the most lively assurance, that a divine spirit urges him, and that he speaks and acts from holy inspiration, has no religion.  (1958 ed., 90)

So, true religion should be acceptable to the highest human culture, for it blesses and enhances the soul.

      Kant claimed to present a critical philosophy that gave a rightful place to the emerging natural science and that preserved a sphere for religion and the good life flowing from it.  It has been said of him that he is the last great thinker in whom the Western mind is held together.  Kant proposed that knowledge and belief be seen as two different mental activities.  Knowledge, as the possession of science, is gained by the study of the phenomenal world with its observable data and its rationally grounded laws.  However, this world can neither be the basis for faith nor an effective obstacle to faith.  Natural science has its sphere and validity, and this is the exercise of pure reason; but it has nothing to say concerning the moral and spiritual life of man.

      The latter sphere belongs to the exercise of the practical reason where belief is appropriate.  Man has a spiritual nature, and as a spiritual being he believes that there is a transcendental world of spirit and freedom that pure reason and knowledge cannot reach.  Yet, man cannot speak of this spiritual realm except through symbolism, because he has no knowledge of it; he only has the sense of and belief in this noumenal world, which is a sufficient basis for religious faith.  So we see that Kant appeared to make room for both the advance of the sciences and the practice of religion.  As we noted with Schleiermacher, however, theology became the study of the belief and experience of the Christian church, not the claim to discuss knowledge of God given by God in self-revelation.

      After Kant and Schleiermacher, anyone who sought to do theology in what can be called a pre-modern mode and to treat the Bible as the source of true propositions concerning both God-as-God-is-in-Himself and God-as-God-is-toward-us was to be out of the intellectual mainstream of Protestant thought and theology.  It was to swim against the tide.  Of course there were those, especially in the parishes and in the new evangelical movements of the nineteenth century, who did swim against the tide and sought to keep alive the older Protestant ways of doing theology.  Yet even here there was a tendency to be deeply affected by the cultivation of what John Wesley called experimental religion (the inner experience).  There were also those who sought to swim with the tide, seeking not to be overwhelmed by its force, as well as those who swam with the tide, seeking not to be driven too forcefully by it.

      Outside Protestantism, within the Roman Catholic seminaries and universities, as well as in Greece and Russia, theology generally continued as it had before the Enlightenment.  The winds blowing through Protestantism in the nineteenth century did not really get to blow through Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy until the twentieth century.

      For those in the early nineteenth century who had come through the Enlightenment or lived in its atmosphere, there was another alternative route to that of Kant via Schleiermacher and into liberal theology.  This was to follow in the philosophical ways of Georg W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), who taught in Berlin at the same time as Schleiermacher.  His was the route of idealist philosophy, which as an intellectual movement persisted into the early twentieth century.  While Schleiermacher sought to secure in his theology the uniqueness of Christian faith (the experience of believing), Hegel attempted to ground or embed the faith in the cosmic movement of reason.  His motto was: “The real is the rational and the rational is the real.”  To this extent he was very close to the Enlightenment.  Hegel, however, also had a high regard for history, and he succeeded in incorporating the new historical consciousness of the early nineteenth century into his theology.

      The idealism that Hegel taught is absolute because he saw all reality as gathered up into the all-embracing, all-encompassing, impersonal Mind/Spirit, or Geist, which is God.  Further, in all reality (both physical and mental/spiritual), he saw a particular rhythm or pattern of movement of three stages that he called dialectic.  This is the movement from a starting-point (the thesis) to another point (the antithesis), which is over against or opposed to the initial point.  Finally, there is the reconciliation and reintegration of the thesis and antithesis at a higher level in what he called the synthesis.  This rational dialectic was a restatement of a favorite theme of the Romantic movement (which affected Hegel as well as Schleiermacher), known as the coincidence of opposites.  By this theory the Romantics sought to escape from the older rationalist insistence on the law of non-contradiction and allow for the discovery of the new – the interplay of opposites and the connection between the whole and the part, the inner and the outer, the individual and the universal.

      In Hegel’s system, the coincidence of opposites occurred as dialectic spoke eloquently of a total system of the movement of God as Geist through projection (thesis producing antithesis) and its return as synthesis.  Thus, the Trinity is this threefold, universal dialectic process, and the doctrines of creation and incarnation are the antithesis produced by Geist – the thesis in its self-projection as Nature.

      Moreover, the Hegelian dialectic contributed to the growing awareness of, and appreciation for, history.  It made this contribution by providing a means for understanding history as a dynamic process of struggle, conflict, and risk as it moved toward a greater or higher end.  Not surprisingly, therefore, Hegel’s philosophy gave a strong impetus to the study of Christian origins and the history of the development of theology and Christian thought.

      Hegel had many disciples who may be said to belong to the right and left wings of Hegelianism.  The right wing consists of those who sought to develop his philosophy of absolute idealism, among whom are some distinguished British names – Edward Caird, F. H. Bradley, Josiah Royce, A. S. Pringle-Pattison, and J. M. McTaggart.  The left includes those who used parts of his philosophy for particular ends – e.g., Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Søren Kierkegaard.  Also, his concept of dialectic was used for historical study by some radical German New Testament scholars – e.g., F. C. Baur and D. F. Strauss.  (Those who have read C. S. Lewis’s autobiography Surprised by Joy [1955] will recall that he was attracted by idealism as taught by Bradley in the 1920s before becoming a theist.)

      Looking over to Europe from Britain in 1857 when liberal theology was beginning to be in full flow in Germany, Mark Pattison wrote:

It must not be supposed that German Theology is some obscure national product, the concern exclusively of the country that has given it birth.  It is no insulated phenomenon.  Though generated in Germany, it belongs to Christendom.  It is the theological movement of the age.  It is only because there is fuller intellectual life in Germany than elsewhere – only because it so happens that, at present, European speculation is transacted by Germans, as our financial affairs by Jews – that German characteristics are impressed on the substance of the Christian science.  The capital of learning is in the hands of Germans, and theirs has been the enterprise which has directed it into theological channels.  (Cited by H. R. Mackintosh, 1937, 3)

We may recall that Germany at that time had twenty-five university faculties of theology that enjoyed wide doctrinal freedom and that belonged to an academia that had a love of thorough and exact knowledge.  A defect of German theology, however, was its lack of vital contact with the worship and witness of the faithful in the parishes.



      To find influential examples of these offspring who lived in the atmosphere created by the teaching of Kant, Hegel, and Schleiermacher, one need only study the writings and encounter the theology of such German theologians as Albrecht Ritschl (1822–89), the founder of the liberal Protestant school and his disciples, Johann Wilhelm Herrman (1846–1922) of Marburg, Julius Kaftan (1848–1926) of Berlin, and Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930), also of Berlin.  We shall notice only Ritschl and Harnack.  Behind and through their creative and brilliant writings several basic Christian doctrines were abandoned (e.g., that of original sin) and others were reinterpreted (e.g., Christology, the identity of Jesus Christ).

      Ritschl was a professor in Göttingen beginning in 1864, from where he launched what was initially called Ritschlian theology but is now more usually called liberal theology.  He was heavily dependent on Kant for his emphasis both on the kingdom of God and moral experience and the unknowableness of ultimate reality.  He adopted Kant’s doctrine of practical reason.  His major work in restating Protestant doctrine was The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, published in three volumes between 1870 and 1874, of which only the first and third were translated into English.  The first volume was a historical survey of the doctrines, the second was an exposition of biblical material, and the third attempted a reconstruction of the doctrines in terms of Christian experience of the grace of God.

      In the latter Ritschl argued that the purpose of the Christian religion is not to enjoy a mystical communion with God (who is unknowable) but rather to overcome by divine grace and with moral virtue the contradictions that run through human existence.  His own definition of Christianity, which he saw as a recovery and purification of the Lutheran view, was:

Christianity is the monotheistic, completely spiritual and ethical religion, which, on the basis of the life of its Founder [Jesus Christ] as redeeming and establishing the kingdom of God, consists in the freedom of the children of God, includes the impulse to conduct from the motive of love, the intention of which is the moral organisation of mankind; and in the filial relation to God as well as in the kingdom of God lays the foundation of blessedness. (3:13)

The twin themes of spiritual redemption in Jesus and moral endeavor in the ethical community, the church, constitute the Christian faith as an ellipse with two foci, rather than as a circle with a single center.  Christians do not know God as God; they only know the blessings and the benefits that God’s presence and grace bring.  Thus Ritschl’s theology remains, as with Schleiermacher’s, experience-theology; reflection not on God as the God who reveals Himself to man, but on claimed experience of God.

      Harnack was a professor at the University of Berlin beginning in 1889 and was known as a man of massive learning, a prolific author, a gifted lecturer, and a public figure with social prestige and influence.  The academic study for which he is best known is his History of Dogma, first published in German between 1885 and 1888.  He showed himself a Ritschlian by his thesis that the original Gospel of Jesus was soon overlaid by alien elements from Greek and Roman culture.  It was his contention that the early Fathers, seeking to make the Gospel intelligible to the Greek-speaking world of the Roman Empire, actually changed it by interpreting it through Greek philosophical categories.  At the same time, the organizing genius of the Roman Empire entered and organized what was originally a loose fellowship of congregations or a federation of churches into a centralized catholic church with a hierarchy, laws, and sacramental system.  Thus it was, claimed Harnack, that living faith became a creed, devotion to Christ became Christology, ministers of the Spirit became clerics, and Christianity became ineffectual because it was overlaid with alien elements.

      For Harnack, as for Ritschl, the Protestant Reformation was a move in the right direction, but it did not go far enough.  Alien elements remained; thus it was the calling of liberal theology to remove these and restore the original gospel.  So in 1899, exactly one hundred years after Schleiermacher’s lectures in Berlin published as On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, Harnack gave sixteen lectures to students of the University of Berlin on the essence of the Gospel – that is, the meaning of the Gospel as set free from the accretions of the patristic and medieval eras.  Later published in German in 1900 as Das Wesen des Christentums (The Essence of Christianity) and in English as What is Christianity? in 1901, these lectures spread the message far and wide as to what liberal theology understood by the essence of the Gospel.

      It is unfair to Harnack to say that he saw the essence as the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.  Certainly this is how many have interpreted what he and others said.  However, what Harnack claimed was more subtle, and he preferred to summarize the teaching of Jesus as the kingdom of God and its coming; God the Father and the infinite value of the human soul; and the higher righteousness and the commandment of love.  For Harnack the coming of the kingdom is the rule of God in the heart and is the possession of eternal life.  Such a Christian life is lived in the knowledge that God is our Father, that His providence guides our lives and rules the world, and that we (believers) are His children, infinitely valuable in His sight.

      Christianity is the religion of Jesus rather than the religion about Jesus, of whom Harnack wrote:

That Jesus’ message is so great and so powerful lies in the fact that it is so simple and on the other hand so rich; so simple as to be exhausted in each of the leading thoughts which he uttered; so rich that every one of these thoughts seems to be inexhaustible and the full meaning of the sayings and parables beyond our reach.  But more than that – he himself stands behind everything that he said.  His words speak to us across the centuries with the freshness of the present. (What Is Christianity?, 1958, 46)

The religion of Jesus is “eternal life in the midst of time, by the strength and under the eyes of God” (ibid., 18).  The preaching of the Gospel is the communicating of the essence of the meaning of the life and teaching of Jesus in an appropriate, intelligible form.

      Carl F. H. Henry, an evangelical who understands liberal theology, described its dominance at the close of the nineteenth century and in the first fifteen years of the twentieth century.  He saw both the philosophical influence (via Hegel and idealistic philosophy) and the theological influence (via Ritschl and his school):

The theology which captured the seminaries and universities, which seized the initiative in the publication of religious literature and the presentation of its viewpoint in the scholarly societies and journals, which came increasingly to control the machinery of the large denominations, and which was projected by many of the most active enthusiasts for world church unity, was rooted in the philosophies both of immanentism and evolutionism, and rejected the objective authority of the Scriptures, the necessity and possibility of miraculous revelation, and with these the biblical pattern of sin and redemption.  Walter Marshall is surely right when he singles out the period from 1849 to 1914 as “the great age of liberalism.” (Fifty Years of Protestant Theology, 30–31)

Henry insisted that by 1900 liberalism was a single movement, howbeit with many expressions, and that its chief foe was traditional orthodoxy (evangelical theology).  Thus he wrote:

In Germany, on the British Isles, in the United States, and elsewhere as well, it busied itself along identical lines: evangelical theology was proclaimed to be obscurantist and outmoded, liberalism had the scholarship and genius to restate Christianity definitively in modern categories.  Biblical theology was being “remade” in terms of the modern mind.  The determinative principles, inherited from the nineteenth century, were those of immanental and evolutionary philosophy, with their rejection of special revelation, miracle, the unique deity of Christ, and a divinely ordered redemption, or in a summary word, the trustworthiness of the Bible. (Fifty Years, 32–33)

Henry well understood that at that time there seemed little or no reason to question the prevailing notions of man’s natural perfectibility and the automatic advance of human history and civilization.  This was because both of these concepts gained their cogency and attractiveness from idealist philosophy, with its teaching of the progressive externalization of the Absolute (God) in man and his future in space and time.  These concepts also were (seemingly) confirmed by the way European civilization was advancing over the earth and scientific endeavor was mastering the elements of the world.

      Writing before the First World War, the famous German theologian and missionary Albert Schweitzer had this to say about the quality of German theologians of the nineteenth century:

When, at some future day, our period of civilization shall lie, closed and completed, before the eyes of later generations, German theology will stand out as a great, a unique phenomenon in the mental and spiritual life of our time.  For nowhere save in the German temperament can there be found in the same perfection the living complex of conditions and factors – of philosophical thought, critical acumen, historical insight and religious feeling – without which no deep theology is possible.  (The Quest of the Historical Jesus, German 1906, English 1911, 1)

      In fact, Schweitzer’s book was one of the causes that led to the collapse of liberal theology in Germany.  This was because he cast doubt on the claim of the German theologians to objective, historical knowledge about Jesus (the Jesus of history).



      This family of expressions of nonorthodox and nontraditional theologies called liberal theology reigned virtually supreme in the Protestant theology faculties of German universities up to the end of the First World War (1914–18).  Then it was seriously challenged, went into decline, and was replaced by a new movement – a story we shall return to later.

      For various reasons, the beginning of the demise of liberal theology in America came some twenty or so years later than in Europe.  Until the 1930s it was dominant in most of the faculties of theology and seminaries in America belonging to the old-line churches.  These were organized on the model of the faculty of theology in the German university with the separation of the various disciplines.  And, as we would expect, this organization allowed for the dominance of post-Enlightenment thought and liberal theology.  A much-used exposition by students was W. N. Clarke’s Outline of Christian Theology (1898), and with this we should mention the writings of both H. C. King (1858–1934) and Shailer Matthews (1863–1941) of the Chicago school.  The general character of American liberalism may be stated in terms of four basic affirmations.

      First of all, American liberalism emphasized the importance of the inductive method of inquiry that had proven so successful in other fields for the study of religion.  This had important consequences for the study of the Bible and meant the adoption not only of lower criticism (textual study) but also of higher criticism (the historical-critical method).  Thus, the Bible was generally viewed as only the human witness of God, rather than the true Word of God in the words of men.  From the perspective of ordinary parishioners, who received these new ideas as processed by the minds of their pastors, it seemed at times as if the Bible was a book primarily for scholars.  Furthermore, much of what they thought was Christian had been based, it appeared, on imperfect study, faulty knowledge, and out-of-date cosmology.  They had been given too much of the husk and not enough of the corn!

      In the second place, there was the reliance on experience.  Of course, this included the experience of people recorded in the Bible, and particularly the unique experience of Jesus; but it did not stop there, for it also included the experience of all Christians through the centuries and in fact the whole of human life.  To study and to arrange in order this large field of evidence, reason needed to step in.  Each person needed to develop his own faith on the basis of personal experience, rather than on the dogmatic utterances of others.  So, though the Bible had become a partly closed book for the laity, they now were encouraged to see Christianity in life rather than in doctrine and to find God at work in the movement of history and in their day-to-day experiences.  Such a position fitted in well, of course, with the growing sense of individualism, both utilitarian and expressive, in Western society (for that see the next chapter).

      In the third place, there was a great emphasis on the unity of truth about God and man.  A continuity was thus claimed and seen between God and the human race, as well as between revelation and reason.  To study human beings is also to study God, it was claimed.  Such thinking was possible because liberals emphasized the immanence and omnipresence of God and said little about his transcendence and majesty.  He was the God of space and time rather than the God above and beyond space and time.  On this basis, the adoption of the theory of the evolution of the species came reasonably easily to liberals.  They saw in it a confirmation of the continuity of the human race not only with the whole created order but also with God as present within the cosmos.  At the parish level, especially as modern Western individualism steadily entered human consciousness and experience, the thought of the nearness of God as benevolent, uniting, and sustaining Spirit was attractive and supportive.

      Finally, there was an optimistic estimate of human potential.  If the social, physical, and economic environments were improved, then human beings would improve, and the social order would approximate more closely to the ideals of the kingdom of God.  In fact, the strength of the social-gospel movement in America at the beginning of the twentieth century is a testimony to this optimism.  No person so clearly stated its basis and goals as did Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918), the leading and articulate theologian of the social-gospel movement, who often quoted Ritschl.  He believed that most human imperfections could be traced to the environment and that one generation of human beings corrupted the next.  Society had to be remade, and he declared that we love and serve God when we love and serve our fellows, whom He loves and in whom He lives.  His Theology for the Social Gospel (1917) is a moving plea that the Ritschlian idea of the kingdom of God become the controlling theme of Christian theology.

      Outside the seminaries and universities, one of the most articulate and significant spokesmen for liberal theology was Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878–1969), pastor of Riverside Church, New York City.  His preaching ministry there from 1930 to 1946 was one of the most, if not the most, influential in the United States because he spoke both to a vast congregation in person and to thousands more via the radio.  He spoke against fundamentalism and obscurantism on the one side and against reducing the truths of Christianity to contemporary wisdom in the name of faith and reason on the other side.  He attempted to present what he called the abiding truths of the faith in the changing categories appropriate for the modern world.  His books of sermons and presentation of Christian liberalism presented liberal theology and a social gospel in simple and attractive terms.  However, toward the end of his public ministry he did acknowledge that there were severe deficiencies in the liberal theology with which he had identified.

      If we cross the ocean to Britain and look for an example of an attractive liberal theologian, we would probably choose John Oman (1860–1939), who taught at Westminster College in Cambridge and who sought to improve and extend what Schleiermacher had suggested.  He did this through the use and development of the theme of personality – as in his book Grace and Personality (1917).  Within the Church of England a group of liberals formed the Modern Churchman’s Union.  One of the most well-known members was Hastings Rashdall (1858–1924), author of The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology (1919).  In this book, he explained that the death of Jesus is only an example to us of divine love and is in no sense a sacrifice for the sin of the world.  However, the way of the British theologians was generally to seek to steer a middle way between the old orthodoxy and the new liberal theology – as can be seen in the influential writings of William Temple (1881–1944), who became the Archbishop of Canterbury.



      Evangelicals in America recall that as early as 1923 J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937), representing what has been called the scholarship of consistent supernaturalism, published his attack on liberal theology, Christianity and Liberalism.  As a Presbyterian evangelical who saw liberal theology infiltrating his own tradition and who had no interest in neo-orthodoxy, Machen demonstrated conclusively that the message of Protestant liberalism (which he took to be the general fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man) was not the Gospel of the New Testament.  What Machen appears not to have seen as clearly perhaps as we can see today is that liberal theology had a fine aim – to make Christianity relevant to the changing intellectual and social scenes in the Western world.  Certainly it must be judged to have failed in this aim, and what it offered as the Christian faith was at best a very diluted form of this faith.

      Having mentioned evangelicals, it is perhaps appropriate here to recall the publication from 1910 of The Fundamentals in twelve volumes containing some ninety essays or articles.  Sponsored by two wealthy businessmen, these tracts for the times were intended to check the advance of what was then called the new Christianity and the new theology (i.e., liberal Protestantism and its doctrines).  Although they provided an excellent presentation of a wide evangelical consensus on basic doctrines and refutations of perceived errors and heresies, they served primarily to strengthen the evangelical cause and made little or no impact on the so-called new Christianity.  It is not surprising, then, that this same period witnessed the gradual separation of a distinctive evangelical Protestantism from the dominant liberal Protestantism.  The evangelical movement both stayed within the old-line churches and also moved outside them.  It founded its own educational colleges and theological seminaries; but it also soon showed by its own internal divisions that it is all too easy, even for those who seek to be faithful to Scripture, to major on minors and thereby lose a basic unity.

      Since the second decade of this century, the evangelical movement has remained a significant yet divided movement, with its members often attacking each other’s theologies more enthusiastically than those of their opponents within the liberal camp.  In addition, the movement, while enjoying a high profile on the American scene and criticizing the liberalism of the old-line churches, has also made significant accommodations to the spirit of secular modernity.  These accommodations have been clearly explained by both James D. Hunter in his American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity (1983) and by David F. Wells in his No Place for Truth: Or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (1993).  In fact, the claim is sometimes heard today that some modern reforming evangelicals, who seek to have a relevant and definite social gospel for modern America, are in essence restoring the better insights of liberal theology.  So it is said that they are the true heirs of the social-gospel movement of seventy years ago and that liberal theology is alive and well in left-wing evangelicalism.

      Also, it is noteworthy that there has moved from liberal Protestantism to right-wing evangelicalism the torch of support for American democracy.  A new alliance between the American experiment in democracy and right-wing evangelical religion was forged in the 1970s at the same time that the alienation of liberal Protestantism from American democratic faith was becoming apparent.



      By 1950 the major question being asked by American theologians was not (as during the former liberal era), how can the Christian faith be made intelligible within, and in harmony with, the highest idealism and scientific thought of Western civilization?  Rather, the question was, what is there in the Christian faith that gives us such an understanding of ourselves that we must assert our loyalty to the Holy God above all the splendid and yet corruptible values of Western civilization?  The reason for the change of question may be traced primarily to one Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, and one movement, neo-orthodoxy.

      The First World War (1914–18) seemed to shake the very foundations of the world for Europeans.  Many of the leading liberal theologians had supported the war policy of the Kaiser in 1914 as necessary for the defense and maintenance of Christian civilization.  But Barth, in his small Swiss parish of Safenwil, knew early in that cruel war that not only the political ideals but also the theology of his former teachers (e.g., Herrman and Harpack) had been shattered.  The identification of Christianity with the best of German culture (what was called Kulturprotestantismus) was not only wrong, it was sinful.

      Further, that other great theme of liberalism, Ehrfurcht vor Geschichte (reverence before history), also lost credibility.  If there was progress through history, what kind of progress could be claimed from the carnage and devastation of the battlefields of this war?  As a result, Barth and other young men rejected the liberal theology and began to look in other directions in their search for truth.  Thus dialectical theology was born.  Indeed, a sober estimate of human nature and human potential, together with an exalted view of the living, holy God, came from those whom we may call the rebellious grandchildren of the first parents.

      Together with Barth, exponents of this rebellion against liberal theology included such well-known names as Emil Brunner (1889–1966), also from Switzerland, and the Germans Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976) and Friedrich Gogarten (1887–1967).  The leaders of this school spoke of a crisis, pointing to the krisis (Greek for “judgment”) of God on mankind and its sinfulness.  They also followed the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard in using the method of statement and counter-statement, never daring, as sinners who only knew God and His ways in part, to produce the last and final word.  They were extremely conscious in their finitude of speaking of eternity and infinity and thus emphasized the need for dialectic.  The theologian must speak God’s yes as well as God’s no and realize that while the opposites seem contradictory to us, they are not so to God Himself.

      While the members of this school did not agree among themselves in all their positive proposals (and later parted company), they were of one mind in their decisive rejection of the central themes of liberal theology concerning human progress and perfectibility.  However, in that they accepted the historical-critical method in their reading and use of the Bible (while having a very high view of the Bible as witnessing to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ), their respective theologies showed themselves to be, under close examination, tied (at least in a minimal way) to the apron strings of their liberal parents.

      From Barth came a sustained and massive effort to establish the utter transcendence and glory of God.  He asserted that we know the Father only in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Incarnate Son and Word of the Father.  He rejected all claims of continuity between natural theology and revealed theology; he would have nothing to do with the dissolving of the glorious transcendence and apartness of God into the immanence and omnipresence of God, which was so characteristic of liberal theology.  In the preface to the second edition of his famous commentary on The Epistle to the Romans (1921), Barth spoke of his system in this manner:

If I have a system, it is limited to a recognition of what Kierkegaard called the “infinite qualitative distinction between time and eternity,” and to my regarding this as possessing negative as well as positive significance: “God is in heaven and thou art on earth.”  The relation between such a God and such a man, and the relation between such a man and such a God, is for me the theme of the Bible and the essence of philosophy.

      And at the meeting of God and man, man and God, is Jesus Christ, who is the living Word of God.  Any viable theology must be built on Him, for only thereby can God be God unto mankind.

      Barth’s commentary caused a sensation in Germany, arousing both enthusiasm and hostility.  Later Barth, who at this time was pastoring in his native Switzerland, said he felt at that time like a little urchin who had climbed up into the belfry of his local church when everyone was asleep and had pulled on the rope he found there – only to find that he had set the great bell in motion, which awakened the whole parish.  Certainly there was fire in Barth’s belly, but there was also thunder and lightning in his words.  The book served to be a launchpad for the new movement called dialectical theology.  The cry was: “Let God be God.”  And for ten years or so Barth was a dialectical theologian.

      Neo-orthodoxy had not yet been born.  It had to wait for the maturing of Barth’s theology as he studied the Bible, the early Fathers, Anselm of Canterbury, and other sources.  It also had to wait for his parting of the ways from Bultmann and Gogarten, and to a much lesser degree from Brunner.  We shall encounter Bultmann’s great influence later in our story (chapter four), since his major impact outside Germany on theology was after the Second World War.

      Barth’s mature thought is to be found in his massive Church Dogmatics, begun in 1932.  Here is the new orthodoxy in that the dialectic is much reduced and the biblical and patristic components are greatly increased.  The central focus of his attention is Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh who dwelt among us.  Since Jesus is truly God and truly man, He is the mirror by which we see who God is and what the nature of man is.  Jesus is also the key to understanding both the purpose of human existence and the creating, reconciling, revealing, and redeeming work of God.  So neo-orthodoxy from Barth’s pen is Christocentric.  It involved a reworking and restating of the classic, patristic doctrine of the person of Christ (one person with two natures, as defined at the Council of Chalcedon and set forth in the Athanasian Creed); and it also involved a fresh statement of the “being” of God as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

      Barth s friend and mentor, the Scottish theologian Thomas F. Torrance, wrote:

Karl Barth has in fact so changed the whole landscape of theology, evangelical and catholic alike, that the other great theologians of modem times appear in comparison like jobbing gardeners.  When Karl Barth died on December 10, 1968, I thought that we might well apply to him what Albert Einstein once wrote of Isaac Newton.  “To think of him is to think of his work.  For such a man can be understood only by thinking of him as a scene on which the struggle for eternal truth took place.”  That is surely what we must remember about Karl Barth, for in him there took place a profound struggle for the eternal Word of God in which the whole framework of the church’s understanding of God from ancient to modern times was subjected to critical and constructive inquiry in the search for a unified and comprehensive basis in the incarnate grace of God for all theology.  (1990, 1–2)

It would seem to be the case that we must place Barth not only in the company of Schleiermacher, Calvin, and Luther, but also in that of Augustine and Athanasius.  He was a truly great theologian.

      Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, we note that Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was probably the most attractive and influential exponent of neo-orthodoxy in America.  He began his ministry in 1915 in Detroit, committed to liberal theology, and pastored there until 1928.  While in the Detroit pastorate, he recognized man’s absolute need for the grace of God, as well as his need to turn to a modern form of orthodoxy, which owed much to Barth and Brunner.  This can be read in his An Interpretation of Christian Ethics (1937) and his massive The Nature and Destiny of Man (1949).  It may be claimed that his neo-orthodoxy rested on two pillars, both of which were indispensable to his theology.  One is the utter powerlessness of the world to save and to redeem itself.  The other is that the Gospel of God, concerning Jesus Christ, tells the truth about the world and also supplies the grace of God wherein is salvation and redemption.

      Reinhold’s brother, H. Richard Niebuhr (1894–1962), a professor at Yale, was also critical of liberalism and sympathetic to Barth’s theology. In his Kingdom of God in America (1937) he had some sharp comments to offer.  Liberal theology “established continuity between God and man by adjusting God to man” (192).  And “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross” (193).  His book The Meaning of Revelation (1940, 1962) is seen by many as a major theological basis of what is now called narrative theology (to which we shall return in chapter six).

      Over in Scotland there were also two brilliant brothers who had been attracted away from liberalism toward dialectical theology and neo-orthodoxy John Baillie (1886–1960) and Donald Baillie (1887–1954).  Their books reflect the British compromise position, which sought to have the best of all worlds but leaned toward Brunner and Barth.  Donald’s God Was in Christ (originally published in 1948 and often reprinted) was one of the textbooks that I had to read in King’s College, University of London in 1962 in my study of Christian doctrine.

      From the writings of Barth and those of his followers in Europe and North America it is possible to summarize neo-orthodoxy in terms of five specific emphases.  First, in contrast to liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy appeared to have a high view of the divine inspiration, unity, and authority of the Bible.  The Scriptures contain, it was affirmed, not correct human thoughts about God but God’s thoughts concerning man.  The holy books set forth not lessons on how we should talk to God, but details of what God Himself says to us.  The Bible declares not what we are to do to have a right relationship with God, but what He has done to place us in a right relationship with Himself.  Furthermore, while the general findings of higher criticism were accepted (e.g., that Moses is not the author of the Pentateuch, but rather that the first five books of the Old Testament are composed from various literary sources; that Mark is the earliest gospel, and both Matthew and Mark are dependent on it; and that Paul is not the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews), it was nevertheless claimed that there is a supernatural character to the Bible, and this makes it entirely different in religious value to all other books.  This is because it witnesses to Jesus Christ, the living Word of God.

      Second, the neo-orthodox insisted that the revelation from God on which Christianity is based is unique.  There is no continuity between other religions and Christianity or between natural religion and Christianity.  Barth gave his famous nein to the possibility of a natural theology based on the observation of the cosmos and the human race.  Brunner severely criticized him for this in 1934, and while Barth modified his position as the years went by, he never changed it fundamentally.  His followers, however, tended to move toward Calvin and Brunner, both of whom allowed for the general revelation of God in nature and thus, in principle, the possibility of a natural theology.

      Third, the neo-orthodox emphasized that Jesus, the Christ, was truly God in the flesh.  Jesus was not merely the fullest spiritual and moral development of man, but He was in the words of the Nicene Creed “very God of very God, one in substance with the Father.”  Thus, He was one person with two natures, and in His human nature He truly suffered and died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Yet God, the Father, by the Holy Spirit, raised Him from the dead; and this resurrection was nothing less than a mighty act of God and the establishment of the new creation, the new order of the kingdom of God.  In fact, the whole New Testament was written in the light of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and this message was the central proclamation of the early church.

      Fourth, the neo-orthodox were very much aware of the inherent sinfulness of man and insisted that it is because of its sinfulness that the human race needs the grace of God and the gift of eternal salvation.  They spoke freely of the limitations and corruption of human nature and followed the Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard in their descriptions of the weakness of man before God, who is infinitely and qualitatively different to man.  Aspects of this approach are found in the book The Nature and Destiny of Man by Reinhold Niebuhr, who makes clear that the sin of pride is so pervasive that it affects all interpersonal relationships.

      Finally, neo-orthodoxy is characterized by the constant contrast between God and man, eternity and time, heaven and earth, grace and sin.  God is holy and the wholly other, for nothing can be compared to Him.  His majesty is in total contrast to both the sinfulness and the greatness of man.  God is certainly immanent and present within the created order, but His immanence flows from, and is dependent on, His glorious transcendence because of the infinite, qualitative difference between the living God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and the human creature made in His image and likeness.

      Neo-orthodoxy was the dominant theology in American old-line Protestantism (with the exception of the Episcopal Church, which was influenced by British theology) from the 1930s to the 1960s.  Since then it has maintained a steady following but is now only minimally influential within the old-line denominations.  Yet, when it arrived on the scene between the First and Second World Wars, it gained great attention and a wide following in North America.  In 1933 John C. Bennett claimed that “the most important fact about contemporary American theology is the disintegration of Liberalism” (cited by Henry, Fifty Years, 62).  About the same time, C. S. Patten commented that before Barth’s influence was felt, the old liberal theology patterned after Ritschl’s teaching reigned without serious rivals in academia.  Therefore, such doctrines as “the Trinity, Incarnation, Miracles, the Fall of man, the Atonement, and Heaven and Hell, dropped out of discussion” (ibid., 68).

      In 1961 Harry Emerson Fosdick, then in his eighties, was interviewed by a Canadian reporter, Kenneth Bagnell.  Reporting that interview in the Toronto Globe and Mail, October 8, 1969, after the death of Fosdick, Bagnell wrote:

When we talked of changing theological fashions, he was more restrained, insisting that he was an old man and had not kept up.  “But I will say that no theological emphasis has a hold on permanency.  I was in a discussion at Union Seminary [New York] some years ago and a professor said that liberalism was through and Barthianism and Neo-Orthodoxy were in.  So I said I’d like to stay around long enough to see what followed.”  And so he did.  For the sixties have been hard on Neo-Orthodoxy.

But, we reflect, the sixties were hard on most types of orthodoxies and traditionalisms.



      To return to the period 1930 to 1960, we may observe that it seemed that neo-orthodoxy, which eclipsed evangelicalism in the academic (but not popular) arena, had crushed liberal theology by 1960.  But this sentence of death was premature.  Certainly the specific forms of liberal theology expressed in Harnack’s What !s Christianity? (1901) and preached by Harry Emerson Fosdick in New York City in the 1930s were gone forever.  However, the family of liberal theology lived on not only in the theology of correlation from Paul Tillich and process theology/panentheism from Charles Hartshorne (to which we turn in chapter four) but also in scattered attempts to revive the best of classic liberalism in the old-line churches.

      Further, the former liberal theology multiplied in its grandchildren who, as we shall see, bear such varied names as the theology of hope, theology of play, liturgical theology, liberation theology, feminist theology, third-world theology, black theology, hermeneutical theology, political theology, and revisionist theology.  These grandchildren may readily be encountered within the deliberations and reports of the World Council of Churches as well as in many seminaries, conventions, synods, and publications of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches from the late 1960s through to the 1990s.

      However, of the old, classic, liberal Protestantism (which is still embraced here and there in America in a modern form by some of the older generation – e.g., the sociologist, Peter Berger, whom we will meet in chapter three), it has been said that it is like the Smithsonian dinosaur whose structural skeleton remains but whose heart has stopped beating.  Only time will tell whether there will be a revival of classic liberalism.  Right now it appears that its grandchildren are very much present in the central offices of the old-line denominations.

      Moreover, where churches use written forms for worship, the grandchildren can also be found alive and well, explicitly or implicitly present, in the newer liturgies or forms of worship.  Here they express themselves via the adoption of inclusive language for God and man, the adoption of novel doctrines of sin and salvation, the adoption of modern causes as the essence or purpose of Christianity, and the adoption of an emphasis on the affirming and empowering of individuals in the local church – a community of faith (in contrast to the biblical household of faith).

      Our task in this book is primarily to seek to understand and explain those whom we may deem to be the grandchildren of original liberal theology or the great grandchildren of the first parents (the intellectual outlook and the religious feeling of the early nineteenth century).  These twentieth-century offspring have obviously intermarried with other families (e.g., those of Eastern religions and of modern psychologies and philosophies) to produce more descendants whom we may deem to be (in the spirit of the age) not male or female but androgynous.  Thus, in modern pluralist, multicultural, and democratic America you can find many different descendants of the first parents not only within academic institutions-departments of religion and theology of the universities and colleges and seminaries – but also in the headquarters of the old-line denominations and in many suburban churches.

      Further, and this is very important, these grandchildren have also intermarried with post-Vatican II Roman Catholic families.  In any survey of the post-1960s revisionist theologies as well as liberation, feminist, and environmentalist theologies, it is impossible fully to prize the Protestant and Roman Catholic apart from the other, for they are in a sense symbiotic.  Already we noted in chapter one how modern liturgies in both the Roman and Protestant churches are very similar in structure and content.  Here we can add that modern forms of theology in both Catholicism and Protestantism are also very similar.  Since this is so, it is both necessary and helpful, I think, to add to this chapter an appendix, briefly explaining the profound change in theology in Roman Catholicism over the last forty or fifty years.

      We must not forget, of course, that there are other different families of theology present within Christendom today.  Their parentage goes back through many centuries.  The one that is apparently attracting the greatest attention in America today, because it is least touched by modernity, is that which is found within Orthodoxy and that comes from the Greek fathers of the early church – Athanasius, Basil, and Chrysostom, for example.  It is experienced liturgically in the ancient liturgies of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom in the Greek, Russian, and Antiochene Orthodox churches.  Running a close second is that which is associated with the Latin fathers, Augustine and Gregory the Great, and their medieval successors, Anselm and Aquinas.  This, too, can be experienced liturgically through attendance at the (pre-Vatican II, Roman or Tridentine Rite) Latin Mass that is proving increasingly popular (much to the embarrassment of the large liberal element in modern Roman Catholicism) in both Canada and the United States.  In fact, all the signs are that traditional patristic and medieval theology of both Greek and Latin origins is making a small but sustained resurgence in Western Christianity today.

      Likewise, among traditional Protestants, the families of theology that began in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in old Europe still are to be found, though the search for and commitment to them is not as widespread or profound as that for the older Latin and Greek theologies.  Although these Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican theologies reveal among themselves many differences in method and in content, they have also much in common.  For example, they all have a very high estimate of the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God written.  They use, where necessary, the higher criticism with care and reserve, and they all receive the classical dogmas of the Holy Trinity and of Christology as found in the Nicene Creed (381) and in the definition of the person of Christ from the Council of Chalcedon (451).  These doctrines are embodied in the confessional documents and/or liturgies of these churches, which also contain, of course, the emphasis on justification by faith through the grace of God.

      Regrettably modern Lutheran, Reformed or Presbyterian, and Anglican churches seem to pay little attention to their traditional confessions and liturgies.  They have been deeply affected by liberal theology and its offspring.  Thus, the traditional theology from the period of the Reformation is to be found in small pockets here and there in the old denominations and, more self-consciously perhaps, in offshoots from them (e.g., the newer continuing Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, as well as in the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods of Lutheranism).

      Now, it would be foolish to assume that these ancient families have entered and lived through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries without being affected by the Zeitgeist of these times.  They have been tempted to ignore modernity, enter into themselves, and become seemingly irrelevant to modern life and needs.  They have also been tempted to accommodate their doctrine to the drift of modern philosophies and psychologies in order to be seen as relevant.  There have been injuries, casualties, and defections, but the traditional families remain inside and outside the old-line or mainline denominations still bearing their original names and family likeness.

      Since many evangelicals do not trace their origins back to the Reformation but to nineteenth- or twentieth-century roots, questions arise: Where do we place the evangelical and fundamentalist theologies of the last fifty years?  From which families do they descend?  Are they a kind of marriage between one or another of the classic forms of Protestant theology and aspects of the spirit of the modern age?  To what extent have they absorbed the central themes of Romanticism (e.g., meeting God in the feelings through expressive individualism) and produced subjectivist theology?  Certainly all of them claim to be biblical; but this claim, in and of itself, may mean no more than that they make much use of the Bible, quoting it or referring to it frequently.  For example, do they treat the Bible as if it were a great container of inspired, God-breathed statements (i.e., verses) from which one takes such texts as are appropriate or helpful at any one time?  Or is the Bible like a constitutional document, which is supremely authoritative but is used and interpreted to meet modern changing contexts and conditions?  Or is the Bible approached through what may be called a viewing grid, so that the Bible (through proof-texts) serves to confirm the grid (e.g., one or another form of dispensationalism)?  Such is the variety of forms of fundamentalism and popular evangelicalism that simple answers to their relation to historic Protestantism and the culture of modernity are not available (but see further the epilogue to this book).



Berkhof, Hendrikus.  Two Hundred Years of Theology.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989.

Hunter, James D.  American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity.  New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1983.

Henry, Carl F. H.  Fifty Years of Protestant Theology.  Boston: Wilde, 1950.

Heron, Alasdair I. C.  A Century of Protestant Theology.  Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980.

Hutchison, William R.  The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Mackintosh, Hugh Ross.  Types of Modern Theology: Schleiermacher to Barth.  London: Nisbet, 1937.

Reardon, Bernard M. G.  Liberal Protestantism. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1968.

Smart, Ninian, et al.  Nineteenth Century Religious Thought in the West.  3 vols.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Thielicke, Helmut.  Modern Faith and Thought.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans,1990.

Van Dusen, Henry P.  The Vindication of Liberal Theology.  New York: Scribners,1963.

Wells, David F.  No Place for Truth: Or, Whatever happened to Evangelical Theology?  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993.



      The Roman Catholic Church in Europe and America existed in the same general culture as the Protestant churches.  Unlike the Protestants, however, the Roman Church had a powerful central organization in terms of the papacy and the Vatican City.  Faced with the questions and pressures that caused Protestants to adopt liberal theology, Roman Catholic seminaries and bishops were directed to look back and find their theology in that of the great medieval theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) and in his major interpreters of the Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  By his encyclical of 1879, Aeterni Patris, Pope Leo XIII launched a massive revival of Thomist or Scholastic method in philosophy and theology.

      While it is true that the Scholastic way of doing theology and its relation with philosophy was new (modern) in medieval Scholasticism, for it was part of an emerging civilization in Europe, the neo-Scholasticism of Pope Leo XIII was self-consciously anti-modern in the late nineteenth century.  It was a determined attempt to look away from modernity into medieval antiquity in order to maintain and control dogma, doctrine, and morality in a fast-changing world.  With only a few exceptions, this neo-Scholastic approach and method dominated Catholic intellectual life until the Second Vatican Council that opened in 1962.

      The Scholastic method emphasized logical relations and metaphysical distinctions among the various truths to which biblical and patristic sources witnessed.  In the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, this method is used with great power and clarity.  With the help of Aristotelian philosophy he gave to the inherited Augustinian theology from the late patristic era a thoroughly rational basis.  He carefully distinguished between a double order of knowledge and being (a natural basis and a supernatural superstructure), two powers of knowledge (natural reason and faith through grace), two levels of knowledge (natural truth and revealed truth through grace), and two sciences (philosophy and theology).  It was this great work that was a primary textbook for the learning of doctrine.

      It was accompanied by another text, this time a nineteenth-century compilation.  Affectionately (or, these days, pejoratively) known as “Denzinger,” it was a collection of the statements of Scripture, the Fathers, and the Councils on all aspects of doctrine.  Its full title was, A Manual of the Church’s Doctrinal Decisions, with a first edition in 1854, the Marian year (i.e., when the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated).  Since 1854 it has gone through many editions.

      Virtually no place was given in either text to the historical situationalism of these truths (i.e., when and where they were first stated and how the context affected the way they were stated).  Thus, Roman Catholic seminaries, unlike Protestant academies, had little, if any, of the use of the historical-critical method in either the study of the Bible or of the Fathers.  Those who made use of this method were known as the Catholic modernists.  Hans Küng, the Tübingen theologian, was trained in this atmosphere, and, writing in the mid-1980s after he had shaken himself free of it, he complained of the Vatican bureaucracy that tried “to impose the medieval-Counter-Reformation paradigm on the whole church in the grand style (Neo-Scholasticism, Neo-Romanticism, Neo-Gothic art and architecture, Neo-Gregorianism)” (Theology for the Third Millennium, 1988, 185).

      The first major challenge to the reign of neo-Scholastic theology occurred in France after the Second World War and is associated with Yves Congar, Henri du Lubac, Jean Daniélou, and Henri Bouillard.  Through their writings the modernity of science and history began to make an impact not only on theology but also on liturgy.  Then there appeared on the scene two Jesuits – the French Canadian Bernard Lonergan and the German Karl Rahner, in whose work a serious challenge to the old neo-Scholasticism began.  It is common to follow Otto Muck’s argument in his study of them in The Transcendental Method (1968) and portray both Rahner and Lonergan as developing a revision of traditional Thomism in terms of the transcendental method known as transcendental Thomism.  This method is an attempt to uncover, at the preconceptual level in human beings, a universal experience of divine presence or grace.

      Since the Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, it is fair to claim that both Rahner and Lonergan have been deeply influential in the speedy attempt by Roman Catholic universities and seminaries to make their theology truly contemporary.  The Vatican Council opened the windows of the Church to the world, and in the powerful winds of modernity that blew through the church the moderately-revisionist theology of Rahner and Lonergan seemed sure anchors on which to hold.  However, Hans Küng, who shared for a long time an enthusiasm for the new insights and fresh air that Rahner’s writings generated, now stated:

For a long time, schooled as I was by Aristotle, Thomas, Hegel and Heideggeг, I have admired Rahneг’s lofty dialectic, just as I have affirmed (and still do affirm) a concern for the unity and continuity of the church expressed so diversely in this interpretation of creeds and doctrinal propositions.  Isn’t this [Rahner’s theology, which emphasized historical and temporal relativity] a brilliantly successful way to interpret a formula “dialectically” so that the language remains (and that is the main thing for “conservatives”), but the content is remolded (which is what the “progressives” are interested in)?  (Theology for the Third Millennium, 187)

In fact, Küng believes that Rahner was the last great (and stimulating) neo-Scholastic.

      Maybe Rahner was the last great neo-Scholastic, but he was also deeply influenced by Martin Heidegger, the German existentialist philosopher.  In his book Being and Time, Heidegger argued that the ontological categories used from the period of Greek philosophy (Plato) through to the seventeenth century (Descartes) are inadequate and unable to describe the reality of the temporarility, historicity, and facticity of human existence and life in the world.  Therefore, he replaced the old categories with new ones that he called existentials.  The new categories characterize what is specific to human existence in the world: being toward death, care, self-interpretation.  Rahner accepted and used Heidegger’s new categories.  Moreover, Lonergan, in a parallel manner, dropped the traditional faculty psychology of Scholasticism and moved to what is called intentionality analysis.  The result of this was that the basic terms and relations of systematic theology became for him psychological rather than metaphysical as in the older theology.

      Certainly, in the writings of such theologians as Hans Küng himself, along with the American David Tracy and the Dutchman Edward Schillebeeckx, modern Roman Catholic theology has moved on from Lonergan and Rahner into what can best be termed an ecumenical theology from a Roman Catholic perspective (see further the appendix to chapter five).  Further, in the freedom of post-Vatican II, there have appeared a continuous stream of modern theologies of liberation, feminism, environmentalism, and spirituality.  These often also have an ecumenical face to them.  Thus, while the forces of modernity were gradually accommodated or absorbed by the major Protestant churches over a period of a century or so, the Roman Catholic Church has had to accommodate and absorb these forces in the space of only twenty or thirty years.  Visibly this is symbolized in much modern Roman Catholic worship where the emphasis is more on the experience of community (celebration) than on the majesty and transcendence of God (reverence).

      A very readable and illuminating introduction to modern Roman Catholic theology in America is provided by Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives (2 vols., 1991).  Significantly, in this ecumenical age it was published by the Lutheran Augsburg Press.  It is a collaborative work, and in their carefully written preface the editors, Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P Galvin, tell us that they had five specific goals in mind that they shared with their contributors.

      The first was that the work was to be rooted in Roman Catholic theology.  Of course, they did not mean the old deductive method of the traditional manuals of theology.  Rather, they meant that they were to present the teaching of the Roman Church and discuss significant theological reflection from leading Catholic theologians (e.g., by Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, and Gustavo Gutierrez) since Vatican II.

      The second goal was that the work was to reveal what a major impetus had come to Roman Catholic theology from historical studies.  Not only has there been the adoption of the historical-critical study of the Scriptures, but there has been a utilization of the historical method for the examination of the whole tradition of the Western church.  This has led to changed attitudes toward, and new interpretations of, the tradition.

      The third goal was that the work should take into account current hermeneutical theories and philosophical reflections.  It is the case that philosophers such as Kant and Heidegger, as well as Gadamer and Ricoeur, have deeply affected contemporary theologians. “Phenomenology as well as critical theory, literary theory as well as neopragmatism, have all had their impact.”

      The fourth goal was that the work should take into account the ecumenical dimension of modern theology, especially the consensus reached by various interdenominational theological commissions.  This meant that the contributors “were to explain Roman Catholic theological statements in a way that is sensitive to other Christian churches, especially where the views of other Christians should lead Roman Catholic theologians to be more self-critical.”

      Finally, the fifth goal was that the work should be attentive to the current emphasis on practice, which has been especially evident in recent theologies of liberation.  “Roman Catholics and all Christians should be sensitive to the social and practical dimensions of their beliefs and reflections.”

      Thus, in presenting a post-Vatican II, modern Roman Catholic theology, influenced by historical and ecumenical studies, open to new philosophical currents, and sensitive to diverse historical and cultural situations, the Roman Catholic writers have provided a text that could also be used (and is being used) in a modern Protestant seminary.


Chapter 3 – Environment: The Context of Modern Theology

      The grandchildren (e.g., existential, hermeneutical, political, liberation and feminist theologies) of their distinguished nineteenth-century forebears may be said to make two basic claims.  They are what they are not only because of their heredity but also because of their environment.  In fact, their heredity and environment are seemingly inextricably intertwined.  In the last chapter we noticed their heredity via liberal theology, and inevitably this involved some comment on their environment.

      Here we must reflect primarily on their environment in a post-World War II and post-colonial era.  First of all, however, in order to get as broad a context as possible, it will be appropriate to notice the environmental factors that affected this family in its origins before 1800, as well as in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.



      One must take into account at least five areas of the development of human knowledge in order to appreciate why the modern worldview is different from that of earlier centuries.  Much has been written on these themes; thus they will be presented only in summary form here.

      In the first place, it can be claimed that due to the work of Bacon, Harvey, Kepler, Galileo, Huygens, and Newton (not to mention Descartes, Pascal, Locke, Spinoza, and Leibniz) in the seventeenth century, modern man has a different view of the cosmos than did the Reformers Luther and Calvin and such earlier giants as Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo.  For us, the earth is not perceived as the center of the universe; we have the idea of a vast universe of which the earth is merely a very minute part.  This knowledge has not only caused theologians to reevaluate the cosmology of the Bible and the way the church has understood how God acts as Creator and Sustainer; it has also raised questions as to the nature of the supernatural, the identity and place of heaven and hell, and whether the Son of God was incarnate in other worlds as well as this one.

      In the second place, it can be asserted that, due to the writings of modern philosophers (Descartes, Locke, Hume, and Kant, for example) of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, modern man has a different view of his identity and place in the universe than did Protestants and Catholics of the sixteenth century and before.  Not only has he had to come to terms with the new physics, astronomy, and cosmology, but he has also had to learn to understand himself in a different light.  He is now seen as an embodied, autonomous self who thinks of himself as an individual alongside other individuals and defines his individuality in terms of both his inner feelings and his outer job/work.  Previously he was an immortal soul (an embodied soul), a person in relation to other persons and in relation to God, in whose image he is made and from whom he received a vocation and purpose in life.  He is now an individual who receives and interprets his sense experience of this world, recognizing that he can have no specific, direct experience and knowledge of God.  Previously he was a person, a living soul, through whose spirit he was in relation to God, the Father, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, as well as in relation to others in the communion of the saints.  In addition, through God’s self-revelation he had access to real knowledge of God as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      In the third place, it can be argued that the impact of the theory of evolution was a greater shock to the European Christian mind than was the arrival of the new physics and cosmology.  At least the latter left man as the highest of the creatures, the one who had the ability to think about the cosmos in a rational way.  But the impact of the theory of the evolution of the species, which we particularly associate with the name of Charles Darwin (1809–82), was to place man alongside other living creatures as the highest of a kind, rather than as a unique phenomenon.  In terms of theology, the theory raised profound questions concerning the mode and nature of the activity of God in the universe as its Creator and Sustainer and concerning the interpretation of such biblical passages as Genesis 1–3.

      In the fourth place, it can be shown that the establishment of the strange new world within human beings by depth-psychology, begun by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), has virtually revolutionized the way modern people understand human personality, experience, and consciousness.  In particular, it was Freud who discovered the vital role of unconscious motivations and opened them up to study and to therapy.  Then it was Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) who pointed not only to the personal conscious and unconscious factors in the human psyche but also to a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature.  This collective unconscious, claimed Jung, is inherited by all, and its contents he called archetypes.  The principles of depth psychology do not eliminate religion; however, they do raise serious questions about the traditional doctrine of man as made in the image of God, as fallen from that image, as inheriting original sin, and as living as a sinner before God.  Thus, it is not surprising that some theologians feel the need to develop and adapt the received doctrine of man as sinner in the light of modern psychology.  Such developments naturally affect preaching, teaching, counseling, spiritual direction, views of sanctification and deification, and contents of liturgies (e.g., the confession of sin).

      Finally, in the fifth place, it hardly needs to be stated that the arrival and development of what is called the science of biblical criticism (the historical-critical method) has profoundly affected not only the way people read the Bible but also the use of the Bible by theologians.  What for the seventeenth century was a collection of holy books in one Book – an authoritative collection of authoritative books written by men but inspired and guaranteed by God – has become for moderns a Jewish and Christian collection of books that were written by men who described primarily the religious experience of men in various places and different times.  Thus, the Scriptures are open to the charges, made by advocates of modern political correctness, of patríarchalism, sexism, and androcentricism.  In general, modern Christians accept that the collection is unique, containing priceless wisdom and spiritual knowledge; they also accept that in reading and commenting on this Holy Book over the centuries the church has also bequeathed to us great treasures of moral and spiritual truth; yet what they cannot accept is that the Bible is actually the written Word of God, that it is the Word of God in the words of man.  What is emphasized today is the human character of Scripture and the absolute need to interpret it in terms of the original situation in and for which it was written.  Having ascertained this, the theologian then has to ask what meaning that original message has for people today in a totally different culture and civilization.

      It is easy to forget, and needs to be recalled, that these cultural and mental revolutions took place in a rapidly changing social scene.  Through the effects of industrialization, public health, and the impact and availability of technology, people changed their thinking – their expectations.  In fact, where people lived, how they traveled, how they dressed, what they ate, how they spent their time, and how they faced illness, disease, and death all underwent changes.  A changing mind-set accompanied a changing environment, and a changing environment had its part in changing the mind-set.  What would Luther and Calvin make of a modern hospital, a fax machine, travel in a jumbo jet, and pictures of the universe taken by cameras in outer space?



      Of all the writers who describe and analyze modernity, perhaps the most readable and illuminating is Peter Berger.  We turn to his Heretical Imperative (1979) for insight into the reality of choice as a modern phenomenon.  The Western world is like a massive supermarket, containing a vast array of possible ways of believing, behaving, thinking, and acting.

      Berger points out that modern consciousness arises in the movement from fate to choice.  In traditional society, much of what a person is and does is governed by custom and culture.  There is little or no choice in what one wears, how one relates to others, whom one marries, where one lives, how one behaves, and where one goes.  People in such societies do not generally believe they are missing anything in being governed by fate because their consciousness is formed by the presuppositions and ethos of their traditions.

      In contrast, people in modernity (be they in Western nations or the big cities of the Third World) not only have to make choices all the time, but their consciousness is formed by this reality of choice.  For example, what to wear, where to live, what to eat, and where to work are choices because Western life seems like one big superstore where all varieties and sizes of goods are available for purchase.  In particular, the arrival of birth-control methods has revolutionized the approach to parenthood and the exercise of sexuality.  Moreover, the pluralism generated by modern society has brought new phrases into ordinary language.  Westerners speak of a sexual preference, meaning the choice to be heterosexual or homosexual (or both), in a culture that makes all options possible; they also speak of a religious preference, meaning the choice to practice this or that faith in a society where there is a great variety of religious practices and observances, especially in big cities or metropolitan areas.

      What may be claimed to be unique in a religious sense in the modern situation is the obvious availability not only of a vast number of Christian churches, societies, and denominations but also, often in an attractive form, the presence of sects, cults, and Eastern religions.  In a large bookstore in a university city it is possible to spend several hundred dollars and get in good translation the classics of all the world religions and thus, potentially at least, to become familiar with them all.  Usually there will be classes at local colleges to help in this process of knowing about the variety and content of religions.  The general effect of all this on the thinking person is to make religious uncertainty or religious eclecticism more probable than religious certainty and unshakable convictions.  In such a context, clear convictions on religion are then viewed as odd or undesirable, and pluralism and relativism are taken for granted.  Religious preference is thus the necessary partner of choice.

      In other words, modernity multiplies choices and at the same time reduces the scope of what is experienced as destiny.  It is not only that the modern person has the opportunity to make choices but that he also lives in the necessity of making choices.  Whereas in the premodern world people simply accepted religious tradition, submitting to it as they did to floods, earthquakes, and fires, now in the modern world people are forced to choose their worldview and philosophy of life.

      Along with this consciousness of choice there is a strong accentuation of the subjective side of human existence.  Not able to find in pluralistic society one clear answer to any possible question, and living in the reality of relativism, a person is driven to look within himself – to find his own self and get in touch with his feelings.  He looks for certainties within himself because they do not exist in his external situation.  Hence, we have seen in Western society in recent decades (in the modern novel, play, art, psychologies, and psychotherapies, not to mention advertising, soap operas, and talk shows) an ever-increasing attention to human subjectivity.  Obviously this is because it is widely believed and felt that the socially defined universe cannot be relied on any longer.  Consequently, in the process the external world becomes more questionable and the inner world becomes more complex.

      It is not difficult, then, to understand what Sartre’s phrase “condemned to freedom” can mean in modernity where a person can experience liberation and alienation simultaneously.  A sense of alienation may bring nostalgia for a restored world of order, solidarity, and meaning, while a sense of freedom may bring a desire to shed all constraints and rules and be oneself.  Agreeing with Berger, John K. Simmons comments:

We should never forget that although modernity has compelled us to choose from a multitude of institutional and cognitive possibilities, it is never an easy project.  It is not simply a matter of pushing the shopping cart down the aisles of Weltanschauung’s Supermart snatching a sack of Mystical Munchies, grabbing a bag of Yin-Yang Flakes, a package of Buddha-Biscuits, a can of Desert Fathers’ Soup Mix.  Always there remains an unsatisfied hunger for authority.  It is not enough to choose.  A person needs to feel that the choice is right.  The paradigms present in the chosen worldview need to describe accurately in-world experience. (1986, 171)

Simmons then joins Berger in claiming that if the modern, pluralistic situation is taken seriously, there are only really three basic options for religious thought (or three types of theology possible) today.

      Berger calls these options the deductive, the reductive, and the inductive and uses three famous Christian theologians (Barth, Bultmann, and Schleiermacher) to illustrate the three types.  We shall return to the details of this typology in chapter five.  Here we need only note that, facing this modern situation of being condemned to freedom and of getting in touch with feelings, modern theology is seemingly forced to take serious account of modern experience (not only in general terms of the world but also in specific terms of the individualized, autonomous self).  Accordingly, in differing ways, and not unexpectedly, both conservative theologies (e.g., charismatic, evangelical, and pietist) and liberation theologies (e.g., feminist, Third World, and black) are deeply experiential in their character and claims.

      Berger himself favors the inductive method, which makes sense in the light of the reality of modernity.  It is to turn, on the one hand, to personal experience of God and the universe and, on the other, to the religious experience based on a particular tradition or traditions (e.g., Lutheranism and a particular form of church music) as the ground of all religious affirmations.  Here traditions are understood as bodies of evidence concerning religious experience and the insights deriving from experience.  The greatest ever exponent of this type of theology was, of course, Friedrich Schleiermacher, a thinker whom Berger much admires.  In this approach, the committed Christian has to be clear that open-mindedness does not lead into open-endedness and that proclamation of the Gospel does not become merely the offering of a hypothesis about an option within modern life!



      With Berger’s help we also need to notice and incorporate into our thinking one further dimension of sociological analysis of the modern world, especially as it is experienced in America.  This will help us understand why it is that the large Protestant denominations, and more recently the Roman Catholic Church, have since the 1960s seemingly embraced theologies of modernity with relatively little pain and often with celebratory zeal.  Berger’s description of the bifurcation of the middle class since the Second World War illuminates the question as to why the grandchildren of liberal theology have moved with comparative ease from the seminaries and universities into the pulpits, pews, and politics of American churches in recent decades.

      In his essay “Different Gospels: The Social Sources of Apostasy,” originally delivered as the Erasmus Lecture in January 1987 in New York City, Berger notes first of all that culture Protestantism was alive and well in the 1950s.  What we call the old-line or mainline denominations existed in a generally happy symbiosis with middle-class culture.  There was little tension between Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Baptists and their cultural milieu.  America was O.K., and the middle-class way of life was O.K.  God seemed to approve and bless both.  Further, as Daniel Day Williams made clear in his book What Present-day Theologians Are Thinking (1952), all seemed well in the theological world.  Theology was also alive and well.

      This happy situation could not last, and one of the major social factors to disturb it was the bifurcation of the middle class (as explained by the new-class thesis held by thinkers of the right and left of the political spectrum).  The causes of this bifurcation are primarily technological and economic and relate to the obvious fact that in an advanced industrial society fewer people are needed in the labor force to provide the necessary material production.  So a growing number of people are released and enter into what may be called miscellaneous services (the “quaternary” sector).  Within this sector there is what may be called the knowledge industry.  This is devoted to the production and distribution of symbolic knowledge, and those who are involved in this by way of making their living from it are called the “new class.”  Examples are the people involved in communication (e.g., via the media, public relations, lobbying in Washington), in education (of all kinds and for all ages and groups), in therapy (for children and adults with a panorama of presenting problems), in the bureaucracies (particularly but not solely associated with federal and state governments) and, for our purposes very importantly, in religion (both as pastors and as religious bureaucrats).

      This new class was and is a minority.  However, since it operates in key institutions and provides the symbols and images by which modern society, in general, perceives and understands itself, its influence is out of proportion to its numbers.  The political stance of this knowledge industry is usually to the left of center.  One possible reason for this is that the new class stands to gain by a greater role of government in modern life, especially the expansion of the provisions of the welfare state.  Another is that the knowledge industry has an ever-growing role if it can appeal to a limitless number of human rights – that is, if it can persuade us all that each of us is an individual with a seemingly limitless possibility for discovering within us a yet-unproclaimed human right.

      In contrast, the old middle class, situated to the right of center in political activity, was, and remains, the class of the business community and the traditional professions.

      If we relate this to the situation in the old-line denominations since the late 1960s when they began to experience a large loss of members, we notice that the old middle class has been slowly but surely replaced by the new class in the clerical and lay leadership, so that the latter now represent a majority.  This explains why the political agenda of the new class (suitably adorned with “God-language”) has been widely adopted within the mainline churches.  Much the same process has occurred within the Roman Catholic Church and Judaism over the last thirty or so years.  Hence, it is often the case that the most outspoken people for so-called left-wing political causes, or for socialist agendas at home and abroad, or for new definitions of what is a family and what is marriage, are the senior clergy of these denominations.  They know that the majority of the elected representatives of their churches support them in such declarations.  Conservative evangelicals have tended to refer to the new philosophy and agenda of the liberal churches as secular humanism and have produced a stream of books on the topic since the 1980s.

      It seems to me that this analysis of the emergence of the new class helps to explain several important events in the life of the mainline Protestant denominations as well as of Roman Catholicism.  First, it explains the growing phenomenon of community churches, those independent, interdenominational congregations to which thousands of laity who dislike the new ways and speech have quietly moved.  Second, it explains the culture wars that rage from time to time in and around the churches, explained – at least in part – in terms of the clash of values of the old middle class and the new class.  In these wars the traditional working-class and blue-collar-class church members stand very much with the old middle class because they share values.  In general, opposition to the new morality (i.e., to such things as situation ethics and the moves to bless homosexual unions), to the new forms of worship (e.g., the new inclusive language lectionaries and liturgies within the Episcopal and Lutheran churches), and new theology (e.g., that which denies original sin and emphasizes that the local congregation is the community of celebration, where individuals are affirmed and accepted) comes from members of the old middle class or the working class.

      In other words, without the emergence of the new class it is difficult to see how the modern grandchildren (e.g., feminist theology) of those faraway nineteenth-century parents could either be born or thrive in American society.  Likewise, without the continuance of the church-going members of the old middle class and of the working class, it is difficult to see how there could be either visible opposition to the new theologies or meaningful support for the traditional theologies of the old-line Protestants as well as the old traditions of the Roman Catholic and Greek/Russian Orthodox churches.

      What appears to be the case now, in both Protestant denominations and in Roman Catholicism, is that instead of there being a happy and symbiotic union of the old middle class and pre-1960s culture, there is a symbiotic bond between the new middle class with the post-1960s culture.  In this modern culture the fact of the common vote is equated with common insight, and a common access to truth is confused with a common possession of truth.  So the pollsters tell us what the people feel and desire, and this becomes the truth for that generation.  Obviously in this new relationship, evident in the old-line denominations, we notice that the description of the identity and role of the clergyperson has necessarily changed.  She or he is now perceived as a religious professional, whose primary models are those of the manager and the psychologist.  Their role is no longer to order and lead worship, preach the Gospel, teach the faith, engage in pastoral care and service according to truth (sound doctrine); rather, their role is to meet the varying needs of the community of faith, which is getting to be a complicated task in psychotherapeutic and pluralistic America.

      Naturally, seminaries have already responded and continue to respond to this changing practical reality.  Therefore, preparation and training for the ordained ministry is becoming less and less the search for and delighting in the truth and knowledge of God (a theological aim), and more and more the acquisition of practical skills and information to meet the ever-growing demands of modern congregations (a practical aim).  Refresher courses – D.Min. degrees – provide. clergy with the further skills and information needed to meet the new needs of the present generation of church members.  The pursuit of theology as the knowledge of God somehow gets forgotten or, worse still, gets transmuted into modern, secular, practical knowledge of how to manage conflict among competing groups and how to deal with the felt needs of people.

      In fact, during the 1970s and even in the 1980s, cultural conflicts could be seen within many traditionally conservative Protestant seminaries.  On the Boards of Trustees were a goodly number of the old middle class who believed and hoped that the education and training would provide for the churches the type of pastors and preachers they had known in the 1950s and earlier.  This group still believed that ministerial function should grow out of ministerial vocation, as governed by the truth of God provided in sacred Scripture.  But on the faculty were a majority from the new class who desired to make theological education relevant to the changing situation in both society at large and the churches in particular.  This relevance included their working from the centrality of the cult of personality, with the pastor as the friend of all, ever ready to acquire new skills to function as manager and therapist.  In the student body were students raised in the 1960s who wanted to make religion into a viable, experiential reality for their generation.  Thus they wanted to know not what is true but what works; not who is God as God, but what does God mean for, and what will He do for, me.



      Liberalism in politics and religion could not have existed and developed without the emergence and growth of what has come to be called individualism.  Certainly liberalism could not be a going concern today in the West without the existence of a universal and powerful individualism.  (Ironically, the same has to be said of contemporary forms of conservative religion in America – they also flourish in the ethos of modern utilitarian and expressive individualism.)  In the seventeenth century there was a sustained call for freedom of conscience in the practice of religion.  This may be described as an expression of Protestant individualism; it was inextricably intertwined with the doctrines of justification by faith, the priesthood of all believers, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit in the soul, and the right of private judgment in the reading of Holy Scripture.  This individualism was not (in theory) self-centered or self-directed, for it intended to make a man fulfill his duties to God and to mankind.  In the nineteenth century both evangelicals and liberal Protestants shared this basic understanding that each man was free to serve God and fulfill his vocation.  The residue of this form of biblical individualism is still found in modern people who take seriously the reading of the Scriptures as the written Word of God, a Word to be obeyed.

      Different from, but often fused with, Protestant individualism is what has been called a civic or republican individualism.  This was to be found particularly in America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and is in some ways an idealization of what was supposed to have been the character of the citizens of the Greek city-states in the time of Plato and Aristotle.  Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address in 1801 provides a good example.  Each citizen was free, but freedom meant serving the common good and the republic.  It was a freedom from the shackles of monarchical and aristocratic government in order to share in the responsibilities and duties of democracy.  Freedom meant both privileges and duties in the public sphere.  Again, the residue of this civic individualism is found today among those people who have a high sense of public service and commitment.

      The word individualism was not used of what I have called Protestant individualism and civic individualism until long after they were part of the American experience and memory.  In fact, I would prefer not to use the word for what the Puritans and the Founding Fathers both stood for and exhibited; however, since it is so widely used today, I cannot avoid using it of their position (which is better described as responsible, personal freedom).  The truth of the matter is that the word individualism only entered general vocabulary in the mid-nineteenth century after its use by Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America early in the nineteenth century.  He pointed out that individualism was a word recently coined (in France and then in America) to express a new idea, an idea similar to but not identical with that which had hitherto been called egoism.

      He defined egoism as “a passionate and exaggerated love of self that leads a man to think of all things in terms of himself and to prefer himself to all.”  In contrast, he wrote that individualism is “a calm and considered feeling that disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends: with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself.”  And he further explained that while egoism is a vice as old as the world and is not peculiar to one form of society or another, “individualism is of democratic origin and threatens to grow as conditions get more equal.”  The tendency of democracy is that each person is thrown back on himself, and there is a danger “that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart” (Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 477–480)

      Obviously, in his journeys around America the observant Tocqueville had noticed a phenomenon that could not be equated with the responsible personal freedom of the early Puritans, the later Founding Fathers, and their successors.  Nor could it be found in the monarchical and aristocratic societies of old Europe.  Through the study of the history of culture we now know that by the middle of the nineteenth century two forms of what is properly called individualism had developed in Western culture and were particularly evident in America.  One has been called “utilitarian individualism,” and the other, which is partly a reaction to it, has been called “expressive individualism.”

      The key to understanding these two modern expressions of individualism is that they arose when it was widely believed that the individual man is prior to a society.  That is, a society is the coming together of individual human beings.  Political and social unity is that of a social contract.  In contrast, the responsible freedom (Protestant and civic individualism) of earlier times thought of society as prior to the individual person.  Each person, it was held, was related to others, and his identity arose from the fact of those relationships (not only of blood and affinity but also of the local community).  The new ideas, with their basis in the philosophies of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, naturally led to (what is the now very common) use of the adjective individual to describe a single human being.  Further, these ideas quickly led, in the social context of the emergence of the industrial revolution, to a man’s believing that what was for his own benefit and that of his family was for the benefit of all – thus utilitarian individualism.  We need to add here that such individualism was tempered for a long time in American society by the continuance of the traditions of Protestant and civic individualism and thus was saved from merely being or becoming an excessive form of egoism.

      Once the individual (notice how an adjective replaces a noun, man, in traditional English) had become the center of the emerging democracy and capitalism, then it was to be expected that poets and seers would begin to think that what made each individual person unique was his inner life – his own unique psychology.  Hence there emerged expressive individualism, and it was, of course, closely associated with the romantic movement in Europe and America.  In reaction to the aridity of reason that emerged from the Enlightenment, there developed an emphasis on the epistemological significance of feelings and emotions.  Romanticism retained the emphasis on the individual person from the Enlightenment but supplanted a concern with reason with a new interest in the imagination and inner feelings/emotions/sentiments.  The claim was further made that such feeling is oriented toward the eternal, the infinite, and the transcendent.  Human subjectivity and inwardness were now perceived as a mirror of the eternal and infinite.  (We saw in chapter two how Friedrich Schleiermacher of Berlin was able to build on this foundation to commend the Christian religion to his contemporaries.)

      Such feeling is clearly seen, for example, in the influential literature of Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), in Ideen by Johann G. Herder, and in Leaves of Grass (1897) by the American Walt Whitman.  Even the rational, political theorist John Stuart Mill develops its importance in his famous essay On Liberty.  In addition, the strength of Pietism in Germany and Methodism in England in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century also testify to the cultivation of feelings in the evangelism, fellowship, and worship of evangelicalism.  In America, Pietism and Methodism (via revivalism) were even more widely known and experienced.  Thereby, the turn to inwardness and to the centrality of feelings became a virtually necessary part of vital religion.  Then, from the 1960s with its widespread subjectivist turn in culture and the attendant development of psychotherapy, this expressive form of individualism has become almost the normal kind of individualism for Americans (though again it is often tempered by one or more of the other three forms of individualism and thus is saved from its own inherent excesses).

      I was gratified to find that The American Heritage Dictionary expresses some hesitancy about the use of individual simply as a substitute for person:

Individual (noun) in the sense of “a person” is fittingly used when a single human being is distinguished from a group or mass, by contrast or by stress on a special quality: the individual’s right to dissent from a majority view; an individual to the core.  It is not acceptably used ... according to the majority of the Usage Panel, when it is simply a substitute for person: two individuals were arrested for the crime. (1982, 656)

I fear that over the last decade the use of this word simply to mean a person has become very widespread.  The individualism in the souls of those speaking English has caused this development.

      Limited government, in contrast to modern regulatory government, existed in the early nineteenth century when evangelical Protestantism flourished and when the Protestant and civic forms of individualism were prominent in society.  At least in part this explains how education, health, and social welfare were run by voluntary societies in the nineteenth century.  People had a sense of duty and service.  Modern welfare-regulatory government exists in late twentieth-century society where expressive and utilitarian individualism are dominant.  Leonard Sweet explains:

Since the late nineteenth century, when entrepreneurial capitalism was transformed into corporate capitalism, the individual person has been absorbed into the corporate enterprise.  The structural constraints of a competitive free market economy – the constraints to consume, the constraints to produce, the constraints to experience, the constraints to achieve – are just as severe as the controlling attempts of a socialist economy [e.g., as that of the former USSR].  Both pressure humans to feel and think in certain ways: in one system these ways are defined by the state; in the other they are defined by a corporate bureaucracy. ...  The power of economics and technology to change individual, eccentric behavior into mass, centric behavior is more effective than the barrel of a gun.  (Liberal Protestantism, 240)

At least in part, this explains why the gulf between the public and private spheres grows and religion is seen as belonging to the latter sphere only.

      Likewise in the sphere of religion, there is a close relationship between the older forms of evangelical Protestantism/theology and the teaching and practice of responsible freedom, and between the new (particularly post-1960s) forms of liberal Protestantism/theology and the assumptions of modern utilitarian and expressive individualism.  At the same time, it cannot be denied that utilitarian and expressive individualism have made major inroads into modern conservative, evangelical religion, where they seem to co-exist with a basic biblical individualism.

      In fact, I cannot see how it is possible to make much sense of either the variety of contemporary liberal, secular theologies or the popular so-called biblical teaching of the television evangelists and preachers without recognizing how deeply embedded modern individualism is in both camps.  For example, the individualism resident in liberalism’s pedigree has united with pluralism in society to create the assumption – even doctrine – that everyone has a right to do whatever she or he wants to do.  Fundamentals of the old liberal theology such as freedom, equality, and justice have been stripped of their fuller meaning – even as the older support for civil rights in the 1960s has degenerated into support for special-interest groups where rights tend to mean self-fulfillment and self-gratification.  Within evangelicalism, individualism can often be seen in the portrayal of salvation as an individualistic relationship with God, as a this-worldly sense of happiness and success, and as a mere extension of middle-class, bourgeois culture.

      Moreover, this individualistic mind-set is reflected in the near universal use by both liberals and conservatives of the word community to describe the local Christian congregation.  Behind this usage is, of course, the idea of the priority of the individual’s freely choosing to belong to and become a part of this or that voluntary society (i.e., community).  In terms of modern Western society this union of individual and community seems to make good sense.  As a result, however, the local church as community is less an experience of wholeness, relatedness, and authenticity in God’s presence and more an experience of the affirming and even celebration of segmentation, simulation, and atomization in each other’s presence.

      In his important book The Denial of Death (1973), Ernest Becker has shown, that each of us experiences two internal urges, motives, and pulls in apparently opposite directions.  First of all, there is the deep desire to be a part of something larger than oneself (family, tribe, clan, community, and so forth).  In the second place, there is the inescapable urge to stand apart from everyone else in order to be oneself and be different.  This twin attraction and repulsion means that modern people must do the impossible – choose between the cultivation of the self and the search for community.  Often to keep themselves from going mad they need therapy!  If the church merely seeks to be the answer to the search for community and presents religion in terms of individualism, then it is functioning (primarily horizontally) as one part of society.  Only when it seeks to fulfill its high calling (vertically – Godward) to be the body of Christ and the household of faith and to offer friendship with God in a personal relation with the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit will it be able to allow God to minister to His creatures for their good in this world and the world to come.

      Apparently, today it is only the very traditional Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox believers who seem to hesitate to speak of the church of God as a community.  This is because their language of worship and faith comes from the Bible and from pre-Enlightenment liturgical texts and traditions in which the concept of modern individualism is not present.  Of course, not to use the language of modern individualism does not mean to say that the reality is not present in the souls of the faithful.



      Professor Jürgen Moltmann of Tübingen has noted that the general environment in which theology is being pursued in the latter part of the twentieth century is one characterized by a transition in three major areas.  First, there is a transition from a denominational or confessional context (e.g., Lutheran) to an ecumenical context.  Because of the influence of the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement, there is a migration within university departments of theology from particularist to universalist thinking.  This goes hand in hand with a recognition that the concerns and problems of other churches are one’s own also.  In addition, there is a convergence in the production of new liturgies for denominations within the ecumenical movement.  People today notice that the structure of the basic service is the same in the Roman, Anglican, and Methodist churches, for example.

      Second, there is a transition from the Eurocentric age to the whole-of-humanity age.  The center of gravity for theology is no longer to be found in Western churches and universities; it is to be found wherever the Spirit (of God or of the age?) is moving the churches into new insights and action for the kingdom of God.  Related to this transition is the move away from the domination of male, Caucasian, patriarchal, androcentric forms of thinking to thinking that is more representative of the whole of humanity, including women and other minorities.  Naturally connected with such thinking is not only the call for the use of inclusive language for human beings and perhaps also for God but also an attempt to present a new, up-to-date theology of the Spirit of God, active in human culture and human consciousness.

      Finally, there is a transition from the age of mechanistic domination of the world to the age of ecological, world-wide community.  Technology has always been used without concern for the long-term good of the planet; now there is an awakening to the need to be faithful stewards of the creation.  “What is needed is not the secularization of the world but its sacralization; not the legitimation of human domination of nature [through technology] but the incorporation of humanity in the universe”  (Moltmann, “Theology in Transition,” 223).

      So Moltmann believes that a truly contemporary theology is needed and is emerging.  It cannot be the same as its parentage or its grandparentage because the total environment, and our way of looking at it, are so different now than only three decades ago.  And if theology is to be relevant and meaningful in the present age, this context and environment must be recognized and addressed.  Moltmann himself is known as a pioneer of a theology of hope, in which God is the God of the future, to whom we move.  This theology had a major impact in the 1960s on the creation of the new liberation theologies of South America and the Third World.



      Professor Hans Küng, the well-known Roman Catholic ecumenist, has worked hard to get modern theologians to cooperate in the theological task.  After an international conference in Tübingen, Germany, he sought to summarize the various contributions from his European and American colleagues as to the content or the characteristics of the crisis that they all believed theology as a discipline was facing in the modern world.  All the papers are collected in Paradigm Change in Theology (1989), which he edited with David Tracy.  Ming’s own paper is summarized below.

      In the first place, he greeted the end of four hundred years of Western (European and American) political and military, economic and cultural hegemony and the emergence and development of other centers of power (e.g., Japan).  The buzz word for this new phenomenon is polycentricism.  Thus, theologians cannot any longer think merely as either westerners or easterners who are locked into their cultural skins.  They are citizens of the whole world who must see through and beyond their cultural horizons.  This means that all must put forth a tremendous effort to appreciate and think with other cultures than one’s own.

      In the second place, Küng pointed to the profound ambiguity found in modern science, technology, and industrialization because they each can be potentially both destructive and creative – to destroy or to renew the environment.  Therefore theologians, in discussing God’s creation and the human vocation in the world, must address this ambiguity, make people aware of it, and offer advice as to an appropriate use of such powerful forces.

      In the third place, he referred to the social antagonism found in the First as well as in the Third World, and expressed in exploitation and repression, as well as in racism and sexism.  This, he insisted, is a major challenge to Christian thinkers who believe that all human beings, men and women, are made in the image of God.  Obviously, theological writing ought not to serve social antagonism but point to harmony and reconciliation.  It ought to be sensitive to the needs of women and minorities and affirm their place in God’s world and kingdom.

      In the fourth place, he noted that there has been a shaking of the foundations of the symbols that underpin modern, Western culture.  In particular the myth of progress in all fields – scientific and social, industrial and political – has been (or is being) generally abandoned, and in its place has come a general pessimism about the future, together with a lack of orientation in the present.  It is up to theologians to reinterpret the Christian hope not only of the world to come, but also of God’s presence and activity in this world and age.

      In the fifth place, he highlighted the changed (changing) position of the book, the role of the university, and the place of theology as one of the human sciences.  All are endangered by opposing pressures: hypermodern differentiation and specialization, individualism and pluralism.  Therefore, the theologian cannot think, write, and publish in the way that his own teachers did – sitting as they did on a pedestal, looking down on the world.  He has to be aware of the context in which knowledge is sought and disseminated today and adapt the message and the means of communicating it to the modern social and economic reality.  This, of course, is easier said than done, especially in a world in which communication is dominated by the images on the television screen.

      In the sixth place, the loss of Western dominance in the world has also meant the undermining of the claim of Christianity to be the one, true religion.  Now Christianity and other religions compete on equal footing in many parts of the world.  So theologians today have to take dialogue with adherents of other religions seriously, being ready to listen to and learn from them.

      Finally, the great catastrophes of modern times (e.g., Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Gulag Archipelago, and mass starvation in Africa) serve to show that idealistic constructions of history can no longer be written.  Theologians must take account of human suffering and create an option for the poor.  Also, they must take into account the suffering of women over the centuries and seek to incorporate the new consciousness of women’s vocation and destiny into their thinking.

      Küng is fond of the word paradigm (basic model) to communicate what he understands doing theology to be.  His goal is a plural theology – that is, a cluster of theologies open to learn from and ready to discuss with each other because all will be done within a common general context of understanding.  So he wrote:

A number of different theologies are possible within the one post-Enlightenment, post-modern paradigm, or basic model.  Different theological trends, schools and locations compete for the best way of shaping the paradigm, its presuppositions and consequences.  A hermeneutical and a political theology, a process theology, and all the different expressions and trends of liberation theology (feminist, black or third-world) can co-exist and compete within the bounds of a contemporary post-Enlightenment, post-modern paradigm of a Christian (ecumenical) theology.  At all events, the new paradigm needs the world-wide political perspective and this means that the different continents (not merely Latin America) and religions (not merely Christianity) must all be taken into account.  (Paradigm Change in Theology, 451)

It hardly needs to be added that within this paradigm there is no place for traditional Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant theology, for they are neither post-Enlightenment nor postmodern in method or content.

      While Küng may be said to represent an advanced position, there is nevertheless something to be said for the view that doing theology today is unlike doing it in any other period.  Avery Dulles, S.J., a more conservative Roman Catholic than is Küng, writes:

Labels such as “postmodern,” “postliberal,” and “postcritical” are likely to be rather manipulative.  They seem to put unfair demands on people to conform to what the speaker proclaims as the spirit of the age, with the implication that previous approaches are obsolete.  But at the same time the prevalence of such terminology indicates a widespread perception that we are moving, or have already moved, into a period radically unlike the past few centuries, necessitating an abrupt shift of theological style comparable in magnitude to the shift that occurred with the dissemination of printed literature in the sixteenth century.  Without wishing to exaggerate the discontinuity, I share this perception to some degree. (The Craft of Theology, 1992, 3)

In fact, many people appear to share this perception to a lesser or greater degree.



      David Tracy of Chicago begins his Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (1981) with this claim: “Theologians not only recognize a plurality of ‘publics’ to whom they intend to speak, but also more and more the theologians are internalizing this plurality in their own discourse.  The results are often internal confusion and external chaos” (3).  His view is that the pluralism of cultural worlds has enriched us all with new visions of our common lives and new possibilities for an authentic life.

      Within this pluralism each theologian addresses three distinct and socially related groups – the wider society, the academy, and the church.  Of course, in practice a particular book is usually addressed primarily to one group.  However, this does not mean that it, in a secondary or partially hidden way, is not addressed to the others as well.  For this reason the theologian today has to be aware of these three publics.

      Living in a modern, complex society, the theologian needs to reflect on the structures and culture of that society, for he is affected by it in all kinds of ways.  He ought not to be pushed into or gravitate toward the insulated and marginalized sphere of a religious subculture, believing he has no word for his fellow citizens in the larger society.  What he has to say should be available to all, not merely to a restrictive minority.

      Being an academic and working within the general provisions and assumptions of the academy, the theologian must have (or be aware of) proposals for the actual place for theology as a viable discipline within the modern university.  With this will need to go a particular method for doing theology that will command the attention of serious, fellow professionals in related disciplines.

      As a member of the church (the community of moral and religious discourse), the theologian addresses it from within but understands it both as a sociological and also as a theological reality.  Tracy insists that “unlike participation in a family, participation in a church is now a strictly voluntary matter.  Anyone may leave or join at any time” (21).  The theologian must bear this in mind and talk and write accordingly.

      Thus, it is not only the fact of living within and addressing three publics, but it is also the fact of having internalized the three publics that characterizes the modern situation.  The theologian, being a human being, cannot escape the unconscious formation of his thought and attitudes by the three publics.  And in addressing one of them he speaks as one who is already affected not only by that public but by the other two also.

      In summary, to do theology in the modern, Western world, the sociological reality of the three publics must be recognized both in their external realities and in their internal appropriation.  This places heavy demands on and offers great rewards to theologians.

      For Tracy, as a Roman Catholic, there are three disciplines within theology – fundamental, systematic, and practical.  Fundamental theology speaks primarily to the academy, providing arguments for belief in the God of Jesus Christ.  It makes use of philosophy and may even be called philosophical theology.  Systematic theology speaks primarily to the church as the community of moral and religious discourse and action.  It explores, re-presents, and reinterprets the holy tradition of Christianity and is principally hermeneutical in character.  Finally, practical theology speaks primarily to society at large and with reference to some particular social, political, cultural, or pastoral movement or problem.  It assumes that praxis (the situation on the ground), and involvement in it to bring transformation, is the proper criterion for meaning and truth.  Though each discipline has a primary reference, it will speak to the other publics directly or indirectly as well.



      There is no doubt that the theological grandchildren of nineteenth-century parents have taken into their personalities many, if not all, of the environmental factors mentioned above.  Of course, each child has absorbed the factors in different ways and degrees according to his situation and context.  For example, for obvious reasons feminist theology has made more of the claimed deprivations and suffering of women as women than has black theology; but black theology has made more of the discrimination against and suffering of blacks as blacks (female or male) than has feminist theology; and process theology has made more of the doctrine of cosmic evolution than has narrative theology.

      There is little doubt that any modern theology that desires truly to be contemporary faces challenges that are political, scientific, economic, religious, social, and cultural.  Further, the way theologians face these challenges determines how they do their theological thinking.  Referring specifically to the challenge faced by modern Roman Catholic theologians, Professor Schüssler Fiorenza of Harvard Divinity School writes:

If theologians assess the present situation as secularized, as being characterized by the absence of past moral values and the demise of traditional religious meanings, then they view the retrieval of these values and the reactualization of these meanings as the paramount theological task.  If they place the political, social and racial oppressions in the forefront, then overcoming these oppressions is a major goal of theology.  If they take human alienation or personal inauthenticity to be the basic problem, then the attainment of authenticity and the overcoming of alienation are the primary goals.  (Systematic Theology, 1991, 1:66)

Much the same can be said, of course, of modern Protestant theology.  It is certainly true that the position and assumptions from which one starts affect the way the theology is done and to which public it is primarily addressed.



Berger, Peter L. “Different Gospels: The Social Sources of Apostasy.”  In Apostate America: The Triumph of Different Gospels.  Edited by Richard Neuhaus.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1988.

—.  Facing up to Modernity: Excursions in Society, Politics and Religion. New York: Basic, 1977.

—.  The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday,1979.

Dulles, Avery, J. S.  The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System.  New York: Crossroad, 1992.

Guinness, Os.  The American Hour, A Time of Reckoning and the Once and Future Role of Faith.  New York: Free Press, 1992.

Johnson, Paul.  Modern Times: From the Twenties to the Nineties.  Rev. ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Küng, Hans.  “A New Basic Model for Theology: Divergencies and Convergencies.”  In Paradigm Change in Theology.  A Symposium for the Future.  Edited by Hans Kung and David Tracy.  New York: Crossroad, 1989.

Moltmann, Jürgen.  “Theology in Transition – To What?” in Paradigm Change in Theology.  A Symposium for the Future.  Edited by Hans Kung and David Tracy.  New York: Crossroad, 1989.

Rief, Philip.  The Triumph of the Therapeutic.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Simmons, John K.  “Complementism: Liberal Protestant Potential within a Fully Realized Cultural Environment.”  In Liberal Protestantism.  Edited by Robert S. Michaelsen and Wade C. Roof. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1986.

Tracy, David.  The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism.  New York: Crossroad, 1981.



Arieli, Yehoshua. Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964.

Bellah, Robert N., et al., eds. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.  Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1985.

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Hunter, James Davison.  American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity.  New Brunswick, NJ.: Rutgers University Press, 1983.

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Sweet, Leonard.  “Can a Mainstream Change Its Course?”  In Liberal Protestantism: Realities and Possibilities.  Edited by Robert S. Michaelsen and Wade Clark Roof. New York: Pilgrim, 1986.

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      After the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Bernard Lonergan, S.J., looked back over earlier decades to note what had been the major influences involved in the changing nature of Roman Catholic theology from a deductive to an empirical method.  In “Theology and Man’s Future” in Second Collection (1974) he examined five areas.

      First, “one of the profoundest changes ... has been brought about by modern methods of historical study” (135).  That is, the historical-critical method has made a great impact both on the study of the development of doctrine in history and also within the Scriptures.

      Second, the historical ties with the philosophy of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas have been loosened and broken.  “Contemporary theologians are drawing upon personal, phenomenological, existential, historical and transcendental types of philosophical thought to find the conceptual tools needed for their own thinking and writing” (137).

      Third, the new field of religious studies has been very influential in providing a different ethos for study.  He has in mind the disciplines of the phenomenology of religion, the sociology of religion, the history of religions, and the philosophy of religions.  Each of these is a modern approach to the study of Christianity and other religions, and all together have been gaining ground in recent years.

      Fourth is the area of methodology.  Instead of being wedded to the notion of science as developed by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, modern Catholic theologians have accepted modern ways of defining and understanding what science is.  Thus, theology as a science means something rather different for them than it did in the period of neo-Scholasticism.  For one thing, even as the modern scientist is an expert in only one basic area (e.g., an aspect of physics), even so the theologian cannot claim to synthesize all knowledge; he too must be a specialist in one area.

      Finally, there is the need to communicate the faith in a modern world, and this has caused theologians to examine how they write.  There is no longer one dominant and normative culture in the Western world as earlier centuries could claim.  Today culture is an empirical category, for modern culture knows many cultures, which it studies and compares.  Culture as a category knows that cultures are man-made and subject to development and decay.  Accordingly, communication in this condition of relativity and flux is very different from what neo-Scholasticism had presumed.

      Lonergan recognizes that there were other formative influences for change, but he insists these five areas are the important ones for assessing the changes in Catholic theology.


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