Ten Modern Christians 2: Friedrich Schleiermacher


The question we want to begin with here is feeling- what role does it play in the Christian life? In the 18th century, at the dawn of the modern West, the ‘pietists’ in Europe, forerunners of the evangelicals, were critical of what they saw as a dry-as-dust orthodoxy, all head and no heart. They wanted a conjunction of the two.

But by the beginning of the next century, elite society had its own version of today’s ‘nones.’ A famous German theologian named Schleiermacher called them ‘the cultured despisers.’ You can still find them a-plenty today! He wanted to defend the Christian faith, with them in mind, in a series of lectures called ‘On Religion.’ His argument went like this: doctrines are old-fashioned ways to describe feelings we all have. ‘Creation’ expresses our contingency and fragility, ‘atonement’ a sense of divine sympathy, ‘resurrection’ hope in tomorrow, etc. Obviously he went too far- the medicine of relevance killed the disease and the patient too!

Why is Schleiermacher important? He, among others, began a kind of revisionist theology which is still alive today, though it is at times hard to recognize. Often it also aims that the old-fashioned account should induce feeling toward some contemporary social end. That goal may or may not be worthy, but reducing ultimate claims only to human feelings is too high a price to pay.

Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.