1.28.2009

American Evangelicalism and Schleiermacher’s God Consciousness Part 1



American evangelicals have always maintained a certain amount of pride in trying to be unique and cutting edge in their approach to Christianity. In his best selling book, Become a Better You, Joel Osteen offers what many American evangelicals believe to be the new found key to living a victorious Christian life. Osteen writes, "I'm hoping to help you look inside yourself and discover the priceless seeds of greatness that God has placed within you." While much of American evangelicalism is caught up with, as Michael Horton has labeled, moralistic therapeutic deism, the fact is that none of this is new. What many evangelical Christians do not realize is that their quest for meaning by finding inward seeds of greatness is only the regurgitated ideals of a man whom history has labeled the father of modern theology--Friedrich Schleiermacher.

All of us carry the banner of some historical tradition. The question is, of course, which one? Though most do not care anymore at all about their historical roots, it has generally been assumed, I suppose, that American evangelicals are simply carrying forward the banner of classic Protestantism; at least something vaguely connected to what Martin Luther did when he posted the ninety-five thesis. I suggest that American evangelicalism, has adopted a far different stream that is running its course, along with all of its painful consequences, from the ideals of Schleiermacher's notion of absolute dependence in religious feeling. I will interact with the views of Schleiermacher to the end of exposing this connection.

On August 6, 1791 Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) wrote to his father explaining his conversion. He wrote, “Here my heart is properly nurtured and need not wither under the weeds of cold erudition and my religious feelings do not die under theological speculation.”[1] Interestingly, this came at a time when Romanticism was spreading across Europe. The church was thought to have exhausted its influence and the sentiment toward rationalism grew more hostile as each day passed. In the midst of the new enlightenment culture stood Schleiermacher and his desire to change the face of religion. With a new found zeal and youthful enthusiasm his attempt to restore religion would place him as one of the most influential theologians of the nineteenth century.

Friedrich Schleiermacher was born on 1768 in Breslau, Lower Silesia. At age 10, he studied under the Moravian Brethren and was said to have gone through a “deeply emotional renewal of the Christian faith.”[2] Although raised by a Reformed military chaplain, Schleiermacher expressed skepticism over some of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and was said to have become a Morovian both outwardly and inwardly. [3] In 1787, Schleiermacher entered the University of Halle and began to read Plato, Kant’s ethics, and some of Spinoza.[4] In 1794, after graduating from Halle, and sustaining two theological examinations, he was called to a Reformed pulpit in Berlin. During this time, he taught at Halle, began a translation of the works of Plato, and actively engaged many of the German Romantic philosophers. He remained in Berlin until his death in 1834.

[1] Martin Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 19.
[2] Speaking of his conversion with the Moravian Brethren in a letter to Georg Reimer, Schleiermacher wrote, “Here my awareness of our relation to a higher world began…Here first developed that basic mystical tendency that saved me and supported me during all the storms of doubt. Then it germinated, now it is fully grown and I have become a Morovian, only of a higher order.” Cited Martin Redeker, Schlieremacher:Life and Thought (Phildelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 9.
[3] Grenz/Olson express that Schleiermacher was skeptical about the substitutionary doctrine of the atonement.
[4]Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1064.

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