Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 4a
Essentially the ideas of two German men split American Protestants in two: Friedrich Schleiermacher and Ferdinand Baur. Schleiermacher started exploring something called Higher Criticism*. Higher criticism is a kind of literary analysis that seeks to figure out the origins of a text. Specifically, higher criticism looks at who wrote a text, to audience whom the text was written for, and the time the text was composed. Higher criticism as applied to the Bible has its roots in rationalism. In rationalism, reason alone is the source of knowledge… hence, the rationalists ultimately reject Scripture. They reject Scripture because they see things in the Scripture that do not seem to fit their rational framework. Baur comes on the scene after Schleiermacher, influenced by both Schleiermacher and Hegel. Baur was the leader of the Tübingen school of theology at the University of Tübingen. Baur and the Tübingen school of theology were highly influential in the 19th century. These ideas eventually crossed the Atlantic and Protestants were divided on how to handle the criticism of the Bible.
One cannot underestimate the impact of the thoughts of these isolated German nerds. American Protestants split in two over higher criticism. At issue was whether the Scriptures were without error or inerrant. Half of Protestants followed the critics denying the inerrancy of Scripture and formed the liberal half of Protestantism called Mainline Protestantism (United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church, American Baptist Church, United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ… and a number of smaller denominations). In reaction against the liberal Protestants, the other half of Protestants formed the conservative branch, at that time called, Fundamentalists. The fundamentalists were influenced by the writings of the conservative Old Princeton theologians reacted stating five fundamental positions: 1. Inerrancy of Scripture 2. Virgin birth of Christ 3. Christ’s death as atonement for sin 4. Bodily resurrection of Jesus 5. Historical reality of Christ’s miracles. One can see how reading the Bible rationally, like a science textbook, would lead one to doubt miracles like virgin birth, penal substitution, and resurrection of the dead, leading one to conclude that the Bible had error.
Next we will continue to look at the split of Protestantism and its monumental impact on evangelicalism today…
*Eichhorn and Spinoza are also critical in the establishment of Higher Criticism. But if we mention them, then we have to mention the influence of Kant on Schleiermacher and Hegel on Baur. We can go on ad infinitum talking about the influence of Hume on Kant. I am obviously being selective here.