Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future… Part 4a

with 3 comments

Friedrich Schleiermacher

Friedrich Schleiermacher

Ideas have consequences.

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.

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3 Responses

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  1. Mike, what’s the balance on interpretation then? Reading your first paragraph I was struck that the process you described as higher criticism seems pretty close to hermeneutics (sp?) that pastors I know talk about and that have even shared with me as a way to get deeper into Scripture. Obviously one though is that the process should never get us to a result that then contradicts Scripture, i.e. the Incarnation is not “rational”. Thanks for the posts man, I’m loving this junk

    Andy

    October 16, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    • Andy, we are always trying to figure out the background of the writer, document, and audience – as well as looking at the text itself. The problem with the Tubingen School, and the Higher/Lower critics that followed is that they read the Bible very flatly. They read the Bible in a very similar fashion that they would have read Darwin’s, Origin of the Species. The end result is that they read the Bible without hardly paying any attention to genre. That kind of flat read is highly problematic and leads to very wrong conclusions.
      A very good summary of Biblical inerrancy, in response to all the criticism is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

      Michael Graham

      October 17, 2009 at 1:30 pm

  2. […] its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their […]


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