The Changing Face of Theology
The intellectual climate of the later nineteenth century was saturated by the evolutionary conception. It would be a mistake to consider that it was the strength of the scientific evidences produced that gained for this philosophy its wide acceptance. Its great popularity arose from the fact that it suited so well the prevailing thought of the time. In the economic sphere the doctrine of progress through struggle held dominance. The state was to interfere as little as possible since the competition of business would finally produce the best results for all. In the political mood of the time, the doctrine of Realpolitik was coming rapidly to the front. It was felt by many statesmen and leaders that even war was an instrument of national policy, and that the strongest nation must inevitably prevail and reap the fruits of power. The biological doctrine of Darwin fitted this complex of thought most admirably, and thus it rapidly gained ascendancy over every alternative viewpoint.
The earlier part of the nineteenth century had seen the wide use of the new technique of historical criticism. This method had been most fruitful in the searching out of fact and fraud, and no one who sought to discover the genuine and the true could find much criticism for it. Unfortunately it was greatly perverted when used in relation to the Bible. Antisupernaturalists and deists insisted on treating the Scripture as they would treat any other ancient book. Obviously there is no other book like the Bible. A bare recognition of this fact would indicate that any scientific approach to it must take this fact into consideration. But this period, for all of its worship of the scientific method, was just as prejudiced as any other.
The fusing of the evolutionary conception with the new higher criticism gave force to the most violent attack that the Book of God had yet known. Added weight was given to this attack by a variety of other public issues that strongly influenced the mood of the time. The widespread dislike of Catholic interference in political affairs, and the feeling that clericalism was the foe of progress, played their part in stimulating the liberal trends, which were already very strong. The dissent from the Biblical doctrine of human depravity, which conflicted with the new cults of human perfectibility and progress, also tended to color the thinking of the period. Finally, the new cultism and worship of science broadened this assault upon the Bible into unprecedented volume.
Defensive Reactions Seen in the Churches
The attitudes toward the attack assumed by the various churches was related to the nature of the authority that they claimed. Naturally, the Protestant churches, which had broken away from the Roman Catholic authority on the basis of the Bible being the sole foundation of the church's faith, were the hardest hit. A movement of Christian Evidences rapidly developed. Such works as Bishop Butler's Analogy, and Paley's Natural Theology enjoyed a new vogue as defenders of the Bible sought to draw the weapons with which they could resist this new insidious attack.
It might be expected that the reactions of the Catholic Church to the problem would take a different form from that of the Protestants. For rather obvious reasons the Catholic Church has never insisted upon any literal interpretation of the Bible. She has always rested upon her own inalienable right to authority in any matter that might touch dogma, faith, and morals, hence her defense took another form altogether. Leo XIII fostered a renewed emphasis on the writings of the great scholastic doctor, Thomas Aquinas, to produce an intellectual reconciliation between "science" and Catholic doctrine. The famous encyclical Rerum Novarum, 1891, laid the basis of a new social approach by the Catholic Church. These adaptations of the church took the Papacy safely over the roughest waters of the period. The Catholic Church used her authority to crush successfully the growing modernist movement within her ranks, but in this the Protestant churches were far less successful.
Liberal Christianity or Modernism
That which grew by leaps and bounds during the later fateful years of the religious struggle was termed "liberal thought." The sensational claim that this "new" movement within the church was a radical reorganization of Christianity in the light of modern science, or a bringing of religion up to date, influenced considerably the tendencies of the century. But Catholic historians pointed to the essence of the problem when they stated that this change likewise involved a quaint shift of emphasis from "faith" to "good works," "not the old theological ones, to be sure, but those of modern humanitarianism: social uplift, popular education, public health, and crusades against alcoholism, against juvenile delinquency, against cruelty to animals."' None of these fine ideals could possibly provide a satisfactory substitute for the great doctrines of the Christian faith. They did not do so when progress did appear to be a feasible proposition, and when, superficially, education seemed to be making a considerable impact upon human nature, but the twentieth century brought changes that revealed the whole conception to be completely flimsy.
The Age of Conflict—Rise of Neo-Orthodoxy
The first half of the twentienth century saw two world wars, the fall of nine empires, one major revolution, and a depression that locked both the Old and the New world in a profound paralysis that became the seedbed of new movements, which within the short space of nine or ten years were to bring the whole world into another convulsion of war, immeasurably more terrible than the one seen in the years between 1914 and 1918. Not only did the conception of progress seem farcical in the light of these events, but the doctrine of human perfectibility that had gone along with it appeared even more impossible. Through its leadership one of the most cultured nations on earth had attempted to wipe out a whole race in the gas chamber. Doctrines of hate and racial superiority had brought serious doubt as to whether there was any serious desire to achieve good will on earth and peace to all men. Three prominent historians close a nine-hundredpage book concerning these fateful years with the words:
The thought is constantly breaking through that "something" is very wrong with the world over and above the particular conflict of men and people which has been the staple of our narrative. Civilization—and certainly Western civilization is passing through one of the greatest transformations, if not the greatest, of its history. The core and content of our lives is now in extreme crisis. Perhaps the crisis most forcibly appears to us in the seeming lack of a spiritual revolution to accompany and direct our technological and social revolution.2
This is the issue that has been highlighted by the swift and dramatic changes of our era. At a time when millions have been rendered homeless, when whole nations have lifted up their eyes to "look unto the earth" and have seen "trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish," there has been a bankruptcy of Christianity. Men have been offered husks when they sought for bread, and broken cisterns when they sought for living springs of water.
Europe. has seen some of the worst aspects of these changes, and it is consequently in Europe that a new theological emphasis first developed. Karl Barth was the prophet of the collapse of optimistic hopes in Germany after 1918. In the vigorous theological renewal that took place in Germany between 1918-1921, Karl Barth, who had been brought to Gottingen University, soon became the leading Reformed theologian of modern times. When the Nazi regime came to power, he with Otto Weber became a leading figure in the struggle between the German churches and the new paganism. The impact of two world wars, the worldwide depression, the evident cruelty of man to man, developed a demand for a return to a new Protestant orthodoxy. This demand naturally gained increasing force during the middle decades of the twentieth century. In many respects this neo-orthodoxy was an attempt to form a compromise between the literal orthodoxies of Fundamentalism, and the lack of reality in a modernism that had been shown to be inadequate for the deep crises that had come upon the world. The strength of neo-orthodoxy came from the disillusionment and the pessimism that the facts of the middle twentieth century laid upon all candid observers. Men and women everywhere felt a need for a greater help than they could gain from the unaided reason and strength of man alone.
Emil Brunner, one of the leading exponents of the movement, insists that religion's philosophy must remain at a secondary level to Protestant theology. The full implications of the movement are difficult to assess accurately at the present time. Its emphasis is always toward the transcendental breaking through of God by Jesus Christ into the consciousness of man. It is so far the product of the time in which it came that it is not easy at this stage to trace all of its significances. It tends to accept the results of critical scholarship on matters such as dates, authorship, authenticity, et cetera. Essentially it is a rediscovery of the transcendent God of Calvin and His liberating Word—the message of man's importance in the face of God. There is no emphasis of the message of the Bible in the sense of man's dogmatic or critical reading of it, but the emphasis is that God speaks in the Bible as the God of life. Yet the message of Barth does bring the conviction of sin to bear on modern civilization. Man cannot hope by his own efforts to bring a better world into being, or to better and perfect himself. European Barthianism has not fully suited the more optimistic American temperament, although such leaders as Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich have brought something of the same vision of the absolute and unconditioned God to give to men an absolute perspective whereby the relative facts of history can be better judged.
Adventism and Modern Theology in the Current World Scene
We would be unfair to the great message that God has given to us, as well as lacking in the discharge of our responsibility to the tragic world in which we live, if we did not fully recognize the fact that the Seventh-day Adventist movement has never been deceived by the roseate dreams of Utopia, which were the fabric of late nineteenth-century thinking. We have found no necessity to reconstruct our theology. On the contrary, the vast changes in the world scene have served to re-enforce those things that we have so long taught and believed. Ours is not the theology of despair, but of hope. To us as to others comes the cry, "Watchman, what of the night?" In common with others we must look out upon the tragic realities of our day and generation. In a single generation we have looked out over
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake. . . wasted lands, roaring deeps and fiery sands, Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.°
We, like all others, have to say that the night indeed cometh, but we can say it with brighter mien and with a radiant hope, for "the morning cometh, and also the night."
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1 Carlton J. H. Hayes, A Generation of Materialism, p. 140.
2 Chambers, Harris, Bayley, Age of Conflict. Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Lotos-Eaters."