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A Tribute to the Saints for All Saints Day!

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All Saints Day 2017 - This Year Focuses on The Modern Era!

Text by Bill Anderson and Cartoons by Rich Diesslin

The Modern Era

To some degree the nineteenth century is a continuation of the original passion of the Reformation, after a two century lull. Much of the unfinished business of the reformed thinkers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin was moved forward on the agenda after a post-Reformation scholasticism that tended to close the doors on creative theological thought. Yet the modern age was distinctively modern. New developments in science and philosophy as well as the political and economic development of peoples and cultures were forward-looking and not mere reproductions of patterns already laid down. It was a creative, dynamic time.

For Christian thought the modern age up to the close of World War I provided the presuppositions on which later developments can be evaluated. The breakup of traditional theological axioms whether in doctrine, biblical studies, or in the interpretation of church history required a radical reconsideration of both the heritage and destiny of Christianity.

To select just one representative for each of the major new theological developments of the modern age would in itself make an impressive roll call. Philosophy in Immanuel Kant, dogmatics in Friedrich Schleiermacher, David Strauss in Biblical Criticism, Adolph von Harnack in Church History, William James in the psychology of religion, the social gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch, to mention only a few of the obvious---these were the fermenting spirits of an exhilarating century.

(the marginal characters are Adam and Eve who provide running commentary on each cartoon)

Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889 C.E.)

Often linked with Friedrich Schleiermacher, with whom he had much in common, Ritschl moved in a different theological world. As Schleiermacher emphasized feeling as paramount in religion, Ritschl emphasized the will. For Schleiermacher it was the person of Jesus Christ, whereas for Ritschl it was the work of Jesus Christ. Schleiermacher sought to reconstruct theology, Ritschl was more interested in the ethical implications of the kingdom of God.

Ritschl's major work was a three-volume study on the Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation (1870-1874). In the New Testament context of justification and reconciliation, the religious experience of redemption is related, on the one hand to the work of Jesus Christ and, on the other, to the kind of life --- individually and collectively --- that is appropriate to the kingdom of God. To speculate about the person of Jesus Christ or the relation of the divine and human natures is to try to make scientific, factual judgments in an area where value judgments alone make sense. Albrecht Ritschl's way of dealing with the matter was to say that we know Christ is the Son of God because he has the worth or value of God for us. And we know this because he accomplishes a religious and ethical work in us which only God could do.

Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930 C.E.)

Of the newly developed perspectives in the nineteenth century for viewing Christian thought, historical research was of prime importance. And in this field Adolf von Harnack was unparalleled. Born in Dorpat, Russia, he was professor of church history successively at Leipzig, Giessen, Marburg, and at Berlin, where his fame spread far and wide. Particularly interested in the early church period, since he regarded it as normative, Harnack wrote an impressive series of books and monographs on the era.

As an historian, he was intrigued by the effect of social and cultural mores upon Christianity. Heretofore it had been assumed that Christianity sprang of a piece from the New Testament and remained unchanged throughout at least its early history. Harnack pointed up the contrast between the Christianity of the Gospels and the effect upon early Christianity of the Hellenistic point of view. On the whole, he felt that history had been unkind to the religion of Jesus, hardening it into dogmas which expressed the Greek spirit of speculation but falsified the simple gospel of Jesus of Nazareth.

Karl Barth (1886-1968 C.E.)

Both friend and foe, and Barth had many of both, agreed that he was the theologian's theologian of the middle years of the twentieth century. His initial publication, a story commentary on the Pauline Epistle to the Romans, appeared in 1919. Subsequently, a steady stream of books from his pen made his name famous in and out of religious circles throughout the world.

Although Barth addressed himself to a great diversity of topics from Communism to Mozart, his consuming passion for thirty years went into the volumes containing more than 7,500 pages known as the Church Dogmatics (1936-1962). He would doubtless wince at the suggestion, but the only comparison would be Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theological in the Middle Ages. A theology in the grand manner, its sprawling contents covered the spectrum of doctrinal interpretation that stirred theological discussion for fifty years and more.

Increasingly it became clear that Barth's governing norm was Christology. Wherever he dipped into doctrine, he always came up with christocentric implications. Even in the case with the bristling and speculative doctrine of election, Barth approached the question from the novel view that Christ is the elect. At a time when few theologians could find anything positive to say for the doctrine, Barth affirmed in his first proposition, “The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best: God elects man.”

Rudolf Otto (1868-1937 C.E.)

An early spokesperson for what came to be known as the science of comparative religions, Rudolf Otto provided a pioneering study on the idea of the holy. Born near Hanover, Germany, Otto studied at Erlangen and Gottingen, where he became a professor of theology. Travel in the East, particularly in India, deepened his interest in non-Christian religions. Rudolf Otto stands in the line of Friedrich Schleiermacher who held that God is apprehended only in feeling and that we can never really know God as God really is. All attempts at know god, in God's essence, by means of scientific or metaphysical analysis, are doomed to failure.

In his The Idea of the Holy., Otto endeavors to describe the non-conceptual elements of religion. It is Otto's view that religion is rational in that it ascribes definable attributes to the deity and that it is non-rational or suprarational in that the essence of the deity is not exhaustively defined by any such ascription. the non-rational is the innermost core of religion, the experience of the holy which can only be evoked but not defined. To describe this experience Otto coined the term numinous. The numinous is felt to be objective and outside the self. It is more then merely a feeling of dependence, as Schleiermacher would have expressed it. To be understood it must be experienced in oneself, in creature-consciousness or creature-feeling, e.g. when a person is overwhelmed by and respond to an overpowering might. The numinous is not identical with feeling; rather, it is that which evokes certain affective states.

This awareness of the non-rational is found, according to Otto, in every for every religion is endowed with a pure a priori capacity for experiencing the holy. But for him, also, the numinous has been most fully realized in Christianity, for here the holy has been made manifest in the person of Jesus the Christ.

The Periodic Table of Christian Theology!


The history of Christian theology can be a daunting, even forbidding field for the novice, who sees neither the need for nor pertinence of rummaging around dusty old texts. This people-friendly volume, a full-scale reader in the history of Christian theology, offers an easy, non-threatening, occasionally humorous yet quite thorough entry into Christianity's central texts from the Apostolic Fathers to Mary Daly.

It is also enlivened by dozens of cartoons by Rich Diesslin. Highly accessible introductions to five periods precede brief introductions to and texts from more than fifty key thinkers. The texts highlight perennial themes and questions in Christian tradition, especially the meaning and importance of Jesus, challenges to the institutional church, tensions of faith and reason, spirituality, and the Christian quest for social justice.

The second edition, 50% larger than the original, adding significant work from the Cappadocian Fathers and the Christological controversialists, the Franciscan tradition, the Radical and English reforms, and deeper coverage of twentieth-century theologians. With learning aids, research-paper suggestions and guide, and glossary.

This All Saints Day Tour is Brought to You by ...

A Journey Through Christain Theology

Augsburg Fortress Press
2nd Edition May 2010
ISBN: 9780800696979

2nd Edition Book Cover

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