Karl Barth’s theological education was that of a typical liberal. But early in his career he turned against modernism and became a leader in a new type of thought.
The chief and summary accusation Barth made against liberal theology was that it substituted man for God. Such a substitution entailed a particular notion of God, but also a particular notion of man; and Barth centered his attack on the notion of man. To explain Barth’s thought, it is necessary to grasp the motivation behind liberal theology.
From the time of his studies with Hermann, Barth regarded Schleiermacher as the greatest theological figure of the nineteenth century, and not without reason. Convinced of the value of Christianity, Schleiermacher wished to defend it against the onslaughts of the Enlightenment. At the same time he considered himself a modern man. The values of Christianity therefore must in some way be integrated with the advances of science and culture. To do so, he identified the kingdom of God with the progress of civilization. His theology borrowed its principles from contemporary science. Theology must be founded on a philosophy of religion, and echoing Kant, he founded religion on ethics. With a mixture of Kant and romanticism, Schleiermacher’s theology arises in a subjective religious feeling of total dependence. The Word, or intellectual truth, is a secondary matter. It is in feeling, in experience, in conduct that man has some sort of relation with God.
The Errors Of Modernism
For modernism the method of theology consists in taking the Church and its faith as part of the wider context of civilization in general. Dogmatics, in this view, derives its structure and its norms from the general laws of society and the universe. Therefore Schleiermacher—and ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more