Do we have the right to generalize about “modern theology” or to speak of the “modern theologian” as though he belonged to a well-defined class? Can we say that the various competing contemporary schools of theology and all their different advocates have anything in common beyond similar titles and the fact that they exist today? “Classical” or orthodox Protestantism and its modern adherents are easy to identify by their fidelity to the great Reformation confessions of faith. “Liberal” Protestanism, which has supposedly been theologically obsolete since World War I at the latest, is still with us today, more deeply entrenched than is often recognized. Neither of these two schools is what is meant by the expression “modern theology.”

The Unity of Modern Theology

There are at least two other major trends in recent theology: the “theology of the Word of God” and the theology of “existentialist interpretation.” Each has some legitimate claim to the label “modern,” but the two combat each other vigorously. With the “theology of the Word of God” we associate certain parallel or similar trends: dialectical theology, neo-orthodoxy, crisis-theology, and more recently “heilsgeschichtliche Theologie,” and such names as Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Heim, Oscar Cullmann, and most recently Wolfhart Pannenberg. The term “existentialist interpretation” covers the school—now in its third generation—that was molded by its encounter with Martin Heidegger’s existentialist analysis of human self-understanding. It includes the famous name of Rudolf Bultmann as well as those of such disciples and friends of his as Ernst Fuchs, Ernst Käsemann, and Gerhard Ebeling; in a slightly different sense we could also mention Albert Schweitzer, ...

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