Within Protestantism there are two classic approaches to theology. The one initially emphasizes God’s action in regard to man. The other begins with man’s experience of God. The former tends toward creedal definition and might be labeled a “theology of the Word”; its trinitarian focus is on Christology (on the revelation of God to man), and perhaps its most representative expression is the theology of Martin Luther. The latter tends toward the intuitive and interpersonal and might be labeled a “theology of experience”; its trinitarian focus is on the Holy Spirit (on man’s experience of God in his creation and redemption), and its classic theological statement is that of Friedrich Schleiermacher.
Although the evangelical believes that Schleiermacher, the nineteenth-century romanticist and liberal theologian, made several crucial mistakes in working out his theology, his starting point was not necessarily in error. Even Karl Barth, a strong proponent of a theology of the Word, recognized the validity in principle of formulating an experiential theology. Barth’s term for such a theology was a “theology of awareness.” He said, “What Schleiermacher constructed by means of his theology of awareness by planting himself in the center which for the Reformers had been a subsidiary center, could be the pure theology of the Holy Spirit; the teaching of man brought face to face with God by God, of man granted grace by grace” (Protestant Thought: From Rousseau to Ritschl, Simon and Schuster, 1969, p. 341).
Evangelicals are beginning to recognize the truth of Barth’s statement as they explore the possibility of an experientially based theology. Influenced by those ...1
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