Most students of theology recognize Schleiermacher’s influence on modern theology—an influence that is becoming more and more obvious in recent studies and discussions. But not as many realize the extent to which his Moravian-pietistic background affected his life and thought. Schleiermacher reacted vigorously against his pious youth, yet carried many of its values with him all his life. A study of his life provides insight into the development of modern theology, and it warns evangelicals today of potential problems.

Friedrich Ernst Schleiermacher was born on November 21, 1768, the son of a Reformed Prussian army chaplain. In 1778, his father experienced a deep religious awakening. As he put it, Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross became the basis of a whole new life for him. His experience, and later his wife’s, were part of a significant awakening among the Moravians.

The Moravian movement arose in early fifteenth-century Bohemia among the followers of John Huss. In the seventeenth century the church expanded significantly under the patronage of Count Zinzendorf. Known for their spiritual fervor and their diligence in business, the Moravians emphasized the depravity of man and the love of God revealed in the reconciling death of Christ. The cross was central to their worship and to their personal religious experience. Their ministry among the “diaspora,” or non-Moravian churches, especially influenced the Schleiermachers. Without seeking to proselytize, the Moravians worked in the state (Lutheran and Reformed) churches, awakening their membership to true faith in Christ and in his atoning death.

Immediately following their religious awakening, Schleiermacher’s parents determined ...

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