Engaging a Controversial Theologian: Schleiermacher on Christian Faith

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It’s near the end of the eighteenth century, and a German theology student is in distress. He had recently graduated from the University of Halle and moved to Berlin to become a chaplain at a local hospital. His readings at the university in rationalist philosophy and theology had led him to doubt his faith in the Christian doctrine taught since his childhood. Writing to his father, the young man confesses to him, “I cannot believe that he who called himself the Son of Man was the true, eternal God; I cannot believe that his death was a vicarious atonement.

Ten years later, the young student, now a professor at the University of Berlin, has gained notoriety for his lectures and writings on religion, coming to believe that religion has a place in human experience—but he still doesn’t hold to the traditional doctrines of the Christian faith. His class schedule forces him to teach through the curriculum common at the time: hermeneutics, theology, philosophy, politics, and psychology. Over the course of the next few years, the professor begins to teach that Christianity was, in fact, true, but not in the way that pastors and theologians have often taught.

The professor, Friedrich Schleiermacher, now considered the father of liberal theology, grounds his new vision for Christianity in the concept of the “feeling of absolute dependence.” He writes in his magnum opus Christian Faith that “The feeling of absolute dependence, accordingly, is not to be explained as an awareness of the world’s existence, but only as an awareness of the existence of God, as the absolute undivided unity.” That is to say, the foundation and springboard for Christian theology is the individual’s consciousness of the Godhead. From there, one can move from general terminology about the deity to specific content, such as atonement, sin, and grace.

Coming to Logos

While most Christians will find many statements by Schleiermacher troubling, even heretical, his influence on Christian theology throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century is significant. B.B. Warfield called Schleiermacher a “genius” while taking him to task for introducing a pseudo-mystical rendering of the Christian faith into the church. Dr. Albert Mohler comments at length on Schleiermacher’s influence in the writings of E.Y. Mullins, one of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s beloved former presidents, although he criticizes Schleiermacher for jettisoning central tenants of Christianity simply to make it more accessible to others. To anyone even remotely familiar with the work of Warfield and Mohler, it’s clear their theological views held little in common with those of Schleiermacher. Nevertheless, their thoughtful engagement with a theological opponent is an example for contemporary evangelicals.

Recently, Westminister John Knox Press released a new translation of the Christian Faith. This is the first full translation of Schleiermacher’s important work since 1928 and the first English-language critical edition ever. Edited by top Schleiermacher scholars, this edition includes extensive notes that detail changes Schleiermacher made to the text and explain references that may be unfamiliar to contemporary readers. Employing shorter sentences and more careful tracking of vocabulary, the editors have crafted a translation that is significantly easier to read and follow.

At $20 off the regular price, there’s no better way to engage with this important theological work. Place your Pre-Pub order on these volumes and lock in your low price.

Place your Pre-Pub order on Christian Faith today!