I've just finished breezing through Hans Kung's Great Christian Thinkers (1994), which looks at seven Christian theologians: Paul, Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Schleiermacher, and Barth. I confess that the discourse of 20th-century theologians is utterly baffling to me; the words and categories employed just seem to lack any objective content. So I'll write a paragraph or two on Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), termed by Kung the first theologian who was "a modern man through and through." What does this mean?
Kung amplifies, explaining that having a modern mindset, to him, means:
- Affirming modern philosophy, essentially the Enlightenment and especially Kant.
- Affirming historical criticism and applying it to the foundation documents in the Bible, which Schleiermacher did as a pioneer in biblical hermeneutics.
- Affrming modern literature, art, and society, which Schleiermacher did as an active participant in the German scholarly ferment of the Romantic period.
In simpler terms, being modern in this sense meant turning away from the premodern stress on demons, witchcraft, and supernatural religion while, at the same time, not following Enlightenment rationalism into intellectualized unbelief. As Kung describes it, Schleiermacher's approach was to describe religion as neither science nor morality nor art, but as a "mysterious experience" or a "sense and taste for the infinite" or the "indwelling of the infinite in the finite" (quoting Kung). Those phrases may sound a bit vacuous, but viewed sympathetically they are an attempt to express religion in the modern idiom without reducing it to a either a branch of philosophy or natural science.
A couple of comments: First, we ought to admire Schleiermacher, a pastor all his life as well as a scholar, for trying to carve out philosophical turf on which modern theology could stand on its own, being grounded in human experience of the divine rather than manifestations of the supernatural. Second, it's worth noting that orthodox Mormon doctrine, as well as a good deal of Evangelical theologizing, appears to be premodern in terms of Kung's discussion. Oh well.