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MAR 111958 




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Copyright © 1958 by 
National Board of Young Men's Christian Associations 

Association Press, 291 Broadway, New York 7, N. Y. 

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in 
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This book is gratefully inscribed 



for his Eyes of Faith 

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The following articles in this book are abridged from 
Crossroads, a study and program magazine for adults, 
published by the Board of Christian Education of the 
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., copyright by W. L. 
Jenkins, and used by permission of the authors and 
the publisher: 

Albert Schweitzer (Copyright 1955) 
Walter Rauschenbusch (Copyright 1957) 
Soren Kierkegaard (Copyright 19 56) 
Karl Barth (Copyright 1956) 
Reinhold Niebuhr (Copyright 1956) 
Paul Tillich (Copyright 1957) 
The other articles have been written expressly for this 

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Introduction: The Men and the Movements" . , 9 

By George L. Hunt 
I. Albert Schweitzer (1875- ) ....... 21 

By Henky a. Rodgers 
II. Walter Rauschenbusch (186M918) .... 31 

By Robert T. Handy 

III. William Temple (1881-1944) . 40 

By C. Edward Hopkin 

IV. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) SO 

By Fred J. Denbeaux ♦ 

V. Karl Barth (1866- ) 58 

By Thomas F. Torrance> 

VI. Emil Brunner (1889- ) 69 

By Hugh T. Kerr 
VII. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892- ) ....... 78 

By Claude Welch 

VIII. Paul Tillich (1886- ) 89 

By Robert Clyde Johnson 

IX. Rudolf Bultmann (1884- ) 102 

By Carl Michalson 

X. Martin Buber (1878- ) 114 

By Walter E. Wiest 

Notes and Documentation by Chapters . . 123 






The person who buys this book probably does so be- 
cause he has heard of some of the men in it and wants 
to know more about them and Protestant thought in 
the century in which he is living. 

The reader asks himself at least three questions 
before he begins reading: "Why were these particular 
men selected as makers? What is the central element 
in the thought of each of them? Where does each one 
fit into the stream of twentieth-ccntviry Protestantism?" 

The articles attempt to answer the second question, 
and deal primarily with the thought of these men 

• George L. Hunt is adult editor of the Presbyterian Board 
of Christian Education, Philadelphia, Pa., and editor of Cross- 
roads, the magazine in which six of these essays appeared 



rather than their life histories. The third question will 
be answered in the rest of this essay. At the beginning, 
let me reply to the first one. 

The ten names selected for essays represent a per- 
sonal judgment of the editor, arrived at after consulta- 
tion with a number of other persons. These are the 
men whom I judge to be the pioneers in Protestant 
thought from 1900 to 1958, pioneers in the sense of 
opening up new trails of exploration and exerting the 
strongest influence on the course of Protestantism at 
this time. 

The articles are arranged chronologically, according 
to the time when these men have been most prominent 
and influential, particularly in American Protestant- 
ism. This does not mean that they have lost their 
influence after their "heyday" but only that their 
initial impacts were made in this order. Thus, I would 
suggest that Schweitzer, Rauschenbusch, and Temple 
(and what they represent), are the chief figures of the 
first thirty years of this century; Kierkegaard (even 
though he lived a hundred years ago), Barth, Brun- 
ncr, and Niebuhr flourished in the thirties and forties; 
and as we go into the second half of the century 
Tillich, Bultmann, and Buber are making the strong- 
est- impact upon Protestant thought. These are only 
approximate divisions, of course; and I want to re- 


iterate that I speak of initial impact — ^most of these 
men have not lost their influence yet, nor are they 
likely to do so. 

Developments in Protestant Thought Since 1900 

In describing in as few words as possible the develop- 
ments to which these men have made major contribu- 
tions, I suggest we look at four areas of Protestant 
thought: Bible study, social concern, theology, and the 
nature and mission of the church. There is not the 
space here to trace the developments in these areas. 
What I shall do is indicate where we stand today, 
trusting that the interested reader will study one of 
the books listed under "For Further Reading" to "^-^ 
learn how we got here. I shall locate the subjects of 
these essays in the appropriate area, although one 
mark of our century is the fruitful way in which these • 
are^s and the men most prominent in them have 

1. Bible study. The serious and careful study of the 
Bible today requires the use of certain principles of 
interpretation which are the outcome of much labor 
and controversy in the life of the church since 1900. 
These principles are also a pretty good indication of 


the theological situation in Protestantism today. They 
are therefore worth describing in some detail. 

These principles of Bible interpretation were drawn 
up by a study commission of the World Council of 
Churches in the summer of 1949, and all direct 
quotations in the following paragraphs are from the 
report of that commission. We have here an excellent 
illustration of the way these four areas are inter- 
related. It is also a sign of the century that scholars 
from many different Protestant traditions could meet 
together and agree on these basic principles of Bible 

Behind the principles for the interpretation of a 
specific Bible passage are certain "theological pre- 
suppositions." Christians must listen to the Bible as 
God's living Word. The primary message of the Bible 
"concerns God's gracious and redemptive activity for 
the saving of sinful man that he might create in Jesus 
Christ a people for himself." To this message man 
must respond in faith and obedience. The study of the 
Bible is done by each Christian from within the 
tradition of his own particular church. But "it is 
agreed that the center and goal of the whole Bible is 
Jesus Christ." The unity of the Old and New Testa- 
ment "is not to be found in any naturalistic develop- 
ment, or in any static identity, but in the ongoing 


redemptive activity of God in the history of one 
people, reaching its fulfilhnent in Christ." 

The reader may wonder what is remarkable about 
these "presuppositions." They do not sound very dif- 
ferent from the point of view he has always known. 
They are significant, however, because they affinn 
much "that scholars of the nineteenth century ignored 
or denied. The scholar who holds this point of view 
today has come to it only after serious critical study of 
Scripture. He is not giving lazy acquiescence to an old 
faith. He is declaring what he himself has found to 
be true, often only after great travail. 

The difiFerence between a twentieth-century "Chris- 
tological" perspective on the Bible and the same per- 
spective held a hundred years before is that today 
this perspective grows out of "a historical and critical 
examination of the text." This includes the determina- 
tion of the text itself, its language, and the accuracy 
of the documents available; the literary form of the 
passage; the historical situation surrounding the writ- 
ing of the passage under study; the meaning which the 
words had for the original author and hearer or 
reader; the understanding of the passage in the light 
of its total context and the background out of which 
it emerged. Such principles as these were strongly 
resisted by conservatives late in the nineteenth and 


early in the twentieth centuries; yet today they are 
essential and accepted equipment for any serious study 
of Scripture. 

In the study of an Old Testament passage, the 
student looks at it in relation to the revelation of God 
to Israel, and then in relation to the New Testament 
"in order to view the passage in that perspective." In 
the case of a New Testament passage, the student 
studies it in its setting and context, "then turns to 
the Old Testament to discover its background in God's 
former revelation. Returning again to the New Testa- 
ment one is able to see and expound the passage in the 
light of the whole scope of the holy history which is 
the underlying theme of the Bible." 

The report also deals with the discovery of the 
biblical teaching on a specific social or political issue 
and with the application of the biblical message to the 
modern world; but we have used enough of it for our 
purpose, which is to indicate where we stand in 
biblical interpretation today. The introductions and 
notes of the Westminster Study Edition of the Holy 
Bible and The Interpreter's Bible use these principles. 

In this book Albert Schweitzer and Rudolf Bult- 
mann represent the area of Bible study. They happen 
to stand at either end of our period also. Schweitzer's 
emphasis on eschatology in the teachings of Jesus, and 



his demonstration of the fact that we do not know 
enough to write a "biography" of Jesus turned New 
Testament study in a whole new direction. The sig- 
nificance of these two ideas lies in the fact that in 
emphasizing eschatology Schweitzer was calling for a 
greater fidelity to the biblical message, while in 
demonstrating how little we know about the historical 
Jesus he prepared the way for re-examination of the 
relation between the Christ of history and of faith. 

Bultmann did pioneering work in biblical criticism 
in the first decades' of this century; but his efforts to 
"demythologize" the biblical record (see the essay) is 
a more recent development and is just now being 
explored for its value in making the Bible speak to 
this and future generations. The names of Martin 
Dibclius, C. H. I>)dd, W. F. Albright (the archeolo- 
gist), Edgar Goodspeed, Oscar Ctillman, and Walter 
Eichrodt should also be mentioned in this area. 

2. Social concern. The significant development in this 
area is the emphasis on the corporate aspects of social 
responsibiUty. Wc have passed from conceiving of 
morality and ethics in individualistic terms to the 
point where we are now more aware that evil has 
social causes as well as consequences, and that the 
exercise of moral responsibility is the work of the 


corporate community seeking to affect the power 
structures and patterns of society, and recognizing 
that it itself is affected by them. This does not mean 
that there is no place for individualism (freedom to 
be an individual is, in fact, one of the major social 
problems of our time). But vve now realize that deeds 
of mercy and justice between individuals, though 
worth while and necessary, do litde to change the 
society that causes injustice. 

In the words of Dillenbergcr and Welch, this new 
viewpoint represents "an apparentiy permanent shift 
in the Christian attitude toward social institutions in 
relation tp man's salvation. Earlier it had been as- 
sumed that the patterns of the social order were 
fixed. . . . Now, however, social institutions them- 
selves were seen to be more malleable, and both re- 
demptive and restrictive in relation to the spiritual 
life. . . . Now men felt required, as part of their 
Christian witness, to conceive of the transformation of 
the social structures as such, and of the creation of new 
patterns." f^ 

Though many have contributed to this development, 
this change is associated primarily with the names of 

t Notes and documentation for all chapters will be found at 
the end of the book, beginning on page 123. 



Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr. (Sec 
the essays.) 

3. Theology. The movement in theology with which 
this part of our century will be identified is usually 
called "neo-orthodoxy"; but Waldo Beach's designa- 
tion of "neo-Protestantism" is better. It was set in 
motion by Karl Barth, carried on by Emil Brunner and 
many others; and in America is usually associated with 
the name of Reinhold Niebuhr, although there are 
wide differences among these men and Niebuhr dis- 
claims his own role as a theologian. 

Neo-Protestantism represents a rediscovery of the 
vitality of Reformation theology. It has reaffirmed the 
sovereignty of God as One who is other than man, 
but who is actively involved in man's affairs and is 
Lord of all life. It has declared that God makes him- 
self known in Jesus Christ his Son; and Jesus Christ 
(the man who is God, the God who has become man, 
second person of the Trinity) is known in and through 
the Bible. It has included a fresh appreciation of the 
church's teaching about the nature of man; created in 
the image of God, man has fallen from that estate and 
needs the redemption and reconciliation that only 
Christ can bring. Concepts like eschatology, the king- 


dom of God, and the church have been re-examined 
and revivified. 

This century has seen the rise of psychiatry and 
psychoanalysis and of experience<entered education. 
Tiiese disciplines have affected the teaching and 
preaching of the church. But the philosophical move- 
ment closest to theology is existentialism. Kierkegaard 
is the "fountainhead" of this movement and he has 
exerted a profound influence on all the men in this 
book from Barth on, and on Protestant thinking in 
general. It is impossible to define existentialism briefly. 
We can only refer the reader to the essays, and par- 
ticularly to the book by David E. Roberts mentioned 
at the end of the Kierkegaard essay. 

The century has been rich in good theologians. To 
name a few: Nels Ferr^, Anders Nygren, Gustaf 
Aulen, John and Donald Baillie. 
4. The nature and mission of the church. Two closely 
related developments have taken place in this area. 
This has been the century of the "ecumenical church"; 
activities of church cooperation have abounded, and 
the union of denominations has taken place. We need 
only mention the formation of the International Mis- 
sionary Council, the National Council of the Churches 
of Christ in America, the World Council of Churches, 
and the World Coimcil of Christian Education — ^all 


formed in this century — ^to make this point clear. The 
line between "sending" churches and "receiving" 
churches in the mission field is rapidly breaking down, 
and "one church" is nearer to reality than it has ever 
been before. William Temple was one of the leaders 
of this movement (though the essay deals with a dif- 
ferent facet of his witness). To his name should be 
added the names of John R. Mott, John A. Mackay, 
Bishop Brent, and many other leaders of the modern 
missionary movement. 

The other development has been an increased con- 
cern about the nature of the church. This has grown 
directly out of the ecumenical movement. What is the 
church? What is its place in the plan of God? What 
is the meaning of the sacraments? of church orders 
and organizations and ministries? What is the mis- 
sion of the church in our kind of world? These are 
live and important questions which will occupy a 
prominent place in Protestant life and thought in the 
years ahead. 

Meanwhile, as in every age, the church faces what 
is today called "the problem of communication." How 
can the ancient gospel be made alive and meaningful 
to this age of "anxiety" and "scientism?" Tillich and 
Bultmann are intensely concerned with this matter, 
and regard their work as laying the groimdwork for 


intelligent communication about the faith. It seems 
also that the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber has 
something to say to Protestants on this same score, 
with his stress on the importance of the personal in 
human relationships. Certainly no emphasis is more 
needed in our kind of world than this. 


John Dillenberger and Claude Welch, Protestant Chris- 
tianity (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954). 

Arnold S. Nash, ed., Protestant Thought in the Twentieth 
Century (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1951). 


■orrpr r?'!^ fN'-n ,',• 


Enthusiastic admirers have called Albert Schweitzer 
the "greatest man in the world." Whether or not he 
deserves this superlative title, there is no doubt about 
the impact made by the force of his personality upon 
the world of our day. 

Born in 1875, he grew up in the litde town of 
Giinsbach in the then German, now French province 
of Alsace. His father was pastor of the Evangelical 
congregation. At the age of thirty Albert Schweitzer 
resolved to give his life to some task of service to 
humanity as an expression of his stewardship to Christ. 
After considering various projects, he found his call 
in an advertisement of the Paris Missionary Society 
for a medical doctor to serve in French Equatorial 

• Henry A. Rodgers is professor of Greek and Bible at Grove 
City College, Grove City, Pa. 


Africa. He had already earned doctorates in philos- 
ophy, theology, and music. To these he now added a 
fourth in medicine. Then he offered his services to 
the Paris Society. 

Schweitzer held some theological views which were 
unpopular at the time. Because of this, the Society 
' nearly turned him down, and finally accepted him 
only on condition that he would not preach. In 1913, 
with his wife, a nurse, he set out for Africa. At 
Lambar'^ne he built a hospital from the ground up. 
By 1914 he had more practice than he could handle. 
For over forty years he has given himself in this work 
as a true and loyal servant of Jesus Christ. 

Reaction to Liberalism 

In this chapter on Albert Schweitzer we are 
primarily interested in his contribution to religious 
thought, and must therefore bypass the fascinating 
story of his medical work in Africa. 

He is primarily a New Testament scholar; and his 
major work in New Testament study was a reaction 
against the liberal school of German theology of his 
day. The principal goal of these liberals was to study 
Jesus with modern methods, and so make him intel- 
ligible to the modem mind. They tried to rediscover 
"the historical Jesus" as a man who had lived in a 




certain period of history, iindcr certain political and 
social conditions, and had proclaimed his universal 
message. Above all, they wanted to be strictly scientific, 
by w^hich they meant eliminating everything that might 
be attributed to superstition, like the miracles, or 
Jesus' supernatural relationship with God. Such things, 
they explained, belonged to the thinking of those who 
wrote down Jesus* teachings in the Gospels, and not 
to Jesus himself. Jesus was thought of as the great 
Teacher, and the "kingdom of God" would come 
when all men fully understood and obeyed his 

Among the "superstitious" parts of the New Testa- 
ment that the liberals rejected were the many refer- 
ences to the Second Coming of Christ, the Last 
Judgment, the end of the world, heaven, and hell. 
These are known to theologians as eschatology, the 
doctrine of the Last Things. That these loom large in 
the Gospel records, and even in the recorded sayings 
of Jesus, no one has ever doubted. But Schweitzer 
became convinced that they should not be eliminated 
from the teachings of Jesus — on the contrary, Jesus 
as a man who had lived in the generation that be- 
lieved in these things had actually believed in them 

In his book The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, 



Schweitzer deals with three mysteries, which he be- 
lieves were in the mind of Jesus and which seem to 
explain all the eschatological sayings of Jesus. The 
first, the mystery of the kingdom of God, Schweitzer 
finds in Matthew 10:23 where Jesus tells the twelve 
aposdes, as he sends them out to preach, "Verily I 
say imto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of 
Israel, till the Son of man be come." ^ From this and 
other passages, Schweitzer decided that Jesus actually 
expected the Kingdom to appear in a supernatural 
way at that particular time, and that he was dis- 
appointed when it failed. 

The second, the mystery of the Messiahship, is 
based on the coincidence of the phrase "who is to 
come" in Matthew 11:3 and 14. From this Schweitzer 
concluded that people thought of Jesus — ^not of John 
the Baptist — ^as Elijah, who was to prepare the way 
for the coming of Christ. Only Jesus, he insists, at 
that time realized that when the Son of Man should 
come on the clouds of heaven, it would be himself. 

The third mystery, that of the Passion, is, accord- 
ing to Schweitzer, the most important of all. Having 
been disappointed about the coming of the Son of 
Man, that is, himself, at the time he sent out the 
Twelve, Jesus came to the conclusion, from Isaiah 53, 


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that as Messiah he must first die for his people. So he 
foretold his death, then deliberately went to Jerusalem 
and provoked the authorities to crucify him, expect- 
ing in that way to bring about his own Second Com- 
ing and the kingdom of God. 

Facing Fresh Queshons 

Schweitzer believed that he had solved the dif- 
ficulties he had found in the liberal interpretation of 
the historical Jesus. But his solution raises as many 
problems as it solves. One of these is the purpose of 
Jesus* teachings. If he was primarily concerned wdth 
establishing a supernatural, perfect Kingdom, why 
should he bother to give ethical instructions like the 
Sermon on the Mount? Schweitzer recognized this 
problem and gave his answer: Such teachings were 
intended to show his immediate followers what they 
could do as works of repentance in order that the 
Kingdom might come. They would not be needed 
after the Kingdom had come, for then sin would be 
done away with, and those who shared in the King- 
dom would naturally do the right thing. In this 
sense, he calls the teachings of Jesus "interim ethics,"" 
for the time being, until the Kingdom should come. 
(Of course, since the Kingdom has not yet come in 



the eschatological sense, they are still valid today.) 
For to Schweitzer, Jesus was not primarily a Teacher, 
but a Redeemer, the Christ who will be king. 

This insight also answers another problem raised 
by Schweitzer's interpretation: that of Jesus' alleged 
mistakes. In connection with the mystery of the king- 
dom of God, Schweitzer believes that Jesus had ex- 
pected the Kingdom to come at the time he sent out 
the twelve apostles to preach and had been dis- 
appointed and upset at its failure to materialize. Then 
he had come to the conclusion that he must force it 
to come by dying to redeem his people. This was the 
mystery of the Passion. If Schweitzer is right, Jesus 
was mistaken on both counts. The Kingdom did not 
appear when the twelve went out to preach, and it did 
not come immediately following his death. And if 
Jesus was mistaken about two of the "mysteries," how 
can we be sure he was not mistaken about the third, 
that of his Messiahship, that is, his certainty that he 
himself would be revealed as the Christ when the 
Kingdom should come? 

Schweitzer does not answer this question in just 
this form, but he does deal with the basic problem in 
the concluding chapter of The Quest of the Historical 
Jesus. * To those who would claim that he has 
destroyed faith in Jesus, he replies that the Jesus he 


l^y^W^T''^- - 

destroyed never really existed except in the inventive 
minds of the liberal theologians. He claims to have 
loosed Jesus from the fetters of this false interpretation 
and restored him to his rightful place as the great 
King. He even quotes vvrith approval Paul's dictum in 
II Corinthians, 5:16: "Though we have known Christ 
after the flesh, yet now henceforth we know him no 
more." ^ That is, his faith is not in Jesus the man, 
understood in human terms, but in Christ the Son of 
God, whom we know by his spirit in our hearts, and 
to whom our response must be not in our minds, but 
in our wills, as we obey him. 

Schweitzer was well aware that some of the liberal 
theologians would refuse to accept his eschatological 
interpretations of Jesus. He made them come to grips 
with the problem, however, and so he was partially 
responsible for the method of Bible study called 
"Form Criticism." These scholars who questioned 
whether Jesus had eschatological ideas were forced to 
attribute more and more of his sayings to the writers 
of the Gospels, or to the tradition from which they 
got their information. This in turn led to the study of 
the tradition itself, and became what is known as 
Form Criticism. This movement has produced some 
very learned works by such scholars as Martin Di- 
belius, Rudolf Bultmann, and others. 


■■>-;; t" .y'fJtr^-'iri^! 

Today, largely because of Schweitzer's pioneering 
work, no reputable theologian can ignore the escha- 
tological element in the Gospels. C. H. Dodd, of 
Cambridge, has interpreted this teaching as what he 
calls "realized eschatology." He points out that Jesus 
spoke of the Kingdom as not always future, but in 
some sense present. "The kingdom of God is in the 
midst of you."* Dodd therefore seeks to show that 
Jesus used eschatological language because it was the 
natural mode of expression in his day, but that he 
meant by it something much more universal than 
his contemporaries understood. 

Basis for Humanitarian Work 

Thus Schweitzer has affected modem Protestant 
thought. But he will be remembered rather as the 
great humanitarian, who gave up theology and philos- 
ophy to demonstrate the love of God by his medical 
mission to the neglected Negroes of Africa. In the last 
analysis, this is simply the practical expression of his 

It arises first from his sense of dedicated steward- 
ship. In his Memoirs of Childhood and Youth,^ he 
recalls winning a schoolboy fight, only to have the 
elation of victory snatched away by the loser's remark, 


Sv(f '''•"1'!. ■ 

"If I had broth every day as you do, I could beat you." 
From that day on, Schweitzer has always believed that 
God gave him exceptional powers of body and mind 
for some special service to mankind. He is trying to 
perform that service at Lambar^ne. 

It arises also from the cardinal principle of his 
Philosophy of Civilization, ® which is "Reverence for 
Life." His critics have charged that his reverence for 
all forms of animal life, even insects, is based on 
Hindu pantheism. The resemblance is coincidental. To 
Schweitzer, needlessly to kill another living creature, 
which wills to live as he wills to live, is to transgress 
the purpose of God in creating it. It is therefore a 
Christian motive. 

But his devotion to his work is, more than all else, 
simply the expression of his obedience to the royal 
Christ, to whom he has unconditionally surrendered 
his will. As he says in the closing chaf^ter of The 
Quest of the Historical Jesus, faith is a matter of the 
will, more than of the understanding. This is the 
basic faith by which he lives; and it is capable of 
commanding a devotion and self-sacrifice such as the 
"historical Jesus" could not call forth. On this faith 
let Albert Schweitzer be judged. As his Master said, 
**You shall know them by their fruits." 



Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought (New 

York: Henry Holt and Company, Incorporated, 1949; 

also. New American Library, paperback edition). An 

, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (New York: The 

Macmillan Company, 1948). 

The Mystery of the Kingdom of God (New York: 

The Macnullan Company, 1950). 


ffPp7!»i«Kl ■■'■"• i i.: 


For about a decade, Walter Rauschenbusch was one of 
the best-known ministers in America. He became a 
national figure suddenly and unexpectedly in 1907. 
From then until his d«ath in 1918, Rauschenbusch 
was greatly in demand as preacher, lecturer, and 
writer. Five important books and a number of smaller 
pieces came from his pen in those years. He was re- 
garded as the central figure in the movement known 
as the "social gospel," which was then very influential 
in American Protestantism. Henry Van Dusen has 
classed him with Jonathan Edwards and Horace Bush- 
nell as one of the three most influential men in the 
thought of the American church. 

Walter Rauschenbusch was born in 1861 in Roches- 

• Robert T. Handy is associate professor of church history 
at Union Theological Seminary, New York, N. Y. 



ter, New York. His Gennan-born father came to this 
country as a missionary in the middle of the last 
century, and soon thereafter left Lutheranism to 
enter the Baptist fold. Young Walter was educated 
in both Germany and America, and graduated from 
the Rochester Theological Seminary in 1886. He 
desired "to preach and save souls." In order to do this, 
he felt he must live literally by the teachings and 
spirit of Jesus. 

It was with this spirit of commitment that he 
accepted the pastorate of the Second German Baptist 
Chvu-ch in New York's tough west side, not far from 
the region popularly known as "Hell's Kitchen." His 
was a congregation of working people, and the earnest 
young pastor soon became acutely aware of their dif- 
ficult struggles against poverty and disease, especially 
in hard times. Their suffering forced him to confront 
social problems. As he put it, his social view "did^ 
not come from the church. It came from outside. It 
came through personal contact with poverty, and 
when I saw how men toiled all their life long, hard, 
toilsome lives, and at the end had almost nothing to 
show for it; how strong men begged for work and 
could not get it in hard times; how little children 
died — oh, the children's funerals! they gripped my 
heart — ^that was one of the things I always went away 


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thinking about— why did the children have to die?** 
(From an address in 1913.) Actually he suffered with 
his people — cleaving his bed too early after an influenza 
attack in order to minister to sick and needy parish- 
ioners, the illness recurred and left him quite deaf. 
But this did not hinder his desire to improve social 

Committed Christian that he was, he could not 
long keep his social thinking separate from his reli' 
gious thinking; and so he sought to bring the two 
together. He read widely in social and economic 
literature, but also in the writings of men who were 
advocating concern for social issues from a distinc- 
tively Christian point of view. This was the distinc- 
tive thing about him — the effort to emphasize both 
evangelical faith and social reconstruction. It was 
then an unfamiliar combination. 

A recent thoughtful analysis of Rauschenbusch by 
Winthrop S. Hudson is apdy entided "A Lonely 
Prophet." He was lonely not only because his deafness 
served to isolate him somewhat from those around 
him but also because this fundamental aim — to com- 
bine the religious and the social passion — ^was so often 
misunderstood. Some could not believe he had the 
first because he had the second also; others seized upon 
the second but remained oblivious to the first. Yet the 



key to understanding him is to see that his lifework 
was precisely the effort to keep both emphases, with 
priority always on the first. 

His Understanding of the Kingdom of God 

The seminary from which he had graduated had 
not forgotten its able son, and in 1897 Rauschenbusch 
rtturned to Rochester to teach, finally settling into 
the chair of church history. But it was to be not as a 
church historian but as a social prophet that Rauschen- 
busch became famous. He wrote a book to discharge a 
debt to his former parishioners, to help ease the pres- 
sure that bore them down. Christianity and the Social 
Crisis appeared in that year of financial panic, 1907. 

His thesis was that "the essential purpose of 
Christianity was to transform human society into the 
kingdom of God by regenerating all human relations 
and reconstituting them in accordance with the will 
of God," but that this purpose had been obscured 
through the centuries and now had to be recovered. 
Coming at a time when the social questions were 
among the most popular issues of the day, the book 
won instant acclaim and set its author at the fore- 
front of the growing number of pastors and laymen 
anxious to deal with social concerns from a Christian 
viewpoint. Rauschenbusch became the leader of the 


If^ffljf, - 1- WJ-.' 

social gospel movement, a career interrupted by his 
death of cancer in 1918. 

Rauschenbusch was especially concerned to elaborate 
on the full meaning of the kingdom of God, and he 
kept both his tongue and pen busy at this task 
throughout his lifetime. He wrote: Prayers of the 
Social Awakening (1910), Christianizing the Social 
Order (1912), The Social Principles of Jesus (1916), 
and A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917). 

The concept of the kingdom of God was for him a 
profoundly religious concept which was central in the 
teachings of Jesus and which included the entire life 
of man and society. As he said in the concluding 
chapter of the book that deals most with social and 
economic problems: 

"This is a religious book from beginning to end. Its 
sole concern is for the kingdom of God and the 
salvation of men. But the kingdom of God includes 
the economic life; for it means the progressive trans- 
formation of all human affairs by the thought and 
spirit of Christ." * 

He warned against substituting social activities for 
religious; he insisted that not less religion but more — 
of the right kind — ^was needed. 

For Rauschenbusch, the kingdom of God was not 
an earthly Utopia that men could create. He empha- 


' r'-'Y^n<f:^Kf^'!^p^'';\^^^^'.'^^ 

sized that it was divine in its origin, progress, and 
consummation. It was for liim the revelation of the 
power, the righteousness, and the love of God. He 
knew it as both a present reality among men and a 
future hope to be fully disclosed only in the fullness 
of time. He did believe that it was progressively being 

"A progressive Kingdom of righteousness happens 
all the time in installments, like our own sanctification. 
Our race will come to an end in due time; the 
astronomical clock is already ticking which will ring 
in the end. Meanwhile we are on the march toward 
the kingdom of God, and getting our reward by every 
fractional realization of it which makes us hungry 
for more." * 

He sununoned men and women to serve the King- 
dom in their lives: 

"Every human life is so placed that it can share 
with God in the creation of the Kingdom, or can 
resist and retard its progress. The Kingdom is for 
each of us the supreme task and the supreme gift of 
God. By accepting it as a task, we experience it as a 
gift. By laboring for it we enter into the joy and 
peace of the Kingdom as our divine fatherland and 
habitation." * 


The lives of many Christians were shaped by their 
response to the call to serve in the Kingdom task. 

His Contribution 

As the man who was the most conspicuous repre- 
sentative of the social gospel, Walter Rauschenbusch 
made an important and permanent contribution to 
American Christian thought. He and those like him 
pointed out in an unforgettable way the social dimen- 
sion of life and the social aspects of the gospel of 

To be sure, he was the child of his time, and most 
of us would find ourselves quite out of sympathy with 
some of his statements. In explaining what Jesus' idea 
of the Kingdom was, he no doubt read in too much 
of his own progressive and evolutionary view, and did 
not give proper weight to the eschatological aspect. 
Strong for the Kingdom, he probably did not value 
highly enough the role of the church. In stressing the 
immanence of God, in identifying him so closely 
with humanity, Rauschenbusch minimized the tran- 
scendence, the majesty, and the sovereignty of God. In 
defining sin as essentially selfishness he did less than 
justice to the classic Christian understanding of sin as 
pride. As for his social views, a case can be made that 


they lacked the sturdy quality and real insight of his 
religious thought. They reflected the mild progressive 
radicalism of the type that had considerable vogue 
before World War I; though he was not a socialist, 
his analysis of the social order drew on socialist 
thought. And clearly he overestimated the degree to 
which the nation and its institutions had become 
Christianized. , 

His contribution, therefore, was set in a framework 
that clearly bears the stamp of an age that has passed. 
Yet it is impressive to observe how he avoided the 
pitfalls into which the later social gospel slipped. 
Though he was influenced by the optimism of his 
time, he also understood the tragic character of life 
and warned that men and nations might take the 
wrong road. Although some of his followers in their 
social passion neglected personal religion, Rauschen- 
busch himself never did and, had his followers listened 
to his full message, they would not have neglected it 
either. He never confused social reconstruction, neces- 
sary as he believed it to be, with the experience of 
salvation, which he sought to enrich and expand by 
bringing it into proper relation to the kingdom of 


^i^wswvm!sx'^¥v '• 


D. R. Sharpe, Walter Eauschenbusch (New York: The 
Macmillan Company, 1942.) A book about Rauschen- 
busch, now out of print. Available in libraries. 

Benjamin E. Mays, ed., A Gospel for the Social Au/a\en- 
ing: Selections from the Writings of Walter Rauschen- 
busch (New York: Association Press, 1950). 

Benson Y. Landis, ed., A Rauschenbusch Reader (New 
York: Harper 8e Brothers, 1957), 





An Archbishop of Canterbury, whose father had also 
held that ofl&ce, might be expected to contribute only 
nineteenth-century ideas to twentieth-century thought. 
William Temple, however, brought his religious 
heritage to bear upon current problems, especially in 
the tortured fields of theology, social ethics, and 
ecumenicity. In point of time he was born in 1881 
and died in 1944, his mature activity spanned the 
two world wars. In point of quality, he was a specula- 
tive philosopher with orthodox beliefs, an aristocrat 
with a strong social conscience and a believer in 
apostolic succession who participated actively in the 
ecumenical movement. Though he was outstanding in 

• C. Edward Hopkin is Holy Trinity professor of systemadc 
dieology and ethics at the Divinity School of the Protestant 
Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pa. 



all three areas — ^philosophy, social needs, and the 
ecumenical movement — ^we shall in this essay deal 
mainly with his philosophic contribution to theology. 

TmRTY Years Ago 

In order to assess Temple's contribution to the field 
of theology, it is necessary to go behind the excite- 
ments of the movements which are today in the fore- 
ground, and to recall the religious situation of the 
first two decades of this century. The question then 
was, "What can an educated man believe?" Every 
Protestant churchman who is old enough can recall 
for himself how his church met, or attempted to meet, 
this problem. Science, as popularly imderstood, had 
reduced all reality to matter, and all event to predict- 
able consequence from material causes. Man was 
merely one of the consequerices. To make matters 
worse, scientific exuberance was wedded to philoso- 
phical naivct^. Those of us who lived through that 
time were only dimly aware that this simple pictxire 
of a wholly material reality answered some questions 
at the price of raising others which it could not 
answer. An occasional scientist publicly gave science's 
blessing to a certain kind of religious belief, or an 
occasional preacher gave religion's blessing to science, 
but this was a soothing ointment. It did not cure. 


Some accepted the incompatibility of religious be- 
lief with scientific determinism, and declared that one 
side or the other had all the truth. Others attempted 
a compromise by stripping religion of miracle. In 
thus denying freedom to God, these persons attributed 
a great deal of freedom to man. Still others experi- 
mented or dogmatized in other ways, seeking to make 
peace or draw sharp lines in the relation of science 
and religion. 

Like all other Churches, the Church of England 
first came to grips with scientism, not in the field of 
scientific determinism but in the field of the scientific 
dissection and criticism of the documents of the Bible. 
However, unlike most other Churches, the Church of 
England was not in an unresolved either-or situation 
with respect to this problem when Temple began his 
adult activities. A respectable group of scholars and the- 
ologians, under the leadership of Charles Gore, had 
already combined the acceptance of scientific biblical 
criticism with orthodoxy of belief. Opinions differed, 
and many still differ, on how successfully they 
achieved this combination. Nevertheless, they had pro- 
claimed their stand on this ground by the publication, 
in 1890, of a widely read series of essays, under the 
unifying title Lux Mundi. "Christ, the Light of the 


'3»I'S'^;'>V"f T^l^ '■' - ~ - 

World," was the banner under which a world view 
could be proclaimed which would allow for a scien- 
tifically amenable nature on the one hand, and a 
personalist view of God and man on the other. Yet 
the emphasis was still placed upon the Bible as revela- 
tion and as properly subject, at the same time, to 
scientific investigation and analysis. The field was 
open for a competent Anglican, working in the same 
milieu, to develop this world view with sufficient 
thoroughness to meet the broader philosophic prob- 
lems raised by scientific materialism and determinism. 
William Temple was equipped for the task in a 
host of ways. A flair for the Greek language; sound 
training in Platonism; a vigorous mind and body; a 
firsthand, natural acquaintance with the best thought 
of his time in England and Germany; and an almost 
unlimited opportunity to develop this equipment with- 
out hindrance — ^these ingredients are easily seen in his 
early Hfe. Born in 1881, while his father was Bishop 
of Exeter, his formal education was obtained at Rugby 
and Oxford, with approximately a year at the Univer- 
sity of Jena. It is hardly to the point here to follow his 
career as Headmaster of Repton (1910), Rector of St. 
James', Piccadilly (1914), Canon of Westminster 
(1919), Bishop of Manchester (1921), and Arch- 


='■''• :,Ti,y^!f^.-v?t;*ii!»^»TO<f)5'jj5;5J^p<«>^^ 

bishop of Canterbury (1942). The thread we rather 
wish to follow is that of this philosophical approach 
to the Christian Faith. 

Temple's Philosophical Approach 

He did approach the Christian Faith. He did not 
merely accept it as packaged by his background. 
Intensely interested in religion and in Christianity as 
an experience of God, he had by no means an easy 
time with all its doctrines as defined by the Church of 
England. From two to three years of serious corres- 
pondence with his bishop preceded his entrance into 
Holy Orders in 1908. At this time he was a Fellow of 
Queens College, Oxford, lecturing on Plato. 

In 1909 he was invited to deliver a series of lectures 
to the Student Christian Movement in London. These 
lectures he later expanded and published under the 
tide, The Faith and Modern Thought. In these lec- 
tures he develops the theme that religious experience 
is a given thing, like the experiences upon which 
science builds, and that although the classical argu- 
ments for the existence of God do not really reach 
their goal, the approach from experience can be shown 
to parallel, in many ways, the approach to truth en- 
joyed by the scientific method and to deserve a similar 
respect. Furthermore, both the scientific method and 



that of religious experience seem at one in crying out 
for a view of reality containing Will and Purpose. This 
may, he continues, look like a mere variant of the 
futile arguments of the philosophers, but it can be 
shown that the religion of the Bible is not a philo- 
sophical argument at all. It is a declaration of experi- 
ence which speaks with authority. 

Nevertheless, the futility of the philosophical effort 
to prove God should not be taken to mean that the 
person who believes on the basis of experience cannot 
state his belief in philosophical terms, in accordance 
with the criteria established by the soundest thought 
of his own day. Now, for an educated Englishman of 
the first third of the twentieth century, the soimdest 
thought available was some form of Platonism, in 
which Idea and Mind are terms indicative of a prior 
reality giving origin and meaning to all materialized 
particulars. Developing this classic theme as a be- 
liever. Temple made two excursions into the deeps of 
philosophy in the books Mens Creatrix (1917) and 
Christus Veritas (1924). Here we encounter the claim 
that in the doctrine of the Incarnation the Christian 
has a foundation for a metaphysical understanding of 
the universe which can be explicated much further 
than Anglican theology had so far attempted to do. 
Value is seen to be the clue to existence, rather than 


^ •«.,■ .^- T'TC.fW* ^^fX'^ 

existence the due to value. In this sense Christ is "the 
truth" in the philosophical realm as well as in the 
religious realm. Philosophy and religion thus find, 
for the believer, their unity in Christ, in whom the 
believer sees consequently his own integration of 
intellect and faith. 

Something, however, is left out of the intellectual 
effort thus far. That something is the proper relating 
of this Christianized Platonic metaphysic with the 
concern for the event itself, which historic Christianity 
and science share with one another. In other words, 
it is one thing to look at reality in the quasi-divine 
manner, as in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel, and 
it is something else again to look at the world through 
the events of the world. 

The opportunity to present this view from the 
ground up was given to William Temple, then Arch- 
bishop of York, when he was invited to deliver the 
Gifford Lectures in the University of Glasgow for two 
successive years, beginning in 1932. These are pub- 
lished under the title. Nature, Man and God} 

The Gifford Lectures 

One of the conditions imposed upon the Gifford 
lecturers is that they confine themselves to the field 
of natural religion. The standpoint and methods of 



r'.-,,--\-T-'iv.7t . 

revealed theology must, for this purpose, be renounced. 
Perhaps it was due to this restriction, or to his 
greater nfaturity, that Dr. Temple paid better atten- 
tion to method in these lectures. In any event, Nature, 
Man and God is a much more carefully prepared 
work than were his earlier philosophic constructions. 
The author is less exuberant, more painstaking. The 
impression is left of a conscientious examining of the 
problems of theism. Criteria are more seriously ob- 
served and results are more cautiously marshaled. 

Never one to avoid an issue. Dr. Temple accepts 
the full implications of contemporary science, logic, 
and philosophy as he understands them. Then he 
moves on to the restatement and evaluation for theism 
of such difficult matters as freedom and determinism; 
transcendence and immanence; religious authority 
and freedom; the problem of evil, grace, and human 
freedom; the concept of eternal life, its relation to 
value and to the meaning of history; and, finally, the 
unsatisfied status of natural religion which creates 
more demands than it alone can meet. 

The book is not easy reading. Furthermore, it 
came too late to be considered publicly as an answer- 
ing of religion's worst problems, because by that time 
the banners of neoorthodoxy were drawing the at- 
tention of the reading public away from such laborious 



efforts of the human reason. Yet, in spite of these 
handicaps, Nature, Man and God did something to 
twentieth-century religious thought beyond the con- 
fines of Anglicanism. An archbishop had shown that 
he could be an amateur in philosophy in the best 
sense of the word "amateur." With all the error which 
specialists might find in some of his expressions, at 
least he could not be accused of avoiding either their 
language or their problems. 

MoR£ Than a Philosopher 

His influence was further enhanced by the feet that 
he also refused to be a typical professional in religion. 
Ever since his student days he had leaned to the left, 
not only in his social thinking but in his organized 
activity. The frontier of social ethics brought him into 
continual, active association with workingmen's organ- 
izations. His participation in interchurch relations was 
pointed up by his chairmanship of the Edinburgh 
Conference on Faith and Order in 1937. These are 
but the slightest indications of a life of intense activity 
for human welfare and fellowship which, for him, 
were conmianded by his religious beliefs. He demon- 
strated amply that for the man of genuine faith, 
thought leads to action, and loyalty to co-operation 
and fellowship. 


■^P'stHsr*'' , ■«'^ I '^ 

The twentieth century was nearly half spent when 
Archbishop Temple died on September 26, 1944. Not 
many men in such high position have been so free 
from the technique of escape; or, to put it positively, 
have been so ready to accept and answer the hardest 
questions of the times. 


P. A. Iremonger, WUUam Temple, Archbishop of Canter- 
bury: His'.IJfeand Letters (London: Oxford Univer- 
sity Press,' 1948). 

William Temple, Christianity and Social Order (New 
York: The Macmillan Company, 1952). 

A. E. Baker, ed., William Temple's Teaching (Philadel- 
phia: Westminster Press, 1951). Out of print. 


^m^'^^' '^^ 



Soren Kierkegaard would not be comfortable with the 
nervously cautious thinkers of our age. He not only 
was indifferent to public opinion but he attacked all 
those who relied upon the support of the masses. For 
Kierkegaard, the truth, the costiy and painful truth, 
constitutes the only standard of the right. The ques- 
tion of truth before every man is the question of 
whether he will dare to pay the cost. 

Kierkegaard was born in Denmark in 1813 and, 
except for a few brief visits to Berlin, lived out his 
life in his homeland. He was very close to his father 
who, in spite of the fact that he was a practical man, 
communicated to his son a deeply serious concern for 
the problems of Christian life and thought. After the 
completion of his work at the university and after 
some years of indecision, Kierkegaard began to pre- 
pare himself for a church parish. Because of a number 
of factors, not the least of which was his need for per- 

• Fred J, Denbeaux is chairman of the Bible department at 
Wellcsley College, Wellesley, Mass., and a Presbyterian minister. 



sonal freedom, he was unable to become a clergyman. 
Similarly he fell in love and planned for marriage, but 
for many reasons, including that of temperament, he 
was unable to marry. Occupied with neither a vocation 
nor a family and supported by a fairly substantial in- 
heritance from his father, he was able to produce an 
incredibly large amount of literature. For this we have 
reason to be grateful, since his thinking has added 
a measure of depth to the thought of many contempor- 
ary Protestants, Jews, and Roman Catholics. 

The Creature TmNKiNG About God 

Let us examine the thought of this man who has 
come to be one of the major influences on Protestant 
theology in this century. 

Kierkegaard has no interest in the traditional argu- 
ments for the existence of God. Whatever is ultimate 
and meaningful can never be proved. God is never an 
object, not even a divine object. He is either the 
Absolute, by which we are proved, or he is nothing. 

In either case, God is not contained within our 
system of logic. Thus, in a very important passage, 
Kierkegaard says, "So also with the proof for God's 
existence. As long as I keep my hold on the proof, 
i.e., continue to demonstrate, the existence does not 
come out, if for no other reason than that I am en- 


gaged in proving it; but when I let the proof go, the 
existence is there." Here Kierkegaard reflects the 
biblical notion that faithful obedience rather than 
thought describes man's relationship to God. Whenever 
I try to prove that God exists, I actually lose my rela- 
tionship to him, since proving moves me from the role 
of a servant to that of a lawyer. 

Kierkegaard also believes that we cannot come to 
God through thought because we can never leave the 
structure in which we exist as creatures. Any thought 
about God always, if it be true thought, carries with 
it the understanding of both the relationship between 
God and man and the difference between the Creator 
and the creature. Kierkegaard says that God is "the 
limit to which the reason repeatedly comes." Thus one 
of the surest indications that there is a God is found 
in the fact that we have difficulty "thinking" God. Our 
mind cannot produce the images that will sustain a 
true knowledge of God. We can produce as many 
arguments for him as against him. Thinking cannot 
produce . . . God. Our mind is shattered by God in 
the sense that one must say that he believes in God 
not because his mind has found God but because it 
has failed to find him. Only as one is sensitive to the 
limit can one be sure that one is responding as a 
creature must to his Creator. 


[weyrf*5?fTff"-i™^~tr''H''''^''.^^^^ >''f'-'- »7(r-a;ii,'--ii.-r:i>:.>ii'-:'--:'.'r"'^;7; ..;•.«•■;■'■ ■■\i-:r.''-^\,'--Ti-;'r.^-r>'-''>^*''-''^^f.^^^^^^ 

Thus Kierkegaard reintroduces the biblical and Re- 
formed notion that we shall think about God as a 
creature or we shall not think about him at all. 

How Can We Understand Christ? 

We can best understand Kierkegaard's contribution 
if we remember that he defended the orthodox view 
of Jesus in quite imorthodox language. He accepted 
the traditional and trinitarian view of Jesus Christ. 
What he was trying to do was to create a new ap- 
proach to our ancient faith. 

Again, as Kierkegaard sees it, our approach to 
Jesus Christ is through a relationship and not through 
speculation. This means that Christ is not a problem 
in doctrine. One cannot get to Christ through correct 
thinking. Christ is undprstood only through his Lord- 
ship over our lives. Or, to put it the other way around, 
we can understand Christ, not through ideas, but 
through discipleship. ^ 

We begin, then, by understanding that/ Christ is 
Ix)rd, not because of what he teaches but because of 
what he does. He brings to men not only the assurance 
of God's love but also the possibility of being par- 
ticipants in that love, through receiving the grace of 
God's forgiveness. All of Kierkegaard's art, at this 
point, is calculated to evoke a response from his 


readers. He does not so much instruct us on his view 
of Christ as he tries to have us respond and, out of our 
response, to understand. This means that we must, as 
we think through the whole problem of Jesus Christ, 
be sure that we do not get lost in the externals of 
discussion. Christ is not Lord to us because of the 
authority of the church or because he did miracles in 
an astounding and interesting manner. He is our 
Lord because we are his disciples or he is not Lord at 

A characteristic phrase of Kierkegaard's is "the 
solitary individual." No one has stressed the impor- 
tance of individual decision (and of individuality) 
more than he, for we do not become disciples in a 
crowd. We become disciples only as individuals. We 
become disciples not because others have believed but 
in spite of it. We become disciples of Christ not be^ 
cause the world supports us, but because it does not. 
Every Christian must first approach Christ in this 
manner, without proof, without support, and in utter 

The Offense of Faith 

Faith, however, is not easy. It is certainly not an 
act of blindness, for God in his wisdom makes it im- 
possible to accept Christ easily. Kierkegaard points 


out over and over again that Christ comes to us in a 
form that insults both our notion of self-reliance and 
our intelligence. He makes much of the saying of 
Jesus, "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me." It is 
inevitable either that we shall be offended or that we 
shall believe. 

What is the oflense of ^ith? It can take many 
forms. We would welcome a God of light, but he 
comes to us crucified. We would welcome a God with 
whom we could be happy, and instead we are con- 
fronted with him whom we have slain. We are of- 
fended because we can never come before God 
neutrally but always in guilt. We are offended be- 
cause the Christ who comes does not come in the form 
that we expect. We would be happier if he came as a 
god of war, so that we could join our sword to his 
in the battle against unrighteousness (always con- 
veniently with the enemy and never with ourselves.) 
But the Christ does not come with a sword, and he 
asks us to put our sword away; so we are offended. 

Therefore, Christ is always the occasion of either 
offense or faith. He is the one either before whom we 
stumble and fall on our knees or else from whom we 
turn in defensive pride. He is our Saviour, but we 
shall never know him as such if we become offended, 
because it is from ourselves that he saves us. 


How Can We Understand Ourselves? 

What makes man human? Although Kierkegaard 
does not emphasize the word, he thinks of man in 
terms of his creatureliness. 

Man's creatureliness lies in the feet that he stands 
between life and death. Made in the image of God, he 
knows what it means to feel the presence of eternity. 
Feeling the nearness of eternity, utterly dependent 
upon it for his meaning, he also knows that he dies, 
and that he cannot escape death. TT^jCse two factors 
constitute both his problem and his possibility of 
for immortaliy, creates his anguish or his nervous 

Man sins in that he is unwilling to live in faith 
and therefore to be nervously human. He prefers to 
live either with life or with death but not with both. 
He seeks to escape creatureliness either by pretending 
that he will not die or by assuming that there is no 

He refuses to bear uncertainty and anguish. Either 
he turns his back on death by pretending that im- 
mortality is automatically a part of all life or he tries 
to forget his anguish by becoming an animal. 

It is precisely this anguish, this willingness to live 
neither as an animal (unaware of eternity) nor as an 


.'-' ;■■■■■■» ■ ' ■■:•'= 

angel (indi£Ferent to death), which marks the human- 
ness from which we fall when we sin. It is also this 
greatness. Knowing mortality, even while he hungers 
humanness, this willingness to risk death as we trust 
God, which signals the beginning of our redemption. 
Thus the Christ of love returns us to our creatureli- 
ness by saving us from the need of false securities. 
The Lord Christ, by accepting death even while he 
trusted in God, restores meaning to creaturely exis- 
tence. By faith man dares to become what without 
faith he was afraid to be — a human being. 


Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart (New York: Harper 
& Brothers, 1956). Introduction by Douglas V. Stcere. 
This is the best book to begin with for an understand- 
ing of Kierkegaard's philosophy. 

Robert Bretall, ed., A Kierkegaard Anthology (Princeton, 
N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1946). Read selec- 
tions in this book, then decide where you want to go ' 

David E. Roberts, Existentialism and Religious Belief 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1957). Read this 
book for an introduction and understanding of exis- 
tentialism. It contains a good section on Kierl^^ard. 


Tn"*' i^i' V>l*f ^TT'/.v/'., ,;;'7';--'.- 'i 



Karl Barth is incontestably the greatest figure in 

modern theology since Schleiermacher, occupying an 

honored position among the great ^lite of the church 

— Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. 

Karl Barth, born in 1886, began his career as a 

minister in Geneva, and then continued it in Safenwil, 

in Aargau Canton. It was there he published the first 

edition of his celebrated commentary on the Epistle to 

the Romans^ (1918), which exploded like a bomb in 

the religious thought of Europe, and marked the 

beginning of one of the great eras in the history of 

Christian thought. Two years later he was called to a 

chair at the University of Gottingen in Germany. In 

1925 he went to the University of Miinster, and in 

• Thomas F. Torrance is professor of Christian dogmatics at 
the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and outstanding inter- 
preter of Barth to the English-speaking world. 




1930 he became professor at the University of Bonn, 
where he lectured to overflowing classrooms until 
forced to leave under the Nazi regime because he 
refused to take the oath demanded by Hitler. Called 
back to Basel in Switzerland, his home, he has re- 
mained there ever since. ^ 

bw Earth's Thought Developed 

ree distinct stages mark the development of 
Bakh's thought. In them he wrestled with modern 
philosophy and then came out with the consistent 
biblical dogmatics of which he is the master exponent. 

In his early period Karl Earth's theology falls within 
the thought-forms represented by Schleiermacher — 
that is, the liberal theology of religious individualism 
that developed in the nineteenth century. But Earth's 
liberalism and idealism were of a strange sort, for even 
at this period we find searching questions directed to 
everything before him as the young theologian sought 
to probe down to the depths. But this ruthless criti- 
cism was mainly in the form of self-criticism, for 
Barth was acutely aware of sin as man's desire to be 
independent of God. Out of this stage came his com- 
mentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1918). 




The second stage was marked by a radical rewriting 
of that book. The first edition had not received much 
notice, but the second edition raised a storm in the 
theological and philosophical thought of Germany and 
Switzerland. In it Barth expressed his deep dissatisfac- 
tion with the subjectivism of Protestant theology 
which confounded nnan with God and put man in the 
place of God. The new edition was deliberately in- 
tended to create an upheaval, and it succeeded. This 
is the stage of Earth's thought in which he comes 
under the influence of Kierkegaard, and his searching 
questions begin to bear some positive fruit. The main 
theme can be described thus: Let God be God, and let 
man learn again how to be man, instead of trying to 
be as God. The supreme sin of man is that even in 
his religion he is always twisting the truth to suit his 
own selfish ends and private ideas. Barth is here re* 
vealed to be a real genius in theological penetration 
and expression, for with the most powerful and 
dramatic strokes of his pen that analysis was driven 
,into all aspects of modern life and thought. His 
Romans translation shattered the selfish individualism 
of theological liberalism or else made it hysterically 
angry! But its whole purpose was to make room again 
for the holy and transcendent God of the Bible. 


;^S^f!«sf5}!yf WJ- -^'j '- 

When man is thus confronted by God, there there is 
collision, crucifixion. The cross is seen to be the 
supreme and unique event of the meeting between 
Holy God and sinful man, and at the cross all the 
subtle attempts of man at « self-deification and self- 
aggrandizement are exposed. That is particularly true 
of religious man, for it is primarily religious man who 
is the sinner. It was, after all, religious man who 
crucified Jesus! And yet the incredible, breath-taking 
fact about the cross is the sheer grace and infinite love 
of God, which tears away from man his rags of self- 
deceit, and clothes him in the righteousness of God 
in order to stand him on his feet again as a child of 
the Heavenly Father. 

This is the stage in which Barth's theology is dialec- 
tical in form. His searching questions have led him 
to the point where he thinks about the contrasts of 
Holy God and sinful man. Creator and creature, grace 
and judgment, God's Yes and yet God's No. And 
here Barth is faced with a fundamental problem of 
all theology and all thinking about God. It is man 
who thinks, man who asks searching questions about 
God, man who is himgry to know God, to speak about 
him and make judgments about him. But when that 
man stands face to face with God, he discovers that^ 
he stands at the bar of God's judgment and it is God 


who speaks to him. What is important is not what 
man things about God but what God things about 

This is also the stage when Barth thinks of the 
relation between God and man in terms of continuing 
crisis, in which eternity confronts time and God 
is always invading history and becoming contem- 
poraneous. All meeting with God is thought of as 
recurring encounter between the divine "Thou" and 
the human "I". This was Earth's way of answering the 
problem of conununication: how we are to get across 
to Jesus or let Jesu^ Christ get across to us without 
secredy turning him into a twentieth-century figure 
who is only too harmless and familiar. 

The solution for Barth came as a result of tireless 
criticism of himself and a relentless searching of the 
Scripture. He let Christ speak to him out of the 
Bible not as one who could confirm or agree with the 
theologian's answers but as one who was against 
Barth's own self and against man's desire to make 
out of Jesus a modern idol. 

From now on his theology became the theology of 
the Word. Henceforth the concrete Word of God, 
speaking to him oub of the Holy Scriptures, becomes 
the object of theological knowledge and security. 


f^i^VT^^'^^'V^-'^'- '-^~^ • 

In the second stage Barth had written the first 
volume of a new dogmatics, called Christian Dog- 
matics. Now, in his determination to lay the founda- 
tions for a consistent and thoroughgoing biblical 
theology, he found he had to rewrite the whole thing. 
In the first volume of Church Dogmatics (1932), he 
swept aside all the language of idealist philosophy, all 
the language of Kierkegaard and the existentialist 
misunderstanding of Kierkegaard; he threw out the 
old dialectic between eternity and time and its 
language of timeless crisis, and interpreted the Word 
of God in the most concrete terms, strictly in the terms 
of the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, 
who is true God and true man in one Person. 

His Contribution 

Barth's arrival at this understanding of Christ is the 
decisive point in his theological development. We can 
therefore now turn from tracing his development to 
describing three of his major contributions to Christian 

The Centrality of Jesus Christ. The great heart of 
Barth's theology is the doctrine of Jesus Christ. In him 
who is true God and true man in one person we are 


^',5s:'';;^fi 'Twff'mircirff^^'v^p^ 

confronted with a mystery that is more to be adored 
than expressed, so that even when we have done all 
that it is our duty to do in theological understanding 
and expression, we must confess that we are un- 
profitable servants of the Word of God, whose efforts 
fall far short of its incarnate glory. Nevertheless, we 
must give ourselves to the obedience of Christ, and let 
all our thinking be taken captive by him. It is only 
as we become confonnable in mind to Christ that we 
can formulate aright our doctrine of God — ^Father, Son, 
and Holy Spirit. That is why the doctrine of the 
person and work of Christ forms the center and core 
of all Christian theology and determines all our think- 
ing in the Christian church. And that is why every- 
thing depends on faithful obedience to the Scriptures. 
It is in this way that Barth himself has already 
given the church a most valuable account of Chris- 
tology. For more than a hundred years the theologians 
and scholars of Europe and America have been seeking 
to express as fully as possible the truth about Jesus 
Christ. The documents of the New Testament have 
been subjected to the most elaborate research the world 
has ever given them, and how many and how baffling 
are the problems they have revealed! But in Karl Barth 
we have another Athanasius, doing batde against mis- 


?:SW^»5iSpF S"* ■ * *''™ '. - 

understanding on the right and on the left, and out of 
it all leading the Christian church back to a fuller and 
far more adequate account of the person and work of 
Christ than we have known for centuries. 

The Doctrine of the Church. Karl Earth's theology 
has become an ecumenical force not only because it 
strikes down into the heart of the matter as it affects 
every church and because it brings vvrithin its range 
the whole history of catholic theology, but also because 
it has raised into the forefront in unparalleled fashion 
the doctrine of the church. That was not his deliberate 
intention. His intention has always been to clear away 
the ground and to confront the church with Jesus 
Christ in all his majesty and grace. But in doing this 
he has forced upon our generation a reconsideration 
of the doctrine of the church as the body of Christ, 
and a reconsideration of the whole procedure of 
theology as the discipline that we must undertake 
within the bounds of the church where the voice of 
Christ is heard in the preaching of the gospel and 
where Christ makes us able to participate in his life, 
death, and resurrection by his Spirit through Word 
and sacraments. 

In this Karl Barth follows above all in the tradition 
of John Calvin, though he has brought his searching 



questions to bear on the teaching of Calvin as well, 
with great benefit in a remarkable clarification of the 
doctrine of election. 

The New Creature in Christ. In some ways the 
most characteristic aspect of Earth's theology is his 
emphasis upon the new humanity in Jesus Christ, 
incarnate, crucified, and risen, and who will come 
again to renew the heaven and the earth. This is 
particularly characteristic, because here Earth's thought 
moves, as elsewhere, in what he calls a "third 
dimension." Ey that he means that whereas many 
theologians in Europe and America think primarily 
in terms of two dimensions, God and man, eternity 
and time. Earth's thinking is governed by the dimen- 
sion of the union of God and man in Christ. Thus 
he thinks not in terms of man but in terms of the 
new humanity that mankind has in Jesus Christ risen 
from the dead. That is Earth's Christian humanism, 
and it is that which lies behind his consuming interest 
in the everyday affairs of our human life and work, 
social and political as well as religious. (This interest 
is seen best in his essays published under the title 
Against the Stream, noted under "For Further 

The central issue here is in many ways the doctrine 
of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in body. If Jesus 



Christ is risen only in spirit — ^whatever that means! — 
then he is, so to speak, but a ghost with no relevance 
to men and women of flesh and blood in history. If 
Jesus Christ exists no longer as man, only at the right 
hand of the Father, then we have little ground for 
hope in this life. It is the risen humanity of Christ 
that forms the very center of the Christian's hope, for 
this is the ground and basis of the Christian's own 
renewal of all creation. The Christian church that 
believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the 
dead has no right to despair of "this weary world of 
ours" or to be afraid of its utter dissolution into 
nothing. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and com- 
pletely victorious over all the mighty demonic forces 
of destruction that threaten our world. In him we can 
lift up our heads and laugh in face of fear and disaster, 
for in him we are more than conquerors over all, 
knowing that God, who raised up Jesus Christ from 
the dead, wearing our humanity, will not suffer the 
world for which Christ died and rose to see corruption. 
The doctrine of the new humanity in Christ is the 
new wine that bursts the old botdes. It is because 
the Christian church participates already through the 
Spirit in the risen Jesus that the Christian church 
must refuse to live in the graveclothes of the past; it 
must ever be seeking to work out in the present the 


■-' r ■(■^;v"/:ri'~T"--''^ ?^^-" il^^^F'™ 

appropriate forms of its new life in Christ. That is 
the realism that lies behind the evangelization of the 
world and the Christian insistence that from day to 
day in every sphere of our world we must live out the 
new life which we are given by the Saviour of men. 


Karl Earth, Dogmatics in Outline (Philosophical Library, 
1949). Read this book to see Earth's comprehensive 
theology in brief scope. 

•■ , Prayer (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1952) 

and — 

Against the Stream (Philosophical Library, 

1954). These two books are brief and readable on 
certain subjects. 


'"-*^it|3\77''^j-''C-=^r i : : ■_>-•*■'*'■ 




The old German-speaking Swiss city of Zurich, where 
Zwingli introduced the Protestant Reformation 450 
years ago, is today inevitably associated with the name 
of Emil Brunner. If Zwingli's contribution to Reforma- 
tion theology was eclipsed by the more prophetic and 
systematic emphases of Luther and Calvin, so too it 
may be that Bnmner's theological significance has been 
partially overshadowed by the more aggressive and 
radical emphases of Kierkegaard and Barth. 

Zwingli's indebtedness to Calvin and his personal 
and theological misimderstanding with Luther are 
not unlike Bnmner's affinity for Kierkegaard and his 
vigorous running debate with Barth. But if Zwingli's 
contribution to sixteenth-century Reformation theology 
was both constructive and substantial, as it certainly 

• Hugh T. Kerr is professor and chairman of the department 
of systematic theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, and 
editor of the quarterly Theology Today. 


was, Bninner's theology in our day deserves to stand 
on its own feet and not be dismissed, as is sometimes 
done, as a mere disgruntled echo of Barth. As a matter 
of fact, just as Zwingli's more conciliatory views (on 
the Lord's Supper, for example) have had enormous 
currency within Protestantism, so Brunner has been 
more widely read and studied, especially in America^ 
than either Kierkegaard or Barth. 

American religious thinkers tend to be suspicious 
of schools of theology from the continent of Europe 
which . seem to them one-sided and provincial, and 
perhaps unduly pessimistic in thdir orientation. The 
American traditions are mixed and variegated, and 
American religious life and thought invariably ac- 
quires functional and pragmatic accents. An American 
Protestant can understand Kierkegaard's ruthless and 
shattering attack upon the Lutheran State Church of 
Denmark with its conventional morality and com- 
placent orthodoxy; he can grasp something of Barth's 
unyielding insistence upon a theology of the Word of 
God which will have no truck with philosophy or 
science or with what the common man is thinking. 
But Brunner, many would feel, speaks more directly 
to the human situation, partly because he is more 
cosmopolitan, partly because he is more eager to relate 
theology to man's present problems, and partly because 


his books have been more readily translated and cir- 
culated in the English-speaking world. 

Though he has lived most of his life in his native 
Zurich, where he was born on December 23, 1889, 
Brunner — unlike Barth, who prefers to stay put — has 
always been going places. He studied in New York 
as well as in Zurich and Berlin, was a pastor in a 
Swiss village, and has taught in the United States. 
In 1953 he went to the newly organized International 
Christian University in Tokyo, Japan, where for 
reasons of health he retired after two years to return 
to his beloved Zurich. 

Brunner is usually classified as a crisis, neo-orthodox, 
or dialectical theologian, and this serves to relate him 
with the others to whom these labels are applied: 
Kierkegaard, Barth, Niebuhr, Tillich, Bultmann, and 
others. But like all these, Brunner does not stay put 
in any pigeonhole or category. Very conservative, 
fundamentalistic thinkers feel that he is too radical, 
especially in his view of the Bible and revelation. More 
liberal thinkers, on the other hand, are convinced that 
he is too reactionary and that he has capitulated to a 
restraining biblicism and dogmatism. What one makes 
of Brunner depends much upon where one stands to 
begin with. But this kind of name calling and label 
fixing serves very little useful purpose; more important 


is it to know how Brunner understands his own 
theological task and responsibility, and how his many 
books and articles reflect his interpretation of the 
significance of the Christian gospel for our day. 

A Missionary Theology 

To begin with, it is instructive to note how 
systematic and comprehensive Brunner has been in his 
pursuit of an articulate and vertebrate Christian 
theology. Some of his books were general and inter- 
pretative; but since the publication of his doctrinal 
study of Christ, The Mediator,^ 1927, Brunner has 
been occupied with examining and reinterpreting the 
major doctrines of the Christian faith. From Chris- 
tology he moved on to the subject of Christian ethics, 
in The Divine Imperative,^ 1932, and then to the 
doctrine of man, in Man in Revolt,^ 1937. A year 
later he developed in The Divine-Human Encounter 
an important aspect of his theological point of view- 
ing; and, since much of the controversy over the nco- 
orthodox position centered around the new view of 
the Bible, he wrote a big book on Revelation and 
Reason* 1941. More recently, he began to systematize 
what he had already done and to add to it by project- 
ing a three-volume systematic theology under the title 
of Dogmatics.' Two volumes have already appeared 


{The Christian Doctrine of God^ 1946, and The 
Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption,^ 
1949), and part of the third was anticipated by the 
publication of his eschatology. Eternal Hope,^ in 

What is it that Brunner has been doing in all this 
theological and literary productivity? A key to his 
point of view may be located in a phase which he 
himself uses — missionary theology. A theology which 
is missionary in both intent and content is one that 
deliberately combines Christian dogmatics or church 
theology and the more specialized concern of what is 
sometimes called "apologetics," or, as Brunner prefers, 
"eristics." "Apologetics" has to do with the interpreta- 
tion and proclamation of the classic Christian faith as 
found in the biblical revelation and the great creeds 
of the church, and this is of immediate importance for 
the church and for Christians; "eristics," presupposing 
and building upon this, must go a step farther in 
seeking to relate and apply the church's message to 
the issues and questions of modern man who may or 
may not be disposed to accept the basic emphases 
of the Christian gospel. "As dogmatics is necessarily 
deductive, missionary theology is equally necessarily 
inductive. Dogmatics says: This is the revealed truth, 
and this is the salvation of himianity. Missionary 


theology says: This is the need and the danger of 
man — ^and from this the gospel of Jesus Christ is the 
means of rescue. . . . Missionary theology is, so to 
say, pastoral "work in the form of reflection, just as 
dogmatics is witness in the form of reflection." ^ 

It is at this point that Brunner found himself at 
odds with Barth, with whom on so many other 
matters he was in deep accord. Barth, he felt, was 
a mighty and unparalleled exponent of church 
theology, but woefully deficient and blind to the task 
of making theology relevant for man's situation. Not 
one to keep silent on such an issue, Brunner pro- 
voked Barth into an exchange of papers on the subject 
which at the time generated more sparks than light 
and seems now to have been largely an unedifying 
spectacle of theological fireworks. 

The issue was, of course, a real one, and Brunner 
has consistently and steadfastly maintained ever since 
the need for a missionary theology which would both 
affirm the church's faith and at the same time engage 
in conversation with modern man in his own per- 
plexities and problems. In this, Brunner is obviously 
akin to Tillich and Bultmann, though critical of both 
on other grounds, but Barth, almost singlehanded, 
has continued to plow the straight, and perhaps 
narrow, furrow to which he long ago set himself. This 



is also perhaps one reason, rightly or wrongly, that 
American theologians tend to listen to Brunner rather 
than Barth, and why many throughout the Christian 
world were thrilled when Brunner pulled up his 
deeply driven Zurich stakes and migrated to Japan. 

In the Reformed Tradition 

There are other important trademarks of Brunner's 
theology which must be mentioned if not developed 
at length. For example, Brunner is a self-conscious 
Reformation and Reformed theologian. This is Protes- 
tant theology in the great tradition, not simply because 
it takes issue with much in Romanism, but because 
it accents the positive insights of the Reformation 
regarding Scripture as the Word of God, the centrality 
of Christ, the sovereignty of God, the sin of man, and 
justification bar faith. Because Brunner sees the Refor- 
mation as tjfte dividing line in the history of the 
church, he b deeply critical of the post-Reformation 
theology of me seventeenth and eighteenth centuries 
which formalized the theology of the Reformers and 
stereotyped their creative dynamic. This is the period 
of Protestant orthodoxy; and, in Brunner's view, it 
has produced nothing but confusion and misunder- 
standing. Hence his passion is to revitalize for our 
day the original emphases of the Reformation of the 


sixteenth century. For the same reason, he is equally 
critical of nineteenth-century Protestant liberalism 
which watered down the Reformation theology by 
obscuring the imiqueness of the Christian gospel. 
Brunner is, therefore, also a Reformed theologian in 
the sense that the church and its theology must always 
be in the process of reformation under the judgment 
of the Scriptures as the Word of God. Theology can 
never be fixed in a final form but must be re-formed 
for every generation. 

The biblical revelation, which is the norm and 
content of theology, is, however, no anthology of 
religious propositions but the self-disclosure of God in 
the person of Jesus Christ. Thus Christology, or the 
doctrine of Christ, becomes the central pivot around 
which and by means of which all other doctrines are 
to be understood and interpreted. This was the thesis 
of Brunner's first big book, the tide of which ex- 
presses his conviction about Christ — The Mediator.^ 
More recently in his Dogmatics the Christocentric 
approach is developed even more thoroughly. Thus, 
the doctrines of revelation, God, creation, man, sin, 
salvation, election, the church, and the Christian hope 
are all examined from the central conviction that God 
was in Christ — ^that he is what God has to say to us. 

It would be foolish to suggest that Bnmner has 


{?^f?iK^ ■*r^='*^'^'7 -^^ 


solved all our theological problems, or that his system 
is above criticism or correction. He would certainly 
not claim so much himself. On some matters he has 
raised more questions than answers. Striving for a 
robust structure of Christian thought, he has not 
always been so systematic as we could wish. Pressing 
the centrality of Christ for theology, he sometimes 
ignores or forgets his own presuppositions and is led 
into inconsistencies. Deeply convinced of the rightness 
of his approach, he frequently belittles other possibili- 
ties and unwittingly presumes that his is the only 
right way. 

But Brunner's contribution to contemporary the- 
ology weighs heavily on the positive and constructive 
side, and a whole generation of his students and those 
who have learned from his writings are today carry- 
ing his theology forward into tomorrow. 


Emil Brunner, Our Faith (New York: Charles Scribncr's 
Sons, 1936). A brief but provocative discussion of 
Christian beliefs, prepared as a series of talks to an 
adult study class. 

, The Great Invitation (Philadelphia: Westmin- 
ster Press, 1955). An excellent collection of Brunner's 
sermons, illustrating how he translates systematic the- 
ology into practical or pastoral theology. 




"Moral man and immoral society" — ^this striking phrase 
is the title of a book published in 1932 by a man 
whose name has become a household word in Ameri- 
can Protestantism — Reinhold Niebuhr. This was a 
striking book» even shocking to some, for in it 
Niebuhr laid siege to many of the most confidently 
held dogmas of the early twentieth century. Looking 
back, we can see that Moral Man and Immoral 
Society^ not only brought its author into prominence, 
but also was the sign and foretaste of profound change 
in the mood and pattern of Protestant thinking in the 
United States. 
The spirit of America in the 1920*s was one of 

* Claude Welch is associate professor of theology, Yale Divin- 
ity School, and co-author of the book Protestant Christianity. 



'^'P^'S'T™ i 

confidence and optimism. Even World War I and 
the early years of the great depression had not shaken 
the conviction that our social problems were approach- 
ing solution. This temper found expression in the 
churches in the movement called the "social gospel." 
Many of the leaders were sure that all of men's social 
relations were in fact being brought progressively 
under the law of Christ. 

In Moral Man and Immoral Society, Reinhold 
Niebuhr erupted in violent protest against these easy 
assumptions. Analyzing the problems of individual 
and social morality, he saw that the beliefs in inevit- 
able progress through growing good will and social 
education were illusions, both dangerous and contrary 
to the gospel. What can be achieved in individual 
righteousness may be quite impossible for society. 
Social decisions are never so clear-cut as decisions 
about personal morality; they are always, to use a 
favorite word of Niebuhr, ambiguous. We never have 
a clean choice between pure truth and pure error, good 
and evil. In man-to-man relationships, in small groups, 
we can often achieve a high level of morality, of 
unselfish love; but in large societies, in the conflicts 
between groups in society, the moral problem is 
diflFerent. Relations are impersonal; men are not related 
to each other in face-to-face contact, but as representa- 


tives of groups with interests to be served. There is 
not only the self-centeredness of individuals, but there 
is also the egoism of races, of corporations, and of 
nations. And this egoism is not restrained and checked 
by conscience and good will and reasonableness, for 
our social responsibilities are confused, and our reason- 
ing is unwittingly distorted by the interests of the 
groups to which we belong. 

Thus, Niebuhr comments, "individuals are never 
as immoral as the social situations in which they are 
involved and which they symbolize." There is an 
impersonal and brutal character about the behavior of 
all human "collectives," vidth their self-interest and 
group egoism, which makes social conflict inevitable. 
Appeals to conscience, efforts of moral persuasion, 
which may be quite effective in man-to-man relation- 
ships, are simply inadequate to resolve social con- 
flict. "Love" is not sufficient for the restraint of evil. 
Unselfishness is properly the highest ideal for in- 
dividuals, but the highest mbral ideal for society 
seems to be justice, maintained even by force. Hence 
the paradox: moral man — ^immoral society. 

A Detroit Pastor 

The vigor of Reinhold Niebuhr's challenge to com- 
placency and optimism did not come from mere 



academic interest in another theory of human conduct. , 
Much came from the experience of a pastor who was 
confronted in the lives of his congregation with the 
brutal realities of social distress. Born in Missouri in 
1892, he studied at Elmhurst College, Eden Theo- 
logical Seminary, and Yale University. In 1915 he 
became pastor of the Bethel Evangelical Church in 
Detroit, ministering to a congregation of workers in 
the automobile industry. Here the theme later to be 
developed in Moral Man and Immoral Society was 
learned in pastoral experience. He describes this 
ministry in an autobiographical essay in the recent 
book, Reinhold Niebuhr. His Religious, Social, and 
Political Thought? 

In 1928 he left Detroit to teach in the field of social 
ethics at Union Theological Seminary, New York 
City, where he still serves. 

We have seen how Niebuhr was sharply critical 
of the optimism of the 1920's (especially among the 
religious and idealistic) regarding social progress. He 
was not rejecting the moral earnestness, or the demand 
of the social gospel that all life, including social struc- 
tures, be brought under the reign of Christ. Far from 
it! Rather, he was puncturing the illusions and the 
self-deceptions that nullified effective social action. He 
was calling for a realistic recognition of the depth and 


complexity of social evil, and of the possibilities for 
effective transformation, thus for an adequate strategy 
of attack. 

As Niebuhr sees the problem, the Christian is 
always in a paradoxical position. He must face without 
flinching the reality and complexity of social evil. Yet 
"realism" is not enough. Meaning for life has to be 
gained from insight into a principle or ideal that lies 
outside the situation. We must always insist oh the 
relevance of the Christian ethical ideal to just these 
social situations — ^to industrial Detroit, to international 
relations, to race and class conflicts. The Christian is 
boiuid by the law of love, though the law of love can 
never be purely embodied in social life. 

The "Impossible Possibiuty" 

This problem has been even more sharply defined in 
An Interpretation of Christian EthicSy^ in which 
Niebuhr speaks of love as the "impossible possibility" 
and of "the relevance of an impossible ethical ideal." 
The Christian must act in the light of both the law 
of love and the genuine possibilities for action. There 
is no society in which the law of love can work per- 
fectly; yet the law of love Provides our motive and 
standard for action. Only in the light of the law of 
love can sin be seen for what it is, and only in this 



T-A>irw'^p-Ji'^;,y ■'~- .'fi^V, ■ 

light can relative achievements of justice be judged. 

The Christian cannot despair or become complacent, 
lying down in the face of tyranny and social injustice. 
Nor can he deceive himself with the illusion that 
some program or other will provide a permanent 
solution to men's problems. Every action, every social 
program, will be a compromise. It will be only an 
approximation of justice, a choice between available 
alternatives in the light of the law of love. 

From this understanding of our ethical situation, 
we can turn to two other themes that have been of 
great interest to Niebuhr: the meaning of history, and 
the nature of man and his sin. 

The Meaning of History 

Niebuhr has discussed at length the meaning of 
history in the second volume of The Nature and 
Destiny of Man, in Faith and History, The Irony of 
American History, and in The Self and the Dramas 
of History.* The meaning of history is revealed in 
Christ. He is the "center" of history, the disclosure 
of God's rule in history, and the meaning of God's 
love. In him God reveals his law of love and manifests 
his power to be gracious to men. In Christ new re- 
sources of love, wisdom, and power are made avail- 
able to men. Yet life in history is never fulfilled. Christ 


comes in judgment as well as in promise. No social 
order or proposal for reform can be simply identified 
with the will of God. No human achievement is ever 
free from the limitations of human finitude or the 
temptations of self-justification and rationalism. Every 
idealism and scheme for the solution of humanity's 
ills is subject to trahsformation into an instnmient of 
power over others. Much indeed may be achieved, but 
every creative achievement brings new possibilities of 

Therefore, history always awaits fulfillment in the 
kingdom of God, which stands "beyond history." 
The Kingdom is disclosed in Christ, and he is the 
judge. In him the law is seen to be the ultimate law 
of the universe. The Kingdom is the symbol referring 
to God's purpose for the whole of history, to the 
full "rule" of God, to an ultimate fulfillment and 
judgment of individual and social life. Within human 
history we can have only partial realizations of God's 
will; thus the Kingdom is "at the end of history," or 
"beyond history." Yet every partial achievement finds 
its meaning in the fullness of the Kingdom. In every 
decision men are confronted with the claim of God's 
rule. Thus the Christian lives both in response to 
God's rule now and in the hope of the final victory 
over evil. 


Man and His Sin 

For Niebuhr, a true view of the ethical situation of 
man must be grounded in the Christian understanding 
of human nature. Niebuhr's discussion of this theme 
in the first part of The Nature and Destiny of Man 
is perhaps his greatest contribution to recent thought. 
To many, his analysis there of man's responsibility and 
sin seems the most original and creative treatment of 
the matter in all modern theological literature. 

Many people suppose that Niebuhr speaks of man 
simply as sinner. Nothing could be farther from the 
truth. On the contrary, Christianity for Niebuhr has 
a very "high estimate of human stature," for man is 
created in the image of God and is responsible to him. 
Christianity does, however, have a "low estimate of 
human virtue," for it recognizes that sin is universal 
— that is, when they are seen in the light of Jesus 
Christ, all men are judged to be sinners. It is im- 
portant then to see how sin arises and the forms that 
it takes. 

One must begin by seeing that man is a peculiar 
creatiu"e, both bound and free. He is part of nature and 
bound by natural processes; yet he rises above nature 
as a creature of reason, morality, and spirit. He is 
finite, limited, yet he is free, conscious of his limita- 


tions, and able to transcend mechanical or biological 
determination. And just this is the root of the 
difficulty. For man, knowing his limitation and his 
freedom, is inevitably concerned ("anxious") about 

Anxiety (in this special sense) comes with freedom; 
it is part of man's created existence. Anxiety is not sin. 
It makes possible both sin and faith. In his precarious 
situation, confronted with his limitation and his 
freedom, man may accept himself in his dependence 
upon God — this is faith. Or, man may deny his true 
creaturehood — this is sin, and Christian faith affimis 
that all men fall into sin. Sin is not just "wrong acts"; 
it is a distortion that conies at the center of the self. 
Sin is not necessary (man is not forced into sin), but 
it is universal. 

Niebuhr suggests that sin may take two basic forms. 
Man may try to deny his freedom and responsibility, 
and retreat into simple animal nature. This form 
of sin is "sensuality." (It does not mean that the body 
is evil; the body is good, and the sin here is an act of 
freedom and spirit.) Or, man may seek to deny his 
limitations and to assert his independence. This is 
the sin of pride, which is the most basic and universal. 
It is, Niebuhr holds, the root of all sin. This is the 



opposite of faith, for it places ultimate trust in some- 
thing less than God. 

Niebuhr has explored the manifold forms of the 
sin of pride with uncommon insight and precision. His 
concern for realism in Christian action is intimately 
bound up with his awareness of the subtle forms 
that pride takes in its assertion of the self. There 
is the pride of power, of those who imagine themselves 
completely master of their own existence and destiny. 
There is the frantic will-to-power, which seeks final 
security in dominating others. There is the pride of 
intellect, or moral or spiritual pride, which thinks its 
own conceptions and ideals free from all taint of 
self-interest, and thereby assumes for itself divine 

For Niebuhr, the Christian doctrines of man and 
sin are ndi* merely theoretical or abstract notions. They 
are indispensable tools for the understanding of every 
human situation. They are just as relevant for the 
social analyst and the political planner as for the 

The same thing may be said about the doctrine of 
justification by faith, a them^ that runs through all 
Niebuhr's concerns and brings them together. As we 
are all bound up in the manifold forms of sin, as our 



history finds fulfillment only in the kingdom of God, 
and as our efforts at justice and righteousness always 
involve compromise and only relative expression of 
the lavir of love — so we are justified not by our works 
but only as in faith we trust in the graciousness of 
God. Accepting his forgiveness in our confused and 
ambiguous situation, we have both hope and energy 
for our striving in the service of God. 


Reinhold Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics 
(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1935). 

■ , The Children of Light and the Children of 

Dar\ness (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944). 

Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall, eds., Reinhold 
Niebuhr: His Religious, Social, and Political Thought 
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1956). 

D. B. Robertson, ed., Love and Justice, Selections from 
the Shorter Writings of Reinhold Niebuhr (Phila- 
delphia: Westminster Press, 1957). 

Reinhold Niebuhr, Leaves from the Noteboof(^ of a Tamed 
Cynic (Doubleday Anchor Book, 1957). 





Christianity always has lived, from the moment of its 
inception, in conversation with the culture about it. 
When we look back across the centuries we can trace 
a zigzag movement in this conversation. There have 
been eras when the prime concern has been to converse 
with culture. Theology has utilized the insights and 
terminology of the cultural pattern to formulate 
Christian truth, and to communicate it to the genera- 
tion which has been molded by the cultural complex. 
In other eras the movement has been in the opposite 
direction, away from the reigning cultural forms, in 
the effort to cut the Christian message free from en- 
tanglements and accretions which have threatened to 

• Robert Clyde Johnson is professor of theology, Western 
Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pa. 


hide or obliterate it. The former movement is called 
synthesis (a bringing together); the latter is called 
diastasis (a cutting apart). 

The theology of Paul Tillich is the great monument 
of synthesis of the twentieth century. There are certain 
contemporary thinkers, such as Reinhold Niebuhr and 
the Swedish bishop, Adders Nygren, whose major 
theological contribution has been of the nature of 
diastasis. They have labored long and hard to free 
the message of Christianity from what they feel to be 
"foreign" elements which it accumulated in the nine- 
teenth and early twentieth centuries. Other theo- 
logians, such as Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, have 
played a dual role, both leading forth in the cutting- 
apart effort, and then laboring to lay the foundation 
for a new synthesis. Only Tillich among the major 
theologians may be fully described as a theologian of 
synthesis, one whose consuming desire has been to 
take seriously and utilize positively the cultural needs, 
patterns, and modes of expression in reformulating 
and attempting to communicate Christian truth. 

The Method of Correlation 

Born in Germany in 1886, Paul Tillich came to 
America in 1933, having been dismissed from\his 
teaching positions and forced to leave Germany bc^ 


f.«(>VI ;-,- V ' J'-, ■■■ 

cause of his anti-Nazi political views. His dis- 
tinguished teaching in this country now finds him 
university professor at Harvard, where he lectures both 
to the undergraduates and to the students of the 
Harvard Divinity School. 

Illlich's drive for synthesis determines the nature 
of his theological thought and the method which he 
follows. He calls his method "the method of correla- 
tion." In intention it is quite simple, although its 
basis and implications are deep and far-reaching. It 
swings upon two contentions: (1) that if theology is 
to be "saving theology" it must speak to the situation 
of man, his real, throbbing problems of life and death; 
and (2) that theology and philosophy are inseparable. 

It is the first of these two convictions that casts the 
mood of Kierkegaard and contemporary existentialism 
over Tillich's thought, and has caused some to refer 
to his system as "existential theology." He insists that 
flesh-and-blood humaii existence, not abstract theory, 
is the soil which theology must plow. But for him, 
to speak of existential theology is like speaking of an 
albino white horse. He even contends that truth is 
not true — ^it matters not how well it may be formulated, 
or how closely it may conform to the Bible and tradi- 
tional "orthodoxy" — unless it can be received by man, 
and can speak to his condition. 



Hie structural basis of the method of correlation 
rests upon a serious trust in the trustworthiness of 
human reason. Ordinarily when we use the word 
"reason" we mean simply logical thinking; but by 
the word Tlllich means more than just the process of 
human thought. He insists that the world is so created 
that it embodies certain "structures," and that these 
structures find their intended correspondence in the 
mind of man. It is when the structures of the mind 
meet the structures of objective, external reality that 
knowledge becomes possible. The term "reason," in 
Tillich's thought, refers to these structures of reality 
and of the mind, as well as to the thought process. 

The tedhnical word which Tillich uses for his 
assumption of these corresponding structures is logos, 
a Greek term which appears in the prologue of the 
Gospel of John (where it is translated as "Word"), 
and which has a long philosophical and theological 
history. This is the initial point where his entire 
^T^N^eology joins hands with classical Greek philosophy. 
\ ^The word logos, in its various forms, can be freely ; 
translated as "thought," "pattern of rationality," 
"reason," or "word." It is the term which is joined 
with the Greek word for God to make the word 
"theology." Theology is thinking or reasoning about 
God. For Tillich, logos means reason, understood in 



the sense of the corresponding structures. It is his 
assumption of "the universality of the logos" which 
enables him to take human reason with total serious* 
ness, and which lays the foundation for his theological 
method and system. Human reason, as such^ cannot 
answer the ultimate questions which are raised by the 
mind of man; but reason can ask the questions, and 
the answers which are given, through revelation, come 
to man through this same reason. Thus he insists 
that question and answer not only may, but must, be 
correlated, wedded in an inviolable union, with each 
rooting in the universal logos. 

The Human Situation 

Tillich's theological system is in five parts. Each 
part consists of an ultimate question arising out of 
the himian situation and developed philosophically, 
and then of the answer that comes through revelation. 
He recognizes that the question and the answer in- 
teract; but primarily the first half develops the existen- 
tial "problem," and the last half of the theological 

What does Tillich say about the basic need of 
man to which Christianity must speak in our day? 
He insists that "it is not an exaggeration to say that 
today man experiences his present situation in terms 


of disruption, conflict, self-destruction, meaningless- 
ness, and despair in all realms of life." He believes 
that the various form^ of cultural expression offer 
infallible clues to the way in which man actually 
experiences his human situation, and thus he draws 
heavily upon depth psychology, existential philosophy, 
modern art and poetry, and political and historical 
fact in his analysis. 

Man, he says, knows and feels himself to be con- 
fronted by "the threat of nonbeing," or of "not being." 
He discovers that he is a creature, wholly contingent, 
dependent upon and ruled by powers— -both within 
and without — ^which he neither controls nor creates. 
This poses man's basic problem, which is his finitude. 
He knows the infinite; but he also knows in the same 
moment that he is not of the infinite. This knowledge 
comes to him in the form of a threat. Why should he be, 
and not not be? May he not, at any moment, cease to 
be? It is this underlying knowledge which forces man 
to recognize that anxiety is of the essence of his exis- 
tence. This anxiety is neither temporary nor accidental. 
It is permanent and universal. This discovery points 
to his deepest need, a need for "the courage to be." 

Why is it necessary to define man's very existence 
with the word "anxiety"? Man is created free and with 
imlimited possibilities open before him. "Possibility," 


Tillich says, "is temptation." As man acts, on the basis 
of the freedom which is the mark of his created 
natiire, he turns away, and separates himself, from 
God. He does this (1) through self-elevation, as he 
makes himself his God; (2) through unbelief, as 
both with his mind and with his actions he denies his 
intended dependence upon God; and (3) by his im- 
limited striving, as he uses his potentialities without 
considering their source or the will of the God who 
gave them. Man's actual situation, therefore, must 
be described as one of primal separation (the word 
Tillich uses for the traditional word "sin"). Man has 
separated himself from the ground of his being, from 
his Creator, from the One who is intended to be his 

The results of this separation are disastrous and all- 
pervasive. It creates a deep loneliness in human life 
that can never ^ be overcome. It also results in an un- 
avoidable blindness and a paralysis of the will. 

In his separated condition man finds that he cannot 
escape involvement in both personal and collective 
"lies." He "labels" others, and refuses to look beneath 
the label. He tends to pervert and destroy everything, 
making it what from his estranged point of view he 
wishes it to be. When he is confronted with the 
necessity for decision, he tries to rid himself of the 


burden. He dissolves himself in a political movement, 
or in a social group, to hide his embarrassment in the 
face of recurring paralysis of the will. This turns him 
against himself, and against his fellow men. His life 
becomes competitive rather than co-operative. This 
produces suffering, which he feels to be senseless 
suffering. The suspicion of meaninglessness creeps 
over him. Cynicism and despair, the "sickness unto 
death" of Kierkegaard, envelop him. 

Every effort that man makes to overcome this 
situation is futile. It only serves to aggravate his con- 
dition and increase his separation, because the effort 
itself is based upon this condition of primal separation. 
Whenever and wherever man refuses to recognize this, 
and seeks to conquer his condition with moral striving, 
religious forms, or social and political programs, he 
merely inches more closely to the brink of annihilation. 
The undeniable and unshakable fact is that on the 
deepest level of his existence man is helpless and hope- 
less—except where he recognizes this helplessness and 
hopelessness, and thus seeks "New Being," or quests 
for "the Christ." 

The Divine Answer 

Human existence, trapped in this situation, cries out 
for "a reality of reconciliation and renewal, of cre- 


ativity, meaning, and hope." This is precisely what is 
given to us, Tillich says, in "the picture of Jesus as 
the Christ" which we find in the New Testament. 
Here is the "new creation" for which we long. "If 
anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation," says Paul 
(II Corinthians 5:17). This "new creation" is de- 
scribed by Tillich as Neu/ 'Being, the pivotal concept 
of his entire theology. What we see in "the picture of 
Jesus as the Christ," he says, is manhood which is 
not cursed by the separation that disrupts and destroys 
our lives. He actualized his freedom, just as we do, 
and lived under all the conditions of our human 
existence; yet there is in him no trace of self-elevation, 
unbelief, or disregard of the giver of life and freedom. 
In. his words, in his deeds, and in his suffering, there 
is an uninterrupted transparency to the ground of 
being, a continuous giving of hin||elf to God. Here 
is "God-manhood," the fully human which has com- 
pletely overcome all separation from "the divine 

This New Being, Tillich says, is "the principle of 
salvation." It is a power that liberates and transforms 
our separated and torn human existence, so that we 
participate in the "new creation." Under this power 
we are united with the ground of being, with God; 
our inner "split" is overcome, and we are made one 


iftt. ,- .1^ iV^-i. 


again with one another. This is salvation, a healing 

which is a reunion beyond our separation. 

How do we participate in this power of the New 
Being? TilHch's answer to the ancient question, "What 
must I do to be saved?" ^ is "Nothing — literally noth- 
ing." It is, first and last, a matter of grace. It is only 
as we are "struck by grace" that the salvation, the 
healing of our separation and estrangement, becomes 
possible. This means that "faith" is not in any sense 
something that we can or may do, but is a gift that is 
given in spite of what we have done. We are accept^ 
by God — this is Christianity's message. It is here that 
we see how seriously Tillich has taken Luther, or how 
utterly Protestant he is. Nothing is quite so discon- 
certing to him as the American "activist" mentality, 
the compulsion to reduce all things to acts and 
activity. "Sin" and "grace" must each be understood 
as a "state" (" 'sin' should never be used in the 
plural!" he insists). Sin is the state of separation, and 
grace is the opposite of sin. "Grace is the reunion of 
life with life, the reconciliation of the sel£,^ith 
itself." This is the New Being which is offered, a "ii^ 
creation" for us. "It is as though a voice were saying: 
'You are accepted. You are accepted. ... Do not try 
to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. 


Do not seek for anything. Simply accept the fact 
that you are accepted!' " ^ He who hears this voice 
has been struck by the stroke of grace. 

It is thus that the "walls of separation" are broken 
down. In the knowledge that we are accepted, we 
can accept ourselves. It then is possible for us to accept 
one another, without the aggressive bitterness and 
hostility that have plagued our lives. In so far as we 
are "in Christ," our estrangement from God, from 
ourselves, and from one another is overcome in the 
power of the New Being. 


The theology of Tillich bristles with questions, both 
for the layman and for the theologian. The most 
nagging question for the layman is "Can I understand 
him?" His technical vocabulary is a language which 
is quite foreign to the rank and file of the church, 
although his books of sermons, The Shafting of the 
Foundations and The New Being, are highly readable 
and very powerful. 

Theologians have raised their most pointed ques- 
tions about his "theological" use of philosophy, the 
nonpersonal tincture in his doctrine of God, and the 
fact that his analysis of man's dilemma seems to sug- 


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gest that creatureliness is man's basic problem. Serious 
questions will also be raised about his doctrine of 
Christ and his interpretation of atonement. And, 
although his appointed task is philosophical theology, 
not biblical scholarship or biblical theology, the ques- 
tion remains whether or not he has taken seriously 
enough the essential Hebraic structure of biblical 

There is a wide and serious diversity of reaction to 
the thought of Tillich in the theological world. One 
theologian suggests that he is Protestantism's twentieth- 
century Aquinas; and another equally eminent au- 
thority says, "There is no more dangerous theological 
leader alive than Dr. Tillich." Whatever the verdict of 
history will be about him, it will include an unhesitant 
recognition that here is one of those rare and great 
minds which leave the whole of human civilization in 
their debt. 


Paul Tillich, The Shading of the Foundations and The 
New Being (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948 
and 1955, respectively). Sermons. 


■■ , The Courage to Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale 

University Press, 1952). A book worth trying. 

Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall, eds.. The 
Theology of Paul Tillich (New York: The Mactnillan 
Company, 1952). 


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Rudolf Bultmann, a German New Testament scholar 
born in 1884, has made a major contribution to 
Christian thought with what he calls his "existential 
hermeneutics," All his theological novelties and accents 
originate here. 

"Existential hermeneutics" is a complex label for 
what everyone does quite normally, and for what 
theologians must do somewhat studiously. Herme- 
neutics is the science of interpretation. Anyone who 

• Carl Michalson is professor of systematic theology at Drew 
Theological Seminary, Madison, N. J^ Rudolf Bultmann is one 
of the pioneers in the "form criticism" study of the New 
Testament; but this chapter deals with his more recent con- 
tribution to Protestant thought j^ 

102 ' 

reads books does so with an implicit or explicit prin- 
ciple of interpretation. Whether his reading will be 
profitable does not depend entirely upon the book he 
is reading. It depends to a great extent upon how he 
interprets what he is reading. Hence, even though 
for Protestants the Bible is in principle the dominant 
norm of authority for the faith, it can actually have 
varying degrees of significance, depending upon one's 
method of reading it. 

According to Bultmann, the Bible should be read 
as any other piece of literature. If this is true, it 
could save Christians a great deal of trouble. They 
would not be involved in the endless hassle over the 
extent to which the Bible is a special kind of book. 
But how should "any other" book be read? One 
should enter into its point of view in such a way as 
to read it from the perspective of the book itself. One 
should as\ the questions of the boo\ which the boo\ 
itself is answering. Therefore, one needs to ask the 
Bible what it is saying, and not impose upon it some 
presuppositions of one's own on the subject. 

The remarkable thing about reading the Bible from 
the biblical point of view is that the Bible shows no 
interest in the facts of past history, or in theological 
data for their own sake. It rather exposes the life of 
the reader to the problem of his personal existence and 


^^»^;^^Tr5??'r^"'''7*'' 'T^^ 

directs him to a solution which rings with the 
ultimacy of God's own Word. 

This suggests why Bultmann calls his principle of 
interpretation "existential hermeneutics." Herme- 
neutics is called existential simply because the Bible 
is found to appeal to the same dimensions of depth 
and self-understanding in men to which existential 
philosophy appeals. As the American poet, Delmore 
Schwartz, has put it, existentialism is the philosophy 
that believes no one can take your bath for you. 
Martin Heidegger, who was Bultmann's colleague at 
the University of Marburg for many years and a close 
collaborator, developed his existential philosophy 
around the theme that no one can die your death for 
you. Bultmann takes the position which he believes is 
held by existentialism because it was first held by 
Christianity: no one can hold y6ur faith for you. 

When a man reads the Bible from the point of view 
of the Bible and asks the fundamental questions about 
his own destilly, he hears the Word of God coming 
from the Bible as a call to complete obedience. His 
very life or death hangs upon his decision. The 
authentic response to the call to decision cannot be a 
body of data which describes what the Bible is saying. 
It must be a new and meaningful life. When this 


event takes place, revelation has occurred. Revelation 
is the event in which God's Word, communicated 
through the preaching of the church, constitutes one's , 
life as meaningful. The Bible is the preaching in 
which the primitive church was born. It is the task 
of the church through the study of the Scriptures, 
through theology, and through preaching to let God's 
Word animate the church again. 

Preachers have the easiest time doing this. Pro- 
clamation begets proclamation in their hands. Theo- 
logians and New Testament scholars have the hardest 
time. Biblical scholars tend to shy away from ex- 
istential hermeneutics. They try to read the Bible from 
the standpoint of other books rather than from the 
standpoint of the Bible. They want to go behind 
the Bible to see what its sources are in climate, 
language, and religious history. In the very effort, they 
are in peril of separating thenfeelves, their own 
meaningful lives, from the interpretative task — z pro- 
cedure which the Bible itself does not endorse. The- 
ologians, moreover, tend to substitute statements about 
the nature of revelation for the preaching in which the 
revelation comes to life. They talk about the Christ 
who is God's Word for us as if he were something in 
himself. Whereas, according to Bultmann, revelation 


is Jesus as the Word of God, the holy event of God for 
us, the event that makes our lives meaningful through 
this act of God. 

The Structure Behind Bih^tmann's Method of 

Bultmann takes his method of interpretation very 
seriously, and structures it with the help of certain 
philosophical ideas derived from existentialism. 

The first idea coming out of existentialism has to 
do with the intentional nature of consciousness. Every 
act of consciousness is always a consciousness of some- 
thing. Every subjective impression "intends" an ob- 
jective correlate. However, in acts of understanding, 
it is the relation of the subject to the object that is 
investigated. It is then that the question of the 
existence of the object is bracketed, for it is a secondary 
consideration. Only the question of its meaning is 
raised, for the question of meaning is the juncture at 
which consciousness joins itself to the object con- 
templated. That relationship is the meaning. Meaning 
does not inhere either in the subject (how I feel) or 
in the object (what it is), but in the meeting between 
subject and object (what is meant). 

The second rather sophisticated structure behind 
the Bultmann method is taken from existentialism's 


concept of time. "Time" for existentialists is divided 
into the customary categories of past, present, and 
future. But these do not mean for existentialism pre- 
cisely what they do for common sense. If they did, the 
present would be a dimensionless mathematical point 
on a line separating past and future. As it is, for 
existentialism the present is the dimension in which 
a man really lives. It is the realm of one's meaningful 
life. It is what saves us from simply living in the past. 
Now the past is not, for existentialism, what it is for 
common sense. It is not simply that which has de- 
cidedly happened, once-for-all. It is a realm of in- 
authenticity, where no decisiveness, no freedom, no 
life resides. It is always the "dead past." What, then, 
is the possibility of a man's being saved from the dead 
past for life in a meaningful present? The future! The 
future is filled with hope. But because it is future, it 
is only possible. It is not necessary. Because it is only 
possible, one must decide about it. He cannot know 
the future in the same way that he knows what is 
already past. 

Now for Bultmann, the holy event of saving knowl- 
edge which comes in God's revelation of his word is 
always in the future. It is what he calls an "eschato- 
logical event." By that he does not mean that the 
revelation never comes. Rather, it is the event which 


■ .-v^' -^^fT'J^^'W'W'' 

is always coming. In coming, it saves us from our 
inauthentic bondage to the dead past by delivering 
our lives into a meaningful present. 

Bultmann's concept of "history, which is crucial for 
an understanding of his position, is tied up with both 
these points: with his phenomenological theory of 
consciousness and with his existential view of time. 
History in modern times no longer means what it once 
meant for the historians. It does not mean "the facts 
of the past." As Goethe and Nietzsche established, 
there are no facts without interpretation. History is 
event interpreted — ^meaningful events. In the light 
of Bultmann's concept of consciousness and time, in 
what sense is Christianity historical? 

Christianity is interpretation in which the holy event 
of God's revelation in Jesus Christ takes place. That 
revelation is an "eschatological event." That is, it is 
primarily future, a possibility to be decided in faith. 
It constitutes my present as meaningful when I in- 
terpret that event in an act of decision, an act of 
obedience, an act of faith. 

Applying the Method 

Here the real trouble begins, although it need not 
be trouble if one understands these methodological 
backgrounds. Was there an historical Jesus? This 


question compounds the problems. If by historical is 
meant a fact of the past, open to the scrutiny of the 
scientific historians, then Bultmann might say yes. He 
would hasten to add, however, that the Bible is in- 
terested not in the past history of Jesus but in his 
present Lordship. The key to that is in the fact that 
the Bible is not scientifically recorded past events. The 
literary form of the New Testament is evidence of 
that. It is proclamation of God's saving deed, the 
preacher's interpretation of the event of the past, 

Bultmann was one of the pioneers in the develop- 
ment of this understanding of New Testament litera- 
ture by the "form-history" school. When you read the 
New Testament you ought not to be interested in 
the factuality, the objectivity, the past existence of 
Jesus. If you are, you are not reading the Bible from 
the standpoint of the Bible. It is not that the objective 
facts are not there. It is rather that they are "put in 
parentheses" in order to allow the meaningful relation 
to "happen." The Bible is not a record of events but 
an interpretation. When it is preached, that is, re- 
interpreted, it brings the saving event to life in the 
present. History in the New Testament sense is not 
an isolated objective event. It is not even an arena in 
which persons appropriate truths in eventful meetings. 
I^istory is the meeting. 




That is not to say that there is not a great deal 
of past history in the New Testament. There is. It 
causes the biblical interpreter or the preacher his 
greatest problem. For alongside the preaching in the 
New Testament (the technical name for this preach- 
ing is the \erygma) is another literary form, the myth 
{mythos). Preaching is a way of speaking about God's 
holy event so as to allow it to repeat itself in the 
present. Myth, however, in the sense in which it is 
used in the study of the history of religions, is a way 
of speaking of God's acts as if they are scientifically 
determinable events. But, says Bultmann, God's acts 
are always "eschatological events," events which are 
in history as possibilities for the constituting of our 
lives as meaningful. To talk about these holy acts in 
terms of their location in world space and in past time 
is to mythologize them. 

Miracle stories, cosmological descriptions about how 
Jesus was born and how he will return, conjectures 
about the location of heaven and hell in terms of first- 
century astronomy, philosophies of history, psycho- 
physical evidences of the resurrection, metaphysical 
speculation about the nature of God and man — all 
have myth in them. That is, they all step outside the 



preaching task of the Christian community where 
proclamation of saving knowledge is the sole burden 
and where the decisiveness of faith is the sole response. 
That is why Bultmann, a Lutheran, strongly in- 
fluenced by the Pauline message of the New Testa- 
ment, has been urging the preachers of Germany to 
"demythologize" the New Testament. (It is for this 
that he has become best known in recent years.) As 
Paul and Luther taught, justification is "by faith 
alone"; and to demythologize keeps one from com- 
mending justification on some other basis than faith. 
The mythologizing tendency of the New Testament 
tempts one to base his faith on historical facts of the 
past. A Christian, however, is called to base his faith 
upon the saving act of God which always comes to 
us as out of the future with no validation except the 
act of complete obedience in the decision of faith. 


Many scholars believe that Bultmann is wrong to 
wish to demythologize the New Testament just at 
a time when poets and other artists have come to take 
up the New Testament myths as the religiously 
meaningful symbols for our time. Bultmann, however, 
does not mean by myth what the literary people do. 
The New Testament myths are not symbols which 



unite a man with his deepest meanings. Bultmann 
holds they are falsifications of meaning inasmuch as 
they tend to treat as scientific history what is really a 
revelational event. Though they have the intention of 
the Christian preaching, they are a device which ob- 
structs and thwarts the radical obedience of faith. They 
drain off one's attention into the question of factual- 
ities and, in the process, defeat the artist's purpose, 
which is to answer the question about the meaning of 

A great group of scholars believes that Bultmann 
represents a rebirth of nineteenth-century liberalism 
which called the New Testament a mythological 
document. Stripping away the mythological element, 
it found nothing of any great significance left. Bult- 
mann, however, does not call for a stripping away of 
myth. Demythologizing does not mean throwing the 
myth away. It means interpreting the myth. In that 
sense, demythologizing is simply preaching again the 
gospel of the New Testament, releasing it from the 
world of the first century and getting it into the life 
of the present-day man. 

Bultmann's demythologizing project (first published 
in 1941) was originally addressed to preachers. How- 
ever, Bultmann believes that the New Testament 
scholars and theologians have one common task with 

112 ^ 

the preacher: so to interpret the Bible that God's word 
may be heard today. Therefore, a great storm is 
rocking the theological world at this moment to de- 
termine whether a method which might have some 
justification for preachers can possibly be carried 
through by biblical and systematic theologians. 


Rudolf Bultmann, Essays, Philosophical and Theological 
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1956). 

, Primitive Christianity (Living Age Books, 



iiJit*ilL';^:ia':'i i.i-'"^ • 



Emil Brunner, in discussing the relation between 
"ordinary knowledge" and revelation, says that or- 
dinary knowledge "is always knowledge of an ob- 
ject." Revelation involves "another kind of knowledge 
— that in which the other confronts me not as an 
object but as a subject, where he is no longer an 'It' 
but a "Thou.' "1 

Statements like this, using the term "Thou" or 
"I-Thou" to explain what Christians mean by revela- 
tion and faith, occur time after time in works by con- 
temporary Protestant theologians and biblical scholars. 
What they mean can be understood best by reference 
to the thought of Martin Buber, the distinguished 

• Walter E. Wiest is associate professor of theology and 
philosophy at the Western Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, 
Pa. ^ 


contemporary Jewish thinker, now resident in Israel, 
from whose writings this terminology is drawn. Buber 
has been so effective in reinterpreting for modem men 
what the Bible says about God, man, and the world 
that Christian writers have reached into his books and 
gratefully helped themselves. 

In the background of Buber's thinking is a rather 
unusual form of Jewish faith, called Hasidism, which 
arose about 1750 in the isolated Jewish communities 
of Poland. Hasidism ("Hasid" means a holy or pious 
person) was an expression of a very warm, joyful, re- 
ligious spirit. God was close and real, his presence 
felt, both in the close personal ties that bind men in 
genuine community and in a sense of intimate relation 
to nature. 

At first, Hasidism, with its deep sense of the Divine 
presence in everything, led Buber into the study of 
mysticism. Biblical studies later turned his thought in 
new directions and helped him put in new perspective 
some other elements in Hasidic Judaism. In the Bible,, 
Buber came to see, God confronts man in an intimate 
personal relationship in which there is a kind of con- 
versation or "dialogue," a real give-and-take. From 
this comes a new understanding of faith and of re- 
ligious truth or knowledge. What I believe or know is, 
in this sense, what happens to me when I meet with 


and respond to another in the fullness of his being 
as a person. This is precisely what- the Bible means, 
says Buber, by revelation. It is not a set of propositions 
about God and man but a series of encounters between 
God and men. Faith, consequently, is not a matter of 
saying "yes" with the mind to certain "articles of 
faith" but a positive response of one's whole being 
to God who confronts him with a personal demand. 
The call of faith is not "Believe that certain things 
are so" but "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve," 
or "Come, follow me." 

This sort of relation, to which Buber gives his 
famous label "I-Thou," calls for a much different way 
of looking at things than is customary with us. Usually 
we consider things for their possible uses and feel we 
know them best by looking at them objectively and 
impersonally. This is roughly what scientific know- 
ledge, in its efforts to classify things according to their 
general characteristics and interpret their behavior by 
laws of cause and effect, suggests to us. It involves a 
detached, uncommitted attitude to which Buber 
applies the term "I-It." We can take this attitude 
toward people as well as toward sticks and stones. For 
instance, we can classify man biologically (a thinking, 
vertebrate animal), pigeonhole him in the social struc- 
ture (employee, draftee, social security No. 4001-226- 


839), or treat him as a means~tiraa end (cheap labor, 
easy mark, eligible bachelor). Buber recognizes that 
some degree of impersonal structure is necessary to 
human culture. His point is that we readily forget the 
I-Thou underlying I-It relations. 

In his much-quoted phrase, "All real living is meet- 
ing," Buber asserts the need of men to find fulfill- 
ment in I-Thou relations with others. The ideal type 
of I-Thou relationship might be the best moments of 
a good marriage, in which each partner gives himself 
to the other unselfishly and yet finds fuller life in the 
giving. What happens, happens between them, in 
their relation. No one can sustain such a relation 
permanently, but it can be constantly renewed. And 
wherever a true I-Thou encounter occurs, there God 
is present also, whether recognized consciously or 
not. In every meeting with a "Thou," we meet "the 
eternal Thou." 

The Dialogue of Faith 

There are three respects in which Buber contributes 
especially to Protestant faith. One is his interpretation 
of the "prophetic" character of biblical faith. It is all 
too easy for "I-It" thinking to invade religion itself. 
It can happen when we indulge in traditional theo- 
logical language about God (he is infinite, eternal, 

117 ;'&a;:iu' ',' 


immutable, omniscient, et cetera). It happens when we 
reduce faith to ritual and moral law, thinking that 
when we have attended services and paid our respects 
to decency we have fulfilled our obligations and can 
turn to other concerns. It happens when we identify 
first with acceptance of the letters on the pages of 
Scripture; Buber has helped us to understand how to 
take the Bible seriously without forgetting that it is 
"the letter that killeth, the Spirit that maketh alive." 
By contrast, prophetic faith catches up the individual 
in a vivid, lively "dialogue." There are no formulas 
to follow, but a constant calling for new decision. 
God even extends to men the freedom to argue with 
Him. In his book, A Prophetic Faith, Buber describes 
Jeremiah standing before God "lamenting, complain- 
ing to Gbd himself, disputing with Him about jus- 
tice. . . .'Man can speak, he is permitted to speak; 
if only he truly speaks to God, then there is nothing 
may not say ." ^ In relation to God, it is better to 
be honestly hostile than dishonestly respectful or in- 
different: "If there were a devil, 4t would not be one 
who decided against God, but one who, in eternity, 
came to no decision." ^ 

H)is Concept of Community 

Ruber's second great contribution is in the under- 


standing of human relations. The chief respect in 
which Buber differs from other "existentialist" 
thinkers from Kierkegaard to Sartre is that he never 
runs the risk of leaving the individual isolated. In 
the shaping of his own destiny, in relation to God, 
the self is at the same time related to others. Hasidisin 
had a warm feeling for what happens "between man 
and man" in intimate religious community. Prophetic 
fiuth adds a sense of God's claim upon the whole life 
of a people. Buber says, for instance, that Old Testa- 
ment injunctions against the oppression of widows, 
orphans, or "sojourners" are addressed to the whole 
community of the "people of God." They cannot be 
a "people" when "the social distance loosens the con- 
nections of the members of the people and decomposes 
their direct contact with one another." God "does not 
want to rule a crowd, but a community." * 

Buber sees modern man caught in a dilemma, 
swinging from a radical individualism (every man 
for himself) to a radical collectivism (every man for 
the terrible depersonalizing tendencies of modern 
society, with its bureaucracies, its technological gadg- 
ets, its emphasis on life in the mass. Against these, 
Buber offers a concept of community based on I-Thou 
relations. Recognizing another as "Thou" means feel- 
ing a responsibility for him. As it is expressed in 




Between Man and Man, "A newly-created concrete 
reality has been laid in our arms; we answer for 
it ... a child has clutched your hand, you answer for 
its touch; a host of men moves about you, you answer 
for their need." Thus is community created. Com- 
munity "is the being no longer side by side but with 
another ; . . a flowing from I to Thou. Community 
is where cotpmunity happens." 

Buber has tried to apply his thinking in some 
interesting experiments with community life in the 
new Israel. Protestants might well remember that a 
distinctive thing about New Testament Christianity 
was its expression in a new community love. Men need 
community; they can be lost in a crowd. Yet Protes- 
tant churches are faced with their own problems of 
bureaucracy, highly geared programs, congregatiorial 
life which often seems anything but warm, dedicated, 
and alive." Where should we look for the kind of 
Christian community that is created when men 
respond in faith to God's coming in his Word ? 

In the World of Nature ^ 

The third contribution of Buber can be only sug- 
gested here. There are difficult passages in which 
Buber says that, just as one can have I-It relations 
with persons, he can also have I-Thou relations with 


impersonal things. This is the continuing "mystical" 
strain in Rfs thinking which he never wholly lost 
from Hasidism. What Buber seems to mean is that 
anything — ^a tree, a dog — ^may manifest itself to us as 
a part of God's creation in which God himself is 
actively present, lliis causes us to take things seriously 
for what they are in themselves, not only for what use 
they may be to us. 

Protestant thought has been relatively weak in an 
understanding of nature and of science. It has tended 
often to abandon the field to naturalistic or pantheistic 
philosophies. Buber's I-Thou may open the way to a 
new interpretation of nature and a new way of relat- 
ing a Christian view of creation to scientific knowl- 
edge. What he suggests is that although scientific 
knowledge of a tree is good and necessary, after such 
analysis we still have to put the pieces back together, 
so to speak, and see the tree again as an entity in its 
own right. But this occurs in a relation to things that 
is more like the communion we have with a "Thou" 
than it is like detached scientific objectivity. The 
world then appears as a "spiritually, responsive uni- 
verse," in the words of another writer. 

This is not to say that trees are persons, or that 
one will necessarily find God if he is moved by 
beautiful sunsets. Buber is saying rather that the God 


■ V' . -. i >y'- .' 

whom we know primarily and fundamentally in 
personal encounter can also be met as "the eternal 
Thou" throughout all his creation. This may help 
Protestants to recover something of the sense of the 
mystery of God's presence in all things which has 
often been obscured in the emphasis upon individual 
faith and practical morality. 

Buber has always remained faithful to Judaism. 
Christians cannot claim hin:\ in this sense, but k is 
remarkable how much he can offer us from the 
perspective of his own Jewish faith. One of the things 
gained in biblical studies in recent years is a rene^yed 
appreciation of the distinctively Hebrew foundations 
^of Christianity. We should be able to appreciate more 
than ever the truth of the statement that spiritually we 
in the West are all Semites. With something of 
Buber's own profound respect for thjp Christianity he 
cannot accept, Christians can respond to him in ap- 
preciation and gratitude. 


Will Herberg, ed., The Writings of Martin Buber (Merid- 
ian Books, 1956). Contains parts of / and Thou, 
Buber's basic work. 

Martin Buber, Bettveen Man and Man (Boston: Beacon 
Press, 1956). 


'Sffip: ~.^ 



1. From Protestant Christianity by John Dillenberger 
and Claude Welch. Copyri^t 1954, by Charles Scrib- 
ner's Sons, New York. Used by permission. 

I. Albert Schweitzer 

1. King James Version ,iKjy) . 

2. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948. 

3. KJV. 

4. Luke 17:21, Revised Standard Version (RSV). 

5. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949. 

6. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949. 

II. Walter Rauschenbusch 

1. From Christianizing the Social Order, by Walter 
Rauschenbusch. Copyright 1912, by The Macmillan 
Company, New York. Used by permission. 


:i&iiaii7'i:i'iVi-.. .-._ 

^"/r^vX<^ ""Wirfl^ **^"'«tff7^*f^BT^ 

2. From A Theology for the Social Gospel. Copyright 
1917, by The Macmillan Company, New York. Used 
by permission. 

3. Ibid. 

I T 

III. William Temple 
1. London: St. Mardns, 1934. 

V. Karl Earth 

1. Karl Barth, ed., Bible. Episde to the Romans.' Trans, 
from the 6th edition by E. C. Hoskyns (London: 
Oxford University Press, 1933). 

VI. Emil Brunner 


1. H. Emil Brunner, The Mediator (Philadelphia: The 
Westminster Press, 1947). Ed. note: The dates for the 
Brunner books given in these notes are for the Ameri- 
can edition, while^Mose in the text indicate original 

2. Brunner, The Divine Imperative (Westminster Press, 

3. Brunner, Man in Revolt (Westminster Press, 1947). 

4. Brunner, Revelation and Reason (Westminster Press, 

5. Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God (Westminster 
Press, 1950). 

6. Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Re- 
demption (Westminster Press, 1952). 

7. Brunner, Eternal Hope (Westminster Press, 1954). 

124 ^ 


8. From The Christian Doctrine of God by Emil Brun- 
ner. Copyright 1950, by W. L. Jenkins, The West- 
minster Press, Philadelphia. Used by permission. 

9. Brunner, The Mediator (Westminster Press, 1947). 

VII. Reinhold Niebuhr 

1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932. 

2. Eds., Kegley ariS Bretall (New York: The Macmillan 
Company, 1956). 

3. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1935. 

4. New York: Charles Scribnor's Sons, 1943, 1949, 1952, 
1955, respectively. / 

i'l ' 

VII|. Paul Tillich 

1. Acts 16:30. ( 

2. From The Shading of the Foundations, by Paul Til- 
lich. Copyright 1948, by Charles Scribner's Sons, New 

• York. 

X. Martin Buber 

1. From Revelation and Reason, by Emil Brunner. Copy- 
right 1946, by W. L. Jenkins, The Westminster Press, 
Philadelphia. Used by permission. 
. 2. From A Prophetic Faith, by Martin Buber. Copyright 
1949, by The Macmillan Company, New York. Used 
by permission. 

3. From / and Thou, by Martin Buber. Copyright 1937, 
by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York). Used by 


jlili;fiMj-..U'ili*.i>2iJ'il . ■■■..■ 


4. From A Prophetic Faith, by Martin Buber. Copyright 
1949, by The Macmillan Company, New York. Used 
by permission. 

5. From Between Man and Man, by Martin Buber. Copy- 
right 1955, by Beacon Press, Boston, Mass. Useil by 


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