Combox Genius: William Witt on T19 on Barth and Schleiermacher

William Witt, a lay Anglican theologian, has a PhD from Notre Dame and now currently is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. His comment is found here:

Yesterday my students and I finished an entire semester of studying Contemporary Theology. We began with Schleiermacher and Barth, then covered everyone from Brunner, Bonhoeffer, the Niebuhrs, the Catholic Resourcement movement (DeLubac, Congar, Danielou), Orthodoxy (Bulgakof, Schmemann, Lossky), post-Vatican II theology (Rahner, Lonergan, von Balthasar), theology of hope/revelation history (Moltmann, Pannenberg) post-Liberalism (Lindbeck, Hauerwas), Evangelicals (Packer, Henry),(post-conservative)Evangelicals (N.T. Wright, Vanhoozer), “Scientific” theology (T. F. Torrance, Alister McGrath). We finished with Anglican theology–Ramsey and Sykes. All of these fairly clearly lined up with Barth.

On the other side, we studied Bultmann, Tillich, process theology, feminist theology, liberation theology. All of these fairly clearly lined up on the other side–with Schleiermacher.

It really didn’t matter whether the thinker was Protestant (Barth or Tillich) or Catholic (Balthasar or Schussler Fiorenza). The clear issue of division had nothing to do with which side of the Reformation divide one was on.

The answer to Cardinal Kasper’s question is that every one of the thinkers we studied chose both the first millennium and the sixteenth century–whether Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic, whether Barthian or Schleiermachian. But the clear divide was whether one sided with Barth or Schleiermacher, not whether with Luther or Trent. And whether one aligned with Barth or with Schleiermacher determined how one read the first millennium and the Reformation, and what one took from both.

I would only add that Catholic seminarians spent one third of there studies in philosophy before hitting theology for good reason. Most of the errors in theology come from a bad philosophical foundation. The fundamental error of Schleiermacher is that he begins with the assumptions of Kant. Kant and others in the general field of skeptics are so caught in the epistemological quandary (how can I know anything? and how could I know that I know anything?) that they have lost all sense of conviction, at least academically.

In the practical world even skeptics must trust that language does in fact refer to concrete reality. Does a skeptic whose wife asks him to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home from the university ask her what milk is, whether or not she will know if it is milk he brings home, and whether what she think she knows about milk she can really know about milk or anything else under the sun or even if there is such a thing as the sun? No, he stops at the 7-11 and buys some milk.

Fundamentally, the skeptical approach is only useful as a way to tell people you disagree with that they can’t mean what they mean. Skepticism, deconstructionism etc. are a big intellectual hoax, IMHO.

And this skeptical deconstructionist approach is what underlies much of modern theology the thrust of which is that neither scripture nor tradition can meaningfully communicate a will of God, the reality of God or his revelation. And thus it was Karl Baths project to reaffirm the essential priority of revelation, scripture, and proclamation (Catholics would add the sacraments) as a real communication of the divine.

Anyway, Witt understands well that the new lines of division in Christianity are not set by the differences of the 16th Century but those philosophical/theological differences of the 20th Century (and whose origin is in the epistemology of Kant, I would add).

I would also add that Benedict XVI has addressed the Schleiermacherian/Barthian problem quite ably in his book Jesus of Nazareth on the proper interpretation of scripture.



2 Responses to Combox Genius: William Witt on T19 on Barth and Schleiermacher

  1. Robaigh says:

    While reading this, I shot milk out of my nose. At least I think it was milk. Danke.

  2. Craig Goodrich says:

    It’s rather a pity Kant never met Dr. Johnson:

    After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”
    Boswell: Life

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