Lesson 36A

Classical liberalism rejects traditional Christology. Questions for Discussion: Part IX The Overall Plot Divides; Chapter Thirty-Two “Liberal Theology Accommodates to Modern Culture” from The Story of Christian Theology by Roger Olson

1. Olson emphasizes that simplistic stereotyping of liberal Protestant theologians typically associates them with denial: denial of the Trinity, denial of Christ’s divinity, denial of the virgin birth. What does a fair, objective assessment of them and their theological contributions yield? Can you provide a “working definition” of this movement that highlights the leaders and what they had in common?

2. A student in your Sunday School class observes, “I was watching PBS the other day and a program on the history of American religion mentioned a “change in the Zeitgeist as western civilization entered into the Age of Enlightenment. Then they talked about modernity and modernism – and then I got lost when the host started talking about liberal theology and Kant’s contributions. Could you explain what he meant by Zeitgeist and what it meant for European and American churches?” This student went on to add, “Oh yeah, could you also explain what Kant did that was so important? The host seemed real impressed with him.” How will you respond?

3. What do we learn of the Prussian Friedrich Schliermacher from Olson that justifies his being designated “the father  of modern liberal theology”?

4. Schleiermacher “removed” objective revelation from the position it had long held in Christian theology and replaced it with another concept. Can you explain the what, how, and why of Schleiermacher’s theology as it pertains to this transformation? How did he also involve piety and the Trinity in his theologizing?

5. Albrecht Ritschl’s theology is acknowledged as classical liberalism and described as once highly influential. In fact, Olson says it shaped an “entire generation of Protestant theologians”. How would you summarize his theology for a Sunday School class interested in Ritschlianism and the boundaries of modern scientific thought and nineteenth century religious thought? What “key(s)” can we use in explicating his liberalism, especially his notion of Christianity having a “true essence”?

6. What were the three main themes that informed liberal theology from the time of Schleiermacher and onward?

7. What should we emphasize about the legacy of Protestant liberal theology when summarizing its contribution. How did Adolph Harnack contribute to this legacy? What was his “take” on the “simple essence” of Christianity?

8. The German-American professor of theology Walter Rauschenbusch influenced American Protestantism with his A Theology for the Social Gospel. What were the key concepts that anchored this theology?

Lesson 36B Correlated Readings

Bible Verses for Reflection

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