Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Schleiermacher was an ordained minister in the Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union. True to his calling, most of his writings are expositions of church doctrine. They are exercises in dogmatic theology insofar as they attempt to show how church teachings are consistent with our typical feelings for God and each other. Schleiermacher saw dogmatic theology as the unending practical science of how to harmonize each present Christian community with the everyday customs of its particular place and time in history.

The Christian Faith is no exception. Its purpose within dogmatic theology is to show and affirm the spiritually healthy relation of our prereflective consciousness of God to the doctrines of sin, creation, the divine attributes, grace, mercy, the Incarnation of Christ, salvation, the Resurrection, eternity, the establishment of earthly and heavenly churches, and the Trinity. The respective meanings of these doctrines have important roles as personal piety develops out of the feeling of absolute dependence. When properly understood, each separate dogma of the church confirms and strengthens the feeling of absolute dependence on God and enlivens our hope of salvation. For non-Christians who also feel absolutely dependent on an eternal power, this feeling remains sterile and without direction; but for Christians, and especially for pious Protestants, the church, by both its word and its community, guides this feeling toward realizing its most profound result.

Some conservative dogmatic theologians, notably Karl Barth, have accused Schleiermacher of importing too much subjectivity into Christianity at the expense of the enduring truth of the Bible as the word of God. Barth’s neoorthodoxy proclaims, against Schleiermacher, that religious feeling should be manifest not as simple piety but as passionate love and thankfulness for the objective truth that the Bible reveals.