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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
Fact and Theory
FACT AND THEORY.—Christianity is a religion which comes to man from God. It has to do with man’s relation to God, and with God’s will for man. Any knowledge, therefore, of the nature of Christianity depends upon revelation. This would still be true apart from the fact of sin and the fact that Christianity is a religion of redemption. For God is a personal Spirit; and the only way by which we can know even the finite persons about us is through their revealing themselves to us. When, further, we bear in mind the truth that God is an infinite Spirit, and that we men are finite, it at once becomes obvious that all knowledge of God as well as of His plan or purpose must rest upon a revelation by God. This revelation may be general. Thus the creation of the Universe and of man, with God’s image in his heart and able to see God in the work of His hands, is to be regarded as an act of self-revelation on the part of God. But sin is a reality in this universe, and the noetic effects of sin have rendered necessary a special revelation of the holy God to sinful man. Sin has not only made man blind to spiritual realities, it has distorted the purity of the Divine image in man’s heart and in nature. Accordingly special revelation must be external, consisting in supernatural acts of God to restore the image of God, and must also consist in a supernatural word-revelation or communication of knowledge to explain the meaning of these acts. Special revelation, then, being soteriological, accompanies the redemptive activity of God. This Divine redemptive activity is historical, and has entered this world of time and space. This was necessary, because sin, the effects of which the redemptive activity was to counteract, is a historical force at work in the world. Since, therefore, special revelation accompanies God’s redemptive acts, it too is historical, taking place under the category of time. Hence we have, first of all, God’s redeeming acts, culminating in the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. These redemptive acts are also revealing acts. Thus God’s Son came into this world in the flesh in order to save sinners, as St. Paul tells us (1 Timothy 1:15). But His incarnation is also a revelation of God, as we learn from the prologue to St. John’s Gospel. But we have also a word-revelation accompanying the Divine redemptive facts or acts, and giving us their meaning. Indeed, that which rendered necessary the fact-revelation, viz. the noetic effects of sin, also makes necessary an authoritative word-revelation to explain to us the meaning of those acts. Christianity, therefore, consists in facts which have a meaning, or in the meaning of the facts, whichever way we choose to put it. Take away either the facts or their authoritative interpretation, and we have no Christianity left. The mere external facts apart from their meaning are, of course, meaningless, and therefore do not constitute Christianity; while the abandonment of the facts no less destroys the Christian religion, reducing it to a mere natural religion, or religious philosophy. Neither can the abandonment of the facts be justified because of the co-ordination of revelation and redemption, and of the historical character of the latter, to which we have already alluded.
This is the conception of revelation which the Scripture writers themselves give us. They claim that they were spoken to by God, and not merely that they had their religious intuition aroused by the facts of God’s revelation. Hence their interpretation of the meaning of the great facts of Christianity, according to their own account of the matter, is not mere human reflexion upon the facts. If, therefore, we reject their interpretation of the facts as itself immediately from God, and therefore authoritative, we shall not be able to trust them for the occurrence of the supernatural facts, and shall be driven logically to deny the immediacy and supernatural character of the Divine activity in the facts themselves. The meaning of the term ‘revelation’ will have been changed. It will no longer signify the communication of truth by God’s acts and words,* [Note: In speaking of word-revelation, we are not confounding revelation and inspiration; the former denoting the Divine supernatural communication of truth to the Scripture writer, the latter the Divine influence accompanying its record. The term ‘word-revelation’ is meant to denote especially the communication of truth to the Scripture writer in a supernatural manner. Of course, it should not be forgotten that inspiration is also necessary in order to render the truth infallible to us.] it will designate a product of the religious life of man. This does away with the absoluteness of Christianity, and is in direct contradiction to the account given by the Scripture writers themselves of the way in which Divine truth came to them. The question, therefore, really resolves itself into that of the trustworthiness of Christ and His Apostles as teachers of doctrine. The evidence for their trustworthiness is just the evidence for Christianity as a supernatural religion, which, of course, takes us far beyond the limits of this article (cf. Warfield, art. ‘The Real Problem of Inspiration’ in Pres. and Ref. Rev. iv. p. 177 f.). But if we accept their authority (as we do, resting it on the above mentioned evidence), then Christianity consists in certain great facts, and in the true meaning of those facts. The meaning of a fact is its meaning for a mind. By their true meaning, of course, is meant their meaning for God. This meaning, therefore, He must authoritatively make known to us if we are to have any Christianity.
In the first place, then, to attempt to hold to the great supernatural facts of Christianity and to give up their meaning, is not only impossible, but, were it possible, would result in taking from the facts just that which makes them Christian facts, and which makes them constitutive of the essence of Christianity. There has been an attempt to distinguish between the facts of Christ’s life as the permanent Divine element in Christianity and ‘theories’ as relative, human, and changing. This general tendency to separate between fact and theory in Christianity has assumed two forms: on the one hand, it is said that the Bible contains no explanation of the great facts of Christianity; on the other hand, it is admitted that the Bible does contain an explanation of the facts; but, while a special revelation in a series of supernatural acts of God is recognized, a special word-revelation is denied, and the whole doctrinal content of Christianity as contained in the Bible is reduced practically to human reflexion upon the acts of God.
In the former position, it is said that Christianity consists in facts, not in doctrines. We have in the Bible the fact of Christ, but no theory as to His person. We have the fact of the Atonement, but no theory or doctrine of its meaning.
This position has been held by R. J. Campbell and F. W. Farrar in their essays on the Atonement in a volume entitled The Atonement and Modern Religious Thought, 1900. For example, Farrar maintains that any attempt to explain the nature of the Atonement is a ‘futile endeavour to be wise above what is written, and to translate the language of emotion into that of rigid scholasticism.’ So also R. F. Horton, in his essay on the Atonement in a volume entitled Faith and Criticism, 1893, says that the NT contains no theory of the Atonement. (Horton has given up this position in his essay on the same subject in the same volume with Farrar’s essay). A similar position seems to have been maintained by Astié, who is quoted by H. Bois in De la Connaissance Religieuse, p. 342; cf. Warfield, The Right of Systematic Theology, p. 30.
In regard to this position we should note, first of all, that ‘bare facts,’ i.e. meaningless facts, are impossible, for every fact has a meaning whether we know it or not. And still further, a ‘bare fact’ being a meaningless thing, there is no atonement in the ‘bare fact’ of Christ’s death, and no Christianity in the events of His life regarded as ‘bare facts.’ If we clearly understand that a ‘bare fact’ is simply an event in the external world apprehended by the senses, or a subjective fact of some self-consciousness, then it may be the statement of a ‘bare fact’ to say that a man called Jesus was born some 1900 years ago, but we are not to say that He was God’s Son made flesh for our salvation; we can say that He died on the cross without going beyond ‘bare fact,’ or even that He expressed certain feelings, but we cannot say so much as that He died for our sin. It is not necessary to salvation that we should know the full and true meaning of Christ’s death; we are not speaking, however, of the conditions of salvation, but of the essence of Christianity. And this lies in the meaning of the great redemptive facts of the Christian religion, or in the facts because of their meaning. We may conceive some false meaning of these facts, but like all facts they must have some meaning, and their true meaning is their meaning for God. Hence, as was said, if we are to know their true meaning, God must tell it to us. If, therefore, we were simply to hold to the facts of Christ’s life considered as ‘bare facts,’ we should have taken away from them that which makes them Christian facts and redemptive facts. In short, this method of treating the facts of Christianity takes from them all that makes them constitutive of the essence of Christianity.* [Note: The necessity for an interpretation of the facts of Christianity has been shown by Denney, Studies in Theol. p. 106, and The Death of Christ, Introd.; cf. also J. Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, p. 25; H. Bois, Le Dogme Grec, pp. 110–117; Warfield, The Right of Syst. Theol. pp. 29–46.]
We should observe, next, that the modes of statement of all those who hold this position suggest the impossibility of holding to ‘bare facts.’ They speak constantly of the ‘fact of the Atonement.’ But this is quite ambiguous. If it means that the atonement is real, then it is a true statement, but a statement which involves a theory or interpretation of the fact of Christ’s death as atoning for sin. But, taken as they appear to mean it, the statement involves an error. We may speak of the fact of Christ’s death, but in this as a ‘bare fact’ there is no atonement. As soon as we call it an atonement we have interpreted it by a theory. So, when Farrar says it is a ‘landmark of the death of Christ,’ that it is ‘not only the declaration, but the ground of pardon,’ he has gone a long way toward understanding its meaning, and, according to his position, has made the mistake of ‘translating the language of emotion into the rigidity of syllogisms.’ And this same ambiguity often attaches to the language of those who do not hold this position. Thus the late Dr. Dale, in his book on the Atonement, first seeks to establish its fact and secondly its theory. In reality, however, the first part of his book contains more general, and the latter part more specific, statements of the doctrine or theory. Precisely the same ambiguity is seen in the article ‘The Fact of the Atonement,’ by R. Mackintosh (Expos. Times, May 1903), who speaks of the ‘fact of Christ’s death’ and the ‘fact of the Atonement’ as equivalent terms, and again of the ‘fact that Christ died for our sins,’ which statement, of course, contains a doctrine.
But we must observe, finally, that it is not sufficient to show the necessity of an interpretation of the facts of Christianity. The question of an external authority in religious knowledge cannot be evaded by saying that the Bible contains no explanation of these great facts. Whatever may be said as to the authority of Scripture, it is evident that the Bible does contain an interpretation of the great facts of Christ’s life. And whatever interpretation be put upon the language of Christ and His Apostles, it is plain that they had definite ideas as to who Christ was, why and how He came into this world, why He died, and what His death means. To take only a few instances, and those only in regard to one fact, viz. Christ’s death, it is scarcely a matter for dispute that, when He speaks of giving His life ‘a ransom in the place of many’ (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28), or of His blood as Covenant-blood ‘shed for many unto the remission of sins’ (Matthew 26:28), He intended to convey a definite view as to the meaning of His death.* [Note: It is often asserted that the words first quoted show Pauline influence on the Evangelist. But the unwillingness to admit that Jesus uttered them rests on dogmatic grounds. There is no external evidence against them, and, as Denney has shown, they are perfectly in keeping with the context. So also Spitta’s idea that the words Matthew 26:28 have no reference to Christ’s death, is admitted by him to be quite different from the view of the Evangelist (see Denney, The Death of Christ, pp. 38 and 40).] The same thing could be shown in regard to all our Lord’s statements as to His Person and Work. The whole of the Pauline letters are occupied to a large extent with the interpretation of the facts of our Lord’s Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection. It is not possible, then, to assert that the NT contains no interpretation of the facts which lie at the basis of Christianity.
We must therefore face the question of the authority of this interpretation. If we are unwilling to yield to its authority, and still insist upon the distinction between the facts as Divine and the theory as merely human, we shall be in the second position mentioned, that of those who recognize a supernatural revelation in a series of facts, but who reduce the whole doctrinal content of Christianity, as contained in the Bible, to human reflexion upon these facts (see Rothe, Zur Dogmatik, pp. 54–120; Weiss, Bibl. Theol. des NT7 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , § 1 c, also note 3 on p. 4. For other instances of this see Warfield, art. ‘Revelation’ in Johnson’s Encycl. vol. vii. p. 79). But this position is not a logical one. For it is not the account which the Scripture writers give of their interpretation of the facts of Christianity. They claim a direct supernaturalism in the communication to them of truth. Hence, if by reason of an anti-supernaturalistic philosophy we reject this claim, and regard their interpretation of the facts as relative and conditioned by the conceptions of the time, we shall also be led logically to reject their statements as to the occurrence of supernatural facts. The consequence of this will be to regard the facts of Christianity, i.e. its whole historical basis, no less than the Scripture doctrine, as the mere ‘husk’ which contains the ‘kernel’ either of rational truth or of Christian life; and thus Christianity will have been reduced to a mere religious philosophy or a mystical life. For, we are asked, can a history long past be the object of religious faith any more than a doctrine of a bygone age? Is not the whole of the historical and dogmatic element of the Scripture relative and temporally conditioned? Accordingly the logic of this position of recognizing a revelation only in fact, is to drive us to Rationalism or Mysticism. This is the result of abandoning the principle of external authority in religion. But rational truth and religious sentiment are not Christianity. If we are to have any Christian religion, we must have the great supernatural facts of Christianity and an authoritative interpretation of them. Whereas on this view revelation is only a product of the religions life of man.
Accordingly we are brought to a position opposite to that which we have been discussing, i.e. to the position which does not do justice to the facts of Christianity, subordinating them to a purely human theory. This tendency reduces Christianity to a philosophy of religion; the historical element being regarded as the ‘husk’ which contains the ‘kernel’ of eternal truths of reason.
This question of the importance of the historical element in Christianity was prominent in the 18th cent. (cf. Lipsius, ‘Die Bedeutung des Historischen im Christentume’ in his Glauben u. Wissen). The difficulty which was felt with historic facts was not, as more recently, that of attaining historic certitude. The clearest, most undisputed fact, it was held, could not support or be the content of religious belief. The objection was therefore a metaphysical, not a historical one. Hence all positive religions were regarded as but outward expressions of the pure religion of reason. This was the position of the Leihnitz-Wolffian philosophy (cf. Windelband, Gesch. der Phil. p. 30 ff.). Lessing also gave utterance to his famous saying that ‘accidental historical truths’ can never be the ground of ‘eternal rational truths.’ And he seemed to regard all of the historical element in Christianity as ‘accidental,’ for the ideal kernel of Christianity was just rational religious truth. In the same way Kant (Die Relig. innerhalb d. Grenzen d. blossen Vernunft) considered pure moral truth as the abiding kernel of all religions. Historical Christianity, he held, had clothed this with accretions which are symbolical representations of eternal truth. Fichte held practically the same position (see Anweisung zum seligen Leben) Thus by distinguishing between the ‘kernel’ and the ‘husk,’ and by finding the former in the truths of reason, the whole of Christianity was relegated to the category of husk. Christianity, accordingly, was reduced to a religious philosophy and destroyed, for it is not the product of human reflexion. An attempt at a more adequate view of history is seen in Schelling and Hegel, but with much the same result so far as historical Christianity is concerned, because of their adherence to the distinction between kernel and husk. History is regarded by them not as an ‘outer’ ‘empirical’ history, but as the history of God’s life in the finite spirit. Thus the history of Christ is not important as the history of an individual, but in these symbols faith sees the eternal course of the Divine life. Christ’s death is simply a symbol of something which must be repeated in every man’s inner life, and His bodily Resurrection a symbol of the return of the finite spirit to the Infinite. Thus historic Christianity is but one of the forms, albeit the highest, of bare natural religion, in this case construed upon a pantheizing basis.
In England, T. H. Green has given a Neo-Hegelian construction of Christianity which subordinates its facts and the Scripture interpretation of them to a philosophical theory (Miscell. Wks.2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] vol. iii. pp. 160–185, 230–276). God and man are identified. God is the ideal self of each man. Sin is self-assertion, and salvation consists in ‘dying to live,’ i.e. giving up this individualistic self-assertion. This is held to be the revelation of Christianity, but no value is attached to the historic Christ apart from the idea which He exemplified. This, it goes without saying, is Neo-Hegelianism and not Christianity. The claim, also, that faith which has a historic element in its content is therefore psychologically a ‘historic faith’ in the sense of a dead faith, is specious. Faith may have a historical element in its content without being changed as to its psychological character as trust in God. (For a critique of Green’s religious philosophy see Kilpatrick in The Thinker for 1895; Rainy in the Theol. Review for 1899; Forrest, The Christ of Hist. and of Experience, Lect. 8).
From the standpoint of NT criticism, the art. by Schmiedel on ‘The Resurrection and Ascension Narratives’ in Encye. Bibl. vol. iv. p. 4040 f., illustrates the same distinction between kernel and husk, and the giving up of the fact of the bodily Resurrection of Christ. Here an anti-supernaturalistic bias governs the whole discussion, though Schmiedel asserts that he does not presuppose the impossibility of a miracle.
The extreme result of this tendency to give up the authority of Scripture, and the consequent subordination of the facts of Christianity to a theory, is seen in an art. in the Hibbert Journal, Jan. 1905, entitled ‘The Christ of Dogma and of Experience,’ by W. A. Pickard-Cambridge. According to the author, the fundamental error in Scripture is its identification of Jesus Christ with the Spirit of God, communion with whom is the essence of religion. The Apostles were confronted with a personality of ‘overwhelming attractiveness,’ and so made this mistake. This, indeed, is Christianity without Christ. The author’s Christ is a mere mao idealized by emotion.
In doing away with the historical element in Christianity, these thinkers have done away with Christianity itself. This is only to say that the great facts of Christ’s life are a part of the essence of Christianity. The Christian religion is not a product of human ideas, but of a direct revelation of God to men, accompanying God’s direct interference in the downward course of the world caused by sin, which is a historic force. Thus, having abandoned all external authority, we lose the fact-basis as well as its Scripture interpretation, and are left with a philosophy of religion. But these so-called eternal truths are either purely human, in which case they cannot be eternally valid truth; or else man’s thoughts about God must be held to be God’s thoughts about Himself, in which case even natural religion vanishes in Pantheism. This type of religious philosophy may not admit the authority of the Scripture, but it should frankly admit that what it leaves us is not Christianity. It is, however, simply the logical result of the entire abandonment of the principle of external authority in religious knowledge.
When we turn from the philosophers to the ‘liberal theology’ represented by Biedermann, Lipsius, and Pfleiderer, we find that, notwithstanding the greater emphasis which they lay upon the historic Christ, their difference from the philosophers is not so much one of principle as of degree, i.e. of how much of Christianity they will retain as kernel and how much they will throw away as husk. This is determined largely by their philosophical standpoint. Hence in their case also there is a subjection of Christian fact and doctrine to an unauthoritative theory. That they do not differ so much in principle from the preceding philosophical solvent of Christianity can be seen from the following considerations. Wherever the principle of external authority is given up, we are sure to meet with the same distinction between kernel and husk in reference to Scripture fact and doctrine. And whenever this takes place, the Scripture idea of revelation has been changed, revelation being simply the product of religious thoughts and feelings in the mind of man. This makes it the product of natural development, and subjects it to the laws of psychic life. Accordingly we find that, while these theologians differ from the preceding construction of Christianity in laying greater emphasis upon Christ and in insisting that the essence of Christianity lies not in eternal truth so much as in Christ Himself (see esp. Lipsius, op. cit.), they nevertheless regard the Scripture facts as Scripturally interpreted, i.e. both fact and dogma, as but the ‘sensuous representation’ of rational religious truth.
Christ is probably of least significance in the theology of Biedermann, who held that Jesus is simply the first realization of the idea of Divine Sonship (Dogmatik, ii. § 815). Whereas Lipsius, though an opponent of the Ritschlian school, resembles it in the emphasis laid upon Christ. Thus in the essay already cited he says that the Christian religion is historical, and that the eternal good which it offers is bound up with the person of Christ. Christianity, he says, consists not in ideas which Christ illustrated, but in Christ Himself. But Lipsius distinguishes between kernel and husk, and between some facts and others. Thus he says that ‘faith has to do not with single historical facts as such, but with their religious value,’ and that ‘there are facts about whose historicity there is little doubt, and which are of no importance for our religious life, and there are others about which there may be much doubt, and yet, as sensuous representations of religious truths, they are of the greatest value.’ Obviously, if facts about whose occurrence there is doubt are of such importance as ‘sensuous representations’ of religious truth, the really essential thing is the rational truth which they are supposed to represent. And this is actually the case with Lipsius’ treatment of the great Christian facts. Thus the Cross is ‘the symbol of the eternal truth that the old man in us must die, in order that man be born of God’ (p. 138), though Lipsius does recognize in Christ’s death more than a mere symbol (p. 139). At the same time the all-important thing is the idea symbolized. So also the Resurrection of Christ need not be true in its literal Scriptural form, but at the same time it symbolizes the truth of the entrance of Christ into the heavenly world. The ‘form’ in which we conceive it is expressly said to be of no importance. This is sufficient to show the complete subordination of Christian fact to philosophic theory in this movement. But not only are the great facts of Christianity put into the category of ‘husk.’ The dogmatic interpretation of them in the Scripture is also regarded as the external hull or symbol of rational truth. For, unlike the Ritschlian school, who hold that the Greek influence is largely later than the NT writings, the liberal theology carries this influence, and consequently the critical process of separating the kernel of truth from its husk, back into the NT. Thus Pfleiderer (Glaubens- u. Sittenlehre, p. 4) says that it is the business of Dogmatics to ‘work over critically’ the Scripture as well as the Church dogma in order to reach its abiding truth. The Scripture doctrine is said to contain a ‘sensuous’ element which is not rational and which must be rationalized.
It is evident that the principle of external authority in religious knowledge having been abandoned by this school also, the historic facts of Christianity as well as the Scripture interpretation are given up. Again, facts are subordinated to a human theory, and we have left a religious philosophy.
The subjection of the Scripture facts and doctrines to a subjective norm has taken also a more mystical form. This, indeed, is a natural consequence of the attempt to find a permanent basis for religious knowledge after the principle of external authority has been given up. For this kernel of rational truth seems to differ with each theologian, and does not afford that permanency which should characterize the essence of Christianity. These so-called eternal truths are temporally conditioned just as are the Scripture dogmas. To hold to them, therefore, is a species of dogmatism. Accordingly it is natural that a demand for a truly undogmatic Christianity should arise, seeking to be rid not only of Scripture doctrine, but also of the rational element into which it had been distilled.
This demand was made by Dreyer in his Undogmatisches Christentum, the first edition of which appeared in 1888. Coming from the camp of the liberals, Dreyer directed his polemic against ‘liberalism’ and ‘orthodoxy’ alike. The liberal theology fails to satisfy the demands of the ‘pious heart,’ while orthodox dogma is in conflict with modern culture. We are therefore bidden to turn from dogma to the life of faith. Christianity is a life, not a series of facts or doctrines. Dogma is religious experience put into the form of concepts (p. 77). It is therefore put into a form of relative validity, and one that is continually changing. When these concepts are no longer valid, they no longer serve to express religious life, and must be rejected. The facts of Christianity fare no better at Dreyer’s hands. He will not allow our idea of history to be governed by any dogmatic supernaturalism, and consequently, at the demand of an equally dogmatic anti-supernaturalism, he tells us the ‘myth-forming process’ is seen in the Gospel record of the life of Christ. Although something of external fact may remain, we can find no religious certitude in any historic fact, and are told to fall back on Christ’s holy character, which is exalted above all the changes of theological science and historical criticism. This arouses life in us, and this life is the essence of Christianity, which is a life, not fact or doctrine.* [Note: In some respects Dreyer’s position resembles that of the Ritschlians. Thus, e.g., Kaftan in his Glaube u. Dogma replied to Dreyer that instead of an undogmatic Christianity we need a ‘new dogma’ which grows out of Christian faith. Dreyer rejoined, in a later edition of his book, that he admitted a ‘science of faith’ (Glaubenslehre), and so did not differ from Kaftan. Kaftan again replied, saying that Dreyer held that this science of faith contained a symbolic element, and was only of relative validity. This seems to be the most essential point of difference between Dreyer and Kaftan, viz., the latter claims absolute validity for dogmatics as ‘the science of faith,’ while the former admits a relative element in this ‘science of faith’ which he refuses to call a dogma. Dreyer’s view of the inner life of Christ, as independent of historical criticism, and as the source of Christian life, resembles that of Herrmann in his Verkehr des Christen mit Gott. But Dreyer is a mystic, while Herrmann is not. See also, Dreyer, Zur undogm. Glaubensl. [posthum.], 1901.] A somewhat similar position has been taken in France by A. Sabatier.† [Note: Esquisse d’une Phil. de la Relig. d’après la Psych. et l’Histoire, 1897 [also Eng. tr. 1897]. This book includes a lecture, ‘The Vitality of Christian Dogmas,’ published separately [also Eng. tr.]; also Les Religions d’Autorite’et la Religion de l’Esprit, 1900 [also Eng. tr.].] His idea is that religion is life, not doctrine. External authority, whether of Scripture or the Church, kills religion. The essential thing in religion is life. But this life must express itself outwardly in institutions and symbols. Christian doctrines are but symbols of Christian life. They are higher than those of other religions because the life is higher. The essence of Christianity, therefore, is neither a series of facts nor a sum of dogmas, but a spiritual life.
We have not space to show the inconsistency of Dreyer’s supposed escape from historical criticism, when he falls back on the inner life of Jesus as the ground of the life which constitutes the essence of Christianity; or to discuss the philosophy which underlies Sabatier’s books. We can only stop to indicate briefly that when we have separated Christianity from all external facts and have made its doctrinal content entirely the product of the religious life, we have done away with Christianity, because we have done away with all that distinguishes it from natural religion. Of course it is true that Christianity is a life hid with Christ in God. It is also true that Christian doctrine can never produce Christian life. St. Paul has taught us this. Man is dead in sin, and the revelation of Divine truth in the Bible will fail to produce spiritual apprehension or life; for ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). These great truths are emphasized in the Reformed Theology. But the type of thought we are discussing means that the essence of Christianity consists in a life which precedes and is independent of facts and doctrines, and that doctrine is the product of life. Thus to eliminate fact and doctrine from Christianity is to leave nothing but bare natural religious sentiment. And it is a mistake to suppose that Christianity is the product of the religious sentiment (see Warfield, The Right of Syst. Theol.). It is no more the product of this than it is of rational reflexion.
Furthermore, there is now left no basis for the affirmation that Christianity is the final religion, and its doctrine absolute truth. For we can never be sure that Christian life may not reach higher levels and embody itself in more elevated doctrinal symbols. Writers of this type might and do reply to this, that, even apart from fact and doctrine, the Christian life is not the bare religious sentiment, but the product of God’s Spirit, and that it is therefore the true life, and its doctrinal product final truth. But when they affirm this, they abandon their position. For it cannot be proved that this life is the true life if the norm of truth be drawn from the life itself. We believe that Christian life is the true life because of a fact and a doctrine independent of this life, viz. that it proceeds from the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit. But in affirming this we have asserted a great fact as well as a doctrine, each independent of, as well as at the basis of, Christian life. In short, if Christianity is separated from the great supernatural facts of Christ’s life and from the great supernatural facts of the action of God’s Spirit on men’s hearts, as well as from its authoritative doctrinal content, then that which differentiates it from mere religious sentiment is gone. What, then, to sum up, is the attitude of this type of religious thinking to the question of ‘fact and theory’ in relation, especially, to Christ? This question may be answered by saying that the facts and doctrines of Christianity have been subordinated to a psychological theory that feeling and sensation precede and condition thought. And as a consequence, we are left with a human Christ whose portrait is the product of the religious sentiment.
At this point we are met with a reaction from the neglect of the historical element in Christianity, and also from the demand for an undogmatic Christianity. This has come from members of the Ritschlian school. Thus, e.g., Harnack (cf. his address, Das Christentum u. die Geschichte, 1896) and Herrmann (besides his Verkehr and Begriff der Offenbarung, see esp. his Warum bedarf unser Glaube geschichtlicher Thatsachen? 1884) have attempted to defend the importance of the historical basis of Christianity against Lessing and Kant; and Kaftan (Glaube u. Dogma2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 1889) has written a reply to Dreyer, showing that the dogmatic element is essential to Christianity, and that what we need is a ‘new dogma.’ But this demand must be judged in the light of the motive, principles, and results of this theological movement. The fundamental motive of Ritschlianism is an apologetic one, viz., to find a ground of certitude in Christianity which shall be independent of the results of historical criticism and of metaphysics, and so to state the content of the Christian faith that it too shall be independent in both these respects. In order to accomplish this, it is common with theologians of this school to lay stress on the revelation of God in the ‘historic Christ,’ and to seek to find in Him the ground, as well as an essential element in the content, of the Christian faith. This ground of certitude and this dogmatic content are held to be independent of historical criticism and metaphysics, by means of their sharp distinction between religious and theoretic knowledge, the latter dealing with facts and their explanation, the former with religious values. In regard, then, to the historical element in Christianity or the Christian facts, this school emphasizes its importance as part of the essence of Christianity; but in order to maintain its independence of the results of historical criticism, falls back upon one fact, viz.—the so-called ‘historic Christ.’ It is not meant that Christianity is independent of the results of historical criticism in such a sense that, if there were no basis for their historic Christ in the Gospels, Christianity could still survive. Their idea is that the ‘historic Christ’ stands fast after historical criticism has done its work. But since this criticism is largely determined by an anti-supernaturalistic bias, it is evident that the historic Christ of the Ritschlians is not a Christ who is independent of historical criticism, but the Christ which a naturalistic criticism has left us. This shows that independence of the results of criticism is impossible, since Christianity is a historical religion. The supposed independence of its results turns out to be a surrender of all that is difficult to defend against a criticism which is determined by naturalism. Accordingly Harnack says (Das Christentum u. die Geschichte) that ‘the tradition as to the incidents attending the birth and early life of Jesus Christ has been shattered.’ This makes necessary the old rationalistic distinction between ‘kernel’ and ‘husk,’ and so in his lectures on the Essence of Christianity we are told that we must distinguish between the Easter message of the empty tomb, which is not essential to Christianity, and the Easter faith that Jesus gained a victory over death and still lives. Of course, if we follow this method, not only will all the external supernatural events of Christ’s life have to be surrendered, but also those elements in His inner life which involve the supernatural must go. And so we find Herrmann in the Verkehr falling back upon the inner life of Jesus reduced to a merely ethical content.* [Note: It is true that both Herrmann and Reischle (‘Der Streit uber die Begrundung des Glaubens auf dem gesch. Christus,’ Zeitsch. f. Theol. u Kirche, 1897) make a sharp distinction between the ‘ground’ and the ‘content’ of faith; and what they seek is an independent ground of faith. But it is also true that the ground of faith once determined becomes in their hands a norm for distinguishing between kernel and husk in its ‘content.’ Accordingly their idea of the ‘content’ of faith is one that fits in with their idea of its ground. Kahler (Der sogenannte historische Jesus u. d. gesch., biblische Christus2, 1896) has criticised this distinction between the ground and the content of faith. But it is more important to note that the idea which these writers have of Christ as the ground of faith determines absolutely its content by acting as a principle by which to distinguish the abiding content of faith from its historical form, and thus makes room for endless subjectivity.]
Thus the Ritschlian attempt at independence of historical criticism results really in a surrender to a criticism determined by naturalism. The virgin-birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ are given up, and we have no longer the Christ of the Gospels, but the Christ of a Gospel reconstructed by the critics. It is the subordination of Christian facts to a human theory.
When we turn to the demand for a ‘new dogma,’ which we saw was emphasized by Kaftan (Glaube u. Dogma), we find the other principle of the school at work, viz.—the separation of theology from metaphysics, and the distinction between religious and theoretic knowledge. The watchword ‘theology without metaphysics,’ however, does not mean simply theology which shall be free from a speculative reconstruction as in the Hegelian school. It means a theology without any metaphysical elements, i.e. with nothing that transcends experience. Hence we must not only distinguish the ‘historical Christ’ from the Christ of an uncritical tradition; we must also distinguish Him from the Christ of a metaphysical dogma of Greek origin. Accordingly the doctrines of the Trinity and of the two natures in one person in our Lord are to be abandoned as metaphysical. The new dogma expresses itself in religious knowledge which springs from faith, and not in metaphysical propositions. Christ, therefore, is not Divine in a metaphysical sense as in the doctrine of the two natures, but simply in the religious sense that in the man Jesus we have the perfect revelation of God, or else that the term ‘Divinity’ expresses His value for the believer. This latter is Ritschl’s position, and members of the school who have taken a more positive attitude than Ritschl have fallen short of asserting Christ’s Divinity in any metaphysical sense (cf. Kaftan, Dogmatik; Lobstein, Lehre v. d. ubernat. Geburt Christi. Harnack, op. cit., and H. Schultz, Lehre v. d. Gottheit Christi, occupy much the same position as Ritschl).
We must conclude that in the Ritschlian theology we have again the subordination of the great Christian facts and dogmas to a phenomenalistic philosophy and a historical criticism subject to a naturalistic bias. This amounts to their subjection to a human theory. For the fundamental question is—Upon what does this theology rest? Has it a more objective basis than rationalism and mysticism? It seeks to base revelation on Christ. The source of its dogma is not the individual Christian consciousness but the Christian life, or the revelation of God portrayed in the Bible. But its Christ is a human Christ who can give no absolute revelation of God; and the Scripture is not regarded as authoritative in any objective sense as containing a supernatural revelation, but simply as the record of the revelation by the human Christ. The Scripture is subjected to the Christian consciousness to such an extent that the Christian doctrines are not to be taken directly from Scripture as ‘external revelations,’ but only as ‘appropriated and ‘authenticated’ by Christian faith (cf. Kaftan, Dogmatik, § on the Scripture, p. 48). Thus the idea of revelation has changed its biblical sense of a supernatural communication of truth, and becomes the product of the religious life of those who stood nearest Christ. But the Christian life does not remove the noetic effects of sin all at once, and consequently this idea of special revelation does not meet the demand which made a special revelation necessary. In short, if we abandon the principle of external authority, we cannot escape the subjection of the facts and doctrines of Christianity to a philosophical theory.
The logical results of the abandonment of an external authority in religious knowledge have been recently exhibited in the new theological school which follows the method of Comparative Religion. For if Christ is only human, and the Christian revelation not supernatural, it will be impossible to maintain the absoluteness of Christianity as the Ritschlians sought to do. It will be impossible to maintain that Christianity consists in Christ and not merely in a principle of which He is the illustration. We thus have the distinction between the ‘Christian principle’ and the person of Christ. It is the distinction of the old rationalism, only now in quite a different form, since this school insists that principles can never be separated from their historical embodiment. Therefore the distinction between the ‘kernel’ and the ‘husk’ must be given up, since the kernel is always inseparable from its historical manifestation. All history is relative, yet not at all unimportant, for we cannot have religious truth except in a historically conditioned form. Thus, while a greater significance attaches to Christ than in the old rationalism, the great facts and the dogmatic content of Christianity have only a relative value, and are frankly given up at the demands of an avowedly naturalistic philosophy. This can be seen in Troeltsch, the dogmatician of the school (cf. his art. ‘Geschichte u. Metaphysik’ in Zeitschr. f. Theol. u. Kirche, 1898, pp. 55–67. Cf. also Die Absolutheit des Christentums u. die Religionsgeschichte, 1902). Troeltsch admits the significance of personality in the religious sphere, and that Christ is the source of our communion with God; but in view of the power of development in Christianity, he holds that it is not possible to limit God’s revelation to one person at the beginning of Christian history. Therefore the first form of Christianity, as connected with Jesus, is to be regarded along with later forms simply as illustrations of the Christian principle. Thus we have again the entire subordination of the facts and doctrines of Christianity to the theory of the naturalistic evolution of religious ideas.
We conclude, then, that Christianity consists in a series of supernatural facts together with their meaning; that their true meaning is their meaning for God, and that therefore He must tell it to us; that the noetic effects of sin make it necessary that this be in a special and supernatural manner. The abandonment of the authority of Scripture for the interpretation of the facts leads logically to the abandonment of the facts themselves, i.e. to their subordination to a theory which distinguishes their accidental Scriptural form from their abiding philosophical content. The Ritschlian endeavour to stem the tide of this logic is unsuccessful, and the newest development in theology has cast aside the Ritschlian claim as to the absoluteness of Christianity and the Divinity of Christ, and has subjected Scripture fact and doctrine to an avowedly naturalistic philosophy. If, therefore, we are not to lose the supernatural facts and their authoritative interpretation, i.e. if we are not to lose Christianity, we must abide by the Scripture as an external authority.
Literature.—R. W. Dale, The Atonement, Introd. Lect.; Faith and Criticism, Essay on the Atonement by Horton; The Atonement in Modern Religious Thought, Essays by Campbell, Farrar, Adeney, Horton; Forrest, The Christ of History and of Experience, Lect. viii.; H. Bois, Le Dogme Grec; Warfield, The Right of Systematic Theology; Denney, The Death of Christ, Introd.; Griffin, ‘Facts, Doctrines, and ideals’ in Pres. and Ref. Rev., July 1901; R. A. Lipsius, ‘Die Bedeutung des Historischen im Christentume,’ pub. in Glauben u. Wissen. p. 111; A. Sahatier, The Vitality of Christian Dogmas and their Power of Evolution, cf. also Part 3 of his Outlines of the Phil. [Note: Philistine.] of Relig.; Dreyer, Undogmatisches Christentum; Harnack, Das Christentum u. die Geschichte; Herrmann, Warum bedarf unser Glaube geschichtlicher Thatsachen?; Kaftan, Glaube u. Dogma; Kirn, Glaube u. Geschichte; Kahler, Der sogenannte historische Jesus u. der gesch. biblische Christus; Troeltsch, ‘Geschichte u. Metaphysik’ in Zeitschr. f. Theol. u. Kirche, 1898, esp. pp. 55–67; E. Cremer, ‘Der Glaube u. die Thatsachen’ in Greifswalder Stud. p. 261; Munchmeyer, ‘Die Bedeutung d. gesch. Thatsachen f. den Glauben’ in Neue kirchl. Zeitschr. 1895, p. 349; Seeberg, ‘Brauchen wir ein neues Dogma?’ ib. 1891; W. A. Pickard-Cambridge, ‘The Christ of Dogma and the Christ of Experience’ in Hibbert Journal, Jan. 1905; ‘Romanus,’ art. ‘The Historical Jesus and the Christ of Experience,’ ib. Apr. 1905; Schanz, ‘Geschichte u. Dogma’ in Theol. Quartalschr., 1 Quartalheft 1905.
Compare also—Kant, Die Relig. innerhalb d. Grenzen d. blossen Vernunft; Fichte, Anweis. zum seligen Leben; Hegel, Lectt. on Phil. [Note: Philistine.] of Relig.; T. H. Green, Miscell. Works, iii. pp. 160–185, 230–276; Pfleiderer, Glaubens- u. Sittenlehre, §§ on Christ: Biedermann, Chr. Dogmatik, ii. § 815; A. Sabatier, Esquisse d’une Phil. [Note: Philistine.] de la Relig. etc., also Les Religions d’Autorité et la Relig. de l’ Esprit; Harnack, Wesen des Christentums, Lectt. i.–iii.; Herrmann, Verkehr des Christen mit Gott., also Der Begriff d. Offenbarung; Kaftan, Das Wesen d. Chr. Relig., Absch. 2, Kap. 3; Reischle, ‘Der Streit uber die Begrundung des Glaubens auf dem gesch. Christus’ in Zeitsch. f. Theol. u. Kirche, 1897; Troeltsch, Die Absolutheit des Christentums u. die Religionsgesch.
C. W. Hodge.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fact and Theory'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/f/fact-and-theory.html. 1906-1918.