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REFORMED QUARTERLY REVIEW
NO. 1.-JANUARY, 1891.
KAFTAN'S “BRAUCHEN WIR EIN NEUES DOGMA?”
BY REV. W. M. REILY, PH. D.
“How manifold are the religious standpoints and attitudes towards Christianity, and how varied are the forms of the Christian life! In Christian doctrine as well as life, new formations arise of which hitherto nothing was known. Hence may the judgment often waver, and an unevenness and unsteadiness on its part show itself, but frequently also only an apparent one ; for often, naturally under such circumstances, in connection with the strictest Christian confessionalism must the apparently loosest views find place. Under such circumstances the Christian knows not how to judge in regard to the man. The latter presents himself in such a way, that he is at once attracted and repelled by him. For the sake of the difference, to deny the affinity is not in his power; nor for the sake of the affinity, the difference. Here one cannot drive straight ahead with a bare Shibboleth, by which each individual is recognized and has his place assigned him, whilst we regard only the outward form and the letter, paying 10 attention to the spirit, as our North American brethren, in their extremely innocent (unbefangen) way, are wont to do.”—Richard Rothe, Pastorale, vol. I. p. 59.
* The Human Christ is for men the only medium of knowing or approaching the one only true God. The maddest of all insane dreams under heaven is
that of a theology or science of God, outside of His Son, Jesus Christ. All these biblical Christologies are entitled to respect. They are significant voices in the wilderness of our nineteenth century, harbingering the longexpected new advent of our Lord, and calling upon men to prepare His way and make His paths straight.”—Dr. Nevin, “ Review,” 1882, p. 9.
DR. KAFTAN is the successor of Dr. Dorner in the chair of Systematic Theology of the University of Berlin. A deliverance from one occupying so high a position on the subject treated in the pamphlet under consideration, properly claims the attention of every one interested in current theological literature. The readers of this “Review” in particular, and especially the older ones, will not regret a closer acquaintanceship with the author and his position. Whilst they will be gratified to find here many of those elements of Christian truth which it seemed to be the peculiar mission of this periodical to emphasize and inculcate, they will be startled on finding the author repudiating and antagonizing what always seemed to them vital and essential principles of our holy religion.
To say that we opened the book with many misgivings, is to . say
but little. We had conceived a decided prejudice against the writer. We had gotten the impression that he was a cold and heartless rationalist. A chilly fear stole over us lest we might be doing worse than wasting the time devoted to him. There was reason for this, for as he tells us himself, hints had been thrown out that he was bordering on atheism. One critic had gone so far as to ask him, what would be the title of the book in which he would advocate the doing away with Christianity ?
The production originally appeared in the Christliche Welt. Afterwards it passed through three editions in separate form. It is not necessary to say that it is scholarly, logical and profound. The style is lucid, incisive and characterized by many rhetorical graces. Behind the learning, the logic and the style, the reader soon finds the man. And what kind of a man ? A flippant caviler ? Anything but that. A man of sincerity and earnestness—one might say an enthusiast. He breathes his enthusiasm into his book. The reader lays it down, and
from whatever quarter the caveats may come, he cannot belp but say of the science of Chris tian theology as Galileo did of the earth," it still does move.”
Upon the mind of the average American theologian the question itself makes an unfavorable impression. It smacks of a decided negativism. No one, it would seem, could make the inquiry who was not imbued with the thinking of a Spencer, a Shopenhauer or some other influential foe of the received doctrines of the Christian church. It is a virtual confession on the part of the interrogator that he has never learned to make proper account of history, and that the fact that the Spirit of God has been and is still leading His church to the knowledge of all truth is something foreign to his mind. Further, that those who hold to the old dogma as he calls it, that is the so-called scientific statement of doctrinal truths as professed by orthodox Christians generally, are laboring under a harmful delusion. And still again that he himself feels bimself competent to formulate a body of entirely new statements conformable to the actual state of the case.
So far from this being so, he professes the fullest faith in history as a divine force in the world. Especially in the history of the Christian church, he believes that God lives and moves by His enlightning and purifying presence and power. And he must be a shrewd hypocrite indeed if he is not possessed of what the Germans are accustomed to laud as an echt historischer Sinn. On page 45 he asserts that no man lives who makes more account of historical growth (Werden) in the spiritual sphere than himself. He retorts upon his orthodox opponents and on the same page declares, upon what he considers ground of conclusive proof that, their profession of faith in “God's moving and working in His church on earth is a lame affair." On page 49 he adds: “Of a truth we keep our eyes open; we strive to scan the whole of history and to learn from it; we believe firmly that God's Spirit lives in and controls it, and His purpose is, in and by it, to tell and teach us somewhat. But not in spite of this, rather exactly on this
account do we say : our Protestant church needs a new dogma.” On page 47 he explains himself thus: “God's Spirit has so guided the development of the church, that Christianity has unfolded itself in great successive stages, and among these, Protestant Christianity is the highest, as it corresponds again with the historical import of the original Gospel. The entire history of the church is our past, and in no period has the divine guidance been wanting. But the case is not such that the products of one period could pass over into another unchanged and remain perpetually valid. This holds good as regards the dogmas, as well as cultus and practical life. Accordingly what history teaches and what faith in God's gracious providence in the church requires, is not to say that the old dogma must remain intact, rather, that we need a new dogma.”
So far from condemning the old orthodoxy in the sense of the modern free-thinker, his position is the direct opposite of this. To set up a new truth, as did the prophets and apostles, is something foreign to his mind. From that truth, new to the
. word then, but old to us now, God forbid that he should take anything or that he should add anything. To formulate anew, is not to repudiate. St. Paul deprecated the making void of the law. As the apostle who above all others made account of
glorious liberty of the children of God,” he sought not the abrogation of the law, but its establishment. So our author with orthodoxy. He professes the highest respect for all who adhere to it in the true sense of it, those, namely, whose souls have been taken possession of by the “ideal of the fathers, the ideal of the pure faith, that of believing and implicit obedience to God's word." “And for this reason," he says on page 14, “ we say confidently (getrost) we do not antagonize orthodoxy nor do we lay it aside; we would confirm it, we would have its ideal right hold and prevail.” We are aware what many are prepared to say about professions of this kind. It is true it is not the dialect of a free-thinker, but it sounds much like the talk of the whole fraternity of modern Protestant sects. They