Over the next three blog posts (the next two will be posted respectively on next Friday, and then the Friday after that), I’m going to give an overview of Neo-Orthodoxy.
Neo-Orthodoxy was one of the largest theological movements to come about in the twentieth century. There are various theological tenets that distinguish this movement. The following paragraphs will give some background information on Neo-Orthodoxy, and then will examine some of the most important tenets of the movement and summarize them. Finally, there will be a section that internally and externally critiques the movement.
Background Information On Neo-Orthodoxy
If one wants to gain a proper understanding of the Neo-Orthodox movement, then one must understand out of what environment it arose. In the early 1800s a theological phenomenon began to take root when the teachings of Friedrich Schleiermacher started to cause people in theological atmospheres to take notice. Schleiermacher “is generally considered the father of modern liberalism, for he found his authority, not in the Scriptures, but in the soul’s experiences,” and “although he could not build a theology on such subjectivism, (many) theologians followed his lead for a hundred years” (Charles Ryrie, Neo-Orthodoxy Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1956, 14). In other words, he paved the way for an idea that placed human experience above the Bible. By the late nineteenth century, Schleiermacher’s teachings, added to the teachings of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, created a mixture that blossomed into a full-fledged theological system that became known as Classical Liberalism. It was a school of thought that promoted the idea of “divine immanence at the expense of transcendence” (Stanley J. Grenz and Roger Olson, 20th Century Theology, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992, 52). It also took an idealistic point of view when it came to human nature. And so this was the theological movement that dominated the early twentieth century until a certain man came along who, because of a particular event occurring around him, began to question many things that he had been taught about theology. The event was World War I, and the man was Karl Barth. Barth saw the horrors of the war first hand, and he began to question the idealistic nature (i.e. life, in general, was incrementally becoming better and better, and as a result of that, we are working towards eventually living in a utopia on earth) of Classical Liberalism. As Stanley J. Grenz and Roger Olson put it, “For (Barth), the entire liberal theology of the nineteenth century (and early twentieth century) had no future, and he turned his considerable but hitherto hidden theological talent towards its demolition” (Grenz and Olson, 67). With this, what is now known as Neo-Orthodoxy was born.
Stay tuned for part two of this three part blog post. Next week, in a longer section, we’ll look at some of the important tenets of Neo-Orthodoxy, which will begin with an examination of Barth.