Emanuel V. Gerhart on the “Christ-Idea” As Fundamental Principle -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 48:1 (Spring 1986)
Article: Emanuel V. Gerhart on the “Christ-Idea” As Fundamental Principle
Author: Richard A. Muller


Emanuel V. Gerhart on the “Christ-Idea” As Fundamental Principle

Richard A. Muller

Characteristic of much eighteenth- and nineteenth- century theology as it strove to assimilate, first, the drive of rationalist philosophy toward clear and precise enunciation of a single, fundamental principle upon which the whole system of thought might rest, and second, the barriers to cohesive system erected by Kant’s critique of rationalist metaphysics, was the search for central dogmas around which theological system might coalesce and through which system itself might find an underlying rationale and justification.1 The theological systems of orthodox Protestantism, as developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had presented a series of central or key doctrinal motifs—such as justification, predestination, Christology, and covenant—but had never identified any single motif as the fundamental principium of theological system: instead, the orthodox had argued a principium cognoscendi, Scripture, and a principium essendi, God, neither of which functioned as a metaphysical, systematizing principle.2 The, great nineteenth-century systems, however, beginning with Schleiermacher, tended to identify a central doctrinal motif as the principium on which all the system would rest and according to which all other doctrines would necessarily be conceived and interpreted.3 This perspective on the nature

of system separates late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century theology definitively from the models provided by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestantism.4

By far the most important of the central dogmas of the nineteenth century, both for its ability to focus system without totally excising other traditionally important dogmas—like the Trinity—and for its far-reaching impact upon theological system long into this century was Christology or, as it might be called in view of its function, the “Christ-idea.” The roots of the Christ-idea as fundamental principle go back in history at least as far as Luther, and Christology appears as a central motif in both the Lutheran and the Reformed systems of the seventeenth century despite the emphasis placed by the former upon justification and the latter upon predestination and covenant.5 In the nineteenth century, Schleiermacher’s central if of the feeling of absolute dependence pointed clearly at a Christ-center for theology, insofar as the unadulterated and therefore normative Go...

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