Harnack’s “Essence Of Christianity” And His Critics -- By: O. Zöckler

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 059:235 (Jul 1902)
Article: Harnack’s “Essence Of Christianity” And His Critics
Author: O. Zöckler


Harnack’s “Essence Of Christianity” And His Critics1

Prof. O. Zöckler

Since the latter part of the summer of 1900, a new definition of Christianity is being eagerly propagated, which at the same time is to serve as a basis for a corresponding practical reorganization of the Christian religion. The originator of this definition, as well as his numerous adherents and admirers, seems to entertain the desire that it may influence the widest circles of our educated people, giving an impulse for a religious reformatory movement in the sense of this new formula. We are not able to join in this desire. The proposed formula does not appear to us to be adapted to the purpose mentioned, nor are we able to recognize it as new. We would not be able to see in its eventual use for laying a foundation for any attempt at improving our religious condition, a progress for the better, but only a relapse into errors that have long ago been overcome. The reduction of the Christianity of the church, after Kant’s prescription, to a fellowship of believers in God, virtue, and immortality of the soul, as Harnack’s book proposes, would, if generally accepted and worked out to its practical consequences, push back our religious intellectual life by more than a hundred years. The attempt of Harnack is intended to be apologetic; its originator “speaks as a historian, but the historian has not suffocated the theologian and the Christian.” “Yes,”—this is the

opinion of one of those admirers,— “the entire work, from the first to the last word, becomes a strong, effective apology of Christianity.”2 We cannot assent to such eulogy. Even as historian, Harnack does not satisfy us in his judgment as to the foundations and the original form of religion—far less as an apologete. His statements do not benefit the true faith of the Bible and of the church at all, but a deistically diluted and shallow religiosity, which is satisfied with an essentially moral substance of Christianity. What his book offers the educated of our day, instead of the positive evangelical Christianity, is—in spite of the elegant and ingenious words in which he clothes his thoughts—only re-erection of that rationalism which was proclaimed, from all pulpits and professors’ chairs in Germany at the beginning of the last century.

We had rather kept silent as to the publication which accomplishes so little of that which Christian apology, according to our view, ought to accomplish, but the enthusiastic overestimation of the work, by so many of its panegyrists, requires a contradiction. In opposition to the would-be apologetic, whi...

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