The Theologian of the Future -- By: A. A. Berle

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 068:269 (Jan 1911)
Article: The Theologian of the Future
Author: A. A. Berle

The Theologian of the Future1

A. A. Berle, D.D.

The religious community in America has recently been thrown into a sort of hysterical outbreak of anger, vituperation, and grief by the address of the former president of Harvard College on the Religion of the Future. As being among the valedictory utterances of an old man who has been permitted for many years to say what he pleased, about whatsoever he pleased, protected by the prestige of the great office which he held, it was neither novel nor striking; and, to say the truth, there is nothing specially in the address itself that warranted the outcry which it caused. Certainly here in eastern Massachusetts we have become used to these ideas, and the only thing which gave them significance was the source from which they came. President Eliot’s prominence in the educational world as the head of the oldest university in the land gave a certain significance to what he said, as it would to anything he might say. And perhaps the only thing worth remembering in connection with it is that the professor of chemistry who in 1869 became the president of Harvard has had almost nothing to say about his own department while administering the university. While advocating strictest specialization in every other department of knowledge, he has invaded with a recklessness matched by no other man of his standing in America the field of theological thought as though theological thought

required no particular preparation or disciplinary drudgery for the attainment of enlightened or lasting opinions. In this he has steadily discredited theology and theologians, and has furnished one of the most curious contrasts between principles and practice which the learned world of this country has seen in the last forty years. The last demonstration is thoroughly characteristic and consistently concludes the history of a generation of this kind of thing.

And to accentuate the particular point which I am about to make in this connection it is rather curious that the man who thus fearlessly ventures to delineate the religion of the future should have had no special thought about the theologian of the future. Now of course it is possible here to quibble as to the difference between religion and theology. This has been pointed cut so often, and so much has been made of it, that it has become rather tiresome, especially as for practical purposes there is substantially no difference between a man’s theology and his religion. Ask the first hundred men you meet about their religion, and they will give you what they think, their theological conceptions. And the puerile attempt to separate these things is as childish as it is in effect dishonest....

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