Protestant Theology since 1700 -- By: Miner Brodhead Stearns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 104:414 (Apr 1947)
Article: Protestant Theology since 1700
Author: Miner Brodhead Stearns


Protestant Theology since 1700

Miner Brodhead Stearns

(Continued from the January-March Number, 1947)

{Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original document were numbered from 98–139, but in this electronic edition are numbered from 1–42, respectively.}

The Rationalism of the Enlightenment

One of the two principal factors in the theology of the 18th century, pietism, has now been sufficiently considered for our purpose. It was the failure of this factor to pervade adequately the life and dogmatic thinking of the Lutheran church and its own loss of vitality and breadth, which according to Sheldon opened the way to, or rather failed to prevent, the invasion of the other factor which must now engage our attention, German rationalism.1 What is meant by rationalism in this connection is explained by Fisher as follows: “Rationalism is a word of not very exact meaning, but it is used to designate the partial or total denial of the fact of Revelation, or the rejection of the Scriptures as the rule of faith, or, still further, the discarding of what have been generally termed the principles of natural religion.”2

The Germans themselves called this factor the Aufklärung, which term has been rendered in English as enlightenment or illuminism. The contributing agencies in its rise were importation of English Deism and French infidelity, the latter under the patronage of Frederick the Great who reigned from 1740 till 1786 and entertained Voltaire at his court for some time. This Enlightenment was supposed to dispel the darkness of superstition and ignorance, the “light” of course being that of human reason. Exactly what they meant by “reason” the rationalists did not say, but it would

seem that they considered it synonymous with human understanding, with which they supposed every normal person to be equipped in equal amounts. That this was a serious error has been pointed out by Mackintosh, who writes: “But if there is anything on which virtually all schools of thought now agree, it is that this so-called reason—this constant, unvarying, and universally distributed stock of moral and spiritual convictions—is devoid of real existence. There is in fact no such thing; otherwise why should we be so much concerned with education and nurture? What did most to bring public discredit upon their views was probably the circumstance that profounder and more instructed minds than those of the Rationalists themselves gave a wholly different interpretation of reason, its nature and its capacities. If the Rationalists held, as a conviction sprung ...

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