Where Is Modern Theology Going? -- By: Carl F. H. Henry

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 11:1 (Winter 1968)
Article: Where Is Modern Theology Going?
Author: Carl F. H. Henry


Where Is Modern Theology Going?

Carl F. H. Henry**

[* Editor of Christianity Today, Washington, D. C.]

Ours is a generation of gyrating theology that seems to have spun off any sure Word of God. Neo-Protestant religious currents are losing force and nearing an end of their special impact, while classic modernism, though politically a volcano, is theologically now but a bag of wind.

What significant developments define the theology of the recent past, and what can we say about them from the evangelical Protestant point of view?

1. Reigning neo-Protestant religious theory has collapsed for the third time in the twentieth century. First, classic modernism broke down; then, neo-orthodoxy; and most recently, existentialism.

Classic modernism was the theology of radical divine immanence. Predicated on Hegelian pantheism, it assimilated God to man and nature, and banished miracle and special revelation. Its most influential theologian was Schleiermacher, who eagerly shifted the case for theism from supernatural revelation to religious experience—supposedly as an absolute requirement of the modern mind. But modern thought proved more transitory than the early modernists dreamed.

Neo-orthodoxy was the theology of radical divine transcendence. In the context of dialectical theology it reasserted divine initiative, special revelation, and miraculous redemption. Its courageous spokesman was Karl Barth, who later intoned funeral rites for the modernist message in Europe.

Existentialism was the theology of subjectivity, heir to the dialectical denial of objective revelation and redemption. Rudolf Bultmann was its champion, insisting that the modern mind demands, not a modernist, not a neo-orthodox, but an existentialist reading of reality. Demythologize the supernatural! Existentialize God’s activity! Dehistoricize the kerygma! But Bultmannian scholars soon fell into internal disagreement and were hard pressed by external critics. Like modernism and neo-orthodoxy, existential theology has lost control at the formative frontiers of theology in our day.

2. The survival span of recent modern alternatives to evangelical Christianity is shrinking. Anyone who scans the decades of the twentieth century with an eye on the dominant theological traditions will soon note the shortening of intervals between newly emerging neo-Protestant religious theories. It is probably accurate to say that classic modernism

reigned over the influential formative centers of theological thought from 1900 to 1930, dialectical theology from 1930 to 1950, and existent...

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