Schleiermacher’s Test For Truth: Dialogue In The Church -- By: Winfried Corduan

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 26:3 (Sep 1983)
Article: Schleiermacher’s Test For Truth: Dialogue In The Church
Author: Winfried Corduan

Schleiermacher’s Test For Truth:
Dialogue In The Church

Winfried Corduan*

If we were to play a theological word-association game and I mentioned the name “Schleiermacher,” most of the responses would probably be words such as “feeling,” “subjectivity” and the like. Such responses would not be without merit. But I would like to suggest in this paper that they represent only a one-sided understanding of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Such words as “reason” or “dialectic,” words that we usually associate with his great antagonist, G. W. F. Hegel,1 are equally as germane to Schleiermacher’s thought as the aforementioned ones. Thus part of what I want to show here is that his subjectivity, for which he is so famous, is actually tempered with a mechanism for achieving objectivity. This mechanism, for Schleiermacher, is represented by the Christian Church. I will conclude my observations on Schleiermacher with some possible means of applying his contribution to evangelical theology.

I. Revelation As Feeling

Let us begin by drawing some important conceptual distinctions. First we must distinguish between source for truth and test for truth. The source for truth is where one learns a certain piece of information. This could be anything: a book, a spoken word, a feeling. Some sources are more reliable than others. Then sources can be tested. In order to test the information given to us by a certain source we need criteria. Unless we are overwhelmed by the authority of the source, these criteria are external to the source itself. One example ought to clarify this distinction. I may be told on a television commercial that a certain brand of toothpaste is best. This is my source of truth. But my test for truth will not be the message itself—unless I am remarkably credulous. Rather, the test for truth will be in this case the pragmatic application of the product to my teeth to see whether it functions as well as the advertisement claimed.

The application of this distinction to theology is not simple. The ultimate source of truth for the theologian is revelation, which in fact is authoritative. But dogmatic theology is not merely the repetition of the revealed material. Instead the theologian collates and synthesizes the information received from revelation and expresses it in the terms dictated to him by his own culture. And it is at this point that a test for truth becomes necessary. Theologians disagree. But it is the

*Winfried Corduan is associate professor of religion and philosophy at Taylor University in Uplan(t, Indiana.

theologian’s appropriation of truth, not the so...

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