We’re continuing our series on illiberal Protestantism.
So far, we have looked at Martin Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine and how Lutheranism has traditionally held that God governs his earthly kingdom or “the left hand realm” of the world through the structures of the Orders of Creation – family and work, the church and the state – and how these structures were created by God before, and independent of, revelation and salvation and apply to all human beings. The kingdom of the world operates on the basis of reason and natural law. God is active in the world in “the right hand realm” or the realm of redemption through the Gospel. It is the spiritual realm of the Church and applies to Christians.
In the 19th century, the conservative Lutheran theologian Adolf von Harless systematically elaborated on the Orders of Creation, which he identified in his book A System of Christian Ethics as nation, state, race, marriage and economics. Conservative Lutherans believed these were the divinely ordained structures that channeled their earthly lives. From Luther’s time until the mid-19th century, there was no such thing as religious freedom in Lutheran Europe which integrated church and state. Lutheran Europe was governed by kings and princes and the church and state worked closely to maintain a homogeneous culture based on Christian morality.
This was the cultural backdrop of how Lutherans came to support the Third Reich. Lutherans were already accustomed to authoritarian rulers, obeying the state and having a healthy, homogeneous and unified culture. This had long been the norm. Northern Europe was Lutheran and did not have the same history or traditions of the liberal, pluralistic culture of England and the Netherlands where Calvinism had tried and failed to establish its dominance over Anglicanism and Arminianism. Liberalism came late to Scandinavia and Germany in the Second Reich in the late 19th century. The problems unleashed by the Weimar Republic were new.
What happened to Christianity in the 19th century? Specifically, how was it changed by the rise of liberalism? Especially in Northern Europe? What was going on in European Christianity in the early 20th century?
There is a lot to digest here.
How did we go from Martin Luther to an abomination like Nadia Bolz-Weber? Can you imagine what Luther would have said about this woman?
We need to look at Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann and a number of other figures from the 19th and 20th centuries who had an enormous cultural impact and who are likely not familiar to non-Christians who tend to assume that the current problems with Christianity somehow stretch back all the way to Antiquity when in fact we are dealing with the problems of a very modern version of Christianity.
It will suffice to say though that Lutheranism was changed beyond recognition after 1800 and that the old model of an integrated Lutheran church and state which originated in the mid-16th century at the end of Luther’s life was gradually replaced by the liberal model of the state. The problems it unleashed in the Weimar Republic led to the Third Reich and World War II. Germany’s defeat in World War II by the Allies led to the total ascendance of liberalism in Northern Europe.
In this video, we see how Christianity reacts to the new science and philosophy and goes in two directions in the 19th century. The progressive branch goes in a “social justice” direction:
In these videos, we learn about Friedrich Schleiermacher who basically stands in history at the intersection of the impact of the Enlightenment on Protestantism:
In this video, we learn about how the existentialist theologian Rudolf Bultmann argued that the myth of Christ found in the Bible can be seen as a source of inspiration for the Self:
In this video, we learn about how the Reformed theologian Karl Barth rejected special revelation and general revelation and on that basis attacked Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine:
This is hardly an exhaustive list.
I just wanted to emphasize the impact of all these various figures on modern Protestantism and contrast it with, say, Lutheranism and its model of an integrated church and state in Early Modern Northern Europe. The point is that we need to look closely at the more recent history of Christianity rather than getting lost in the weeds of Antiquity. We don’t even need to get lost in the weeds of the Reformation because liberalism did not exist in Luther and Calvin’s time.