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THE PROGRESSIVENESS OF MODERN

CHRISTIAN THOUGHT.

CHAPTER I.

THE PROGRESSIVENESS OF MODERN CHRISTIAN

THEOLOGY.

IT is hardly open to doubt that theology, as

1 the science of religion at once in its objective and subjective aspects, admits of endless research, and is an eminently progressive science. But doubt has largely prevailed as to whether such progressiveness is predicable of Christian theology, using that phrase in the broad sense of the Christian religion in all the forms of its scientific treatment. From the scientific, the literary, and the religious side, the objection has been preferred that, hopelessly bound down to the “beggarly elements” of original revelation, it is, and can only be, unprogressive, is even an obstacle to man's progressive intellectual development. An impression is thus created which has, we believe, not a little to do with that “recession of the theologic tide” which marks our era. The need emerges that Christian theology be set in a true light as not only susceptible of substantive and perpetual progress, but as itself the highest inspiration of all intellectual advancement. The most powerful apologetic of Christian theology is here taken to be the exhibition of that theology itself, not merely in its dogmatic contents or results, but also in its susceptibilities of progress, the inherent power it possesses to put itself into positive harmony with the whole world of knowledge, volition, and thought. Now that every modern theologian speaks in ready, even ardent, recognition of the enormous advances and splendid possibilities of the scientific spirit within the physical realm, it is the less easy to escape wonder at that absence of the “scientific conscience,” which allows the stray scientist, in

ill-starred hour, to intrude into the theologic sphere with an innocence of the massive gains and superb capabilities of Christian theology that would be amusing if it were less absurd. From the literary side, the objection has been forcibly enough stated by Macaulay, in the wellknown passage where, in contrast to the progressiveness of the sciences, he represents theology as hermetically sealed against

“Progress, man's distinctive mark alone."

They who, from the religious side, regard the progressiveness of Christian theology as no more than a modern conceit, ipso facto show they have failed to catch or understand the spirit which informs what is here regarded as the most real and the most inspiring of all modern developments, and cannot be expected to judge aright a movement alien in its progressive spirit to their own. “Why should there be progress in everything else, only not in religion ?” “There is nothing in the idea of revelation that excludes progress, for whatever definition of revelation we may adopt, it always represents a communication between the divine on one side and the human on the other. Let us recognise that the divine element in revelation is immutable, yet the human element, the recipient, must always be liable to the accidents and infirmities of human nature.” “But as in every other pursuit, so in religion also, we want less and less of darkness, more and more of light; we want, call it life, or growth, or development, or progress; we do not want mere rest, mere stagnation, mere death.”] The past stands witness to the fact that vast progress has been made by. Christian theology: many theological monuments meet us on the highway of the past, the hope of whose builders for their successors was

“Forsan et hæc olim meminisse juvabit :"

the theology of to-day is only the nearest and greatest memorial reared by the scientific spirit in its instinctive homage to consistency and orderly demonstration of the truth. We apply the words of Richter, “Only from lofty heights can the backward road be surveyed and the future estimated,” 2 to the Christian theologian, taking many a backward survey and many a forward glance from the niveau on which he stands to-day. He sees advances on the past which prove theology, when keyed to true spiritual life and thought, to be no stationary science, but so living and progressive as, always dissatisfied with its own highest thought and knowledge, to be ever pressing on to higher and worthier conceptions of the Deity, and His relations to man and the universe. Not that he fails, through any obliquity of moral vision, to note with sad regret the wretched timidity too often displayed by theology in the past in daring not to pass beyond the “Hercules Pillars ” of fixed dogmatic truths as finalities of thought, and venture on the broad and open “sea of faith " that lay a limitless expanse beyond. But the progress of the past taken in whole is to him a pledge at least of the greater progress of the future, a progress undoubtedly guaranteed by the nature of theological science. Far as any progress of the past has been from sounding the Báon of the self-revelation of God, as little will any progress of the future find resting-place for its plummet in the “Godhead's deepest sea.”

1 Prof. Max Müller, Natural Religion, pp. 9, 10.

2 Levana, § 31. Nur auf Anhöhen kann zurückgelegter Weg beschauet werden, wie künftiger berechnet.

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