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THE PROGRESSIVENESS OF MODERN CHRISTIAN
THEOLOGY AS SEEN IN THE STUDY OF ITS
W ITHIN the sphere of the actual contents
V of Christian theology, we find, in respect of the locus de Deo, advance from those views of the transcendence of Deity, which were so dear to Deism, towards conceptions of the Divine Immanence vastly more philosophical, inspiring, Biblical, scientific. A much-needed advance, alike because Paley's watch-argument, in giving the universe a Designer, removed Him far from us, and because the modern tendency to view Jehovah only as eternal law leaves us too much a merely transcendent Deity, Carlyle's “absentee God.” But the conception of Deity as transcendent leaves possible that appearance of continual interference ab extra with the world's
order which is so repugnant to the scientific mind; and the simile of the watch needs, speaking after the manner of Fiske, to be replaced by the simile of the flower. That is to say, the universe being an organism, not a machine, the need has emerged for emphasising the immanence of God in nature, since this truth, which so vitalised the thinking of Maurice and Mulford, after Hegel, is supplementary to, and compatible with, that of the Deity's transcendence, and, while accordant with Scripture and Christian experience, is specially adapted to the needs of a scientific age, through its reconciling direct divine agency and natural law in the more rational, less anthropomorphic conception of God as resident in nature. It was not alone that the conception of God as immanent had grown faded and dim through an exaggerated transcendence, but the doctrines of creation, of inspiration, and of atonement, had all taken a mechanical cast, and waited the modern emphasis on immanence to vitalise and transform the whole when earth should have again become the living garment of God. Modern Christian theology, no less than our enlarging
physical science, has felt, with Goethe, that a God its
“Worship may not win,
This recoronation by modern science and philosophy of the truth of the divine immanence in creation is issuing in a call to Christian theology to give a complete conception of God by the reassertion of its conditioning and complementary truth, that, namely, of the divine transcendence, so that pantheistic tone and tendency may be avoided. For, critical as Christian theology has become, it retains, unscared by the dread word “ Anthropomorphism," so treasured in the armoury of anti-Theists, a personal Deity, and denies more firmly both the possibility and desirability of escape from such divine anthropopathism as is implied in all revelation: the abolition of anthropomorphism to an extent that should involve the dissipation of the divine personality would, it more clearly perceives, mean “the demolition of Theism,” and it regards exception as taken to the personality of the “World-Ground” or Absolute only on the basis of a flimsy psychology: modern theological progress in the apprehending the Being of God has lain in the direction of enthroning the idea of the living God (Lebendigkeit des Gottesbegriffs), and finding in the divine nature the manifold completeness of perfect personality. And here may be fitly noticed a most notable advance of recent Christian theology in its progress towards a larger and better apprehension of the ethical essence of God, to which the physical is subservient-towards wiser and profounder conceptions of God in His ethically conceived triune Being, one-sidedness, whether of transcendence or of immanence, being thereby avoided.
1 Blackie, Wisdom of Goethe, p. 82. Vide “Gott und Welt”:
“ Was wär' ein Gott, der nur von aussen stiesse
Im Kreis das All am Finger laufen liesse !
One of the features of this growth of the ethical spirit amongst us is the new emphasis laid in our century on the revealed Fatherly conception of God—the master-thought of Christ's own theistic teaching, involving a tenderness of sympathy and a spirituality of relation that are new — rather than the merely monarchical aspects of His relations to men. There has been no more dominating and transforming influence in recent theological thinking than the idea of the Fatherhood of God, freed from the rigorous conceptions which Roman ideas of law had imposed upon our notions of Deity: it becomes the serious responsibility of Christian theology to-day, in presenting this universal Fatherhood of God as our older theology failed to do, to lessen in nowise the real import of His gracious Fatherhood of the forgiven and obedient, and to hold aloft the true idea of Fatherhood inspired alike by nature and Scripture, free from the debasing influences which some modern sentimental notions of fatherhood might exert upon it, to the detriment of its true exalted character, with its authoritative basis, its eternal sanctions, and powers that make for righteousness. No locus was more worthy or needful of deeper thought and fuller elaboration than that