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THE CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY OF THE FUTURE.
ROM the theology of the recent past, transiI tion is easy and natural to the thought of the theology of the immediate future:
“Man's heart the Almighty to the future set
By secret and inviolable springs."
No theology of the present is final : applying here the words of Herbart used in another connection, we say, “ The truth lies before, not behind us; and let him who seeks it look forward, not backward. In his reflections let him advance as impelled by the problems presented.” While the progress of the past may be the pledge of that which is to come, it is not yet the measure of what the future may bring. Here it has become more true than it was in Vinet's day, that “never was the thought of the future so present to all minds,” that future
which neither the Church nor the Christian thinker must fear, under the Holy Spirit, to enter. Are we not theological ancestors of them that shall all too soon enter into our labours ? That Christian theology has a future—a future which will lie in no mere lateral extension of its teachings, but in a profounder spiritual insight into its truths and their relations—we make no question. It cannot but be so, since, as it has been said, “our historical inheritance of religion is richer in the elements of moral truth and power than any ever intrusted to any previous age": it cannot but be that men will continue to think in a rational manner and in an orderly sequence, even if they leave off to build up formal systems: it cannot but be that, when every unfounded dogmatism shall have been dissolved by the acid of modern criticism, a fairer theology shall be wrought of the purified residuum supplied by modernised and scientific exegesis. A Christian theology will always spring out of the Christian religion: if there is a Christian religion of the future, there will in the future be a Christian theology, as certainly as trees will continue to bear fruits. For Christian theology is no more
than the scientific expression of the truths of the Christian religion : it simply takes these truths as they are implicitly presented in the spiritual consciousness, and seeks, by an endeavour to rationalise and interpret what is so presented, to give unity and coherency to the whole.
Now, as we may be well assured that Christianity will remain-in more perfect form and character in the future than the Christianity that is ours—the religion of the future,1 still to prove what Pfleiderer? calls its “unique superiority” to all other religions, so Christian theology will have its future in which to justify the claims of the Christian religion to rationality, and to assert itself as, in its theological exposition and expression, "an intellectual system of the universe.” It was Faraday who said that in · knowledge that man only is to be contemned who is not in a state of transition, and there is like intellectual necessity—a necessity imposed on the Church by the historic conditions of her
i Vide A. Schweizer, in the closing paragraphs of his “Die Zukunft der Religion,' published at Leipzig in 1878. Also, Dr Boyd Carpenter's Bampton Lectures, and the close of Dr Matheson's 'Can the Old Faith live with the New ?'
2 Philosophy of Religion, vol. iv. P. 312,
existence—for any theology that would escape being justly contemned to hold the theologic forms of truth in such transitionary moulds as befit that Christian science whose office it is to adapt the living principle of ancient dogmas to the needs of an ever-changing modern culture.
In his own clear and forcible manner, Professor Sabatier has lately said: “ Les formes dogmatiques commencent à vieillir du jour où elles sont consacrées. Au bout de quelques années, elles ont déjà besoin d'une traduction et d'un commentaire. Par le fait, d'une part, que l'Église continue sa vie, ses expériences à travers les siècles, et que la formule dogmatique, adoptée un jour, reste stationnaire, il se produit incessament une sorte de rupture, un désaccord plus ou moins ouvert entre cette formule et la conscience de l'Église renouvelée. Qui donc rétablira l'équilibre et l'harmonie ? Qui fera la conciliation et la transition entre hier et aujourd'hui ? Qui renouera la chaîne entre les générations et les siècles et maintiendra le dogme souple et malléable en le retrempant sans cesse dans la vie chaude de l'Église ? Qui fera la paix dans les communautés et dans les esprits en faisant la lumière ? Ne sera-ce pas cet enseignement de la dogmatique dans la mesure même où cet enseignement répondra à son idéal ? ”i Wise prevision of the future there must therefore be, a divining of what the Christian theology of the near future will be through our growing conceptions of what the ideal Christian theology of the coming days should be, and our deepening study of the forces and tendencies at work in the theological movement of the present. Our Christianity cannot attain to conscious power without becoming prophetic, and we do not think it is to indulge in gratuitous prophecy to say that the future will more clearly discern the non-exhaustive, non-final character of revelation which has been vouchsafed to meet our present needs.
We say, then, that what the theology of the future will be it is as impossible for us in any full sense to foretell as it is not to attempt, despite every consciousness of the limitations of our theological prevision, in some of its features dimly to forecast. We do not claim to have a theology that lives merely by retrospect, as though en
1 De la Vie Intime des Dogmes et de Leur Puissance D'Évolution, par A. Sabatier. Paris, 1890. Pp. 48, 49.