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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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There is little question that since the eighteenth cen-
tury the traditional theistic idea of God inherited from
medieval and Reformation developments has increas-
ingly found itself in grave difficulties. Subject to accel-
erating criticism from various quarters, it has been
progressively refashioned and reworked. The result is
that, on the one hand, few theologians today defend


such a traditional view of God, and on the other hand,
other contemporary theological voices are declaring
that as an idea, “God” is useless and meaningless. Our
article on the idea of God will deal with this long-term
process of change or refashioning on the right, and this
present-day rejection on the left, primarily amongst
theologians because they provide the clearest index to
this development.

It should be remembered, however, that roughly the
same process has in a prior and an even more radical
form occurred in philosophy. Whereas in the seven-
teenth century most philosophers made “God” the
pivot of their systems, increasingly this concept has
been pushed aside, appearing in our century at best
only rarely among philosophers, and most frequently
rejected out of hand as philosophically superfluous,
invalid, or unintelligible. Clearly, therefore, the devel-
opment in theology which we shall trace reflects a
deeper tendency in the culture as a whole, a develop-
ment of spirit most helpfully called a “secularizing”
of our culture's life and thought, and therefore one
which increasingly removes the idea of God from men's
habitual and significant modes of thought and action.
Whether or not this secular trend reflects the closer
approximation to the truth about what is, is a matter
with which a descriptive article cannot easily deal. Let
us say that what a culture tends to think true or signifi-
cant is, even when it is our culture, not necessarily
so; and that an undeniably secular trend in cultural
history may as easily reflect a misunderstanding of
reality as it does a more accurate grasp of what is really
the case.

At the end of the seventeenth century the idea of
God seemed on the one hand intelligible and secure,
and on the other generally agreed upon with regard
to its content. Had not nearly all of the century's great
scientists, such as Newton, Boyle, Dalton, and Ray,
been convinced that their vast advances in science only
showed more clearly the wonder of the Creator? Had
not nearly all of the century's greatest philosophers:
Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, and Spinoza, made “God”
the center of their systems, often the first certainty as
well as the first cause of being and of intelligibility?
Were not almost all the greatest social thinkers: Bodin,
Grotius, and Lipsius, devout Christians, albeit now
influenced by liberal Stoic ideas? And finally, Spinoza
excepted, was there any real question about what this
culture, Catholic or Protestant, lay or clerical, meant
by the concept “God,” namely a transcendent, self-
sufficient, all-powerful, changeless, perfect, and there-
fore supernatural being, endowed with intelligence and
will, and characterized by moral rectitude and
benevolence towards his creatures? The intellectual
bases of this traditional theism were, to be sure, differ
ent: Catholics still sought to prove his existence as the
necessary first cause of finite creatures; modernizing
Protestants tended to prefer the proof from the natural
order newly uncovered by science; and some, such as
Pascal and Bayle, preferred a “wager” or fideism to
such coldly intellectual proofs. Nevertheless, in the
seventeenth century virtually all agreed that such a
being exists, that He could be known with certainty,
and that He was ultimately the source and ground of
all being, order, and hope. The seeds of a speedy
disintegration were there, partially evident in the ex-
clusivist empiricism of Bacon and the materialism of
Hobbes, but they had not yet flowered. The seven-
teenth century was, as Peter Gay rightly remarks, the
era of “pagan Christianity” (Gay, Ch. V), secular in
many of its modes of thought, but still deeply religious
and Christian in its ultimate vision of things.

To trace briefly the ways in which eighteenth-
century thought and life challenged and virtually
overcame the certainty, the centrality, and even the
character of this traditional theistic notion of God is
impossible except in summary form. Although only a
number of French philosophes were blatantly atheistic,
almost any eighteenth-century thinker in tune with his
time was radically critical of traditional Christianity
and not least of this, its inherited conception of God.
That idea, as we have noted previously, had enjoyed
a multiple base: in science, in metaphysics, in morals,
in scriptural authority, and finally, through the social
and historical establishment of religious institutions in
European life. On every one of these fronts the spirit
of the Enlightenment challenged these bases for
“God”—and the continuation of that multi-faceted
challenge into our own day represents the main char-
acter of our own developing secularity.

In general this attack may be characterized as the
effort, through radical criticism of all untested notions,
to strip life down to the simplest, most immediate, and
most “natural” base, to disenchant the world of all
supernatural, mythical elements, and to leave there
only what is directly experienced, what is immanent
within the natural order, and what can help immedi-
ately in the present life of man. The result was an
almost frantic wish to dispense with all inherited or
traditional beliefs which could not be so validated or
which had no immediate, this-worldly, utility. Thus the
science of the eighteenth century tended to limit
scientific hypotheses to the natural, material order, and
to eschew the seventeenth-century relation of science
to metaphysics, to natural theology, and so to proofs
of God. Philosophy correspondingly lost its speculative,
metaphysical urges, and in Hume, Kant, and many
others became increasingly skeptical of metaphysical
systems and so of any cognitive certainty of God.


Morals and social thought in their turn became more
and more “secular” in character, finding their base first
in natural laws, and then successively in our natural
affections and needs, in prudence or utility, and in the
autonomous laws of practical reason—but in no case
were Enlightenment morals founded directly on a reli-
gious basis. In this way, in becoming thus radically
“secular,” eighteenth-century science, philosophy, and
morals alike ceased to provide bases for the traditional
concept of God.

Finally, the whole brunt of Enlightenment attitudes
militated against traditional authorities or untested
faiths as a basis of religious certainty and conviction.
The age's hatred of all forms of unquestioned authority
and unexamined superstition, its scorn of prejudice and
parochial passion, and its bitter experience of confes-
sional intolerance and wars, and of clerical privilege
and conservatism made appeals to divine revelation,
to ecclesiastical authority, or to inner religious experi-
ences abhorrent to many thinkers of the Enlighten-
ment. It was an age that emphasized, above all, imme-
diate experience, personal and human autonomy,
this-worldly values, and a critical or skeptical attitude
towards all social, historical, and cosmological beliefs.
And in less than one hundred years, that combination
of attitudes exploded the metaphysical, fideistic, moral,
and historical-social bases of the traditional concept
of God. The debris remaining was well described by
Schleiermacher in 1799 when he remarked that for the
cultured of his age, religion was merely “an instinct
craving for a mess of metaphysical and moral crumbs”
(Schleiermacher, p. 31).

Despite its shattering effects on traditional dogmas
and concepts, the result of the eighteenth-century
Enlightenment on its descendants in the nineteenth
century was by no means the total eradication from
theology, philosophy, or culture generally of the idea
of God. To be sure, there was an increasing spread
of atheism as the century developed through the
thought of such men as Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche,
Comte, and Darwin; still, God remained a central
concept in most nineteenth-century thought. The
dominant reaction of this century was to modernize
or even to “secularize” this religious concept, to re-
fashion traditional theism in terms intelligible to the
contemporary man. And the reason was that there still
remained, for most nineteenth-century minds, a deep
sense of a divine dimension of things, manifesting itself
for them in the eternal and so divine law of orderly
development or Progress. What the eighteenth-century
Enlightenment seems, therefore, to have accomplished
was the permanent shattering of that inherited union
of ontological and religious categories which had
formed the concept of a transcendent, omnipotent,
changeless, and yet all-wise and all-loving being, what
we have called traditional or classical theism. Except
for a lingering Thomistic tradition, since mid-twentieth
century under fire in Roman Catholicism itself, this
traditional theistic concept has not reappeared
importantly in theology in either the nineteenth or the
twentieth centuries. Whatever may be the case with
God as he is in himself, there is little historical question
that, in non-Roman circles at least, this inherited con-
cept of God “died” circa 1800. Let us now see how
this concept was transformed.

The Enlightenment bequeathed to its descendants
in the nineteenth century many presuppositions which
helped to direct the course of this reformulation. First
was an emphasis on immediate experience and on
human autonomy, and a consequent conviction that
whatever is meaningful, real, and of value must be in
continuity with ordinary experience and with human
powers. Second, in both the eighteenth and the nine-
teenth centuries reality was seen as a harmonious
whole. Increasingly during the nineteenth, however,
the idea that this whole represents a developing process
towards perfection comes to dominance. And third,
because of the belief in the continuity of man's devel-
opment with the ultimate purposes of process, man,
in his higher capacities as a rational and moral being
was felt legitimately to claim to be the measure of
reality and truth. Thus for the nineteenth century the
immanence of the divine in the unfolding process of
nature and of human history becomes the key theolog-
ical motif. Consequently, many a thinker, who was
influenced by the eighteenth-century background repu-
diated—but for slightly different reasons—the tradi-
tional notion of a God who was completely transcend-
ent, who was hidden from a fallen and lost world
incapable of relating itself to him, and who conse-
quently could be known only by metaphysical infer-
ence or by ecclesiastical or scriptural religious author-
ity. Such a being, separated from ordinary experience
and appearing only in miracle, seemed to the confident,
scientific mind of the nineteenth century, to be un-
knowable, unreal, irrelevant at best, and superstitious
and repressive at worst. While, however, typical minds
of the preceding eighteenth century had sought either
to rescue this traditional deity in an intellectually
purified deism—for example, that of Voltaire or
Rousseau—or to excoriate him in the scientific materi-
alism of Holbach, the typical nineteenth-century reac-
tion was radically to refashion the idea of God accord-
ing to its own “romantic” emphases on moral passion,
wholeness, and feeling. Again we can only summarize
briefly these reformulations which flowered into what
is usually called religious and theological liberalism.

First there was the reformulation effected by Kant


and his followers. Kant at the end of the eighteenth
century had expressed vividly the Enlightenment's
antipathy to metaphysics, and thus had called a halt
to a speculative foundation for the concept of God.
We cannot, he said, know God, for knowledge is con-
fined to the sensible, phenomenal world and to a priori
mathematics and logic, that is, to empirical and formal
sciences. Thus with the demise of a metaphysical base
for theology, the ontological functions and attributes
of the traditional idea of God were removed from
post-Kantian religious thought. According to Kant,
however, the moral if not the cognitive capacities of
man, although self-grounded in man's own autonomous
practical reason, cannot fulfill themselves without a
theistic framework: as a moral being, man must postu-
late, even if he cannot demonstrate, the reality of God
and of immortality. God is here no longer, as in the
seventeenth century, the experienceable and knowable
ground of finite being, human autonomy, moral experi-
ence, and future hope; for Kant, the idea of God is
rather (in part) the implication of an unknowable ideal
of pure reason, supplementing an autonomously studied
nature, and (much more surely) the consequence and
so the postulate of autonomously acting moral reason.

The theological implications of this radically trans-
formed status for the idea of God were worked out
by Albrecht Ritschl and his school in the second half
of the nineteenth century. For Ritschlian liberalism
metaphysical or ontological categories were quite ir-
relevant to religious interests; such concepts, said they,
are a “Greek” inheritance alien to the purely moral
and historical concerns of the religion of the prophets
and of Jesus. Thus God, while appropriately called
Creator and Ruler by religious faith, should not be
identified with the cosmological First Cause, a specu-
lative Absolute, or even a divine spiritual Force within
nature. He is known and experienced by us only in
our moral life, as providing the framework within
which human moral personality can fulfill itself. Thus
for Ritschl God as Creator guarantees our “moral
supremacy over nature”; as the Ruler of history he
guarantees the moral development of history towards
the kingdom of God; and, above all, as the loving
Father of Jesus, who founded the kingdom of love, he
calls us in personal communion to fulfill ourselves
morally in a spiritual worship of him which is selfless
service to the growth in history of his moral kingdom.
The anti-metaphysical bias of Kant (making easy union
with Luther's historical antipathy to scholasticism)
removed from much of subsequent Protestant thought
the ontological characteristics of the traditional God;
the optimism of the nineteenth century about man's
moral possibilities removed his historic judgmental or
“wrathful” characteristics; the belief in historical
progress dissipated the eschatological or otherworldly
element primary to orthodoxy; and so all that was left
in most of Ritschlian theology was the loving, personal
God of moral idealism and of historical progress.

German theology of the twentieth century, however
divergent in its religious emphases from Ritschlian
moralism, has after this inheritance never been able
to contemplate a metaphysical conception of God with
anything but horror, or be concerned in theology with
such categories as self-sufficiency, necessity, being,
substance, changelessness, or eternity. To contem-
porary continental theologians, as to Ritschl and
Harnack, these are “Greek” concepts alien to the
moral, personal, and historical genius of the Christian
notion of God.

A quite different reformulation appeared in Hegel.
For Hegel, as for Kant, there was no possibility of
knowing a transcendent God by inference, and there
was for him even less desirability in worshipping such
a God on the basis of authority. The divine must be
immanent to experience if it is to be real, relevant,
and at all creative. But God cannot be in continuity
with only a part of experience, for comprehensiveness
and universality are surely characteristics of both deity
and truth. Thus God must be both immanent and
universal, that which grounds and so unites every facet
of experience: logical and cognitive, natural and cul-
tural, social and historical, emotional and moral. In
other words, when truly understood by philosophy
instead of merely pictured by religion, God is the
immanent Absolute, as concrete as are the immediate
facts of experience that are his modes, and as universal
as a total system enveloping everything. If, moreover,
God as immanent is not separate from the concrete
particulars of which he is the ground and the unity,
then, while to be sure he is self-sufficient and so abso-
lute, producer and not produced, still he cannot be
changeless and static. Becoming and development are
the essential characteristics of logic, of life, and of
social history, and so, as the ground and unity of these,
God shares in dialectical movement. Once again medi-
ation was achieved, this time between the logical rela-
tions of ideas, now dynamically interpreted, and mat-
ters of fact—a pair formerly sundered by the
speculative timidity of the Enlightenment. Finally,
since all post-Kantians agreed that creative production
of particulars according to logical structures is the
essence of rational spirit, the Absolute is rational; and
thus reality—natural, historical, and personal—in all
its bewildering variety and apparent confusion, is to
the unifying philosophical gaze the creation of rational

If one asks how such a global vision of the all-
comprehensive rational unity of actual things is possi-


ble for finite intellects, Hegel answered that such a
suprahuman philosophical synthesis was possible only
because the divine spirit, the Absolute, had already
become incarnate in history, had united itself with
mankind in the historical development of autonomy
and intelligence, and had finally realized itself as self-
consciousness in the understanding of the philosopher.
The union achieved in speculative philosophy between
the secular and the religious, between the manifold of
individual and historical life and the ultimate or the
Absolute, is possible only because the divine has al-
ready united them by its action of incarnation in hu-
manity and so in history. Thus did Hegel, by rendering
God radically immanent and dynamic rather than
transcendent and changeless, produce possibly the last
religious or theological expression of Western culture
as a whole. For in his view the trinitarian God of
traditional faith has descended from his separateness
into actuality and has become the unfolding Absolute
whose inner life of rational spirit has expressed itself
through the process of social history in the story of
the development of human autonomy.

Hegel's magnificent synthesis of philosophy and the-
ology, culture and religion, the profane and the
sacred—being too intellectualistic in that it tended to
“raise or transform religion into philosophy”—never
became the basis for a widespread “church theology,”
as did Ritschlianism. Nevertheless overtones of Hegel's
idealistic conception of God, in which God is the
symbol for the Whole of experience, appear promi-
nently in philosophical and religious thought through-
out the nineteenth and into the early twentieth
centuries: in Bernard Bosanquet, F. H. Bradley, Borden
Parker Bowne, A. S. Pringle-Pattison, W. T. Harris and
the St. Louis School, Josiah Royce, W. E. Hocking, and
Brand Blanshard.

A third mode of reformulation far more pervasive
in liberal religion than Hegelianism and so a balancing
motif to Ritschlian moralism was that of Friedrich
Schleiermacher. Agreeing with other post-Enlighten-
ment figures that metaphysical inference could not
establish a transcendent deity, and that for modern men
neither ecclesiastical nor biblical authority could alone
provide a sufficient base for religion and its doctrines,
Schleiermacher denied nevertheless the Kantian base
of religion in morality and the Hegelian tendency to
transform religion into philosophical speculation.
Rather, he regarded religion as founded autonomously
on feeling, a pre-rational and pre-moral awareness, a
sense or “taste for the Whole” or the Infinite, or, as
he put it later, the self-consciousness of being abso-
lutely dependent as opposed to the “secular” self-
consciousness of relative dependence and relative free-
dom with respect to the things of the world. On this
ground of feeling, or, as we might put it, of existential
self-awareness as absolutely dependent, Schleiermacher
reinterpreted religion in general, Christian faith and
experience, and, of course, the symbol God. God is now
conceived as the Whence of this unique feeling, and
so all talk about God is really talk about our religious
feelings with regard to their source and ground.

Several important new characteristics of God follow
from Schleiermacher's starting point. First of all, only
that which is immediately derivable from present reli-
gious experience can be said of God; nothing merely
on the basis of rational speculation or traditional au-
thority can be stated of him as he is in himself. Sec-
ondly, while this feeling is “religious” in that it is not
a feeling of the world around us, still it is “secular”
in the sense that once developed it accompanies, as
a part of our basic self-consciousness, all of our life.
It is not one special, “churchy” feeling or experience
among others, but the ground tone of our total every-
day existence. Correspondingly, God, as the Whence
of this feeling, is not one cause (albeit supernatural)
among others, but God is Absolute Causality as the
cause of all finite causes. It is not the case that he is
in church but not in nature, in Heilsgeschichte but
not in ordinary experience, “here” and not “there.”
He is rather omnipresent and everlasting, as the ground
of our existence and all that occurs. And finally, God
is quite beyond the relative reciprocity and freedom
of finite things in their mutual relations. In this way
Schleiermacher refashioned the notion of God, as had
Kant and Hegel, so as to place it in continuity with
the nineteenth-century confidence in life and experi-
ence generally, and especially so as not to run counter
to the world order of Enlightenment science. God here
is not a transcendent supernatural being who intervenes
into a fallen world from the outside; he is the ground,
rather, of all causal order as the timeless, absolute cause
of all causes.

What Schleiermacher contributed to nineteenth-
century liberal religion was the emphasis on im-
mediate religious experience as the basis of piety
and so of all faith and doctrine, the sense of the
immanence of God in all life and culture, and a mag-
nificently worked out modern reinterpretation of all
major Christian doctrines, which did not conflict with
an acceptance of science in all its forms. Where his
notion of God has seemed insufficient was its latent
pantheism, his weakened sense of alienation from God
and so of sin (a fault shared by most other liberal
theologies), and especially the apparent lack of “per-
sonal being” in God because God as Absolute Causality
lacked freedom among alternatives, and therefore
intentionality. Nevertheless, since almost every major
theologian since Schleiermacher's time has spoken of
God on the basis of some aspect of present experi-
ence—be that experience conceived romantically,


pietistically, or existentially—and no longer (whatever
his protestations) defines God on the basis exclusively
either of speculation or of external ecclesiastical or
scriptural authority, it is not hard to see why, even
in the very different atmosphere of the twentieth cen-
tury, Schleiermacher continues to be called “the father
of modern theology,” at least in Western culture.

Finally, one other important reformulation of the
idea of God begins to appear in the later nineteenth
century. The conception that reality is a developing,
evolving, or progressing Process had been latent in
Enlightenment thought about history, had appeared in
dramatic, albeit idealistic, form in Hegel, and seemed
to receive final approbation in the developing cos-
mology, geology, and finally biology of the nineteenth
century. It is fair to say that well nigh every aspect
of inquiry at the end of the nineteenth century was
dominated by this evolutionary presupposition, and
correspondingly religious thought as well found itself
using the concept of evolving process as its most fun-
damental clue to the character of reality and so of God.
In opposition to Hegel's absolutistic use of the concept,
however, most forms of evolutionary or process
thought at the end of the nineteenth century conceived
of God as finite, the spiritual or intentional force within
natural and historical process which accounts for the
“facts” of evolutionary development and of historical
progress. Insofar, therefore, as such forms of progres-
sive development were regarded as “empirical,” God
as their source or cause was believed to be “empirically
derived”; insofar as this development had evidenced
manifest evil and so had clearly involved a struggle,
God could be neither absolute nor omnipotent; and
finally, insofar as he is a “struggling God,” in reciprocal
relations with natural and historical events, God is
surely neither self-sufficient nor changeless.

God is thus regarded as “becoming” or “changing”
as process unfolds, and as the process as a whole
achieves over time its own perfection, so God fulfills
his own being, as well as his purposes, in and through
the perfecting of a recalcitrant world. A wide variety
of such concepts of God or of deity as an immanent,
finite, developing force for progress appeared in the
latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: in John
Stuart Mill, William James, and Henri Bergson; in
Lloyd Morgan and Samuel Alexander; in F. R. Tennant,
H. N. Wieman, Edgar Brightman, and E. S. Ames. The
most influential significant form of this view of God
as a developing factor within process appears, how-
ever, in the first third of the twentieth century in the
thought of A. N. Whitehead, regarded by many as
perhaps the greatest speculative philosopher the pres-
ent century has yet produced—and so with his thought
we move beyond the nineteenth-century liberal re-
formulations of God into the twentieth century.

In theology, as in so much of its life, the twentieth
century has been in sharp revolt against its prede-
cessor—as the nineteenth was against the eighteenth.
Its first half—from 1918 to roughly 1960—was almost
totally dominated by theological and religious views
explicitly and directly antithetical to the liberal
reformulations pictured above. Consequently, in the
“neo-orthodox,” “neo-Reformation,” dialectical, or
crisis theology characteristic of that half-century, a
quite new understanding of God appears in Western
history. The theological situation of the 1960's is in
turn pervaded by the rather sudden collapse of this
view of God, and by the consequent question, raised
for really the first time within theology itself, whether
there be a God for theology to talk about at all.

The causes of the rise of the neo-orthodox view of
God were multiple. Most prominent of all was the
breakdown of the confidence of the nineteenth century
in the religious significance of “process,” that is, in the
progress of history and the goodness and perfectibility
of man, a confidence which, as we noted, had led to
the dominant liberal themes of the immanence of God
and so to the continuity of the divine and the human.
Social experience in the first half of the twentieth
century was characterized by the sudden eruption of
vast human evils; of paralyzing and debilitating wars;
of impersonal, technological, and industrial cultures
that seemed to smother personal and moral life alike;
and by the threat of the imminent collapse of the very
culture the endless development of whose values had
in the first place led to the idea of social process as
Historical Progress. Instead of manifesting in its secular
life the divine spirit, man's history appeared to express
nothing but estrangement, injustice, cruelty, and pride.
Man's truth, in the physical and social sciences alike,
opened as many possibilities for the exploitation as for
the fulfillment of man. If, therefore, there was to be
hope either for history as a whole or for the meaning-
fulness of an individual life, it must come from beyond
man; the divine which saves must be transcendent
rather than immanent, and the man who is saved must
be “reborn” rather than merely “matured.” Trans-
cendence reentered Western experience as the only
possible alternative to twentieth-century despair.
Ironically, our century's cultural experience was pro-
viding a kind of “prolegomenon” (if not a natural
theology!) to what Karl Barth called the strange, new
world of the Bible, or “biblical faith,” insofar as the
latter was characterized by such traditional categories
as transcendence and mystery, crisis and redemption,
sin and lostness, judgment and damnation, revelation
and grace, justification and salvation.

A complementary philosophical development must
be mentioned if we are to understand the idea of God
in the twentieth century. With the breakdown early


in the century of the nineteenth-century sense of pro-
gressive development and so of rational order, there
appeared in philosophy as well a rather violent swing
away from speculative metaphysics. With World War
I the dominance of idealism evaporated, leaving only
the organismic philosophy of Whitehead as a powerful
speculative metaphysical influence. Almost all Anglo-
Saxon philosophy took a radically naturalistic and even
a positivistic turn, insisting with Dewey, Santayana,
Morris R. Cohen, et al. that philosophy like science
can only describe the immanent and generic traits of
the plural, changing world of immediate experience,
or with the Vienna school and linguistic philosophy
that philosophy's sole task is not at all that of knowing
“the real,” but merely the analysis of language. In
neither case, obviously, was there the possibility of the
kind of systematic metaphysical speculation that might
establish or even undergird a philosophical conception
of God. The other major philosophical movement was
existentialism, which emphasized on the one hand
man's despairing situation in a meaningless world, and
on the other the radical distinction between objective
scientific talk about things, and personal, involved
awareness of one's own being, freedom, anxieties, and

Although much of secular existentialism was atheis-
tic, this form of philosophy, whose origin after all lay
in the religious writings of Kierkegaard, could be
translated for theological purposes, which quickly
happened. In this role, existential philosophy implied
that theological language about God was exclusively
personal, involved, and subjective, the language of the
inward, personal experience of guilt and despair, of
faith and commitment, and not at all a language suited
to objective philosophical reasoning. Consequently,
existentialist theologians insisted that metaphysical
language about God, like scientific language about
nature, inevitably distorted and obscured God by
making him into a thing or an object to be manipu-
lated. Both these developments in philosophy, there-
fore—the naturalistic, positivistic, and linguistic de-
velopment and the existential development—implied
unequivocally that philosophy could give no help to
theology in its quest to understand and describe the
nature of God. For most of the first half of the twen-
tieth century, therefore, if God was to be known and
conceived at all, it had to be by other means than by
philosophical inquiry.

We can now understand the rather peculiar charac-
ter of the neo-orthodox God. Our description seeks to
bring together (if possible) the important and generic
elements in the theologies of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner,
Gustaf Aulen, Anders Nygren, Rudolf Bultmann, the
Niebuhrs, and many others. For this whole circle of
theologians, since estranged man bound in sin and
unable to rise by himself beyond immediate experience
either knows nothing of the transcendent at all or else
distorts the hints he does receive, all true knowledge
of God is based on revelation alone. Only through the
Word of God, communicated to men through the
“mighty acts” of God in Israel's history and in Jesus
Christ, witnessed to in the scriptures and acknowledged
and known by living faith, can God be known at all.
No proofs of God are possible or relevant to faith, and
no metaphysical speculation can discover his attributes;
thus all philosophical categories are alien to a true
understanding of God. The God of Christian faith is,
consequently, solely the God of the Bible, and all we
can validly say of him must have this biblical base.
Thus are the “Greek” categories of being, pure actu-
ality, necessity, changelessness, self-sufficiency, and
absoluteness quite irrelevant to theology and distorting
to faith.

Correspondingly, the blindness of the nineteenth-
century liberal to the reality of our sin and so his
antipathy to the judgmental and “wrathful” sides of
God must be equally rejected as both unempirical and
unbiblical. The biblical God is primarily one who as
a personal being acts and speaks; one who is not in
the first instance a God of nature but one involved
in the events of man's history, manifesting his will and
his nature there; and what He manifests there are his
personal judgments on man's sin, his unmerited acts of
redemption, and his promises of salvation for the fu-
ture. Thus God is fundamentally characterized by the
personal attributes of dynamic activity, freedom, self-
manifestation, righteous will, moral intentionality, and
agapē or outgoing love. He is a God who is trans-
cendent in the epistemological sense that he is hidden
or veiled to man's ordinary gaze, but he is also the
God who “comes” and who “speaks”—that is, who is
related to the events of history and to ourselves, who
reveals himself within time and space, and who above
all confronts us in personal encounter as the divine
Thou. To be sure, as a free and transcendent Lord of
all, God is implicitly also the self-sufficient creator,
the source of all being, and transcendent to temporal

Most neo-orthodox theologians, however, became
nervous about speaking of these obviously ontological
and potentially static and separatist characteristics, and
contented themselves with emphasizing God's personal
and living character as the transcendent Lord related
to history. In sum, the neo-orthodox or biblical God
took over some of the religious and so personal charac-
teristics of the traditional Protestant God: intention-
ality and freedom, intelligence and will, righteous
judgment on sin, and merciful love. But in place of


the classical ontological attributes expressing self-
sufficiency and changeless eternity of being, they sub-
stituted an emphasis on the dynamic, active, related
character of God as the sovereign actor and ruler in

In many respects, however, even religiously this view
did not represent the traditional Reformation God.
Although the liberal God of immanent love was ex-
coriated, many liberal principles were quietly ac-
cepted. First of all, although for the neo-orthodox God
“spoke” to men in revelation and “acted” in historical
events, no neo-orthodox theologians thought that the
sentences of the Bible represented God's infallible
words, nor did they understand his acts in terms of
miracles. The liberal sense of the relativity of the words
of Scripture and of the creeds of theological tradition,
and the liberal assumption that the manifold of nature
and of history manifest immanent causes to be investi-
gated by science and not by theological inquiry, were
alike assumed. Also, the liberal antipathy to the classi-
cal doctrines of particular Providence (God wills and
causes all events, sickness, plagues, and wars), to the
doctrine of double or even single predestination (God
wills some men to enter eternal damnation and some
to salvation), and to the doctrine of eternal condem-
nation (some will be condemned, for their sins, to
eternal damnation), were either rejected outright by
the neo-orthodox or transformed almost out of recog-
nition. The God of neo-orthodoxy “spoke,” but no
concrete divine words resulted; he “acted,” but not
in miraculous or otherwise identifiable or even specific
ways; he “ruled,” but not by omnipotently willing any
particular and certainly no evil events; and he
“judged,” but not in terms of divine punishment either
presently evident or even to be expected eternally.

Since these theologians also repudiated a meta-
physical understanding of what they said about the
activities of God, it was not surprising that the second
generation neo-orthodox experienced later difficulties
in saying just what they meant by the crucial verbs
that they applied to God concerning his speaking, his
acting, his sovereign willing and ruling, and his judging
and saving work. Finally, in Rudolf Bultmann (who
believed thoroughly in this neo-orthodox view of God)
the tendency to regard God solely as the subject of
his own revelation instead of as the object of our
thought went so far that almost no theological doctrine
of God becomes possible. God can speak to us through
the kerygma (preaching of the Gospel), said Bultmann,
but all of our speech about God objectifies him, is in
danger of “mythologizing the transcendent,” and so
should be shunned. Thus did one of the century's great
theologians and believers himself make it almost im-
possible for subsequent theologians to speak of God.

While this neo-biblical view of God dominated
European and most of Anglo-Saxon Protestant theol-
ogy, two other traditions continued in a somewhat
quiescent if not defensive mode: that of Thomism and
that of process theology. In both Roman and high
Anglican circles the Thomist conception of God was
reformulated and defended by a series of scholarly and
sophisticated minds (R. Garrigou-Lagrange, Henri de
Lubac, É. Gilson, and J. Maritain in Roman Catholi-
cism, and E. L. Mascall, Austin Farrer, and Eugene
Fairweather, et al. in Anglicanism). While this group
agreed, of course, with neo-orthodoxy that Revelation
was necessary for a full Christian understanding of
God's nature, nevertheless they diverged sharply from
the dominant Protestant group on two counts. (1) A
philosophical, “natural” theology, they said, is neces-
sary for two reasons: (a) it alone can establish rationally
and objectively the existence of God—though this
group tended to regard natural theology less as a purely
intellectual “proof” prior to all religious experience
or commitment, than as a rational, and so universally
intelligible, formulation of what is known by a meta-
physical intuition or even received from Revelation.
(b) Since natural theology is a branch of secular philos-
ophy, it can become the base for a language about
God intelligible in terms of ordinary experience. It thus
provides the possibility of further meaningful theolog-
ical elaboration based on revelation in a language in
essential relation to the language we use in other areas
of ordinary life. Without this relation of theological
discourse through philosophy to ordinary experience,
said these men, we cannot know what we mean when
we use theological words; as subsequent events have
shown, there is no question that they were right on this

(2) They maintained also that while such categories
as, for example, personal freedom or “Thouness” are
applicable to God, the essential way to speak of God
is in terms of Being, to be understood as the pure
act of existing; and correspondingly, the most basic
relation of God to the world for theology is not that
of a personal manifestation of himself through his
Word, but the relation of God as creative cause of
being to his finite creatures. Thus God is here under-
stood essentially in the traditional terms of Thomistic
philosophical theology: as self-sufficient, perfect, and
changeless actuality, as the transcendent though inten-
tional cause of finite being, and as the redeeming source
of saving grace in Incarnation, Ecclesia, and Sacra-
ment. Here is the one place where both in its dogmatic
form and in its philosophical and theological content,
the traditional or classical idea of God has appeared
in important twentieth-century theology. It was surely
its consequent anachronistic character, both philo-


sophical and theological, that proved the abiding
weakness of this view, for interested students had
almost to become medieval men in order to find its
theological arguments convincing or its philosophical
categories meaningful. And in recent days few in either
form of Catholicism felt themselves willing or able thus
to step back in time.

The other important tradition during this period was
represented by the continuation of the process theology
developed at the end of the nineteenth and the begin-
ning of the twentieth century. The most important
leaders of this Whiteheadian philosophy were the
philosopher Charles Hartshorne and the theologian
H. N. Wieman. Like their Thomistic rivals, this group
emphasized, over against the neo-orthodox, the abso-
lute need of a philosophical or metaphysical base for
a valid concept of God. In order, they said, to make
religious language intelligible to modern minds, in
order to know what we mean when we speak of God's
“person” or his “acts,” and in order to validate religious
belief's claim to truth in its statements, religious lan-
guage must be translated into the terms of an appro-
priate modern philosophical system. While not disput-
ing the reality of some form of revelation, this group
tended, more than either neo-orthodoxy or Catholi-
cism, to base its idea of God solely on natural experi-
ence and on philosophical reason; its theology was
therefore almost all natural theology.

Despite their agreement with the Thomists on the
need for philosophy, however, the content of their idea
of God was radically opposed to the traditional theistic
view. As with James and Whitehead, the God they
found metaphysically intelligible and “religiously wor-
thy” was a finite God, one who has reciprocal, even
internal (i.e., affecting both parties), relations with his
creatures, and therefore one who is himself in the
process of change and becoming as time unfolds. God
here is both “creator” as the finite source of order,
novelty, and therefore of value to the developing
process, and also “redeemer” as the one everlasting
and all-inclusive reality that feels, empathizes with, and
so “loves” all creatures, and thus preserves their expe-
rience of value in his own. At two major points this
view significantly departed from the traditional view:
(1) God is not self-sufficient, changeless, omnipotent,
or omniscient, nor is he the source of all aspects or
factors in existence. On the contrary, he is one factor
among others in an all-inclusive process, and thus his
becoming itself is dependent on the free development
of other entities in process over whom he has no essen-
tial or final control. (2) God has little if any judgmental
role against sin, nor any role in redeeming the world
from it. To be sure, he rescues his creatures from
disorder, mediocrity, sameness, and above all from the
fragmentariness of their being and the transcience of
their values. But since no serious break with God in
sin enters these predominantly metaphysical theologies,
the God here pictured lacks the capacities either of
radical judgment or of unmerited forgiveness and justi-
fication. In this sense this immanent, dynamic, finite,
“loving” God is a legitimate heir of the liberal tradition
of the nineteenth century, which repudiated God's
wrath and emphasized only his positive relation to our

Finally, a brief word should be said about another
vision of God in the twentieth century, partly because
it was substantially different from the other three and
attacked by all of them, and because like them it
promises to have its own influence on future theology.
This is the idea of God in the work of Paul Tillich.
A spiritual descendant of Schelling, Hegel, and
Schleiermacher (rather than of Kant and the Ritsch-
lians, as were the neo-orthodox), Tillich emphasized
the immanence of God as the ground of finite being
in all its aspects, as the unconditioned depth in which
man's reason, his morals, his aesthetics, and his social
and historical existence, as well as his personal life,
have their origin and fulfillment. This God is not
transcendent in the sense of being separate from or
over against finite life; rather, as in Hegel, God is the
dynamic, self-developing ground of natural and his-
torical process, and of man's history as the microcosm
and agent of that process. However, unlike his nine-
teenth-century romantic forebears, Tillich also was
vividly aware of the estrangement and distortion of
man's life. Consequently he held that man's being, his
thinking, his morals, and his social and historical exist-
ence cannot fulfill themselves as they normally function
but must find reintegration with the divine depths
through revelation, the gift of faith, and the creation
of a new spiritual community. Religion based on
revelation, rather than being a lower stage than philos-
ophy, is thus here the answer to the questions which
secular human existence and so philosophy raise in
their finitude and their distortion. Through this method
of “correlation” this system united the secular and the
transcendent, the profane and the sacred, but on a new
basis more congenial to theology.

Tillich combined, therefore, several elements char-
acteristic of the other competing twentieth-century
schools. Like the process thinkers, he understood God
philosophically in terms of ontological categories as
well as biblically, for a philosophical understanding of
the problems or questions of human existence for him
paved the way to and so provided the categories for
the religious answers of revelation. Like the neo-
orthodox, he believed in an existentialist method in
theology and in man's estrangement and separation


from God, and thus in the relevance of revelation and
grace if man is to be whole. And like the Thomists
he understood God fundamentally as Being itself,
which is the source and ground both of our own being
and of its fulfillment. God to Tillich was thus the
unconditioned dynamic power of being, positing
creatures in and through his unfolding (and trinitarian)
divine life, reuniting them to himself in the New Being
(in Jesus as the Christ) in spiritual unity through the
divine love. As in Schleiermacher, God here is only
barely intentional and so hardly personal; nor, as the
immanent ground of all we are and do, do we “en-
counter” him as judge over against us and as for-
giveness towards us in quite the same way as in neo-
orthodoxy. Nevertheless, Tillich expressed as fully as
do any other modern theologies the dynamic, related,
active character of deity; and yet at the same time
he achieved a remarkably fruitful union of secular
interests with a surprisingly faithful reformulation of
traditional Christian symbols.

Insofar as they carried on debate with one another
during the forty years or so from 1920 to 1960, these
various groups—neo-orthodox, Thomist, and process—
were involved in a strange sort of three-cornered war,
for all alike attacked Tillich, who was part of no school.
Although in fact they were all about equally diverse,
each of these three groups tended to emphasize one
or two aspects which the other two held in common,
and thus to regard both of the others as similarly
deluded. For example, neo-orthodoxy, emphasizing a
revelational method in theology above all else, re-
garded the Thomists and the process thinkers as essen-
tially alike because both were philosophical theologies,
based on metaphysical inquiry and so on what revela-
tionists called a purely human wisdom. And it criti-
cized both accordingly as producing speculative, unin-
volved, impersonal, and therefore idolatrous concepts
of God quite unrelated to the transcendent, self-
manifesting Thou of the Bible who is known only
through his Word in history and encountered only in
personal commitment, faith, and obedience. The
Thomists on the other hand tended to see in the other
two only the rejection of traditional “Greek” elements
and their common affirmation of strange, modern, and
so dynamic and related attributes of God. Consequently
Thomists bemoaned in their rivals the lack of the
classical Aristotelian epistemology and the ontological
notions of being, aseity, necessity, and changelessness.
After all, Oscar Cullman's denial on biblical grounds
of the divine eternity and his affirmation of exclusively
temporal traits in God was not all that dissimilar from
Whitehead's philosophical temporalizing of God into
an entity who “becomes” as do all other entities!

Finally, the process theologians, interested primarily
in the ontological problems of the finitude of God and
his reciprocal relations to other creatures, saw only
what they called the “absolutistic” characteristics of,
say, Barth's free God and Gilson's pure Being, and so
regarded Protestant neo-orthodoxy and Catholic
Thomism alike as repetitions of a classical theism
whose God is transcendent, self-sufficient, and essen-
tially independent of his creatures. With regard to the
difficulties raised by the secular vision of things and
so of atheism, with which the theological fraternity
as a whole was increasingly faced in the twentieth
century, each group proclaimed the other two vulner-
able (and itself invulnerable) because of that particular
characteristic which the others shared in common. The
neo-orthodox blamed theology's woes on the injection
of speculation and so of secular philosophy (the word
of man) into theology on the part of the other two;
the Thomists blamed the same woes on those modern-
izing tendencies that had weakened the true and strong
concepts of traditional theism; and the process theolo-
gians blamed our problems on anachronistic charac-
teristics of traditional, “absolutistic” concepts of God
which, said they, had no meaning for the modern man.
As recent events have shown, each was right in assert-
ing that the other two were in deep trouble, but each
was quite wrong in believing that his own view alone
was secure against the acids of modernity.

This debate about the way we should talk of God
(whether by revelation or by philosophical inquiry) and
the character of this object of theological discourse
(whether God be a transcendent, personal, free,
dynamically active Thou; a transcendent, changeless,
pure Actuality; or an immanent, finite, related, and
developing process) went on somewhat serenely until
relatively recently, about 1960. Then almost without
warning a change occurred. Each of the three groups
found itself radically questioning its own presupposi-
tions about God, and then suddenly each of these
groups appeared to lose its sustaining power and
seemed almost to evaporate before our eyes. Briefly
what happened was that instead of asking about how
we are to speak of God, theologians suddenly found
themselves wondering whether they could speak of him
at all in a secular age—and this, as they discovered,
was a much more radical and explosive question to

The symbol, if not the precipitating cause, of this
sudden change was the appearance of the “God-is-
dead” or “radical” theologies. These were “theolo-
gies”—of William Hamilton, T. J. Altizer, Paul Van
Buren, and the Rabbi Richard Rubenstein—which
sought in quite varied ways to give an interpretation
of authentic Christianity (or Judaism in the case of
Rubenstein) which did not use, and so clearly rejected,


the idea of God. It now seems that on its positive side
this effort did not succeed; any interpretation of
Christianity or of Judaism without God is in all proba-
bility neither systematically intelligible nor religiously
viable. However, the reasons given by these men for
their rejection of the idea of God remain immensely
important, for they reflect the final entrance of the fully
developed secularity of modern cultural life—whose
first steps we noted in our discussion of the Enlighten-
ment—into the ecclesiastical and so into the theolog-
ical and clerical life of the mid-twentieth century. The
problems that led these men to disbelieve in God and
to abjure him from their Christianity are the same
problems that are felt by all modern Christians and
which in turn provide contemporary theologians with
their major difficulties.

Briefly, the difficulties or crises that led these theolo-
gians to proclaim the “death of God” were four: (1)
for Hamilton, the presence and certitude of inner faith
were too unsure to allow him as a contemporary man
to say on the basis of his faith either that God is or
what he is; faith seemed no longer free enough of doubt
to provide a basis for knowledge of God. (2) For
Altizer, modern culture and so any contemporary man
who expresses its mood, finds the transcendent God
both unreal and repressive, a threat to our human
creativity, authenticity, and freedom; only, said he, if
we dare to declare this transcendent God dead and
cease to depend on him, can we appropriate the divine
that is immanent in us in the Living Word that always
changes its forms. (3) For Van Buren, a secular culture
finds only those words which relate to and can be
verified in actual, daily experience to be intelligible,
or, technically put, only empirical propositions are
meaningful and therefore have the capacity of being
true. God, as understood either theologically or meta-
physically, is not a possible subject of such empirical
propositions, and therefore in our age “God” (as any-
thing more than a word for our ideals) is no longer
a meaningful symbol. (4) For Rubenstein, the horrors
of the twentieth century, especially the murder of six
million Jews, make it impossible and immoral to be-
lieve that the covenant God, the God of Israel and
the benign Ruler of history, exists. To hold that he
willed this carnage is impossible—the Jews were not
that guilty; to believe on the other hand that he did
not will it is to make a mockery both of his rule in
history and of his interest in the Jews. Far better to
hold with Albert Camus that men suffer because exist-
ence and history are inherently absurd (i.e., godless)
than because they themselves are guilty. Whether or
not these various caveats should have had argumenta-
tive power in theology is perhaps a question; but that
they did in fact strike home with many clergymen,
laymen, and theologians is not to be doubted, and
indicates how widely shared was the secular mood
which they expressed.

These “radical” theologians have been raising the
question whether God can be intelligibly and mean-
ingfully conceived or spoken of by contemporary men,
and, while each wishes to retain his relation to his own
religious community, all feel that “no” is the only
honest answer to this basic theological question. If we
ask why theologians today are for the first time in
Judeo-Christian history raising this question and giving
this answer, we must reply that it is the secular spirit
permeating our culture—and so ourselves—that forces
this question on all of us, and that expresses itself in
each of the objections these radicals have uttered. This
“spirit,” which practically defines the most funda-
mental attitudes of our present culture, may be de-
scribed as follows: (1) only the contingent, temporal,
natural world of relative creatures is real; only finite
natural causes are effective; and only empirical propo-
sitions are indicative. (2) As a consequence, if contin-
gency is all there is, there is in the wider cosmic
environment of man neither an eternal order nor a
benevolent purpose: things are merely because they
are, and for no other reason or purpose. (3) Therefore,
the only grounds for hope and meaning in life lie in
human autonomy, in man's intelligence and moral will.
The suddenly current phrase, “God is dead,” means
in effect that the cosmos is blind and empty of mean-
ing; the complementary phrase, “Man is on his own,”
means that whatever meanings history is to manifest
must be created by man himself. Almost every major
form of modern philosophy—naturalism, positivism,
most ordinary language analysis, and existentialism—
reflects this disenchanted, critical, or “secular” view
of man's wider environment and this corresponding
belief in man's autonomy.

It is this cluster of views, permeating religious as
well as secular minds, that has challenged so pointedly
not only the traditional idea of God characteristic of
the seventeenth century, but also those reformulations
of that idea which, as we have traced, have appeared
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For in-
evitably in such a secularly apprehended world, talk
in the Catholic mode of a transcendent, changeless,
timeless, perfect Being, in the neo-orthodox mode of
a transcendent, active, yet hidden Ruler of history, or
in the process mode of an everlasting Orderer of things,
creative and then retentive of value, will seem problem-
atic and difficult at best, and empty and irrelevant
at worst. Speaking methodologically, as current forms
of philosophy show, such a mood has made meta-
physical speculation virtually impossible; metaphysics
“died” among the dominant philosophies of the West


over fifty years before the death of God was widely
reported in theology. Consequently the metaphysical
bases for the notion of God, championed by Thomist
and by process theologians alike, have largely evap-
orated. Correspondingly, to the secular minds of mod-
ern churchmen, faith as a response to scriptural revela-
tion cannot help but seem infinitely precarious and
subject to doubt; especially is this so if that “faith”
is related to none of the other empirical and secular
modes of thought characteristic of our daily life. Con-
sequently a neo-orthodox theology based alone on the
Word and on faith has seemed in the last decade unable
to provide a solid ground for the idea of God.

Theology since 1960 has, therefore, been in a state
of disruption about its own most basic possibilities.
Much like its sister, philosophy—who shortly before
had almost abdicated her ancient role of knowing
theology has been forced to wonder if it can do what
it had always supposed that it could do, namely, to
speak about God. As we have noted, this is a new and
much more radical question than the one debated
earlier, how we are to speak of God, through science,
philosophy, revelation, or faith. Consequently, none of
the schools trained in the early twentieth-century de-
bate seemed immediately able to deal with this new
question: Thomistic and organismic theologies had to
assume the possibility of metaphysics, and neo-
orthodoxy had to assume the presence of faith. If nei-
ther could be assumed, as seemed to be the case in
a secular age, then how was theology to begin, and
how were knowledge and certainty about God to be
reached? The number of theologians in the late 1960's
who have as a result of those questions found them-
selves forced basically to reexamine their views about
theology and about God, and even radically to change
both, is astounding.

The result is that contemporary theology, conscious
of the brooding presence of radical doubt both without
and within, presents a very fluid and confused picture
with regard to the idea of God, a picture in which
no clear constructive position has yet appeared. Clearly
the most confused group, and yet that with perhaps
the most creative possibilities, is the Roman Catholic.
In this same half decade Roman Catholic theologians
have had to deal with two severe crises, crises which
had appeared in Protestant history benevolently
stretched out over two hundred years. The first of these
is the challenge to the traditional structure of Catholic
theology. Begun, as we have noted, in the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries, this challenge has two as-
pects: on the formal side it questions the possibility
in the modern age of the absolute ecclesiastical and
scriptural authorities of classical theology; on the ma-
terial side it questions the intelligibility to the modern
mind of the transcendent, changeless, necessary, per-
fect Being of classical speculative theology. For some
twenty years, and especially since Vatican II, the
effects of this long-term and very profound onslaught
on traditional Catholic theology have been increasingly
felt. And consequently a great deal of present Roman
Catholic thought represents a radical movement away
from an authoritarian dogmatic theological stance and
from traditional Thomist categories, toward a modern,
existential, “internal” stance and toward Hegelian,
Heideggerian, Whiteheadian, even “biblical” categories:
Fathers Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeecx, Leslie
Dewart, and a host of others represent this basic attack
from the point of view of modern theology on the
traditional forms of Catholic theology. But back of this
argument, essentially one between the eighteenth and
the nineteenth centuries, hovers the newer twentieth-
century problem; namely, Can a modern secular man
speak of God at all—whether in traditional or in mod-
ern ways? Thus every present Roman Catholic theo-
logical construction is forced into two battles at once:
against conservative traditionalism on the one hand,
and against an even more potent atheism on the other.
If they are not aware of this dual necessity, and regard
the debate as merely a new form of that between the
ancients and the moderns, then their theological pro-
posals, while possibly creative with regard to clerical
aggiornamento, will probably fail to answer the most
important questions about God which Catholic youth
is raising.

Continental Protestant theology, continuing in much
diluted form the tradition of biblical neo-orthodoxy,
is, it seems, even more unaware than is Catholic theol-
ogy of its real situation. Although it has continued to
do excellent biblical and historical work, and although
it has undoubtedly produced creative reinterpretations
of Revelation as the Word-event resulting in faith (in
Heinrich Ott, Klaus Fuchs, and Gerhard Ebeling), of
Christology and the relation of salvation to history (in
Wolfhart Pannenberg), and of eschatology in relation
to revolutionary history (in Jürgen Moltmann), Conti-
nental theology has so far ignored the most basic
twentieth-century questions about the reality of God
and the possibility of meaningful talk about him. Rarely
is there discussion of the grounds either for our faith
in God or for any knowledge of him in terms of our
ordinary experience. Theological concentration con-
tinues to focus, as it has since Bultmann, on logically
subsidiary problems in theology, such as Revelation and
Scripture, Jesus and his relation to Christology, and the
meanings for us of biblical eschatology, and so it re-
mains exclusively confined within the circle of tradi-
tional biblical assumptions and questions.

In an age when at its most “religious” our culture


is asking if it makes any sense to speak at all of God,
these theologies proceed on the assumption that the
modern churchman already acknowledges a divine
Revelation, an inspired Scripture, and so possesses not
painful questions but a quite undoubting faith! In such
a situation, if theology cannot specify what sorts of
meanings all of this language has in relation to ordinary
experience—how, in other words, the divine dimension
itself, represented by the symbol God, fits into our
secular apprehension of existence—then theological
language, however “biblical,” about the divine Word,
about the Christ-event, and about God's eschatological
promises will remain empty and meaningless.

Probably because it has traditionally been much
more aware of the moods of its secular context, current
American theology presented in the 1960's the most
enigmatic and fluid picture of all. The secular acids
we have described have dissolved for many their cer-
tainty about the two starting points available for
speaking about God: Revelation and metaphysical
speculation. The result is that younger theologians have
been driven to the immediacy of pre-thematic experi-
ence itself in order to see there how and on what
grounds they can dare begin to use religious language.
In this search, which each carries on in his own way,
there are appearing a few common or shared interests.
One is a usage of both linguistic and phenomenological
philosophical tools for the exploration of ordinary ex-
perience, and the other is agreement that it is the
“sacred” or some such category which is the object
of this inquiry. Such an inquiry is not a traditional
natural theology in the sense that it seeks to provide
a philosophical proof of the reality of “God” as Chris-
tians know him; it is, however, a secular or neutral
prolegomenon to theology, essential insofar as it reveals
those contours or regions of ordinary experience to
which our religious language applies and in relation to
which theological words have meaning and relevance.

If it be in fact the case, that man, even in a secular
age, is a religious being, in essential relation to a di-
mension of ultimacy and sacrality in all that he is and
does, then a purely secular use of language, dependent
on an exhaustively secular understanding of man, and
a faith, however touching, solely in human autonomy,
will in the end break down. The sacred dimension
grounding all the aspects of ordinary life is what
Christians, in their own symbolic terms and because
of their own unique experiences in their historic com-
munity, term “God.” A secular culture has tended to
lose touch with these depths of its existence, and
consequently the idea of God has, as our survey has
shown, not only been radically refashioned, but has also
tended to dissolve into emptiness. Our culture can be
strengthened and refreshed if it learns again to make
contact with these grounds of its being, its order, and
its hope, and so to reappropriate in modern and rele-
vant forms the classic symbols of religious discourse,
of which the central, unifying symbol is that of God.


Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. G. W. F. Hegel,
Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, 3 vols. (New York,
1962; reprint, 1968). Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the
Limits of Reason Alone
(Chicago, 1934; new ed., New York,
1960). Albrecht B. Ritschl, Diechristliche Lehre von der
Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung,
3 vols. (Bonn, 1870-74), esp.
Vol. III, trans. H. R. Mackintosh and A. B. Macauley as
Critical History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification and
(Edinburgh and New York, 1872-1900).
F. Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured
trans. John Oman (London, 1893; New York, 1958).

Early Twentieth Century. Gustaf Aulen, Faith of the
Christian Church,
rev. ed. (Philadelphia, 1961). Karl Barth,
The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns
(London and New York, 1933). Emil Brunner, Dogmatics,
Vol. I, The Christian Doctrine of God (Philadelphia, 1950;
1962). Austin Farrer, Finite and Infinite, 2nd ed. (New York,
1959). Étienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience
(New York, 1937; also reprint). Charles Hartshorne, Man's
Vision of God and the Logic of Theism
(Hamden, Conn.,
1941). Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge, Vol.
II, 4th ed. (New York, 1959). Eric L. Mascall, He Who Is
(New York, 1943). Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Des-
tiny of Man,
Vols. I and II (New York, 1949; 1964). Paul
Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vols. I, II, and III (Chicago,
1951; 1967). A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality
(Cambridge and New York, 1929; New York, 1967).

Contemporary. Thomas J. Altizer, The Gospel of Christian
(Philadelphia, 1966). Leslie Dewart, The Future of
(New York, 1966). William Hamilton, The New Es-
sence of Christianity
(New York, 1961). Karl Rahner, Hearers
of the Word
(New York, 1969). Richard Rubenstein, After
(Indianapolis, 1966). Paul Van Buren, The Secular
Meaning of the Gospel
(New York, 1963).

General Surveys. Karl Barth, Protestant Thought: From
Rousseau to Ritschl
(New York, 1959). James Collins, God
in Modern Philosophy
(Chicago, 1959; also reprint). Peter
Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York,
1966). John Herman Randall, Jr., The Making of the Modern
rev. ed. (Boston, 1940).


[See also Agnosticism; Buddhism; Christianity; Deism;
Evil; Evolutionism; Existentialism; Faith; Hegelian...;
Holy; Positivism; Progress; Reformation; Sin and Salvation.]