3 Neo-Orthodoxy


   Neo-Orthodoxy emerged in Europe following the horrors of World War I, as a rejection of the liberal theology that had dominated German Protestantism for decades. The movement did not accept the 19th-century idea that humanity was progressing toward an ever more positive Christian future on earth. It found support from people who viewed the movement as a return to Protestant essentials.
   The movement emerged in an intellectual climate dominated by the existentialism of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55) and the dialectical philosophy of G. W. F Hegel (1770-1831). For Kierkegaard, the simple straightforward statements of the Christian creeds or of typical theological works fell short of Christian truth, which was in fact not straightforward, but paradoxical. The believer holds apparently contradictory "truths" in tension. Hegel's dialectic saw truth emerging as opposites contended against each other to create a new synthesis.
   Neo-orthodoxy saw a variety of paradoxes in Christian faith - God as transcendent but self-disclosing, Christ as God and human; faith as both the gift of God but also the response of the individual. Reinhold Niebuhr is famous for presenting Christian love as the impossible possibility. In struggling with these seemingly contradictory affirmations, theological truth emerges.
   The Neo-Orthodox placed a new emphasis on the Bible and on the revealed Word of God, which takes on several meanings. The Word is primarily identified as Jesus, the Word made flesh. But the process of reading turns Scripture into the Word of God to the person reading the Bible, as God is encountered. The Word of God is also proclaimed in the witness of the church.
   The movement is usually dated to Swiss theologian Karl Barth's 1919 commentary on the Book of Romans. Within a few years, Barth found support from Emil Brunner, Friedrich Gogarten (1887-1968), and Eduard Thurneysen (18881977). Together they gave form to the new movement through the journal den Zeiten, founded in 1922. Their common ground was their affirmation of the transcendence of God (over against the liberal emphasis on God's imminence), the unique revelation in Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, and the sinfulness of mankind. Other exponents of Neo-Orthodoxy included C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) and Edwyn Hoskyns (1884-1937) in the United Kingdom; Gustaf Aulen (1879-1977) and Anders Nygren (1890-1978) in Sweden; H. Richard (1894-1962) and Reinhold Niebuhr in the United States; and Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Niemöeller in Germany.
   With the rise of Nazism, many of the NeoOrthodox became associated with the Confessing Church movement, and Barth was a major contributor to the Barmen Declaration (1934). The Nazis tried to stamp out the movement; Tillich and Barth were forced to flee, Bonhoeffer was executed, and Niemöller imprisoned.
   The movement peaked in the decades after World War II when it enjoyed a burst of support in North America, and through the Ecumenical movement was carried to church centers worldwide. In the United States, it provided a home for disillusioned liberals, and was very attractive to conservatives who thought that Fundamentalism had run its course - for example, it found an amiable reception at Fuller Theological Seminary, America's leading Evangelical school.
   Neo-Orthodoxy's prestige suffered somewhat when several of its supporters turned into the leading "Death of God" theologians of the 1960s. Within liberal Protestant circles, it has been partly replaced by various forms of liberation theology (many of which grew out of Neo-Orthodoxy). Within Evangelical circles, it has yielded place to theologians such as Cornelius van Til (1895 - 1987), who believed that Neo-Orthodoxy fell short of overcoming the problems of liberalism.
   Further reading:
   ■ Sydney E. Ahlstrom, ed., Theology in America: The Major Protestant Voices from Puritanism to Neo-Orthodoxy (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967)
   ■ Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. by Edwyn C. Hoskyns (New York: Oxford University Press, 1933)
   ■ Emil Brunner, Revelation and Reason, trans. Oliver Wyon (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1946)
   ■ William E. Hordern, The Case for a New Reformation Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959)
   ■ Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation (New York: Scribner, 1948)
   ■ Cornelius Van Til, The New Modernism: An Appraisal of the Theology of Barth and Brunner (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1947).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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