{20}     Protestant & Catholic theologies

ERA 6 << Modern Church (2): Revival & Missions (AD 1700-1900) >> SESSION 3

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 28-29

        20.1.1  Challenges to the accuracy of the Bible

·         Darwinism: Darwin’s theory of evolution contradicted the creation story in the Bible. The existence of a God is no longer needed to explain the universe. The theory led to the foundation of secularism and atheism.

·         Protestant liberalism: Liberalism implied freedom to think as one saw fit. It was an attempt to express Christianity in the mold of secularist ideas. It influenced Christian education in the church and seminaries.

·         Higher criticism of the Bible: The historical and critical studies raised doubts about the historical authenticity of the Bible. It tried to destroy the supernatural nature of the Bible so it is destructive in nature. It stressed that the Bible was written by ordinary human authors. In contrast, textual criticism (lower criticism) tries to determine the original text of the Biblical writers by comparing various copies and is constructive.

        20.1.2  Fundamentalist reaction

·         Evangelical Alliance [1846]—It was formed to oppose liberalism which denied orthodox faith. There are 5 “fundamentals”: [1] the inerrancy of Scripture, [2] the divinity of Jesus, [3] the virgin birth, [4] Jesus’ death on the cross as a substitute for our sin, [5] Jesus’ physical resurrection and impending return.

·         The Fundamentals [1909–1915]—This was a 4-volume set of books published to defend orthodox Biblical beliefs. This was the beginning of fundamentalism. The word “fundamentalism” has been corrupted by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran; today, conservative orthodox Christians use the term “evangelicalism”.

        20.1.3  Social & intellectual challenges

·         Karl Marx (1818–1883)—founder of communism—He believed that religion is used to support the powerful; it is judged to be “the opiate of the people.” God, the Bible, or absolute standards had no place in his system.

·         Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)—He believed that human psyche is moved by factors in subconscious. His theory led to questions about how our mind functions in accepting religious beliefs.

        20.2.1  New Protestant denominations

·         Salvation Army [1865]—Methodist preacher William Booth (1829–1912) and his wife Catherine Munford (1829–1890) started relief work among the poor, providing food, shelter, and work.

·         Pentecostalism—This came from holiness churches where the worship was marked by the outpouring of the spiritual gifts—speaking in tongues, miracles of healing, and prophetic utterances. This appeared in the 3-year revival meeting in Los Angeles [1906–1909]. It led to the founding of the Assemblies of God [1914].

        20.2.2  Social Gospel

·         Optimism: Like other Christian liberals, proponents of the Social Gospel were optimistic about human capabilities and the progress of society. They discounted the importance of personal salvation and emphasized the salvation of the society through resolving social evils so social work was the primary activity of churches.

        20.2.3  Appearance of Cults

·         Characteristics: Cults claimed to have final or absolute answers to the problems of health, sorrow, popularity, and success. They offered an authority that the hungry soul cannot find in liberal Protestant churches. They were often deceptive, exclusive, and negative toward culture.

·         Mormonism [1830]: They hold many heretical teachings: denial of divinity of Jesus, denial of Trinity (3 Gods), creation by a council of gods, Satan as a spiritual brother of Jesus, universalism.

·         Jehovah’s Witnesses [1879]: They reject the divinity of Jesus (same as ancient Arianism) and the doctrine of Trinity. They publish the Watch Tower magazine [1879]. They evangelize by visiting homes.

·         Christian Science [1879]: They hold that the material world is either imaginary or of secondary importance; that the purpose of human life is to live in harmony with the Universal Spirit.

        20.2.4  Relationship between faith & reason

·         Seeking ultimate reality: Kant’s work put an end to the simplistic rationalism. If the structures of thought are in the mind, and may not correspond to reality, how do we know ultimate realities? There are 3 possible ways: [1] to seek a religion outside reason (Schleiermacher), [2] to affirm that reason is reality itself (Hegel), [3] to accept that only faith, not reason, can penetrate ultimate truth (Kierkegaard).

·         Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834)—father of liberalism, theology of feeling, German

o        On feeling of dependence: He shows that religion is not a sentimental feeling, nor a passing emotion or sudden experience, but is rather the profound awareness of the existence of the One on whom all existence depends. The function of theology is to explore and expound the feeling of absolute dependence. Jesus Christ did not come to atone for sin but came to be our teacher, to set an example and to arouse in us the consciousness of God.

·         Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831)—father of dialectical idealism, German

o        Reason is reality: He declared that reason is not something that exists in our minds in order to understand reality. Reason is reality, the only reality. He believed that Christianity was the “absolute religion”—summing up the entire human religious development. The central theme of religion is the relationship between God and man. That relationship reaches its apex in incarnation, in which the divine and the human are fully united.

·         Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)—father of existentialism, Dane

o        Leap of faith: Kant’s “pure reason” can neither prove or disprove the existence of God; but faith knows God directly. Faith is always a personal decision, a risk, an adventure that requires the denial of oneself and of all the joys of the faithless—the leap of faith into the dark. Kierkegaard’s ideas, if taken too far, will lead to errors.

        20.2.5  Christianity & history

·         Investigating the Bible: The interest in the history of the Biblical times led to long and scholarly discussions on the date and authorship of each book of the Bible. This brought better understanding of the Bible and its times. But the method of historical criticism also presumed there are errors in the Bible.

        20.3.1  Relationship with France

·         Protestantism vs Catholicism: While Protestants confronted theological challenges directly and tried to reinterpret their faith, Catholic authorities rejected modern ideas. While many Protestant theologians fell into the trap of liberalism, Catholic theologians fell into the opposite extreme of advocating papal infallibility.

·         End of Papal States: Since 1848, the pope was protected by France. When the French army was pulled from Rome [1870], the army of the united Italy took the Papal States, ending the political power of the papacy.

        20.3.2  Pius IX [1846–1878]

·         Road to supreme power: His pontificate was characterized by expansion of religious authority, also by the loss of political power. He proclaimed the dogma of Immaculate Conception of Mary [1854]. This was the first time ever that a pope defined a dogma on his own, without the support of a council.

        20.3.3  Papal infallibility

·         Dogma: In 1870, the Council of Vatican I [1869–1870] promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility: “…the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians,…he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church,…is possessed of that divine infallibility.” The dogma gave the pope the power to overrule the whole church, to overrule the Bible, or to interpret the Bible in whatever way he chooses. One must accept this dogma in order to be saved.


[1] treasure our heritage

The 5 fundamentals are still held by today’s evangelicals.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

Cultural challenges from outside and the rise of heresies and cults from inside have not succeeded in suppressing orthodoxy.

[3] avoid past errors

Pius IX pushed for papal infallibility after the dogma of immaculate conception. Errors must be cut down at its budding stage.

[4] apply our knowledge

We need to watch out for dominant characteristics in past cults.

[5] follow past saints

Christians should model after the Salvation Army in looking after the poor and the weak, yet avoid the excesses of the Social Gospel.