Friedrich Gogarten

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Friedrich Gogarten, the German theologian, was born in 1887 at Dortmund. After serving as a pastor in Thuringia, in 1927 he became professor of systematic theology at Jena and in 1935 moved to the corresponding chair at Göttingen. He was early associated with the new dialectical theology and its revolt against liberalism and idealism. Within this movement he stands nearer to Rudolf Bultmann than to Karl Barth, but he worked out a distinctive position of his own. His thought shows the influence of existentialist philosophy, but he claimed that it also continues the insights of Martin Luther, on whom Gogarten was a recognized authority.

Gogarten believed that Luther delivered Christian theology from the hold of metaphysics. This achievement was obscured in the period of Protestant orthodoxy following the Reformation, but it is now time to revive his insights, which can be restated in terms of current existentialist philosophy. According to Gogarten, the major Christian doctrines were formulated under the domination of metaphysical categories, in an age when history was understood as a process that takes place within a stationary metaphysical framework and when the course of history was supposed to be determined by metaphysical factors. Deliverance from metaphysics makes it possible to take history with a new seriousness. Man is responsible for history and creates it by his decisions. So far are we from having an obligation to interpret history in the light of metaphysics that we must rather view metaphysical systems themselves as products of history. Christianity is not dependent on any metaphysical system but is rather the summons to a historical self-understanding, in which we accept responsibility for our own historical existence under the word of God, which addresses us in Christ.

These emphases, which Gogarten relates as much to the sola fide of Luther as to modern existentialism, are developed into a secular interpretation of the Christian gospel. The Christian faith brings man to maturity and strips the world of every mythical or numinous property. The world is deprived of its religious power and is handed over to man as the son who has come of age, the heir to whom God has entrusted the creation. These views are related by Gogarten especially to the teaching of St. Paul in Galatians 4:111.

See also Barth, Karl; Bultmann, Rudolf; Idealism; Liberalism; Luther, Martin; Metaphysics, History of.


works by gogarten

Ich glaube an den dreieinigen Gott. Jena: E. Diederichs, 1926.

Illusionen, eine Auseinandersetzung mit dem Kulturidealismus. Jena: E. Diederichs, 1926.

Glaube und Wirklichkeit. Jena: E. Diederichs, 1928.

Politische Ethik. Jena: E. Diederichs, 1932.

Das Bekenntnis der Kirche. Jena: E. Diederichs, 1934.

Die Kirche in der Welt. Heidelberg: L. Schneider, 1948.

Die Verkündigung Jesus Christi. Heidelberg, 1948.

Verhängnis und Hoffnung der Neuzeit. Stuttgart, 1953.

Entmythologisierung und die Kirche. Stuttgart, 1953. Translated as Demythologizing and History. London: SCM Press, 1955.

Der Mensch zwischen Gott und Welt. Stuttgart, 1956.

Die Wirklichkeit des Glaubens. Stuttgart: F. Vorwerk, 1957. Translated by Carl Michalson and others as The Reality of Faith. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959.

Gogarten also edited various works of Luther and contributed extensively to Zwischen den Zeiten, the journal of the dialectical theology group.

works on gogarten

Siegfried, T. Die Theologie der Existenz bei Friedrich Gogarten und Rudolf Bultmann. Gotha, 1933. The most satisfactory critical exposition of Gogarten's thought.

John Macquarrie (1967)

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Theologian and defender of secularization; b. Jan. 13, 1887; d. Oct. 16, 1967. Gogarten was educated at the universities of Berlin, Jena, and Heidelberg in the typically liberal Protestant theology characteristic of German university faculties at the turn of the century. During his time as pastor in a small country parish in Thuringia, he steeped himself in the thought of Martin Luther and began to question the optimistic assumptions of liberal thought. In an intellectual shift similar to that of Karl Barth, Gogarten rejected the historicism of theologians such as Ernst Troeltsch which seemed to be based upon an individualistic understanding of man and an identification of the Word of God with human conscience. Instead, especially during his career at the University of Göttingen (193555), Gogarten insisted that Christianity is not found in a realm of ideals or universal truths but in a summons to historical self-understanding in which the believer accepts responsibility for his existence under the Word of God addressed to him in Christ. Thus human beings encounter God not in abstract categories but in a personal Thou-I relationship within the relativity of history and the gratuity of the divine initiative.

Gogarten departed somewhat from his earlier neoorthodoxy by supporting the demythologizing of Rudolf Bultmann. He affirmed the existentialist position that faith is not the affirmation of objective historical truths but the personal acknowledgment of the efficacy of God's present action within the believing community.

Gogarten later came to insist on the value of secularization. The Christian must avoid any divinization of the historical process and is thereby rendered free to assume a radical concern for the world in its meaning-filled yet less-than-ultimate significance.

Bibliography: f. gogarten, Demythologizing and History (New York 1955); Christ the Crisis (Richmond 1970); The Reality of Faith (Philadelphia 1959). l. shiner, The Secularization of History (Nashville 1966).

[t. m. mcfadden]