Experience Theology

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One of the tendencies in modern Protestantism to affirm that the doctrines of the Christian faith are derived from an analysis of the subjective faith experience. It is clearly discernible in the thought of F. schleiermacher and may be traced to his attempt to wed rationalism and philosophical romanticism. To Schleiermacher's way of thinking, dogma was the rational expression of a certain religious sentiment (this latter being described as the feeling of total dependence on God). He attempted to avoid radically individualistic subjectivism, moreover, by observing that authentic religious sentiment includes the experience of Christian fellowship. Christian dogmas, then, will reflect what is common to all such experience. A quasi-tradition is thus established, which, however, Schleiermacher considered to be altogether secondary with reference to the experience.

In the school of Erlangen (K. von Hofmann and F. H. R. Frank) the emphasis is placed more on the genuine experience of rebirth, to which is attributed the objective renewal of faith. Even such thinkers as R. seeberg and A. ritschl show that they were influenced by these trains of thought, insofar as they make the experience of the awesome power of faith the occasion for the critical interpretation of dogmatic tradition.

The difficulty here, of course, is in discerning precisely how one's own experience is related to what is directly the object of faith. One aspect of this relation is certainly expressed in the term love-knowledge. Communion with God in love is assuredly a principle through which Christian doctrine is better understood; and when such communion is attributed to the Church, we have a factor of dogmatic development. The proponents of experience theology (Erfahrungstheologie ), however, seem to identify such communion with revelation; and such a position is scarcely tenable.

Bibliography: k. barth, Church Dogmatics, tr. g. t. thomson (New York 1955) 1.1:6.3. w. lohff, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freibrug 195765) 3:981982. f. e. schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, ed. h. r. mackintosh and j. s. stewart (Edinburgh 1928).

[m. b. schepers]

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Experience Theology

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