As we have seen from last week, in The God Who is There, Schaeffer has been discussing the line of despair. This is the point at which man has given up “hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.” (p. 23) This began in philosophy and worked its way through until it finally reached theology. Thus man turned to what is called existentialism in the search for meaning. Modern existentialism began with Kierkegaard but it was Karl Barth who open its door into theology. This new theology, as Schaeffer describes it, ” has given us hope of finding a unified field of knowledge. Hence, in contrast to biblical and Reformation theology, it is antitheology.” (p. 54)

In the second section, The Relationship of the New Theology to the Intellectual Climate, Schaeffer gives two examples of how the line of despair has impacted theology, thus creating the “new theology”. First, in regards to liberal German theology Schaeffer observes:

The old liberal theologians in Germany began by accepting the presuppositions of the uniformity of natural causes as a closed system. Thus they rejected everything miraculous and supernatural, including the supernatural in the life of Jesus Christ. Having done that, they still hoped to find an historical Jesus in a rational, objective, scholarly way by separating the supernatural aspect of Jesus’ life from the “true history.” (p. 52)

Those who have kept up with the historical Jesus Seminar can see where this came from and that it has not changed it its underlying assumptions.

Second, Schaeffer makes a telling observation in how the new theology uses words as they tried to apply the use of symbol from the field of science. Within the scientific field symbol has a well-defined meaning in order to bring further precision to the discussion and ones understanding. Schaeffer notes:

But the new theology uses the concept of symbol in exactly the opposite way. The only thing the theological and scientific uses have in common is the word symbol. To the new theology, the usefulness of a symbol is in direct proportion to its obscurity. There is connotation, as in the word god, but there is no definition. The secret of the strength of neo-orthodoxy is that these religious symbols with a connotation of personality given an illusion of meaning, and as a consequence it appears to be more optimistic than secular existentialism. One could not find a clearer examples of this than Tillich’s phrase “God behind God.”

At first acquaintance this concept gives the feeling of spirituality. “I do not ask for answers, I just believe.” This sounds spiritual, and it deceives many fine people. These are often young men and women who are content only to repeat the phrases of the intellectual or spiritual status quo. They have become rightly dissatisfied with a dull, dusty, introverted orthodoxy given only to pounding out the well-known cliches. The new theology sounds spiritual and vibrant, and they are trapped. But the price they pay for what seems to be spiritual high, for to operate in the upper story using undefined religious terms is to fail to know and function on the level of the whole man. The answer is not to ask these people to return to the poorness of the status quo, but to a living orthodoxy which is concerned with the whole man, including the rational and intellectual, in his relationship to God. (p. 60-61)

I think what Schaeffer has said here still has relevance for today. I am a thirty something and I can attest to the pull there is today towards abandoning historic Christian orthodoxy for avante garde theology. It is new for the sake of being new and not old. There are those within theological academia who are pushing for theological expressions that are edgy. Everyone has to say something new and everyone wants to be the next theological maverick. Orthodoxy has been given a black eye by this kind of theological thinking.

I am reminded of two passages from the New Testament that we would be wise to head:

I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)

Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard form me, in faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Tim. 1:13-14)