The dominant immanental character of nineteenth century theology
was directly related to the epistemological problem in modern thought,
which had reached a climax with Kant's bifurcation of knowledge into noumenal
and phenomenal elements and his consequent restriction of metaphysics.
The developmental philosophy of history, advanced by Lessing and Herder, and
the Romanticist individuality and wholeness of outlook, were further contributory influences upon the pattern of the theology of the period.
Schleiermacher's theology of experience embodied the Romanticist
outlook in making a state of feeling, orientated upon the universe, normative for religious truth. Having rejected metaphysics, he confined all
determinate knowledge of God and of His relation to the world, to a description of states of religious consciousness.
In German idealist philosophy, Romanticism found a variant expression
as an organon of reflective awareness. Hegel made God the final term of a
system of rational harmony in which the Idea triumphs over all antitheses
of experiential reality. His system could be characterized as a 'panentheism',
in which God is not simply identified with the world, but is made
the Absolute, under which the world is organically subsumed.
Baur used the Hegelian dialectic to remove the transcendent uniqueness
of Christian history, regarding the latter as the necessary evolution of the
Absolute. In Strauss, the same pattern of thought, coupled with a radical
Biblical criticism, reduced Gospel history to universal religious truth,
immanent to the religious consciousness. Biedermenn did not effectively
fulfill his aim of uniting the philosophy of the Absolute with an independent,
objective world of reality.
In British theology, Coleridge introduced an idealist impulse, in
terms of which an idea, or spiritual truth, was conceived to be more
important than Biblical history or the historic dogma. Toward the end of
the century, neo-Hegelianism developed a more absolute idealist system
which made God the end term of a process of development, a. view which
accorded well with contemporary, optimistic and evolutionary thought.
The historical positivism of Ritschl eliminated metaphysical or transcendental knowledge of God. Doctrinal knowledge concerning God was made
subject to the judgment of its worth for the individual. His method
promoted an approach to the study of religious history whereby universal
religious values were gleaned from the various historical manifestations
of religion. In the thought of Troeltsch, God is little more than a
principle of purposive development within the flow of historical process.
The present reaction to nineteenth century immanentism was prefigured
within that century itself, in Kierkegaard's rejection of a theory of
knowledge and his insistence upon the absolute disjunction between the
human and the Divine, a chasm which can be bridged only by the paradoxical
action of Divine grace and the leap of human faith. Martin Kahler challenged
syncretic historicism, in the centrality which he accorded to Christology
and in his belief that Biblical history is qualified by suprahistorical
factors distinguishing it from general history.
In these protests we have the essential elements of contemporary
revived transcendentalism, and Biblically-centred theology. We may
properly conclude that, in Biblical faith, a view of God's sovereign
holiness is found united with a belief in the immediacy of His presence
in revelation and providential action.