A loose term used to designate certain forms of twentieth-century Protestant theology which have sought to recover the distinctive insights and themes of the Reformation. The latter are seen as relevant to our modern predicament and as an essential part of the church's witness. Nevertheless, they require some restatement in the light of modern knowledge. The term is generally used by those who would not identify themselves with such a theology, either because it seems to deviate too much from the orthodoxy of the Reformation theologians and the classical Protestant confessions of faith, or because it is too narrowly orthodox.
The term indicates a reaction against the liberalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with its reduction of Christian faith to general human and religious truths and moral values, and its relativization of Christianity through historical criticism and theories of the history of religions. By contrast, Neoorthodoxy represents an attempt to recover biblical perspectives. Stress is laid (in varying degrees) on the transcendence of God, man's responsibility as a creature, sin and guilt, the uniqueness of Christ as mediator of revelation and grace, and personal encounter with God in revelation.
These themes were sounded by the
A Catholic theologian described Barth's work as a bomb falling on the happy playground of the theologians. The liberal historian Harnack* regarded Barth's teaching as unscientific theology. Nevertheless, Barth found himself at the head of a theological revival in Europe. He soon, however, modified his position and eventually abandoned Dialectical Theology. He spoke of the Kantian-Platonic crust which had encased his teaching. After various revisions, he felt his views of the 1920s were still too much influenced by Kierkegaard* and existentialism.* His stress on the difference between God and man was replaced by a doctrine of analogy, albeit one that could only be known by faith through revelation. At the same time Barth continued to distinguish his view of revelation from that of Protestant orthodoxy. He felt that the latter stressed revealed truth and the verbal inspiration of Scripture, whereas he wished to stress that revelation is essentially God revealing Himself in Christ, even though this is human only through the witness of the biblical writers. In his later teaching, especially in the Church Dogmatics, Barth paid particular attention to the exegesis of Scripture and the great theologians of the church.
The teaching of Emil Brunner* tended in a similar direction, though their latent differences came into the open through their dispute over natural theology in 1934. Brunner accused Barth of going too far in denying that man had no knowledge of God apart from that mediated by Christ. He urged that man must have some knowledge which would serve as a ready-made point of contact for the Gospel. He saw grounds for this in the image of God in man and man's awareness of such divine institutions as the state and marriage. Brunner pleaded for a new, reformed natural theology, but his case remained unconvincing in view of the concessions he was willing to make to Barth. Brunner's teaching on revelation focused on the element of divine, personal encounter and attacked even more strongly than Barth the concept of objective, revealed truth.
Also associated with Dialectical Theology were
E. Brunner, The Theology of Crisis (1929); J. Baillie, Our Knowledge of God (1939); H. Bouillard,