Bultmann on What Schleiermacher Got Right and Wrong
And yes, I’m reading Bultmann. Blame David.
Rudolf Bultmann, What Is Theology, Fortress Texts in Modern Theology (Roy A. Harrisville, trans.; Eberhard Jüngel and Klaus W. Müller, eds.; Minneapolis, MN; Fortress Press, 1997): 42.
Schleiermacher’s analysis of the feeling of absolute dependence is not simply false. He does, in fact, see that God is not “given” - neither a given of that type of world toward which I know I am so dependent that I oppose it in the feeling of freedom, nor a given within the feeling of freedom, in regard to which I may speak of the “deus in nobis”…
Schleiermacher sees that we can only speak of God when we speak of our existence, and that this is given us only in the question, that is, is not really given. Of course, he does not see that we come no further than the question about ourselves and God, no further than to a concept of God, but not to God. He does not see that he is not developing the Christian idea of God that speaks of God’s actions toward us, but merely developing the assumptions from which the meaning of the Incarnation as the encounter of God with our world can be theologically understood.
Contra Bultmann, I think it is arguable that Schleiermacher did in fact see this. But that is beside the point. The emphasis on speaking of God only in connection to our existence is a vital one, I think, and one that Barth makes very clear in his essay on God’s humanity. Separating the two leads to all sort of nasty theological mistakes, like the assertion that God acts ultimately for the sake of God’s own glory rather that out of the bounty of God’s love and ultimately for the sake of us sinners…just to name one. It is further interesting to reflect on how this mistake is one not infrequently made within contemporary evangelicalism. So whereas Barth's reflection on Schleiermacher points to certain ways in which contemporary evangelicals are looking increasingly like classic liberals, Bultmann's reflection turns Schleiermacher against them.