The Twentieth Century and Beyond

Most of the issues affecting theology and modernity that had been raised since the seventeenth century continued to challenge thinkers in the twentieth century. Since those developments are treated in detail elsewhere in this volume, all that remains for us is to indicate in a few broad strokes the range of alternatives and to diagnose our situation as a new century unfolds.

The opening years of the twentieth century appear in retrospect as a kind of coda to the nineteenth, the calm before the storm that was about to break over Europe. Protestant Liberal Theology was in the ascendancy, led by Albrecht Ritchl (1822-89), Wilhelm Herrmann (1846-1922), and Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), whose 1900 Berlin lectures on the "Essence of Christianity"6 epitomized the movement. They also drew the fire of Alfred Loisy (1857-1940), leader of the Catholic Modernists, whose attempt to break down the walls of the Fortress Mentality in Rome was quashed by papal condemnations in 1907.

The mood changed, and with it theology, after the First World War (1914-18). The Dialectical Theology of Karl Barth and his associates, inspired by Kierkegaard among others, attacked the "culture Protestantism" of Harnack and the Liberals and began a new era in Protestant theology. Over the next two decades, controversies between Barth and Bultmann, then Barth and Emil Brunner, brought the unity of the original group to an end and sowed the seeds of the various theological options that were to dominate theology in the coming decades. Bultmann and Paul Tillich (1886-1965), each in his own way, appropriated existentialist philosophy in order to bridge the gap between Christian faith and modernity. The most important work of Protestant theology in the twentieth century, Barth's monumental Church Dogmatics, began to appear in the early 1930s, just as a second great crisis overwhelmed the nations of Europe and eventually much of the world. One could argue that the great challenge of modernity was posed in the twentieth century not by new philosophies or even by science but rather by Adolf

Hitler and the Holocaust. Most of the theologians who set the course of theology in the first half of the century were affected, often in fundamental ways, by the encounter with National Socialism and the crisis it represented for theology.

The latter half of the twentieth century is more difficult to characterize (perhaps for lack of sufficient hindsight), but the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) was surely the defining event for Roman Catholic theology, as the Fortress Mentality of the Tridentine Church gave way to the aggiornamento of Pope John XXIII. The council also helped to launch the ecumenical movement, which has deeply affected Christian theology of all types. At about the same time a different theological response to modernity appeared in the various politically focused theological movements from the 1960s onward: Liberation Theology, first in Latin America and later elsewhere; Black Theology; and Feminist Theologies of several kinds.

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