Saturday, October 11, 2014
Thankfully I did not invest much in the texts for those or other courses related to most of the 20th century theologians who are now mostly forgotten. Some of them left some impact but many of them have had their theology thoroughly discredited. Some of them were severely dated and their contributions to Christianity overall were hindered by their captivity to a particular time and perspective.
You don't hear much about Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, Yves Congar, Adolf von Harnack, Hans Küng, John Macquarrie, Jurgen Moltmann, John Murray, the Niebuhrs, Francis Schaeffer, Paul Tillich, Gerhard von Rad, Geerhardus Vos, etc. etc. etc.. Sure, their names come up in footnotes but they do not dominate discussions the way they did when I was in college. I think that is a good thing. Even Karl Barth does not have many adherents -- at least not in the way everyone was talking about him 40-50 years ago. In contrast, for example, there were not so many voices talking about C. S. Lewis and now everyone is talking about him.
My point is simply this. We are not always able to see clearly in the moment. Newness is hardly an ingredient in the staying power of theologians or their theologies. In fact, things come and go rather quickly on the stage of theologians. In contrast, there is great staying power among those whose works have stood the test of time and been judged worthy by those of many generations.
In the end, I think that this is the surprise of history -- who did we talk about incessantly at one point in time only to have forgotten a few generations later! In this particular age, confessional Lutheran theologians are experiencing a rebirth of interest and availability (especially in English). What we have found in my own small sphere of interest is that those who more faithfully received and passed on the faith to those who followed ended up growing in stature over time. In contrast, those whose theological enterprise was a disconnect with the folks before them ended up fading into the annals of history and our memories. It just goes to show you that faithfulness endures in more ways than one!