Schleiermacher’s Doctrine of Atonement: An Historical Introduction and Examination of Schleiermacher’s Sermon The Dying Savior Our Example

Friedrich Schleiermacher was a late 18th century and early 19th century theologian and philosopher. He was born into a Prussian household of Reformed pastors; his parents later became Moravians and sent their son to a Moravian Brethren school in Niesky on June 14, 1783. While there, he successfully studied Latin and Greek, later becoming a well-known translator of Plato’s writings into German.[1] He labored tirelessly in theological and philosophical literature throughout his life, attempting to make sense of his Christian faith. During his lifetime, Kant’s critical philosophy had wiped away any hope for traditional Enlightenment views of God and Christ, and atomically destructive work would later be carried out by the likes of David Strauss on the historical Jesus.[2] Adding to this critically poisonous atmosphere, Schleiermacher began his lifelong affair with Baruch Spinoza, flirting endlessly with his pantheistic philosophy (which later, understandably, had his critics wrongly accuse him of being a pantheist—err, practically an atheist).[3]

Two years later, he and ten other graduates left Niesky for Barnaby, a small community where the Moravians had their theological seminary.[4] While there, he read Goethe’s Werther and Wieland’s writings. His teachers also introduced him—from a polemical perspective—to Semler’s biblical criticism. It wasn’t long before the youthful Schleiermacher, along with his group of “independent thinkers,” had a falling out with the Moravians, resulting in his leaving to attend the liberal Halle University, where he would encounter the critical musings of Johann August Eberhard, a philosophy professor and disciple of Christian Wolff. He taught Schleiermacher Kant’s philosophical system, along with Kant’s “rational” religion—who, as many know, was probably committing the logical fallacy of false equal by making “religion” and “God” essentially identical to ethics.[5] Schleiermacher’s leaving of the Moravian seminary did not come without existential angst. His father, whom he loved dearly, argued passionately with his son, trying to convince him not to ever leave the faith. Schleiermacher’s father saw in his son “only pride, a defective love for Jesus, and a worldly longing,” as succinctly summarized in the words of Martin Redeker.[6] Despite his father’s wishes, Schleiermacher allowed doubt and despair to settle in; years later, he would recount “I have again become a Moravian, only of a higher order.”[7] His father would not live to hear his son say those words.

After two years at Halle, Schleiermacher stopped studying at Halle and instead retreated to Drossen (living with his uncle Samuel), where he began leisurely reading works in philosophy, despite the pleadings of his father to finish his theological education.[8] It is at this point in his life that Schleiermacher began thinking of religion along mostly ethical lines. He wanted a theory of virtue—something like Kantian ethics—to replace Christianity. What was important was how one lived—and Kantian ethics, surely, was in complete accord with Christian teaching. Schleiermacher found holes in Christian teaching about the afterlife too. He refused to accept that a hope for a hereafter as a motivating factor in an ethical theory was valid; doing good simply because Jesus told you that you will be rewarded in heaven brought what Redeker calls “a false eudaemonistic motive into Christian ethics.”[9] However, with his eyes inflamed from too much reading, Schleiermacher reluctantly agreed to complete his theology examinations in Berlin at the Directorate of the Reformed Church in the year 1790.

After becoming a tutor to the Count Dohna family, Schleiermacher’s spirit began a period of rejuvenation from youthful arrogance, rebellion, and disillusionment. It was here at Schlobitten that he, only within a mere two years, began preaching. He wrote his father on August 6, 1791: “Here my heart is properly nurtured…Here I enjoy the family life for which man is made and this warms my heart…You surely must thank God with me for his gracious providence and send me your blessings that I may widely profit by them.”[10] Here was a maturing theologian—a man who had come to terms with his God, his philosophy, and his religious past. One of his sermons in the year 1792 was an exercise in moral philosophy and theology, dealing with happiness and unhappiness as false definitions of a well-lived life. “The young preacher was filled with a vigorous sense for the moral ethos discovered in Kant’s concept of duty.”[11] At this point in his life, Schleiermacher believed that the telos of life was to become morally perfect, like God.

After completing his second theological examinations at Berlin in 1794, he became an assistant pastor in Landsberg. By 1796, he was appointed a pastor of the Charite Hospital in Berlin, a post he kept for six years, until the age of thirty-four.[12] After these years, he would begin writing some of his most well-known works, teaching classes first at Halle then at the University of Berlin (which he helped found), all along preaching sermons. Schleiermacher

“created the classic theological statement of liberal Protestantism in The Christian Faith and ushered in a new period of systematic theology by applying to theology the method of transcendental philosophy. He was an untiring academician and teacher, lecturing almost every morning from 7:00 to 10:00. Nearly every Sunday for forty years he devoted himself to the service of the Christian community as a preacher of the gospel.”[13]

This summarizes Schleiermacher’s life as a thinker. His life was essentially a reflection of a man thoroughly committed to preaching the Gospel and attempting to build bridges between those who despised religion and Christianity. He tried his best to make Christianity palatable to his hearers. With that being said, I would like to briefly examine Schleiermacher’s theology, later specifically focusing on his views of Christ and atonement.

Schleiermacher’s theology is somewhat difficult to explain for the uninitiated. Despite this fact, I will attempt clarity possibly at the expense of robust depth and accuracy. Schleiermacher obviously believed that God existed. God, for Schleiermacher, was that Being upon whom all life depends. The universe is absolutely dependent upon God. Redeker relates how Schleiermacher “referred to God as the ultimate power active not simply in a supernatural realm but permeating the whole of reality.”[14] God was, quite literally and biblically, “all in all” (see Ephesians 4:6). But could humans possibly know this God? Could they somehow come to know God by natural theology or by means of reason alone? Schleiermacher thought not. He did not think—and here he seemed to agree with Kant—that knowing God was possible. Schleiermacher viewed God, to use an anachronistic term over-used by Karl Barth, “wholly Other.” God was out there to our sinful, unredeemed minds. But in reality, God was omnipresent: He was everywhere. Space did not confine Him. Schleiermacher accepted “the basis of critical transcendental philosophy” in which “God cannot be the object of human knowledge, since human knowledge is bound to space and time and the categories of reason, i.e., the finite world.”[15] Here lies a most crucial point in understanding Schleiermacher’s theology: God is infinite and we are finite. Between the two lies a vast abyss of absolute nothingness. Our reason cannot cross over from the realm of the finite into the realm of the infinite. All we can do is hope to God that God does something. God, being infinite, cannot be understood by finite creatures. The reason being, for Schleiermacher, quite simple: God is not a part of the space-time continuum. God is infinite, thus time does not exist for Him, and neither does space. This also brings us to Schleiermacher’s next point: for God there are no subject-object distinctions. In the realm of the infinite “reality is not yet divided into subject and object.”[16] Human beings usually deal with past, present, and future—being bound by space-time—and objectification of the Other, being bound by subjectivity and the limitations of human reason. Essential to Schleiermacher’s theology, therefore, is the utter “non-objectifiability of God.”[17] The question then arises: how do we know God? Schleiermacher responds: we don’t. We never know God nor do we know anything about God. To talk about the “about-ness” of God is ridiculous; the moment we do this, we are immediately objectifying God, the infinite, and wrenching Him into the realm of space-time finitude. No, God is to be left alone. All Christians can do is participate in “God-consciousness,” which is strictly different than what we would call “consciousness about God.”

But then a miracle happens.

God decides, graciously (and please do note my use of “grace-filled” terminology), to instill in human beings a feeling. Note that this is not God instilling a particular logic or a particular form of reasoning; no, God instills in human beings a feeling. This is Schleiermacher’s most oft-cited phrase: “the feeling of absolute dependence.” In its entirety, Schleiermacher actually wrote in The Christian Faith: “The feeling of absolute dependence is in and of itself God’s co-presence in self-consciousness.”[18] But what did he mean by that phrase? Redeker sees, at the very least, two truths being conveyed here: (1) “God, as Creator, creates and preserves our human existence and instills in us the religious feeling of creatureliness”; and (2) “In this feeling of creatureliness we became certain that God vitally permeates the entire world.”[19] Our ability to feel dependent upon God arises from God Himself. We do not feel anything on our own at all. All humans can do is participate in “universal God-consciousness.” In some ways, for Schleiermacher, God-consciousness is to be understood as encompassing this “feeling of absolute dependence.” Without participating in God-consciousness, one cannot feel anything towards God. God exists and is conscious, and for us to be a part of that consciousness, we must participate in revealed God-consciousness. It is revealed because it comes only from God and to whom God chooses. And how do we come to participate in this so-called “God-consciousness”? Jesus Christ. Jesus is the embodiment of the fullness and perfection of God-consciousness here on earth. As “Jesus” is the answer to most Barthian questions, so is Jesus the answer to restoring our lost God-consciousness. And how did we lose God-consciousness?

Schleiermacher believed that the Fall marked a period in human history in which humans had damaged their God-consciousness. We started sinning. Sin was defined by him as being the “complete incapacity for the good.”[20] Once humans began sinning, they became less and less dependent upon God; their thinking and feelings became clouded by sin. They lost the ability to feel that feeling of absolute dependence. Moreover, in Schleiermacher’s theology, there was even room for original sin. Redeker succinctly defines original sin, as Schleiermacher saw it, as “the internal and timeless predisposition toward sin.”[21] Schleiermacher’s theology, which still accepted sin, did not sit well with many a Romantic. Sin was a nasty subject to be taught by primal man; it was not supposed to be peddled by such a cultured man as Schleiermacher. “His teachings of the need for redemption and the sinfulness of men contradicted the optimistic, moralistic self-regard of the Enlightenment as well as the prevailing philosophy of humanity.”[22] Precisely because of this belief (i.e., that men were ultimately sinful), Schleiermacher’s theology had room for a savior: enter Jesus Christ.

For Schleiermacher, Jesus was the embodiment of tangible God-consciousness. Jesus came to earth to help restore our God-consciousness. He did this by allowing us to participate in Him (in participating in Christ, Christians participate in God-consciousness). Once that occurs, three things happen: (1) The person is immediately aware of his or her state of sin; (2) The person becomes aware of the need for a savior and the need for grace; and (3) The person then responds by having the feeling of absolute dependence restored. Redemption occurs only by means of God’s grace and His revelation. His revelation of Himself is entirely gracious. Our response must be nothing but humble thankfulness.

To recapitulate: God, through Jesus Christ’s incarnation, allows human beings to witness God-consciousness in all of its glorious fullness, and, in response, humans participate in God-consciousness, becoming aware of their sinfulness, their need for redemption, and their dependence upon God.

Schleiermacher believed that both sin and grace were, in a sense, “created” by God. “[S]ince we never have a consciousness of grace without a consciousness of sin, God has ordained the reality of sin with and alongside grace,” comments Redeker.[23] This means that sin must only be seen in relation to grace. “God has ordained sin not in and for itself but only in relation to redemption.”[24] It may be better to think of the dichotomy between sin and grace as being separated by a wall which has a one-way street. That is, sin is contingent upon grace, but grace is not contingent upon sin. Humans have chosen sin—hence sin exists. Yet, grace could exist apart from sin, while sin could not exist apart from grace. Moreover, Schleiermacher added the qualification that sin was, at the end of time, to be completely annihilated into white hot nothingness. Sin will not prevail against God’s act of creation and redemption; at the end of time, when all is said and done, it will be God who reigns over all—not sin.[25] Finally, it would be good to note that Schleiermacher, because of this view that God ultimately wins (even with all the nasty warts of sin), refrained from talking much about God’s wrath. Redeker cites Schleiermacher as saying, rather dryly: “Nothing need be taught concerning the wrath of God.”[26] Such a statement makes sense only in light of a Schleiermacher’s belief that sin is only a temporary stage in human development. It is all transitory. If God, being a loving God, sees human beings, running around like chickens with their heads chopped off and sinning, He would not speak of wrath. He would mostly speak of perfection. God understands that humans are merely, to use Kierkegaard’s and Heidegger’s word, in a state of “becoming.” We are not perfect. We do not have our God-consciousness fully restored yet. Only in Jesus do we see a fully operational God-consciousness. In participating in Christ, we, as Christians, are merely “becoming” like Christ. Given this reality, sin should be viewed as (a) evil and (b) temporary. This would further suggest that wrath is, in some ways, probably unnecessary. God will conquer sin whether sin likes it or not. God will turn sin into nothingness. Becoming perfect presupposes that nasty and brutal fact that one is not perfect…yet. Given this, Schleiermacher can, when viewing history from a holistic perspective, in which sin is merely a bleep on God’s radar, do away with wrath and spend time lecturing his students and parishioners on imitating Christ.

However, Schleiermacher’s theology did demand a savior, for, as Redeker notes, “where God-consciousness has not been restored through redemption, the destructive consequences of sin continue.”[27] Schleiermacher ultimately believed that Jesus had come to leave behind a legacy, a legacy we should all imitate. The world-renowned historian Diarmaid MacCulloch summarizes Schleiermacher’s theology in the following manner: “The unique gift of Christianity was the person of Jesus, who revealed his own divinity by representing the most perfect consciousness of God that there could be.”[28] Jesus was ultimately sent to have followers. Followers after God’s own consciousness. Schleiermacher, then, viewed Jesus’ death not as substitutionary but as exemplary. But not—as some interpreters wrongly assume—only exemplary. Schleiermacher criticized those who viewed Jesus’ death as merely exemplary. The feminist theologian Mary J. Streufert points this out succinctly. “Schleiermacher’s criticism of exemplary christology [was the following:] if Jesus is divine because he does good earthly activity, are those who do good among us divine?”[29] For Schleiermacher, then, salvation-redemption was a process that was ongoing; it was not something to be identified with a singular event which occurred in the past—like sacrificial appeasement. “[R]edemption is a present process and is no longer located in a single act of sacrifice in the past.”[30] Because of this, some theologians are right in noting how Schleiermacher’s view of atonement and salvation has more in common with Paul than with, say, the author of Hebrews. He understands redemption as being “mystical” and sees it “as a union with Christ through the redeemer’s ‘influence’ (Wirkung).”[31] Hence, while Schleiermacher certainly has more affinity with a “moral influence theory of atonement,” it is also just as certainly wrong to see him as endorsing only an “exemplary” view of atonement.

Given the aforementioned views regarding Jesus, Schleiermacher could certainly point to Jesus as being a life we should model—without getting rid of the need for a real savior. Jesus lived a life in which because he was God, he was humble. And yet, as one of the earliest Christian hymns so beautifully states, “he emptied himself, taking the ‘form’ of a slave…” (Philippians 2:7, my trans.). Paul also admonishes his readers to “have the same mindset as Jesus Christ” (v. 5). If Paul could ask his hearers to imitate Christ, surely Schleiermacher was orthodox in doing so likewise. In my own words, I would say that, for Schleiermacher, Christians who accepted Jesus, along with his God-consciousness and ethical system, accepted God-conscious ethics. Hence, it followed that they, too, should live a life worthy of their savior’s. With that being said, I now turn my attention to Schleiermacher’s sermon.

The Dying Savior Our Example was preached in the presence of the King possibly sometime in 1799. In this sermon, Schleiermacher set out to do three things. “I desire, then, that in dying we may all have, in the first place, the same sorrow over unaccomplished deeds; secondly, the same calmness under the unjust judgments of the world; and thirdly, that we may be in the same way surrounded by tender and faithful friends.”[32] As strange as it sounds, Schleiermacher took Christ’s death—an event few Christians today look to for ethical recommendations, to say the least—and placed it on display before his congregants eyes. It is as if Schleiermacher had said, “Look! Here is Jesus Christ on the Cross before you. Imitate Him even in His death!” But what did Schleiermacher mean by imitation? I think he meant it literally. “[W]e all set before us His life even to death as the pattern which we seek to follow; yes, His life even to death, not even excluding the last experiences of His holy soul.”[33] Schleiermacher could not help but see Christ’s life as a model for our own. “[L]et us learn to die in seeing Christ die! It is no small thing that I expect from you in calling on you to do this; for it is with the death of the Saviour as it was with His life; let him who seeks only happiness and joy shun likeness to Him.”[34] Schleiermacher even had time to sneak in a little bit of his anti-utilitarianism—“let him who seeks only happiness…shun likeness to Him.” For Schleiermacher, Kantian ethics were still better tasting than utilitarian ethics, though in his later life he focused on a final telos in which ethics, being goal-oriented, arrives at a summum bonum (“the highest good,” to be identified with participating in God-consciousness by becoming like Jesus).[35]

After clearly stating his thesis and his beliefs about following Christ’s pattern of life, Schleiermacher returns to his first claim (i.e., having sorrow over unaccomplished deeds). This claim, Schleiermacher holds, is grounded most poignantly in Christ’s almost final cry-out: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” In these words, Schleiermacher saw the God-man sorrowful not over God’s inability to bring about His Kingdom and His Glory; rather, Schleiermacher sees these words as reflecting Christ’s sorrow over his failure to accomplish the work which he set out to do. Christ died young. And that sucked. “He loved His duty with His whole heart; the thought of the great work to which He had devoted His life still filled His soul. And when He reflected how far that work still was from completion…[He began experiencing sorrow].”[36] Christ died of a broken heart. Schleiermacher, instead of talking about blood and guts, as most modern theologians and preachers would, immediately begins discussing practical matters, such as ethics.

Are you servants of the State, administrators of public regulations; may you grieve that you cannot still reform abuses and introduce improvements! Are you independent and wealthy; may you grieve that you cannot set agoing one more benevolent institution, or do this thing and that for the unfortunate whom you protect! Are you scholars and philosophers; may you be reluctant to interrupt an instructive presentation of your thoughts, or to turn away from a new field of human knowledge! Are you artists and workmen; may it grieve you that you are not to bestow on one more piece of work at least the new perfection that you have planned or practised![37]

Schleiermacher took one of Jesus’ final cries and turned it into an ethical imperative: Go and do likewise.

Schleiermacher’s second point need not much commentary. He wishes for his congregants to leave the world in a state of calmness. “It is therefore with good reason that I wish for us all in this event the Saviour’s calmness and equanimity; for it is the result of the most mature wisdom and the most genuine piety.”[38] He recognizes that Christians will be persecuted. And, despite this, he asks them to suffer with joy.

Schleiermacher’s third and final point is, perhaps, his most brilliant, original, and ecclesiological: Be surrounded by friends, for friendship is the greatest gift one can give and receive. For Schleiermacher, friendship was axiomatic both for his life and theology. In fact, he even seen the Church as nothing less than a great gathering of friends. “We could all desire to die surrounded, as the Saviour was, with loving and suffering friends.”[39] For Schleiermacher, the imperative to have friends became an absolute demand, and rightly so.

“[T]his love and faithfulness, enduring even to death, were the best testimony that He, with His loving heart, had enjoyed in His whole sphere of work the highest happiness of life. And it is for such reasons that I wish for ourselves, above all things, to die in such company; nay, as much as lies with ourselves, I demand it of every one.”[40]

The “highest happiness” was dying surrounded by friends. Schleiermacher’s love for human friendship is soberly summarized in his comment on the loss of a friend: “It is true, a friend whom you have lost will never be replaced.”[41] Outside of friendship, to mimic Paul’s language on love in 1 Corinthians 13, lies nothing but a “resounding gong or clanging cymbal.” Hold on to friends, says Schleiermacher, for you never know the day of your death. “Even in happy youth does not the feeling of the transitory nature of all earthly things arise? Are we not often involuntarily seized by the thought that each joy may be the last [?]”[42] Indeed, this may be our very last joy shared together: the joy of friendship. And, finally, in his most sentimental moments, Schleiermacher concludes his sermon by returning to the reality of congregants inhabiting church pews.

“And what should be the nursery of sincere and faithful friends, if not the Church of Christ, the association of men with whom unselfishness and benevolence, sympathy and helpful love are natural sentiments, among whom every kind of wisdom and perfection ought to exist and to be ready for the service of each?”[43]

Can Schleiermacher teach us something about sermons, churches, and Jesus? Most certainly! As I’ve already pointed out, Schleiermacher’s concerns about friendship within the body of Christ (formally known as “the Church”) are as relevant today as they were over two-hundred and sixteen years ago. The modern experience of “church” in America on any given Sunday is about as detached as one can get. The point of many modern churches is precisely detachment. If we had the will to experience friendship in church, we wouldn’t be so desperately seeking to be lost in the non-existent Kierkegaardian “crowd.” As Kierkegaard so cogently reminds us: “In eternity you will look in vain for the crowd. You will listen in vain to find whether you cannot hear where the noise and the gathering is, so that you may run to it. In eternity you, too, will be forsaken by the crowd.”[44] We run into the crowd to avoid responsibilities. We seek crowds in order to be hidden. Like modern terrorists who wrap their bodies in dynamite sticks, large coats, and hoodies, we run into the safety of the crowd so that our true identities—along with all of our sins and insecurities—may remain forever hidden. And so the world never knows us. Schleiermacher knew all too well the nothingness of “the crowd” (even a “church crowd”). He wrote:

“Today the sermon is the only means of having a personal impact on the common outlook of a large number of people. In reality its effect is not great for it does not achieve much. But if one takes up and deals with the matter as it should be—not just as it is—and if there should be only two or three who really listen, even then the result may still be beautiful.”[45]

Schleiermacher was acutely aware of the fact that crowds cannot be taught, neither do they listen. Only individuals—two or three at best—are taught. To allow ourselves, as the body of Christ, to disappear in the nauseating dizziness of the crowd, would be equivalent to denying Jesus the one thing that he demanded of his followers: “Love one another.” But how can we love if we don’t even know who you are?[46]

Schleiermacher’s own theory of atonement, which could easily—with noted qualifications—be identified under one of the subsets of a “moral influence theory of atonement,” reflects not only the reality of the categorical imperatives which are embodied in Jesus Christ but also the reality of the Church. Richard Niebuhr coined the phrase “Christo-morphism”[47] in order to explain the general thrust of Schleiermacher’s theology. That is, the point of Schleiermacher’s theology was to get people to morph into being Christ-like. (This term can just as easily be applied to his own, unique theory of atonement.) Christ was in the business of “person-forming” work.[48] The Church, which should also be a reflection of this calling, needs to continue creating new persons in the image of Christ. That is the point of Christian theology. It is the very reason why a Church even exists. If Christo-morphism is not going on in churches, if person-forming work is not being carried out, we have not only failed Jesus, we have also failed to heed the voice of one of the most important theologians of the 18th and 19th centuries: Schleiermacher.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

Dedicated to Karen Petersen Finch (of Whitworth University) – for being a good theologian and scholar.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Kierkegaard, Søren. Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Translated by Douglas V. Steere. New York: HarperOne, 1956.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2010.

Niebuhr, Richard R. Schleiermacher On Christ and Religion: A New Introduction. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964.

Redeker, Martin. Schleiermacher: Life and Thought. Translated by John Walhausser. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher. Translated by Mary F. Wilson. 1886. Reprint, Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004.

Streufert, Mary J. “Reclaiming Schleiermacher for Twenty-First Century Atonement Theory: The Human and the Divine in Feminist Christology.” Feminist Theology 15/1 (2006): 98-120.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Martin Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, trans. John Walhausser (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 9.

[2] Schleiermacher accepted the fact that the Bible was corrupted (to some degree) and that myth was present in it. Niebuhr, reflecting the scholarly consensus in a post-Enlightenment era, correctly summarizes what Schleiermacher (and those following him) certainly felt (and feel); namely, “No one today will contest the presence of myth in the New Testament” (Richard R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher On Christ and Religion: A New Introduction [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964], 223, n. 17.

[3] An affair that would not begin until he had become an assistant pastor at Landsberg in 1794. When Schleiermacher was appointed a professor of theology at Halle University in 1804, Eberhard, his childhood philosophy professor, would remark: “It has not come to the point that an open atheist has been called to Halle as a theologian and preacher” (cited in Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, 77). To call this infantile caricaturing would be an understatement. It is no wonder that Schleiermacher’s personal friends were forced to come to his defense. Henriette Herz, for example, would come out arguing for his orthodoxy: “Schleiermacher is far removed from rationalism and genuinely believes in God and the Savior…He does not adhere to the letter, not to the dead word—he believes rather in the living spirit” (Ibid., 28-29).

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Ibid., 15.

[6] Ibid., 14.

[7] Ibid., 9.

[8] Ibid., 16.

[9] Ibid., 17.

[10] Ibid., 19-20.

[11] Ibid., 21.

[12] Ibid., 25.

[13] Ibid., 5.

[14] Ibid., 39. Perhaps it is this particular belief of Schleiermacher’s which is responsible for his being called a “pantheist” and, later, an “atheist.”

[15] Ibid., 38.

[16] Ibid., 39.

[17] Ibid., 120-21.

[18] Cited in Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, 42.

[19] Ibid., 123.

[20] Cited in Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, 125.

[21] Ibid., 125.

[22] Ibid., 125.

[23] Ibid., 127.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 128.

[26] Ibid., 130.

[27] Ibid., 126.

[28] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Viking, 2010), 832.

[29] Mary J. Streufert, “Reclaiming Schleiermacher for Twenty-First Century Atonement Theory: The Human and the Divine in Feminist Christology,” Feminist Theology 15/1 (2006): 116.

[30] Ibid., 102.

[31] Ibid., 105.

[32] Friedrich Schleiermacher, “The Dying Savior Our Example,” in Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher, trans. Mary F. Wilson (1886; reprint, Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 54.

[33] Ibid., 53.

[34] Ibid.

[35] For a discussion of this see Richard R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher On Christ and Religion: A New Introduction, 93-97. He writes that Schleiermacher “rejected the Kantian-Fichtean accent on duty as the principal phenomenon of the moral life and of our sense of humanity and instead organized his own ethical reflections around the idea of the highest good” (pp. 93-94). Moreover, Niebuhr believes that “Schleiermacher chose to identify the highest good with the content of ethical activity and to deny that reason can entertain a pure, a priori idea of it” (p. 94). Though Niebuhr does not explicitly state this, Schleiermacher seems to have understood the highest good to be identified with God-consciousness which permeated the whole of reality. Since Jesus embodied that consciousness, it is safe to say that, for Schleiermacher, a life patterned on Jesus’ own would reflect, at the very least, the highest good.

[36] Ibid., 55.

[37] Ibid., 55-6.

[38] Ibid., 60.

[39] Ibid., 61.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., 63.

[42] Ibid., 64.

[43] Ibid., 65.

[44] Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, trans. Douglas V. Steere (New York: HarperOne, 1956), 191.

[45] Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, 73.

[46] It may be good here to point out that Schleiermacher believed in a world where the I stood in relation to the Thou (and was, in some ways, dependent upon it). This implied that human beings must be social creatures. A church should exist made up of Is and Thous. “We may also recall at this point Schleiermacher’s observation in his psychology of the fact that the consciousness of being an “I” always presupposes a “thou,” since memory cannot reach back to the absolute origins of the individual; and, therefore, beyond the point at which memory falters, the individual is dependent on the descriptions of himself furnished by others” (Richard R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher On Christ and Religion: A New Introduction, 239). Given this reality, a “you” cannot exist in isolation (read: hidden) from the view of others. This further implies the fact that, at least for Schleiermacher, the Church could not exist as a detached community.

[47] Ibid., 215. Niebuhr also notes—in relation to our discussion regarding Schleiermacher’s theory of atonement—how “Schleiermacher speaks of Christ as the exemplar (Vorbild) of perfected human nature” (p. 218, italics original).

[48] Ibid., 214.

2 thoughts on “Schleiermacher’s Doctrine of Atonement: An Historical Introduction and Examination of Schleiermacher’s Sermon The Dying Savior Our Example

  1. Deeply moving. A learning experience that expands the mind and warms the heart. Thank you for this sermon that does justice to a great thinker and a great soul. Praise God and Christ and friendship.

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