The following thought amused me the other day.
About seven or eight hundred years ago, something happened that disrupted theology as it formerly was: the Greek classics, and, particularly, Aristotle, took the universities by storm and suddenly there was a growing rift between the arts and theological faculties. Suddenly, theology lost its grip on explaining things as people trusted in human understanding over God's understanding. To heal the rift, someone needed to show that it was possible to bridge the worlds of reason and faith — to show, in fact, that they were not two separate worlds at all. Someone stepped up to the plate and did just that.
About a century ago, a similar problem occurred again. New and improved techniques of scholarship had lead people to further separate authority from theology, and particularly from Scripture. The Church had become a weak shadow of itself, wallowing in shaping God in man's image. More than just giving up its authority to explain the world, theology had conceded explaining itself entirely to human devices. To heal the rift, someone needed show that it was possible to bridge the worlds of reason and faith — to show, in fact, that they were not two separate worlds at all. Someone stepped up to the plate and did just that.
Of course, regular readers of asisaid will know I am talking about none other than the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Barth. Aquinas synthesized Aristotle to show that his highly rational, realistic framework for just about everything worked well with the teachings of the Church. Likewise, Barth showed that one could accept higher criticism and other tools that came out of nineteenth century theological liberalism and still accept the essential doctrines of the Church. In both cases, the effect was to show reason and faith are not disjuncts.
Aquinas's synthesis suffered its share of critics in the time immediately after its genesis, and I'd suggest we are currently seeing something very similar falling out with Barth. Some reject Barth's willingness to accept scholarly techniques, such as higher criticism, and others reject Barth's adherence to orthodoxy. Whatever the particular tiff, Neo-Orthodoxy, at least in the U.S., is relatively a weak force compared to its neighboring systems on either side of the theological spectrum.
The question for us in this twenty first century is what will become of theology? If Barth continues to follow the example of Aquinas, then this is the century that Neo-Orthodoxy will revitalize theology. Ed probably wouldn't pick the world “revitalize” for such an occurrence, but in the great theological revival of the twenty first century, he'll see the light. Perhaps soon we will be able to refer to the Swiss theologian by a nice, honorary title too (if only Protestants used such titles).