Schleiermacher on the dispensability of the cross and resurrectoin

In The Christian Faith, Schleiermacher argues that, contrary to appearances, the cross and resurrection of Jesus aren’t actually essential to Christianity. His reasoning for this surprising conclusion is consistent with his overall method, but for that reason highlights some of the concerns that Christians of a more orthodox bent might have with it.

For Schleiermacher, redemption means being brought into “living fellowship” with the Redeemer. This is because, according to him, Jesus had a perfect “God-consciousness”–that is, he was fully aware of his absolute dependence on God, and this gave shape to his life in the world. The rest of us, by contrast, have a more partial or fragmented experience of God-consciousness, and so we fall into sin. However, by entering into the church–the community that was founded by Jesus and takes its bearings from the portrait of Jesus contained in the New Testament, we can come to share that perfect God-consciousness. When we enter into this “living fellowship,” the God-consciousness of Jesus becomes the core of our selves and, gradually, it comes to predominate–overcoming our sinful tendencies.

In Schleiermacher’s account, the cross is not necessary because salvation doesn’t require some act of atonement, either on our part or on God’s. Instead, our guilt is removed when we come to have the Redeemer’s perfect God-consciousness. In effect, our identity “in Christ” becomes our primary identity, so we are no longer defined by the “old Adam” and its sins. No guilt-atonement is necessary.

The resurrection isn’t necessary, he argues, because our situation has to be essentially the same as that of the first disciples who knew Jesus when he walked the earth. But they were able to be saved by entering into fellowship with Christ before his death. While we enter into that fellowship by means of the image of Jesus presented in the New Testament and mediated by the church, it is the same kind of relationship that the first disciples had. Otherwise, ours would be a wholly different faith. But this implies that the resurrection can’t be essential to our redemption. l think Schleiermacher is a bit ambiguous at this point (or possibly I’m misreading him), because I don’t see how we can enter into a “living fellowship” with Christ now, unless he’s alive in some sense. And that would seem to make the resurrection essential at least as a means by which fellowship with the Redeemer is made possible for succeeding generations.

More fundamentally, though, Schleiermacher’s account shows how focused his overall theology is on the interior life of the individual. For him, redemption is not a public, historical event, but one that takes place in the subjective consciousness of each person. By contrast, the New Testament seems to portray the cross and resurrection of Jesus as epochal events that objectively changed not only our situation before God, but also constitute a turning-point in the cosmic story. Not just human beings’ self-consciousnesses, but their bodies, and indeed the entire cosmos, are to be redeemed from bondage to sin and decay.

You could argue that Schleiermacher’s account is a defensible “demythologization” of the language and imagery of the Bible and that it provides a more “existential” understanding of the Christian faith by dispensing with supernatural and/or metaphysical beliefs that many people no longer find plausible. But many Christians would protest that the public, embodied nature of our salvation is an essential aspect of the Christian message.


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