The nineteenth century was a time of great revolution in the fields of agriculture, communication, transportation, technology, marketing and industry. It is in this period that the collapse of great empires like Portugal, Spain, Mughal, China, and the Holy Roman kingdom happened.
As a result, great empires like Germany, Britain, Japan and United States came into being. Great philosophers and religious leaders such as William Booth, who was the main founder of the Salvation Army, Karl Max, Ellen White, and John Stuart Mill, a great philosopher, among others, also arose in this century.1
This century marked the beginning of great evangelical revivals in various protestant churches. In this century, the modern scientific theory started having its way into the church, something that transformed the way Christians view their faith.
Scientific theories like Darwinism encouraged Christian followers to become inquisitive and many of them started doubting the beliefs and values they previously held.2 Consequently, Christians deviated from the regular and traditional observance of religion and belief in biblical teachings to secularism and faith in personal gods.3
As soon as the radical effects of scientific secularism became prevalent in the Christian churches, several theologians and scholars like Friedrich Schleiermacher came up to defend Christianity.4 Unfortunately, their defense did little to protect Christianity from the criticism it faced, since it led to the emergence of liberal theology and Christianity.
Liberal theology is on the other side of the same secularism coin, in view of the fact that it facilitated further criticism against the bible after its inception. Liberal theology is defined as a flexible method of understanding and knowing God. Although it uses the scripture, liberal theology still applies the same interpretations and principles used in exploring non-biblical ancient writings.5
This new philosophy has made it almost impossible for Christians to continue believing the bible is a divinely inspired script that is supposed to dictate their spiritual lives. Instead, they subject the bible to human reasoning and questioning, an action that greatly compromises its authority.
This compromise is so grave such that the bible is taken to be an anthology that records the author’s own feelings and beliefs about God.6 Liberalism has led to the emergence of further criticisms against the bible, therefore creating more reliance on human experience rather than the bible.
In an attempt to reject this influence, various radicals have decided to acquire their own religion. Christian fundamentalists arose to oppose these critical approaches to the scripture during the nineteenth century.7 However, their opposition was a futile attempt as it did not prevent atheistic scientific theories from influencing Christians.
These criticisms have led to the emergence of new knowledge concerning religion and science, a factor that has encouraged deism among Christians. It appears like every effort to defend God or the bible results into further attacks on Christianity. Although the intentions of earlier scholars and theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher were to defend the scriptures, at some point they deviated from this objective.
What Went Wrong?
Deviation from Initial Intentions
Modern scientific theories like Darwinism are responsible for secularism, the religion of humanity that does not acknowledge or give any credit to God or allow His worship.8 Secularism and humanism mainly focus on cultural achievements of humans and their possibility of getting fulfillment in this world.
Darwin’s theories place the authority of the bible at stake since theories of evolution make the creation story in Genesis to appear erroneous. They make the bible look like a simple a collection of different literary genres such as poetry, parables and stories among others, which simply speak of human experiences. This has led to the development of new critical approaches to the bible, aimed at questioning the facts contained in it.
In the nineteenth century, the liberal Christians emerged to defend the authority of the scripture and the reality and existence of God, but they erred when they deviated from conservative Christian beliefs to secularism.9 These liberals also compromise Christianity by subjecting the principles of the bible to human reasoning and wisdom instead of relying on faith.10
Darwinism theory promotes modernism, which motivates some Protestants to formulate a liberalistic approach to Christianity. Even though these scholars’ main aim is defending the authority of the bible, they normally subject it to further criticism.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, says that Christianity probably appears as foolishness to the intelligent.11 He says that the bible is spiritually discerned and can appear as nonsense when subjected to the reasoning of human beings.12 Subjecting biblical concepts to criticisms that are based on the understanding of humans, is considered erroneous since their wisdom, knowledge, and intelligence is limited.
How the efforts to defend God or scriptures resulted into the breakdown of an attack on Christian thought
The efforts by the liberals to defend the scripture were necessary at that time when a lot of criticism was being directed towards its authority. However, instead of resolving the issue, this defense led to further criticisms against Christianity as outlined below:
- The movement focused more on retaining the spiritual and religious values of Christianity while at the same time denying the infallible authority of the scripture upon which these values are based. This attempt to exclude the bible from Christianity gave room for other teachings to define it. This provision compromised the basis upon which Christianity is built.
- Instead of looking at the bible in its complete perspective, including the divine and corporeal aspects, this movement was attached to the physical aspects of the word of God. The bible defines itself as a scripture that is spiritual and divine.13 After doing away with the divine aspect of the bible, they made it appear like any other literal work or book of fiction that advocates for secularism.
- This movement was aimed at denying the scripture its rightful authority. Denying the word of God amounts to denying God’s authority and power and this is manifested in acts such as questioning His existence. The existence of God and the authority of the scripture are the essence of Christianity and are the pillars upon which this faith is based. The removal of these facts makes Christianity no different from atheism.
- These efforts were aimed at reconciling Darwinism and Christianity. Scientific reasoning diluted Christianity and its influence, and altered its teachings, values and beliefs.
- This movement denounced the existence of miracles and divine healings and people started preferring naturalistic explanations. Miracles started being dismissed as legends or myths that did not exist and by this they denounced the existent of the spiritual world. The bible declares that God is a spiritual being that is invisible.14 The fact that a person has never experienced a miracle or seen God does not nullify His existence. Denying His existence only leads to further attacks on Christianity.
- This movement is more of a Darwinism interest group as it lays emphasis on the value and importance of the individual rather than that of God. It aims at improving the life of human beings rather than strengthening their relationship with their creator, which is the major aim of Christianity.
- This movement has made the belief in God to be based on individual experiences, since its followers misconstrue the bible to be a collection of the author’s own personal experiences with Him. This belief held by liberalists has completely changed Christianity in terms of the way it is perceived and interpreted.
In conclusion, the attempt by the nineteenth century theologians and scholars to defend the bible against the influence of Darwinism only encouraged more criticism against Christianity.
This attempt was a way to accommodate the humanism beliefs portrayed by Darwin, which eventually led to the emergence of a new religion called liberal Christianity. Liberal Christianity is responsible for the persistent criticisms against the bible and has since its inception only led to further disagreements among Christians.
Ayers, Philip E. What Ever Happened to Respect? Bloomington: Author House, 2006.
Barnes, Michael H. Understanding Religion and Science: Introducing the Debate. London: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.
Webster, John B., and George P. Schner. Theology after Liberalism: A Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.
1 Michael H. Barnes, Understanding Religion and Science: Introducing the Debate (London: Continuum International Publishing, 2010), 2.
2 Ibid., 2.
3 Ibid., 2.
4 Ibid., 27
5 John B. Webster and George P. Schner, Theology after Liberalism: A Reader (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 346.
6 Michael H. Barnes, Understanding Religion and Science: Introducing the Debate (London: Continuum International Publishing, 2010), 104.
7 John B. Webster and George P. Schner, Theology after Liberalism: A Reader (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 24.
8 Philip E. Ayers, What Ever Happened to Respect? (Bloomington: Author House, 2006), 94.
9 John B. Webster and George P. Schner, Theology after Liberalism: A Reader (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 104.
10 1 Cor. 2:5
11 Ibid., 1: 21
12 Ibid., 1: 18
13 2 Tim 3:16
14 John. 4:24
This research paper on Religion: The nineteenth century