Mediating Theology

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(Vermittlungstheologie). The name of a program undertaken by widely differing thinkers, mostly in Germany, in the middle third of the nineteenth century. Their conclusions differed greatly, but they shared a commitment to mediation, the attempt to find truth on a middle ground between opposite extremes.

These thinkers tried to mediate between the influences of Hegel and Schleiermacher, between rationalism and supernaturalism, and between innovation and tradition. For them, both feeling and thought were to be taken into account in theology. Christianity was seen as partly natural and partly supernatural in origin. The mediators tended to support the union of Lutherans and Reformed in the state churches of Germany.

The most important members of the mediating school (vermittelnde Schule) were I.A. Dorner, Julius Koestlin, Julius Muller, C.I. Nitzsch, Richard Rothe, and Karl Ullmann. Mediating theology was represented at many different universities. It can be dated from 1828 with the founding of the periodical Theologische Studien und Kritiken. It was also the theme of Vierteljahrschrift fur Theologie und Kirche (founded 1845) and Jahrbucher fur deutsche Theologie (founded 1856).

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The most important topic for mediating theology was Christology. The historic doctrine of the person of Christ was being challenged by historical criticism. For philosophical reasons historical criticism began with a picture of Jesus that left no room for his deity and so rejected as unhistorical anything in the Gospels that testified to his deity. The biggest bombshell was the book Leben Jesu (Life of Jesus) by D.F. Strauss in 1835. This denial of historic Christian doctrine led to a negative reaction from those who wanted to conserve more of the old doctrine.

The mediators attempted to find a middle course that would both retain some elements of historic Christology and accept many of the assumptions and conclusions of historical criticism. They differed radically from one another in doctrine, but in every case the acceptance of historical criticism led them to modify the historic doctrine of the person of Christ fundamentally. In this sense, kenoticism can be seen as a form of mediating theology. But another form was the direct opposite of kenoticism, namely I. A. Dorner's idea of a growing unity between God and Jesus. Dorner saw that kenoticism had lost sight of the immutability of God. He concluded instead that Jesus had originally been a separate person who was only gradually assumed into the unity of the Logos in a process that was completed only at the ascension.

The varieties in mediating theology indicate that its program did not lead to any conclusive results. Indeed, it could lead to new and opposite extremes. It was ambitious but vague, and faded away once Albrecht Ritschl and his disciples became influential in the last part of the nineteenth century.

J M Drickamer
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

K. Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century; J. M. Drickamer, "Higher Criticism and the Incarnation in the Thought of I. A. Dorner," CTQ 43:197-206; God and Incarnation in Mid Nineteenth Century German Theology: G. Thomasius, I. A. Dorner, A. E. Biedermann, tr. C. Welch, LCC; C. Welch, Protestant Thought in the Nineteenth Century.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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