This book is about the crisis brought about by doctrine’s estrangement from reality—that is from actual lives, experiences, histories, and from God. By invoking “the end of doctrine,” Christine Helmer opens a new discussion of doctrinal production that is engaged with the challenges and possibilities of modernity. The end of doctrine refers on the one hand to unquestioning doctrinal reception, which Helmer critiques, and on the other, represents an invitation to a new way of understanding the aim of doctrine in deeper connection to the reality that it seeks.
The book’s first section offers an analysis of the current situation in theology by reconstructing a trajectory of Protestant theology from the turn of the twentieth century to today. This history focuses primarily on the status of the word in theology and explains how changes in theology in the context of the political and social crisis in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s led to a distancing of the word from reality. Helmer then turns to the constructive section of the book to propose a repositioning of theology to the world and to God. Helmer’s powerful work will inspire revitalized interest in both doctrine and theological inquiry itself
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Theology and the End of Doctrine is an important book, long in gestation. Only now, at some distance from the twentieth century, can we see new ways of narrating the story of liberal theology. Helmer’s ‘end’ of doctrine is only the ending of a chapter, not the story itself. Helmer challenges Lindbeck’s reading of Schleiermacher as a theologian for whom religious experience displaces the normativity of biblical language and doctrine. The way forward is not merely to analyze the grammar of the language of faith but rather to engage the lived reality that occasions this language. This is a stimulating work in constructive theology that opens up fresh approaches to several problems at once: the dual responsibility of theology to church and academy, the tension between transhistorical truth and historical tradition, and, most of all, the relation of doctrinal language to a theological reality (i.e., God) that, precisely because it is living, invites us to say not only something faithful but also something new.
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic T heology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
The title is deliberately ambiguous: the true ‘end’ (purpose) of doctrine is to point beyond itself to the relation of the living God to human beings in this world. Where this ‘end’ is lost to view, we are threatened with the ‘end’ (demise) of doctrine. Christine Helmer wants to reinvigorate doctrine. To accomplish this goal, she takes us on a historical journey through twentieth-century theology: from the Ritschlian reaction against mysticism and metaphysics and Brunner’s critique of Schleiermacher through Barth’s theology of the Word to the creation of an epistemic model by the so-called Yale School in which doctrine has lost its referential status altogether and thus its connection to divine and historical reality. Helmer’s constructive solution proceeds through a recovery of Schleiermacher’s epistemology (exploding a few myths about the great Berliner along the way!) in order to advance an understanding of doctrine as the expression of a socially conceived interaction with the ‘real.’ What emerges from this fine study is a theological epistemology that expands and deepens Barth’s concept of the Word in important ways and an understanding of doctrine that repairs the damage done to its reputation in recent decades.
—Bruce L. McCormack, Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary
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