What accounts for Albrecht Ritschl's profound effect on modern theology? Philip Hefner proposed that "he so energetically brought together in his work the elements of his generation, that all theology now stands on his shoulders." Many theologians have attacked Ritschl's ideas, others vigorously defend him, but all must confront him. The essays presented here will enable students and scholars to experience the force of Ritschl's writing for themselves.
Ritschl was born in 1822 into the intellectual, social, and ecclesiastical elite of Berlin. After finishing his studies at the University of Tuebingen, he taught at Bonn for eighteen years and at Goettingen for twenty-five. Hefner shows that Ritschl "spoke a word to his own age that was so appropriate and so in resonance with his contemporaries in Germany that despite its weaknesses it became the dominant theology of his generation." Ritschl's impact can be traced to three major factors: forceful statement of Christian faith, positive link to tradition, and scientific method. He exhibited a remarkable combination of scholarly integrity and devotion to the Christian life, as seen in his ten-year study of pietism - a movement he opposed. His theology also contributed to much that followed, including historical-critical studies and dialectical theology.
These essays offer a balanced sample of Ritschl's thinking. In the "Prolegomena to 'The History of Pietism'" he establishes his method of studying different confessions on the basis of Christian lifestyle. "Theology and Metaphysics" offers his celebrated rejection of metaphysics in favor of a christocentric approach. "Instruction in the Christian Religion," the writing that won for Ritschl his popularity among students, sets forth his specific doctrinal beliefs.
Today's students will discover that Ritschl is both an intriguing historical figure and a thinker worth grappling with. These essays, along with Philip Hefner's extensive introduction, provide needed material for a reevaluation of Ritschl and of nineteenth century theology.
Albrecht Ritschl Philip Hefner
Philip Hefner is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He has written 'The Promise of Teilhard' and a major work on Ritschl - 'Faith and the Vitalities of History'. He also edited 'The Scope of Grace' and 'Changing Man: Threat and Promise'.