I recently finished up Hans Kung’s Great Christian Thinkers, which reviews the work of seven theologians (Paul, Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Schleiermacher, and Barth). From an LDS perspective, the most interesting of the bunch is Friedrich Schleiermacher, who Kung terms “the paradigmatic theologian of modernity.” The question he presents to LDS readers is how our approach to religion and doctrine deals with modernity. Is our approach premodern, modern, or postmodern (which in theology generally means some version of neo-orthodoxy)?
In what sense does Kung think Schleiermacher represents a new paradigm, a modern approach or perspective on religion and doctrine?
Schleiermacher no longer lived like Martin Luther …, still largely in a pre-Copernican mindset, in a medieval world of angels and devils, demons and witches, borne along by a basically pessimistic and apocalyptic attitude, intolerant of other confessions and religions. … Nor did he have difficulties with modern science, with Copernicus and Galileo, as did the Roman popes imprisoned in the medieval paradigm …. No, Schleiermacher, who even as a professor still went to lectures on science, remained convinced by Kant all his life that there is a thoroughgoing regularity in nature, which allows no “supernatural” exceptions. A supernaturalism in theology? That was not Schleiermacher’s affair.
In religion, I think the postmodern dilemma is that we want to have our science — and our supernaturalism, too. This seems particularly relevant to Mormonism. Liberal Protestants come down in favor of science, minimizing or rejecting supernaturalism. Evangelicals come down in favor of supernaturalism, bracketing or simply rejecting modern science. Mormons want both, and I think we have been surprisingly successful in the attempt to have them both, at least from an insider’s perspective.
And that, I think, is the question to discuss. How successful is the Mormon solution to the dilemma of postmodern religion? How workable is our position affirming both science and revelation, our view of a universe ordered by natural law but also teeming with angels and demons?