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Albrecht Ritschl is one of the major Christian reformers whose works have had great impact on modern Christian faith. Ritschl’s was a student of Baur, and his theology borrowed heavily from Martin Luther, Paul and Schleiermacher.
Ritschl’s aim was to interpret the Bible upon the doctrine of justification (by faith, through Jesus Christ) and reconciliation and as such, the purpose of Christian faith was to restore the harmonious relationship between man and God. Ritschl’s theology was also concerned with the relationship between the physical and the ethical dimensions of faith.
While his works borrowed heavily from the history of Christianity, his conclusions are founded on flawed understanding of that history and his liberal views. This has generated a lot of criticism from scholars and religious authorities, who argue that his liberal approach to religion has diluted the true meaning of Christianity. Therefore, Ritschl’s efforts to defend God and Christianity violate basic biblical fundamentals.
One of Ritschl’s main aims was to fashion a complete understanding of the Christian faith, his thoughts founded on the Christian doctrine on justification and reconciliation. Ritschl’s theology on justification and reconciliation was based on some of the epistles found in the New Testament, such as the epistle of Paul as well as other protestant reformers such as Martin Luther.
Following Pauline and Lutheran theology, Ritschl argues that the Christian faith is intended to free humankind from all sin and the guilt that arises from sin. According to Ritschl, justification and reconciliation is for the restoration of the harmonious relationship between man and God. Ritschl implies that both the Pauline and Lutheran doctrines as well as many other epistles of the New Testament have brought a humanistic approach to faith especially the Christian faith.
Additionally, Ritschl was critical of Paul, Luther and other Christian reformers, and argued that their reformation failed certain theological tenets. Ritschl asserts that these scholars had failed essentially to draw parallels between the Christian teachings on the justification by faith with the teachings of the Bible about the Kingdom of God.
Ritschl concludes that these scholars tended to imply that the Christian faith was more about personal redemption from personal sinfulness and that there was no communal ethical collectivism.
He aimed to fill this void by suggesting the ethical approach to Christianity and the spiritual domination of man over the natural environment. Ritschl’s view on ethics and natural spirituality however fails and violates the basic essence of Christianity: the supremacy of God. Ritschl’s assertion negates this transcendental elevation of the Christian faith
Ritschl conceived the difference between the physical and the ethical Christianity. The physical reality is represented in nature and the spiritual connection between nature and man. Ritschl asserts that the physical conception of the Christian faith would not provide all the spiritual answers that man craves.
In this regard, he proposes the teleology, a type of theology concerned with the consequences of any action. Teleology thus is the ethical dimension of the Christian faith. Ritschl’s Christian reformation elevates the ethical over the physical on the assumption that the ethical dimension of faith addresses the meaningfulness of life, the man’s emotions, actions and responsibilities.
This view thus brings in the existential dimension to religion; based on intellectual understanding of the Christian faith, other than spiritual understanding. This argument implies that the ethical has power over the physical and thus there is bound to be tension and conflict between these two dimensions of faith.
As such, Ritschl theology implies that Christianity is among the many historical religions that struggle to address the existential problem (the relationship, and the subsequent conflict, tensions and dilemmas between the physical and the ethical dimensions of faith). Furthermore, Ritschl’s thought on the ethical brings in the philosophical elements into matters of faith.
Because Ritschl argues that the ethical is to cater for the emotion, the feelings and man’s actions, together with their implications, it relegates the spiritual aspect of the Christian faith. This means that Christianity is only meaningful depending on how man interpreted his emotions, feelings and actions. Therefore, the divine nature of the Christian Truth is largely ignored by Ritschl reformation.
Ritschl wanders away from methodical religion that is concerned with dogmatic doctrines. In his religious thought, Ritschl instead, looks at religion from a historical perspective and argues that Christianity and its meaningfulness can only be elucidated from the context of understanding the historical development that the Christian faith has gone through. Previous historical works of theology, Ritschl argues, are always fundamental in the reformation of the Christian faith since they form the foundation of the Christian faith.
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This thought is based on the assumption that unhindered journey back through theological history will yield further and new truths and about Christianity as well as any other faiths. This means that previous theologies are fundamental authorities.
However, they are only useful in assisting theologians arrive at new and subjective conclusions, while retaining the basic tenets. In this light therefore, history is an important allowing for creations of new variations of Christian faith. As such, the Christian faith is only a creative force, which leads to the realization of new theologies that are concurrent with modern spiritual needs.
Furthermore, by ignoring dogmatic theology, Ritschl theological reformation is analytical in nature and thus concludes that the Christian faith is not merely passive truth but asset of active laws that realized through the church. In this regard, Ritschl’s theology is liberal and thus liable to change as time progresses. As such due to Ritschl’s liberal thought, Christianity has evolved into many variation of faith.
What went wrong with Ritschl’s theology?
The focus of Ritschl’s reformation was the relationship between God and man. Ritschl argues that this relationship is restored through Jesus Christ. As such, man sinfulness is compensated for and therefore no need for repentance upon committing sin by man. This notion portrays man as free of sin as Jesus paid the debt on The Cross. As such, Ritschl’s theology ignores the some fundamentals of classical Christianity. This includes the priesthood of Jesus Christ through which man should seek forgiveness for daily sins.
It also wrongly concludes that the Crucification of Jesus Christ eliminated sin, while in the real sense Jesus died so that man is forgiven his sins. Furthermore, Ritschl fails to account for the wrath of wrath of God, which is truthfully imminent upon sinners. Ritschl dwells too much on the relevance of the Christian faith upon the living and forgets to account for the eschatological times and the glory of Christ as He ascends the throne of heaven as the Son of God.
Other than the analytical approach to theology, Ritschl method views Christianity as part of history. This thought relegates Christianity as equal to other religions. Furthermore, such treatment of Christianity as part of history coupled with his views on existentialism makes modern Christianity so liberal.
As such, Ritschl leaves meaningfulness of religion to the subjective interpretation of the Christian values by man. Unfortunately, out of this subjectivism, there have emerged numerous versions of the Christian faith some of which profess positive liberalism. This grossly neglects the Scriptural requirements on the purity of man and the wrath, but just penalty of God on any man who sins. Ritschl positive liberalism, coupled with his denial of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, relegates the necessity of the fear of God, within which man attains holiness.
Suffice to say that the Bible asserts that, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God”  Ritschl positive liberalism is flawed and led Christians to ignore holiness in worship, while his ethical and epistemological ideals violate the basic biblical fundamentals.
Suffice to say the Ritschl had no ill intension of diluting the Christian faith with his own personal beliefs. Furthermore, his woks were based on historical studies on Christianity. Ritschl’s intention was to defend God, the scripture and the Christian faith. His Christian reformations mission was in response of other great reformers such as Martin Luther and Paul of the new testaments.
Nevertheless, despite his genuine concern for the need for reformation of the Christian faith, his conclusions have generated much criticism than support. Critics argue that his theology is too humanistic, liberal and relegates the relevance of the fear of God, holiness and repentance. As such, Ritschl’s theology is seen as a major departure from the biblical teachings on faith.
Ahern, Annette . “Social Justice: Now, Later or Never? The Contribution of Albrecht Ritschl and Johannes Weiss to Social Justice Theology”. Studies in Religion 32/3 (2003): 281-29. Web.
Barnett William. “Albrecht Ritschl and the Problem of The Historical Jesus: A Study in the Relationship between Historical-Critical Research into the Canonical Gospels and ` Christian Theology with Special Reference to the Theological Method of Albrecht ` Ritschl.” Journal of Religion 74, no. 3 (1994): 401-402.
Corinthians 7:1 KJV.
Cornelis, Venema,. “Christ’s Person and Life-Work in the Theology of Albrecht Ritschl with Special Attention to Munus Triplex.” Calvin Theological Journal 29, no. 2 (1994): 525-529.
Zachhuber, Johannes. “Albrecht Ritschl and the Tubingen School: A Neglected Link in The History of 19th Century Theology.” Web.
- Annette Ahern. “Social Justice: Now, Later or Never? The Contribution of Albrecht Ritschl and Johannes Weiss to Social Justice Theology”. Studies in Religion 32/3 (2003): 281-29
- Johannes Zachhuber. “Albrecht Ritschl and the Tubingen School: A Neglected Link in The History of 19th Century Theology.”
- Venema, Cornelis P. “Christ’s Person and Life-Work in the Theology of Albrecht Ritschl with Special Attention to Munus Triplex.” Calvin Theological Journal 29, no. 2 (1994): 525-529.
- William Barnett. “Albrecht Ritschl and the Problem of The Historical Jesus: A Study in the Relationship between Historical-Critical Research into the Canonical Gospels and Christian Theology with Special Reference to the Theological Method of Albrecht Ritschl.” Journal of Religion 74, no. 3 (1994): 401-402
- 2 Corinthians 7:1 KJV