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Chapter 27
Major theological traditions and
developments in the twentieth
Questions to be addressed in this
1. What shift occurred in twentieth century theology that was
characteristic of the liberal Protestant movement?
2. What conservative theological developments occurred in the
twentieth century?
3. What were the effects of arguably the most significant
religious event in Roman Catholicism in the twentieth
4. What is the status of Eastern orthodoxy in relation to the
other major Christian traditions in the twentieth-century?
Liberal Protestantism:
Bultmann and Tillich
• Existentialism had become primarily a framework for atheism in
the twentieth century, but Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) and
Paul Tillich (1886-1965) re-appropriated it for Christian theology.
• Bultmann pioneered form criticism of the Bible, shifting the focus
from God to the communities who worshipped him.
• Bultmann was concerned to translate theological concepts into
contemporary ways of understanding.
• Tillich’s primary approach to explaining Christian faith was
“correlation”, providing answers to traditional questions in
contemporary language.
• Attempts to ground our lives on anything other than God result
in inauthentic life and incompleteness.
Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism
• The Fundamentals (1910-1915) defended the fundamental
doctrines of Christianity to Christian workers all over the
• The Scopes “Monkey” Trial (1925) drove a deep wedge
between Fundamentalists and modern culture.
• Evangelicals, led by Carl Henry and Billy Graham, sought to
bring conservative Christianity back to cultural relevance.
Common commitments of Evangelicals
1. Scripture as the ultimate authority;
2. The uniqueness of Christ and his achievement of redemption
through death on the cross;
3. The need for personal conversion, or being “born again”;
4. The importance of personal witness to others in evangelism.
Roman Catholicism
• Vatican II (1962-1965) most significant event of Catholicism in
twentieth century:
– Updates the mass from Latin into local languages
– Bible is described as God’s manifestation of himself and
the ultimate source of truth
– Ecumenism: Christ can be found outside the Church
• Karl Rahner (1904-1984) and Hans Küng (1928-) are the most
influential theologians of Catholicism in the twentieth
Eastern orthodoxy
• Largely hidden from the West until the fall of communism.
• Claims to be the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
• Comprised of fifteen separate autocephalous churches, each
recognizing the others as canonical.
• Distinctive today for its understanding of salvation as
participation in the deified humanity of Jesus Christ (theosis).
Summary of main points
1. Liberal Protestantism largely adopted the framework of
existentialism and emphasized human experience over and
above literal doctrines about God.
2. Evangelicalism grew out of Fundamentalism and holds to
conservative interpretations of the Bible and traditional
Christian doctrine.
3. The Second Vatican Council was the twenty-first ecumenical
council of the Roman Catholic Church and reflected the
Church’s readiness to acknowledge the developments of the
modern world.
4. By the end of the twentieth century Eastern orthodoxy, while
continuing to affirm its central historic beliefs, entered into
ecumenical discussions with Catholicism and Protestantism.