NextLevel Online: History of the Restoration Movement

Session 7: Theological Liberalism and the Restoration Movement

In this session, we discuss Theological Liberalism, where it came from, and how it affected the Restoration Movement.


Classroom Instructions

Materials: Lesson Outline
  • Four Aspects of Theological Liberalism:

    • Emphasis on Feelings – Friedrich Schleiermacher, the “Father of Theological Liberalism,” claimed that religion is not about doctrines or dogmas, but is a “feeling of dependence upon the Infinite”.

    • Social Gospel – Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), the “Father of the Social Gospel,” stressed the need for social and economic concerns rather than salvation.

    • Darwinism – Promoted the ideas of social, biological, and religious evolution.

    • Biblical Higher Criticism – Focuses more on efforts to explain the origin and development of Biblical texts than on the textual content. This approach to the study of Scripture often rejected the traditional ideas associated with the Biblical authorship, dating, and content.

  • Contributing Factors to Liberal Advancement in the Restoration Movement:

    • Higher Education – Most Restoration Movement colleges were conservative, but often considered second-rate academic institutions.

      • Bright students were encouraged to attend prominent universities with the hope that they would return to Restoration Movement schools and add credibility to these schools.

      • While in the major universities, many of these students were influenced by theological liberalism.

      • William Rainey Harper (1856-1906), President of the University of Chicago, invited Disciples to create the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School – The Disciples Divinity House became a haven for liberalism.

    • Open Membership – In the late nineteenth century, some churches began to accept the idea of church membership without baptism.

      • By the early twentieth century, Open Membership began to be accepted on the mission field.

      • Conservatives objected to Open Membership, but Missionary Societies continued to support Open Membership.

    • Strong Liberal Leadership – Several advocates of Liberalism became leading spokesmen in the Restoration Movement.

      • Charles Clayton Morrison (1874-1966) – Editor of the Christian Century, the leading magazine of liberal theology in the U.S.

      • Peter Ainslee (1867-1934) – Prominent Baltimore preacher and ecumenist who rejected theology/doctrine in favor of unity.

      • The Chicago Liberals:

        • Herbert L. Willett (1864-1944) – Old Testament Scholar (rejected the miracles of the Old Testament).

        • Edward Scribner Ames (1870-1955) – Professor of Philosophy and Minister of the University Christian Church at the University of Chicago.

        • Winfred E. Garrison (1874-1969) – Professor of Church History at the University of Chicago.

  • Objections to Liberalism.

    • Many people objected to the Theological Liberalism that emerged within the Restoration Movement in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

    • John W. McGarvey – The Restoration Movement’s leading rival to Theological

      • McGarvey was a prolific writer and an unrelenting opponent to liberalism.

      • 1865 – McGarvey assisted in forming the College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky (now Lexington Theological Seminary), as a conservative minister-training college. Liberalism (Modernism).

        • Bible Professor – 1865-1895

        • President – 1895-1911

      • After McGarvey’s death in 1911, the College of the Bible drifted toward liberalism.

    • As more Disciple schools drifted toward liberalism a series of conservative Bible Colleges emerged around the country to train students for ministry.

    • The emergence of Theological Liberalism set the stage for the second division within the Restoration Movement.

  • Additional Resources:

    • Boring, M. Eugene – Disciples and the Bible: A History of Disciples Biblical Interpretation in North America

    • Coffman, Elisha J. – The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline

    • McAllister, Lester and William Tucker – Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

    • McGarvey, J. W. – Short Essays in Biblical Criticism

    • Morro, W. C. – Brother McGarvey: The Life of President J. W. McGarvey

About NextLevel Online

The vision of Ozark Christian College is to glorify God by evangelizing the lost and edifying Christians worldwide. The mission of Ozark Christian College is to train men and women for Christian service as a degree-granting institution of biblical higher education.