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Some European Theologians

Schillebeeckx, Edward Cornelius Florentius Alfons (1914-2009)
Dominican scholar. Born in Antwerp, Belgium, he taught dogmatic theology at Louvain (1943–45, 1947–58). He was appointed professor of dogmatics and the history of theology at the University of Nijmegen in 1958. In 1965 he helped to found the international theological journal Concilium. His Jesus received acclaim in the wider theological world but disapproval from the Vatican (he was summoned to
Rome in Dec. 1979). His controversial Ministry (1981) caused even greater concern. He was the first theologian to receive the Erasmus Prize (1982) in recognition of his important contribution to European culture. He retired that same year. He has received the highest civil honor in the Netherlands — Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau. He has been described as “one of the very greatest theologians” (J. Bowden). His major works are Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (1974) and Christ: The Christian Experience in the Modern World (1977).

Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1928-2014)
German theologian. Born in Stettin (now Szczecin), Poland, he studied at the universities of Berlin, Göttingen, and Basel, lectured at Heidelberg (1955–58), then was successively professor of systematic theology at Wuppertal (1958–61), Mainz (1961–68), and Munich (1968– ). Originally a student of philosophy, he came to Christian faith through rational reflection concerning the meaning of human existence and history. In Revelation as History (1960) he voiced a strong protest against irrationalism in theology. This book provides the key to much of his later development, for example, the “from-below” approach to Christology (Jesus—God and Man), the apologetic approach to Christian doctrine (The Apostles’ Creed), the concern to lead theology out of its isolation to meet the substantial challenge of the sciences (Theology and the Philosophy of Science), and the eschatological orientation which earned him the description, “a mysterious figure in the background” of “The Theology of Hope” (Theology and the Kingdom of God). Contending that he is a Christian because he is a modern and rational man, he has set himself the courageous and controversial task of demonstrating the reasonableness of Christian faith in the modern world.

Diem, Hermann (1900-1975)
Lutheran theologian. After studies at Tübingen and Marburg (1910–23), he was a pastor in the state church of Württemberg, a part-time lecturer at Tübingen, and a leading member of the Confessional Church. He was a well-known writer on Kierkegaard, and theologically stood close to Karl Barth. That stance changed significantly in 1957 when, at his inaugural lecture as professor of systematic theology at Tübingen, he sought to build a bridge between Barth and Bultmann — and did so with what Barth called “marked originality of character.” In the 1959 foreword to his Dogmatics, Diem stated that he had “cut through all sorts of fixed positions” in order to help “those who will not or cannot simply adhere to one of the major schools of theological thought and … subscribe like disciples to the teaching of one master and read nothing else.” His earlier writings, which reflect his interest also in practical theology and church organization, include Warum Textpredigt? (1939), Restauration oder Neuanfang in der evangelischen Kirche? (1946), Der Abfall der Kirche Christi in die Christlichkeit (1947), Amerika-Eindrücke und Fragen (1949), Grundfragen der biblischen Hermeneutik (1950), and Theologie als kirchliche Wissenschaft (1951).

Gollwitzer, Helmut (1908- 1993)
German theologian. Born in Pappenheim, the son of a Lutheran pastor, he studied philosophy and theology at the universities of Munich, Erlangen, Jena, and Bonn, and succeeded Martin Niemoller as pastor in Berlin-Dahlem (1938–40). A prisoner-of-war in Russia for some years after World War II, Gollwitzer became professor at Bonn (a post once held by Karl Barth) before transferring to the Free University of West Berlin in 1957. He acknowledged his debt to Martin Luther and Karl Barth, and has been described as the latter’s “most controversial living disciple.” He was prevented from succeeding Barth at Basel by “political difficulties.” Gollwitzer’s Introduction to Protestant Theology (ET, 1982) is “in the tradition of Barth and Bonhoeffer” and was said to have been “a theology of freedom and solidarity.” His other writings include Unwilling Journey: A Diary from Russia (1953), The Demands of Freedom: Papers by a Christian in West Germany (1965), The Existence of God as Confessed by Faith (1965), and The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (1965).

Dooyeweerd, Herman (1894-1977)
Dutch philosopher. Born in Amsterdam, he graduated from the Free University there, and was assistant director of the Kuyper Institute, The Hague (1922–26), before appointment as professor of the philosophy of law in the Free University (1926–65). His major work, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (4 vols., 1953–58), challenged the “pretended autonomy” by which philosophical thought asserts self-sufficient independence from divine revelation. He attacked speculative metaphysics, insisting that true knowledge of God and self-knowledge come from the working of God’s Word and Spirit in the heart. Accepting the concepts of general revelation and common grace, he held that neither provides any foundation for natural theology based on man’s unaided reason. Moreover, orthodox theology was no guarantee of true spiritual understanding; the latter comes through submission of the whole person to the message of Holy Scripture concerning “redemption by Jesus Christ.” Acceptance or rejection of this was “a matter of life and death to us, and not a question of theoretical reflection.” In 1935 Dooyeweerd cofounded the journal Philosophia Reformata, and was prominent in the establishment of the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy (later called Christian Philosophy). From 1948 he was a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of the Sciences.

Rookmaaker, Hendrik Roelof (“Hans”) (1922-1997)
Dutch scholar. Born in the Hague, he was educated at the Municipal University of Amsterdam and received his doctorate there in 1959. He was lecturer in the history of art at Leiden University (1958–65), and professor of the same subject in the Free University of Amsterdam (1965–77). From 1973 he also taught in the Kortenhoeve Community, an extension of Francis Schaeffer’s Swiss L’Abri Community. In his late teens Rookmaaker was a prisoner of war and barely escaped execution. During his three-month imprisonment he had nothing to do but read Scripture—and that was the turning-point of his life. Toward the end of World War II, during a second term of imprisonment, he discovered Herman Dooyeweerd’s New Critique of Theoretical Thought and applied the Christian vision articulated there to art history, asking how an artist’s work reflects his beliefs. Rookmaaker traced the history of philosophy through the work of artists in his best-known work, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (1970). Emphasizing that what a man believes makes him live in a certain way, he held that Christians today must understand the spirit of the age. His approach involved learning from the past without being bound by it. He has had a significant influence on the art world. More generally, he has helped many people understand the attitudes, problems, and concerns of the times in which they live.
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I wrote these articles for the Twentieth-Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Baker Book House). I also contributed the articles on ‘Berkouwer’ and ‘the Netherlands’.

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