Theological debates
in 19th century

The 19th century was marked by a new theological climate. The confrontation of trends of thought was upheld by the influence of German theology, by the spread of historical criticism of the Bible, and likewise thanks to the major role of sensitivity in the wake of romanticism.

  • Alexandre Vinet (1797-1847) © S.H.P.F.

In the 19th century the theological climate changed throughout the protestant community. Four main factors brought about a radical change in Protestant thought and spirituality:

  • A new concept of knowledge, closely related to the profound changes due to Kant’s philosophy.
  • The emphasis given to sensitivity as a result of romanticism.
  • A new way of reading and understanding the Bible as a result of the historic and literary critique of texts.
  • The secularization of society.

Several theological and spiritual trends marked and divided Protestantism in Europe, particularly in France : liberalism, Revivalism, orthodoxy and evangelical movements. Understanding the differences between them does not imply that they were dramatically opposed, or totally secluded the one from the other. They were often joined or associated and could be intensely related within the same person. Amongst the orthodox and the liberals some were against Revivalism, whereas others were influenced by it. Many tried to combine orthodoxy and liberalism. All were influenced by Schleiermacher and Vinet. But even in times of severe crises, the various points of view remained complex and liable to change. Some moved from Revivalism over to extreme liberalism, and even to free-thinking. The 1872 synod ended with the separation of orthodox and liberal movements.

At the end of the 19th century, debate moved to other subjects and became influenced by the movements of that fideo-symbolism and of social Christianity.

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Associated notes

  • A new theological climate

    During the 19th century, Protestant theology took a major turn. The new theological climate resulted from four factors : the development of biblical criticism, a new conception of truth, the secularisation...
  • Revival Movements

    The 19th century revival movement took shape within the context of romanticism. Its piety is of a more existential and sentimental nature, a piety « revived » when compared to a faith...
  • The conflicts

    Theological conflicts happened in every protestant community. They caused the creation of the new Churches separated from the State. In Reformed Churches they led to the division between orthodox and...
  • Social Christianity

    At the end of the 19th century, some pastors, shocked by the poverty-stricken situation of the working-class, initiated a reflection on social justice.
  • The orthodox movement Orthodoxy

    Orthodoxy insists on the correct doctrine of the reformers Luther and Calvin as on a respectful reading of the Bible.

Associated tours

  • Protestantism in the 19th century

    The century began with the 1801 Concordat and 1802 Organic Articles ruling the life of Churches. Their measures enabled to reorganise the Protestantism after the Desert period. The Protestants were...