In the wake of World War I, a new theological movement emerged in Germany known as Neoorthodoxy. It is identified with the work of Karl Barth (1886–1968), Emil Brunner (1889–1966), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1904–45), and Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). Barth’s commentary on Romans (1919) marked a break with culture-affirming German liberalism and charged old liberals with subverting the gospel by trying to make it respectable. In the 1930s, he became part of the anti-Nazi Confessing Church in Germany and helped write the Barmen Declaration, a protest against the Nazi German church. Barth emphasized human sinfulness and God’s grace in Jesus Christ, but his understanding of election implied universalism—Christ is the only elect One, and all will be saved in Him. Barth accepted the results of higher criticism—a technique that sought to identify the sources behind the biblical texts and that rejected the traditional understanding of biblical authorship—and accentuated God’s subjective revelation to individuals through Scripture rather than His objective revelation in Scripture as the written Word of God. His scathing attack on liberalism was welcomed, but many conservatives were skeptical, considering Barth’s theology a new version of modernism. Barthianism permeated mainline seminaries throughout the twentieth century.
Christian commitment to taking seriously the supernatural in Scripture received a fresh burst of support in the emergence of the Pentecostal movement. In 1906, a major revival began on Asuza Street in Los Angeles under Holiness preacher William J. Seymour, a son of former slaves. While the revival would become associated with the controversial practice of speaking in tongues, the message of forgiveness through the cross was central. Under Seymour’s leadership, hundreds were converted as Hispanics, Asians, blacks, and whites worshiped together daily at an old warehouse. As one eyewitness declared, “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.” As a result of the Asuza Street Revival, numerous new denominations were established, including the Church of God in Christ (1907), the Assemblies of God (1914), and famed evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson’s International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (1927).
Pentecostalism advanced rapidly, spreading into Latin America, Africa, and Asia and becoming the fastest-growing segment of the global church in the twentieth century. The charismatic renewal movement of the 1960s and ’70s saw some Pentecostal theology and practice cross over into mainline and Roman Catholic churches, producing heightened awareness of the work of the Holy Spirit among believers.
The Pentecostal and charismatic movements produced division within Protestantism as some advocates urged believers to seek the “baptism of the Spirit,” a second work of grace in the believer’s life that is accompanied by speaking in tongues. Other charismatics did not push the experience of tongues but viewed tongues as one spiritual gift among many. Some radical Pentecostal leaders taught a “health and wealth” version of the faith, promising earthly blessing to those with sufficient faith. Many Christians have condemned this “health and wealth” gospel as unbiblical teaching.
In the early part of the twentieth century, a heretical oneness (Jesus Only) Pentecostalism separated from the Trinitarians by claiming that God is one person, Jesus Christ, and that baptism must be “in the name of Jesus.” Despite aberrant versions of Pentecostalism and some high-profile extremists, many evangelicals have acknowledged the conversions and zeal for missionary service found in the movement. Nevertheless, Protestants from cessationist traditions remain skeptical about the biblical foundations of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements.
Roman Catholic Developments
In 1864, Pope Pius IX issued the Syllabus of Errors, which decried separation of church and state, religious tolerance, secular education, Marxism, and democratic government. Soon thereafter, the First Vatican Council (1869–70) dogmatically declared the doctrine of papal infallibility. Critical views of the Bible began to infect Roman Catholic scholars in late-nineteenth-century Europe, moving Pope Pius X to condemn modernism by papal decree in 1907, excommunicating modernists and requiring an anti-modernist oath of clerics. To counter modernist errors, the renewed study of Thomism (the doctrines of Thomas Aquinas) was encouraged among Roman Catholics.
The Roman Catholic Church in the early twentieth century stood firmly against both doctrinal innovation and non-Roman Catholics. However, these attitudes dramatically changed after the Second Vatican Council, which was convened in 1962 by Pope John XXIII and carried on by Pope Paul VI through 1965. Vatican II was an attempt to engage with the issues of the modern world and to bring the church out of its isolation. It focused on church renewal and Christian unity.