Our deepest need, always, for any ideal view or for any ideal life, is faith in the reality of the spiritual, faith in a God who can save us from being at constant war with ourselves. We all need a God, who can make rational and consistent our deepest longings, aspirations, and purposes; who can save us at least from counting as illusions all that in us which—ourselves being judges—is worthiest and most deserving to abide;—who can save us from "glorying in having renounced that which no one has ever any right to renounce."
In all this, religion does not stand alone; it makes common cause with every ideal interest and aim, of whatever kind. The aesthetic, the ethical, the philosophical, the scientific, the broadly rational of every sort, are equally concerned. Our problem is nowhere that narrow and mistaken one of the so-called "harmony of science and religion," but rather that more serious question—Have we any justifiable ideals? is there any standard for men and for life, except a pettily utilitarian one? When we think our life through to the bottom, when we carry our thought of the world to the farthest limit possible to our thinking, shall we then find our best self an illegitimate offspring of pride and error, standing naked and laid open unto that eye of reason which pierces all shams? or shall we find that rational judgment itself forced to own itself to be, in common with all other ideals, the child of faith in God, and of faith in a spiritual world whose reality we cannot doubt and continue to think at all? This is the central question of this little book.
A true theology must face this deepest question, must do something to answer this deepest need of men. A theology, therefore, that understands itself cannot be an isolated, esoteric interest of a few. Is it not rather the great attraction of theology that to it, as the science and philosophy of religion, are most directly committed the supreme interests of the race? Is it not even true that one cannot continue in philosophy to the end, without becoming a theologian? In a very real sense, thus, it is still possible to think of theology as "queen of the sciences," never because it seeks authoritatively to lord it anywhere, but queen because it is able to take account of the entire range of man's ideals, as no other science—and not even philosophy—has commonly felt free to do. In this sense, as the old schoolmen declared, theology finds what philosophy only seeks.
In other words, one must hold it to be the chief business of the theology of any given age or year or hour, to help to save men from "evasion of life's proof," to deliver them from shame of their best selves, to point out the conditions upon which the spiritual life may be made indubitably real. And the theme of this book thus seems to be thrust upon the theologian as demanding proof even of his right to be a worker in theology at all.
A self-respecting theologian, certainly, must always be profoundly and steadfastly unwilling to be considered the hired advocate of a little religious coterie, that can forget that the interests it defends are universal interests and meet universal needs. Is it not involved in the very conception of a religion, that it demands universal recognition? and is not this sense, as Lotze has called it, the one respectable root of fanaticism? How can the theologian, then, forget that he stands—not for the schoolmen nor for any shibboleths of the schools; not for the Fathers, nor for any ostracizing dogmas of the Fathers; but for all men and for their right and call to live the highest life, for room in which a man may stretch himself in the farthest ranges of his being, for air to breathe and light to rejoice in?
How can it be, then, that it should be particularly charged against theology, that it is unreal and binding, rather than real and setting prisoners free? That such theology, so-called, there has been, I reluctantly admit. But, nevertheless, theology belies itself, and denies its very reason for being, if it fails to be real and freeing—and freeing because it makes the spiritual life indubitably real. Our theme, thus, lies at the very heart of the theologian's problem, and, at the same time, at the heart of life. And the theologian may call artist and poet and moralist and philosopher and scientist, and every common seeker of truth and goodness and beauty, and all true lovers, to witness that in this, his quest, he fights their battles all, no less than his own.
"Does God love, and will ye hold that faith against the world?"