Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Quick and Easy Way to Study the History of What’s Wrong with the World Today

Like a lot of folks these days, I’m pressed for time, and so when I was reading through Berkhof’s “Systematic Theology,” I’d try to save time by skipping over the sections that began “Schleiermacher said …” or “Schleiermacher held that …”

Schleiermacher is something like “the granddaddy of all the liberal theologians.” For those of you who dislike liberalism (especially theological liberalism), Schleiermacher would be precisely the place to start to understand how all of that came about. Schleiermacher wasn’t attempting to create “liberalism”; rather, he was responding to Hume and Kant, and his intention rather was to bring theology more into line with those philosophies.

And now Carl Trueman has chimed in. A recent blog article by Dr. Trueman suggests that skipping over Schleiermacher was probably a mistake, and I need to go back and re-read some of those sections more carefully. He notes:
In the current climate of uncertainty in America, along with the peculiar self questioning and decline in confidence of theologically conservative Christians, the time may well be ripe for American Christians to study the events of the 1830s and 40s in Europe. True, the world of iPads and smartphones seems a long way away from that formed by the Treaty of Vienna of the Industrial Revolution but there are a number of constructive parallels.

It is surely interesting that a number major European churches experienced significant internal turmoil or even divisions during the 1830s and 40s. The Dutch church had its afscheiding in 1834; the Anglican Church gave birth to the Oxford Movement in 1831 and saw two of its most high profile figures, Newman and Manning, eventually convert to Catholicism; and the Church of Scotland divided in 1843, when Chalmers led a group out of the establishment to form the Free Church of Scotland.

In different ways, these crises represented the death throes of the confessional state. Since the Reformation, European states had been defined in large part by their confessional commitments, with state and state churches working together to maintain social and political stability. This situation worked well whilst the interests of the state and the relevant confessional churches were essentially consonant with each other. With the rise of immigration and emigration which heavy industry helped to fuel, the growing economic and financial strength of those not involved in the various state churches and the general pressure on Christian belief from other secularizing forces, state and church started to drift apart. The strains manifested themselves in various ways. In England, assertion of Parliamentary power over the church in the suppression of Irish sees led to the protest of the Oxford Movement; and the issue of patronage in Scotland became a major point of church-state conflict in the same decade and culminated, after the Ten Year's Conflict, in the Disruption of 1843. Internally, too, the churches witnessed struggles and not just between obviously different parties: the early to mid-nineteen century had also witnessed a growing fissure with the ranks of the evangelical parties in Anglicanism as some focused on conversion and a form of other-worldly experiential pietism and others started to move towards seeing the gospel as involving social transformation.

It is hard not to see parallels with the current situation in America. …

In this context, I wonder if the calls for Christians to return to study of the early church or the Reformation might not be supplemented with a further suggestion: the study of the secularizing forces in Europe in the 1830s and 40s and the various reactions and responses offered by the churches and church leaders of the time? It is interesting that even these show at least superficial parallels with today: … The European churchmen of the nineteenth century, often neglected, nonetheless offer fascinating paradigms of response to an age of secularization and science.
Well, it just so happens that “the world of iPads and smartphones” has given us the ability to study just such things. I’ve been following the The Church and the World, a recent RTS course given by Dr James Anderson.

The course description reads: “In this course, Dr. Anderson discusses the major cultural, theological, and historical developments of the Christian Church from the twentieth century to the present. The course will deal with the impact of Christianity on contemporary culture as well as include key figures and movements.”

So far I’ve listened to the first handful of classes, and I have to say, Dr. Anderson puts all of these developments (Hume, Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher) into context; and my expectation is that the remainder of the course will continue to clarify not only the period of time that Dr. Trueman is talking about, but many of the issues of our own times.

1 comment:

  1. "Schleiermacher wasn’t attempting to create “liberalism”; rather, he was responding to Hume and Kant, and his intention rather was to bring theology more into line with those philosophies."

    Rule #1 for generating liberal theology: change your theology to match some unfounded philosophy rather than develop theology according to God's revelation. Do that and you won't have to try to be liberal; it will just happen.