Sunday, October 16, 2011

What’s gone wrong with the world, theologically, in the last two centuries?

Several weeks ago I mentioned that I was working through Dr. James Anderson’s course, The Church and the World. I’ve finished that course, and I have to say, I found it to be one of the most helpful things I’ve done in a long time.

The course is a survey of all the theological aberrations of the last 200 years, where they come from, what they believed, and who the major figures are of each. Dr. Anderson doesn’t go too deeply into any one thing, but rather, in each of these categories, he discusses the rationale for each movement, its major tenets, and some of the major figures. The last three sessions of the course provide a discussion of H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture”. Here’s the line-up:
The Background of the Enlightenment

Major Thinkers of the Enlightenment -- Hume, Kant, and Hegel

Three Major Figures of Liberalism - Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Harnack

Liberalism and Fundamentalism – “The Fundamentals” and J. Gresham Machen

The Neo-Orthodox Reaction to Liberalism - Barth and Tillich

Existentialist Theology - Brunner, Bultmann

Theologies of Hope/History – Moltmann, Panenberg

Liberation Theologies - Latin American, Black, Feminist, Queer

Postliberal Theology - George Lindbeck

Radical Orthodoxy and Post-Evangelicalism

Christ and Culture (Richard Niebuhr)

Concluding Observations
Each section (and the course itself) helpfully concludes with Dr. Anderson’s assessment of “what we can learn from this”, and often, this takes the form of, “now, this movement was a response to “…” and while that may have been well-motivated, here’s how we can do better”. The section on “The Fundamentals and J. Gresham Machen” was a much-appreciated interlude to all the craziness – these were, in a way, “mid-course” efforts to address some of the things going out of control, and Dr. Anderson’s assessments, with his comments about “what can we learn” and “how we can do better” were helpful here, too.

One thing really struck me, and that was, virtually all of the major figures, especially in the first part of the course, seem to have biographical stories that begin “the son of a German Lutheran pastor …” and some of the later – “postliberal” “post-evangelical” “radical orthodoxy” are so recent, they tend to all blur together in names and recognizable movements we all see, in movements that are still rapidly changing.

The recordings were excellent, and even the class discussions were clear (both audibly and in terms of what was being discussed), and I was very pleasantly surprised by the caliber of the (relatively few) class discussions. I have just one minor, nit-picky comment for the production folks at RTS, and that is, when I downloaded the entire course, it didn’t “fall in” in such a way that I could listen right through. Many of the courses loaded out-of-order within the various lecture groups (lecture 2 would fall in first for a certain topic, then 1 and then 3 – things like that happened all through the course).

But all in all, it was a fabulous way to take in, understand, and categorize all of the various things that are going haywire in the world today.

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