Mini-Review: Thinking About Christ with Schleiermacher, Catherine Kelsey
August 8, 2012
Thinking About Christ with Schleiermacher by Catherine Kelsey (WJK Press, 2003)
This is a slim volume of little over a hundred pages. The audience is, surprisingly enough for this sort of study, an adult Sunday school class. Interspersed throughout the text are blocks of discussion questions, guided by personal reflections and practical commentary. These are well-done and valuable for those who do agree with Schleiermacher’s emphases in The Christian Faith. The choice of following The Christian Faith, Schleiermacher’s mature systematic theology, is especially appreciated by yours truly. Kelsey does a fine job of explaining the method of dogmatics and the use of Christology (subjectively focused) as an organizing tool.
The criticisms I have, and others will have, are with the limitations of Schleiermacher’s approach. So, I do not share Kelsey’s enthusiasm for this approach, but it is instructive to read someone who does. Kelsey is fair throughout and briefly notes the departures from other, more common and more traditional, readings of Christ’s person and work. A focus on the Cross and substitutionary atonement is replaced by a focus on the affective life of Christ on his followers, the disciples who were first drawn to Christ by his God-consciousness. This origin of the church is the locus of salvation, such that ecclesiology and soteriology are equated. Atonement is entry into this community of God-consciousness, with Christ as the head. The perfection of Christ is in his God-consciousness, not his fulfillment of the Law before a Just and Holy God.
Interestingly, I am currently reading P. T. Forsyth’s The Justification of God, and the contrast with Schleiermacher could not be more stark. Forsyth is awe-struck by the holiness of God, whereas Schleiermacher is “moved” by the beauty of Christ. While the latter may have some minimal value as a corrective (albeit over-corrective) to the dominant themes of scholastic Protestantism, the former approach of Forsyth and his Reformation friends is truer to the strange otherness of God and his claim on our lives.