Love precedes Truth

April 30, 2014

More accurately, Love equals Truth, and I should give this equation some Christian content — but you’ll have to cut me some slack. In the order of knowing, Love precedes Truth. This was the insight that drew me to Cardinal Newman’s beautiful work years ago. So, it is appropriate that I was reminded of this while viewing the conversion story of Jennifer Fulwiler, former atheist and now Roman Catholic. Her story/life was given the reality TV show treatment for a Catholic station, and here is the overview:

“Suddenly I was surrounded by life.” I encourage you to watch the full episodes: one, two, and three.

Her book, Something Other Than God, was released this week.

Saving Karl Barth

I have been reading D. Stephen Long’s new release, Saving Karl Barth: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Preoccupation. It is such a joy to read this book. So far — in the first two chapters — Long has given us a careful narrative overview of Balthasar’s journey into reading and presenting Barth, his struggles with suspicious fellow Catholics (and suspicious Protestants), and the precise distinctions involved in his analysis and appropriation of Barth, while remaining faithful to Vatican I’s duplex ordo: “Balthasar’s preoccupation, interpretation, and presentation of Barth’s work is much too broad, dynamic, and changing to be encapsulated in any single formula such as ‘from dialectic to analogy'” (37). The first half of the second chapter is a fascinating look at Balthasar’s early work on Barth, works not yet translated into English, leading up to his 1951 monograph on Barth. In the third chapter, he will look at the collapse of Balthasar’s interpretation of Barth among many Catholic and Protestant interpreters today, which includes Long’s evaluation and rejection of Bruce McCormack’s interpretation of Barth. The remaining chapters engage Balthasar and Barth through three dogmatic loci: the doctrine of God (ch. 4), ethics (ch. 5), and the church (ch. 6).

In this post, I will provide just one excerpt that should be of interest to those curious about the book (which should be everybody). Long is analyzing Balthasar’s 1944 essay, “Analogie und Dialektik”:

[Balthasar] did not dismiss dialectic but distinguished dialectic as method from dialectic as ontological contradiction. The latter was particularly found in Romans 2, which was a “demonic attempt to think contradiction through all the way to the end.” Once Barth thought it through, without “short-circuiting” or “evasion,” then it inevitably led to the “horizon of analogy” because dialectic as ontological contradiction is a dead end — literally. All it can do is deny and destroy creation; it is one more instance of German apocalypse. For this reason, dialectic alone cannot express well the basic form of Christianity, the incarnation. What Balthasar and Barth shared in common, a commitment to the incarnation as the form of theology, is also what caused their deepest disagreements. For Balthasar, Barth was never merely a dialectical thinker because he was always a Christocentric theologian. Even in the early period, analogy was tacitly necessary. The issue between Catholicism and Barth, and thus between Catholicism and Protestantism, did not really take the form of analogy versus dialectic. That was misleading. Both agreed, given the incarnation, “analogy” is the necessary form Christian theology must take. The real difference was whether the analogy is of being (entis) or of faith (fidei). This difference mattered. Balthasar named it “the last essential difference” between Catholicism and Protestantism. It had a “deadly seriousness” and was something much more than “idle theological bickering.”

Balthasar may have always heard analogy in Barth’s dialectic, but he also heard “identity” even in the “contradiction” of Romans 2, albeit “horribly distorted.” In other words, these stages were not progressive advances. They were failed attempts to express adequately the Christian form. As he had argued in the 1939 essay “Karl Barth and Catholicism,” so he argues here: Barth’s early work collapsed creaturely being into guilty and sinful being. Thus he lacked an adequate concept of nature. His anthropology did not take the form of the fall of a nature, but the nature of falleness. This left nothing for creatures to do but be negated. This was how dialectic as contradiction collapsed back into identity. If creation can only be negated, then it contributed nothing in the soteriological drama. God will be the lone actor. Balthasar acknowledged this is not what Barth sought to affirm, but it was the logical consequence of dialectic as contradiction if it were consistently carried through.

[Saving Karl Barth, pp. 53-54. Long is translating and quoting from “Analogie und Dialektik,” Divus Thomas 22 (1944), pp. 171-174.]

Long continues to explain precisely what this means, focusing on Balthasar’s distinction between “analogy of being” and “pure nature” (the latter is the real error, a late medieval and Baroque perversion of the former, according to Balthasar). As you can see, Long is able to distill and communicate clearly this rather complex material, which should make the volume accessible even for those students who are fairly new to these debates.

Barth reading - retouched

For those who have read widely in the Church Dogmatics, you know that Barth will occasionally refer to his earlier work, prior to the CD, in order to partially chastise his former self. One such occasion is during his discussion of God’s eternity, located near the end of II.1. I will first set-up the discussion. In God, there is “a readiness of eternity for time” because God is the “prototype and foreordination of time” in his very being (611-612, 618). This “readiness of eternity for time” is Barth’s way of expressing that: creaturely time is wholly contingent upon eternity for its being as time, but God’s time-in-eternity is not dependent on creation for its reality in God’s own life. This readiness “does not compel Him to actualize it” (618).

The “concrete form” of this readiness is then expressed through the categories of pre-temporality, supra-temporality, and post-temporality. In relation to creation, God “precedes its beginning, He accompanies its duration, and He exists after its end” (619). In an excursus, Barth deals with the way in which different periods of Protestant history have prioritized one or an other of these three. The Reformers were too one-sided in their emphasis on pre-temporality, therefore making human life “a kind of appendix” (632). In reaction to this, the modernists made the “far more dangerous” move of emphasizing supra-temporality (God’s present accompaniment), which was duly followed by the late 19th / early 20th century reaction through emphasizing post-temporality (apocalyptic readings of Jesus and Paul).

It is in this last group that Barth recognizes his early work, as a reaction to liberal optimism. As he explains, “In the attempt to free ourselves both from these early forms of one-sidedness, especially from that of pietistic and Liberal Neo-Protestantism, and also from the unsatisfactory corrections with which our predecessors had tried to overcome them, we took the surest possible way to make ourselves guilty of a new one-sidedness and therefore to evoke a relatively justifiable but, in view of the total truth, equally misleading reaction…” (634). Barth then continues with an example, which I love because it perfectly captures what I disliked about his Romans commentary:

Expounding Rom. 8:24, I even dared to say at that time: “Hope that is visible is not hope. Direct communication from God is not communication from God. A Christianity that is not wholly and utterly and irreducibly eschatology has absolutely nothing to do with Christ. A spirit that is not at every moment in time new life from the dead is in any case not the Holy Spirit. ‘For that which is seen is temporal’ (2 Cor. 4:18). What is not hope is a log, a block, a chain, heavy and angular, like the word ‘reality.’ It imprisons rather than sets free. It is not grace, but judgment and destruction. It is fate, not divine fulfilment. It is not God, but a reflection of man unredeemed. It is this even if it is an ever so stately edifice of social progress or an ever so respectable bubble of Christian redeemedness. Redemption is that which cannot be seen, the inaccessible, the impossible, which confronts us as hope. Can we wish to be anything other and better than men of hope, or anything additional?” Well roared, lion! There is nothing absolutely false in these bold words. I still think that I was right ten times over against those who then passed judgment on them and resisted them. Those who can still hear what was said then by both the religious and worldlings, and especially by religious worldlings, and especially the most up-to-date among them, cannot but admit that it was necessary to speak in this way. The sentences I then uttered were not hazardous (in the sense of precarious) on account of their content. They were hazardous because to be legitimate exposition of the Bible they needed others no less sharp and direct to compensate and therefore genuinely to substantiate their total claim. But these were lacking. If we claim to have too perfect an understanding of the Gospel, we at once lose our understanding. In our exposition we cannot claim to be wholly right over against others, or we are at once in the wrong. At that time we had not sufficiently considered the pre-temporality of the Reformers or the supra-temporality of God which Neo-Protestants of all shades had put in such a distorted way at the centre. Hence we had not seen the biblical conception of eternity in its fulness. [634-635]

“Well roared, lion!” You gotta love that. He then recognizes that these early writings were why Bultmann and Tillich could once think of him as a comrade. Of course, Barth is not entirely disowning these early apocalyptic and existential notes, just their capacity to distort the truth of God’s prior and present relationship to creation.


Image: This is my own retouching of a photo of Barth reading. I removed a significant amount of “noise” in the image (dust and cracks) and slightly brightened it.

On reading Balthasar

April 24, 2014


I have begun to re-read the first volume of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Herrlichkeit, translated into English as The Glory of the Lord. Herrlichkeit means “glory” or “splendor.” It is the quality of “form” that radiates from being or existence. Balthasar chooses to begin his theological trilogy with this aesthetic quality (7 volumes), proceeded by goodness (5 volumes) and truth (3 volumes) — thereby reversing Kant’s ordering of his Critique series. I am excited to revisit Balthasar, who was a significant influence in my life during the mid-00’s when I first began to read theology, not counting my coursework in Religion/Philosophy as an undergraduate — a program with scarcely any theology at all. At that time, I was just beginning to read Barth on my own, beginning with Romans (which I rather disliked, exciting thought it was) and then Church Dogmatics I.1 (which “saved” Barth in my estimation, from his obvious beholdenness to existential obsessions with finitude). In the years since, I have read the majority of Barth’s CD, hopefully acquiring a pretty good facility with the material. I am certainly the most comfortable with expounding Barth than any other theologian.

Balthasar’s prose is magnificent but often a struggle, much more so than Barth. Newcomers will likely be astonished by me saying this, but I find that Barth is one of the clearest writers in the field. His mastery over prose is unparalleled, even if excessively prolix at times. I always get the sense that Barth says exactly what he wants to say, exactly how he wants to say it — with the greatest of ease. By contrast, I often get the sense that Balthasar is having a monologue with himself! He has so immersed himself within the whole breadth of Western metaphysics, alongside his mystical temperament, that he sometimes forgets he’s writing for an audience. But if you work your way through, the payoff is immeasurable. The awe with which Balthasar envisions reality will slowly but powerfully find its way into your own imagination.

It just so happens that I recently read Bultmann’s small volume, Jesus Christ and Mythology, marking the second work from Bultmann that I’ve read (the other being his NT theology). God willing, I will never read Bultmann again. I thoroughly dislike the man. I am afraid that if I were to express my thoughts, I would far exceed the boundaries of Christian charity. The contrast with Balthasar is like night and day — a rather apt image. At Bultmann’s best, he can attain a certain sublimity, but even that is rare. Beauty is wholly foreign to his theology. If that is the price of faithful authenticity, then I’ll pass.

In order to get a taste of Balthasar, here is one of my favorite passages toward the beginning of the volume:

Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness. No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man. We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past — whether he admits it or not — can no longer pray soon will no longer be able to love. The nineteenth century still held on with passionate frenzy to the fleeing garments of beauty, which are the contours of the ancient world as it dissolves: ‘Helena embraces Faust, her body vanishes, and only her robe and veil remain in his arms….Helena’s garments dissolve into clouds, enveloping Faust. He is raised on high and floats away with the cloud’ (Faust, II, Act 3). The world, formerly penetrated by God’s light, now becomes but an appearance and a dream — the Roman vision — and soon thereafter nothing but music. But where the cloud disperses, naked matter remains as an indigestible symbol of fear and anguish. Since nothing else remains, and yet something must be embraced, twentieth-century man is urged to enter this impossible marriage with matter, a union which finally spoils all man’s taste for love. But man cannot bear to live with the object of his impotence, that which remains permanently unmastered. He must either deny it or conceal it in the silence of death.

In a world without beauty — even if people cannot dispense with the word and constantly have it on the tip of their tongues in order to abuse it — in a world which is perhaps not wholly without beauty, but which can no longer see it or reckon with it: in such a world the good also loses its attractiveness, the self-evidence of why it must be carried out.

[The Glory of the Lord: Seeing the Form, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, T&T Clark / Ignatius Press: 1982, pp. 18-19]

Wow! You could spend an hour discussing the richness, the penetration, the magnificence of these sentences.


Here is Charles Spurgeon preaching on “the trial of faith”:

…who am I, and who are you, that God should pamper us? Would we have him put us in a glass case and shield us from the trials which are common to all the chosen seed? I ask no such portion. Let me fare as the saints fare. I only wish to have their bread and their water, and love their Father, and follow their Guide, and find their home. We will take our meals with them, whatever God puts upon the table for them, will we not? The trial of our faith will be all our own, and yet it will be in fellowship with all the family of grace.

It will be no child’s play to come under the divine tests. Our faith is not merely jingled on the counter like the shilling which the tradesman suspects, but it is tried with fire; for so it is written, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isa 48:10). The blows of the flail of tribulation are not given in sport, but in awful earnest, as some of us know who have been chastened sore, almost unto death. The Lord tries the very life of our faith; not its beauty and its strength alone, but its very existence. The iron enters into the soul; the sharp medicine searches the inmost parts of the belly; the man’s real self is made to endure the trial. It is easy to talk of being tried, but it is by no means so simple a matter to endure the ordeal.

…”Oh,” you have said, “I wish I had more faith.” Your prayer will be heard through your having more trial. Often in our prayers we have sought for a stronger faith to look within the veil. The way to stronger faith usually lies along the rough pathway of sorrow. Only as faith is contested will faith be confirmed. I do not know whether my experience is that of all God’s people; but I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable. What do I not owe to the hammer and the anvil, the fire and the file? What do I not owe to the crucible and the furnace, the bellows that have blown up the coals, and the hand which has thrust me into the heat? Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library. We may wisely rejoice in tribulation, because it worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and by that way are exceedingly enriched, and our faith grows strong.

…when affliction comes into the soul, and makes a disturbance and breaks our peace, up rise our graces. Faith comes out of its hiding, and love leaps from its secret place.

[“The Trial of Your Faith,” in 12 Sermons for the Troubled and Tried, Baker Book House, 1975, pp. 12-13]

I love that last line: “Faith comes out of its hiding, and love leaps from its secret place.”

Karl Barth

Karl Barth

It would be helpful to read a prior post: “Subordination in God, modal not personal.” That was a brief distillation of why I disagree with Kevin Giles, in his commendable work against subordinationism within “social trinitarianism” of a conservative persuasion. In sum, I argue that subordination is constitutive of God’s essense, but this cannot be ascribed to any “person” of the Trinity if we define person as a distinct, self-subsisting subject of operation. As such, God’s essence would be divided, and the Son’s subordination would entail a different ontology from the Father — hence, “subordinationism,” Giles’ worry. Yet, if we define “person” as a mode of the single divine subject, per Barth, then subordination can be formulated in God’s essence, necessarily both a se and ad extra.

Yet, Barth consistently affirms a genuine relationality in God, such that the divine unity and oneness are not conceptually opposed to fellowship and togetherness. This puts Barth in a unique position vis-à-vis the current controversies. He can say that God “does not exist in solitude but fellowship.” This is the living God — the God who has life and movement in himself and from himself. He is “alive in His unique being with and for and in another” (II.1, 275). God’s unity is not “for oneself” but “for another,” from eternity as the ground in God for his fellowship with creation and our fellowship with one another. This is the God who “includes in Himself the differentiation and relationship of I and Thou,” which is the basis for the imago Dei as man and woman (III.1, 191-192). In God, there is a One and also Another, a first and a second, an above and a below. This does not mean, for Barth, that there is a “society of persons,” which would introduce an all-too-human conception of divine fellowship, but Barth is clearly treading rather close to that view. The difference, of course, is that Barth is rigorously thinking from God’s side, so to speak, and not beginning with our conception of ideal relationship and fellowship, as if to validate the former.

Thus, it is not entirely wrong to align Barth, in some obvious respects, with social trinitarianism, controversial as that claim is today among Barthians — and even if Barth once said, “Modernism has no Doctrine of the Trinity. The notion of a ‘Social Trinity’ is fantastic” (Table Talk, 50)! He means fanciful and wild. Yet, this is the same Barth who later continues this discussion by saying:

In the one essence of God there is togetherness; so there can be love. There are other things in God, such as authority and humility. Our minds cannot unite these, but these are in the one God. I admit a social threeness. The distinction between ‘individual’ and ‘society’ are our distinctions. Why not something different in God: not a division, although a distinction? Yes, the Son prays to the Father, and the Father hears. But this is the divine life. [Table Talk, 58]

It is helpful to look at CD IV.1, §59 (“The Obedience of the Son”). Barth here refers to “two unfortunate and very arbitrary ways of thinking” from which we must free ourselves (IV.1, 202). In the context, Barth is discussing the astonishing claim — the “offensive fact that there is in God Himself an above and a below, a prius and a posterius, a superiority and a subordination. And our present concern is with what is apparently the most offensive fact of all, that there is a below, a posterius, a subordination, that it belongs to the inner life of God that there should take place within it obedience” (IV.1, 200-201). What are the unfortunate and arbitrary ways of thinking that militate against recognizing this astonishing claim?

The first consists quite naturally in the idea that unity is necessarily equivalent with being in and for oneself, with being enclosed and imprisoned in one’s own being, with singleness and solitariness. But the unity of God is not like this. It is, of course, exclusively His unity. No other being, no created being, is one with itself as God is. But what distinguishes His peculiar unity with Himself from all other unities or from what we think we know of such unities is the fact that — in a particularity which is exemplary and instructive for an understanding of these others — it is a unity which is open and free and active in itself — a unity in more than one mode of being, a unity of the One with Another, of a first with a second, an above with a below, an origin and its consequences. It is a dynamic and living unity, not a dead and static. Once we have seen this, we will be careful not to regard that mean and unprofitable concept of unity as the last word of wisdom and the measure of all things. And its application to God will be ruled out once and for all.

The second idea we have to abandon is that-even supposing we have corrected that unsatisfactory conception of unity — there is necessarily something unworthy of God and incompatible with His being as God in supposing that there is in God a first and a second, an above and a below, since this includes a gradation, a degradation and an inferiority in God, which if conceded excludes the homoousia of the different modes of divine being. That all sounds very illuminating. But is it not an all too human — and therefore not a genuinely human — way of thinking? For what is the measure by which it measures and judges? Has there really to be something mean in God for Him to be the second, below? Does subordination in God necessarily involve an inferiority, and therefore a deprivation, a lack? Why not rather a particular being in the glory of the one equal Godhead, in whose inner order there is also, in fact, this dimension, the direction downwards, which has its own dignity? Why should not our way of finding a lesser dignity and significance in what takes the second and subordinate place (the wife to her husband) need to be corrected in the light of the homoousia of the modes of divine being? [IV.1, 202]

There is much to discuss in this passage, and I would especially direct students to Barth’s work in II.1, §28 (“The Being of God as the One Who Loves in Freedom”), for further technical analysis of how Barth negotiates with classical theism. For my interests here and elsewhere, I would highlight Barth’s question, “Does subordination in God necessarily involve an inferiority, and therefore a deprivation, a lack?” That is the general assumption, and Barth is not exactly beloved today for his unfolding of this in CD III.4, §54.1 (“Man and Woman”), even though it follows from his doctrine of God in II.1, the imago Dei in III.1, and the christology in IV.1.


Image: Karl Barth, probably circa 1910’s or 1920’s, provided by the Universität Freiburg.


Gary Dorrien’s Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealistic Logic of Modern Theology is a an extensive (nearly 600 page) history of German Idealism and its ramifications for modern theology, which is to say that ignorance of the former entails ignorance of the latter. As with so many other important works, I have not yet been able to read Dorrien’s book. In the meantime, I enjoyed Samuel Loncar’s overview and interpretation of the book in The Marginalia Review, an open-access journal. Loncar is a PhD student at Yale, specializing in the philosophy of religion and focusing on German Idealism. I have some disagreements with Loncar on Barth, but I respect his concerns.


Is a truly modern religion possible? Can faith survive in the face of modern science and knowledge? These timely questions are central to a major new work by Gary Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealist Logic of Modern Theology. Answering these questions leads Dorrien back to Immanuel Kant, for it is to Kant and the world he created that we must turn if we want to understand the possibility and challenges of a distinctively modern religion.

“The Second Immanuel”

The long nineteenth century is said to begin in 1789 and end in 1914. Politics, and their continuation by other means, shape our historical categories. But it was the overthrow of ideas in Germany rather than the storming of the Bastille in France that marked the beginning of the nineteenth century. Despite its revolutionary character, the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 took time to have effect; it wasn’t until well into the 1780s that a serious discussion of the first Critique ensued. Once it was understood, philosophy and religion changed forever.

Kant saw himself as part of the German enlightenment, or Aufklärung, which, unlike its French counterpart, saw enlightenment as fully compatible with religion. The central idea of the Aufklärung was the supremacy of reason, the idea that reason was the arbiter before which all other authorities must be judged, including the venerable authorities of tradition and religion. Enlightened thinkers in late-eighteenth-century Germany thought reason’s supremacy and autonomy would not cause trouble for religion, whose rational tenets most of the Aufklärer defined as the existence of God, moral duty, and the immortality of the soul — these beliefs were held to be interconnected and necessary for the moral stability of society.

Kant was dismayed when he surveyed the state of metaphysics in 1781. He saw the profound disagreement and lack of progress in philosophy in marked contrast to the progress and consensus in the natural sciences, symbolized above all by Newton’s mathematical physics and the mechanistic worldview it implied. On Kant’s analysis, the disagreement on fundamental philosophical issues ultimately derived from Reason’s failure to understand herself. A critique of reason itself was therefore the essential prerequisite for progress in philosophy. To determine the nature and extent of human reason would unshackle it from its embarrassing lack of progress and lead it on to “the sure path of science.”

You can read the rest at Marginalia.

Here is a lovely little rendition of a favorite hymn, from Give Us Rest by David Crowder Band:

Against the malady of cookie-cutter praise music in the 00’s, I really enjoyed David Crowder Band, even if the quality was somewhat inconsistent on any given album — though A Collision is nearly perfect. His love for Christ was matched by a thoughtful approach to worship, full of creativity and wonder. I am glad to see that his first solo album is due next month: Neon Steeple.

Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt

I recently taught a Sunday school class on postmodernism, critical theory, and identity politics — building off of prior classes, especially Hegel’s historicizing of the absolute and Feuerbach’s anthropology of religion. (Once you remove the universal in Hegel’s historicism, with the help of a couple world wars in Europe, postmodernism was inevitable.) I even introduced Foucault’s Panopticon! It is actually not very difficult to communicate these ideas, because cultural illustrations are abundant. I had mentioned off-hand that affluent Westerners are too busy cultivating their personal identities to bother with having families. With some time to waste the other day, I was curious to get some recent numbers. The most helpful that I found is the CIA World Factbook, comparing the population and fertility data of the world’s nations.

You can scroll down to see the fertility rates of European countries. Finland and Denmark are 1.73. Switzerland is 1.54. Spain is 1.48. Austria and Germany are 1.43. Italy is 1.42. Greece is 1.41. The replacement rate needs to be 2.1, a little more than two births per woman. The UK is slightly better than others at 1.9, and France is 2.08 (presumably helped by African immigration). The US is in this range at 2.01. You can also click on the country and analyze more details. For example, Germany not only has an abysmal fertility rate at 1.43, but the median age is 46.1 and the mother’s mean age at first birth is 28.9. Germany’s religiously unaffiliated are 28.3% of the population, in a country where the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches (tied at 34% each) still include a high number of nominal membership.

These numbers will become increasingly important, if not already at a crisis point, and they should be of particular interest to Christians. Mary Eberstadt has received a lot of attention for her latest book, How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization. Her thesis is that the decline of the family precipitated the decline of religion, not the other way around — or, at least, that they are interdependent. You can read a good synopsis of the book at The Imaginative Conservative.

Meanwhile, the bright lights of the Protestant mainline have been making their bed with the feminist ideology that will only further accelerate their demographic free-fall. I appreciate Rod Dreher’s related thoughts in a TAC article last year:

It seems that when people decide that historically normative Christianity is wrong about sex, they typically don’t find a church that endorses their liberal views. They quit going to church altogether.

This raises a critically important question: is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives—or gave—Christianity its power as a social force? …

Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the sexual revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s death as a culturally determinative force. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct. That the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.

Weimar's Courtyard of the Muses - Theobald von Oer

Philip Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism is full of wonderful moments of insight and careful scrutiny. I can hardly believe that he was only 25 years old when he delivered it as a lecture in 1844, soon after his move to America from Berlin. Even at this early period in his scholarship, his mastery of both history and dogmatics is well on display. This would later find expression in his massive work within patristics and church history, which are consulted to this day.

His admiration for the German theology in which he was trained is balanced by an appropriate caution. He knows the pitfalls well, but he refuses to find refuge in either a subjectivism or objectivism, as he terms them. He is opposed to rationalism but also to its counterpart in sectarianism, his label for a degenerate pietism. Both are rooted in a false subjective freedom: respectively, “theoretic subjectivism” and “practical subjectivism.” And he is equally opposed to a false objectivism, whether of the Roman Catholic (or Oxford Movement) sort or the repristinated Protestant sort. This is most fully developed in part two (p. 125ff). It is easy to see affinities with Karl Barth from the following century.

Thus, it is characteristic to find Schaff both appreciative and critical of Schleiermacher and Hegel, and he has a particular admiration for the mediating theologies of Karl Immanuel Nitzsch and Isaak August Dorner, among others. To give you a taste, Schaff defends the significance of German theology with great energy:

But the proper home of Protestant theology is Germany, and hence we may say that those who refuse to take account of German theology, set themselves in fact against the progress of Protestantism. The land which gave birth to the Reformation stands pledged by that movement itself not to rest till the great work shall have been made complete, when the revelation of God in Christ shall be apprehended in full and the contents of faith shall be reduced to such form as to carry with them also the clearest evidence and most incontrovertible certainty in the way of knowledge. We wish not to depreciate in the least the merits acquired in former times, by the Dutch and the English in particular, in the way of biblical study — critical, exegetical, and antiquarian. The German is always disposed rather to put an undue value on what is foreign, and has long since appropriated the results of these investigations and worked them into the process of his own cultivation. But what is all this beside the gigantic creations of German theology! All its heresies cannot destroy my respect for it. In England and America one learns first to prize it according to its true worth. It must not be forgotten that even the German rationalism, worthy of all reprobation as it is, gives evidence, at least in its better forms, of an extraordinary scientific energy and a deep interest in the investigation of truth, from which we are authorized to draw a favorable conclusion on the opposite side. For only an archangel can become a devil. As England and America would not have been able at all to produce so fearful an enemy of Christianity as David Friedrich Strauss, so must they have been much less able to meet him with a proper refutation; and I shudder at times to think of the desolation his writings must occasion, if they should come to be much read — which may God prevent — in this country. It must be borne in mind also on the other side that there is a species of orthodoxy, by no means rare, which rests upon the foundation of mere convenience or intellectual indolence, or the lowest motive possibly of self-interest, and is consequently no whit better, yea by reason of such hypocrisy in its constitution is even much worse, than open and honest unbelief.

And most interestingly, he continues by comparing the developments in German theology with that of the early church, in her quest for doctrinal clarity amidst false paths exposed by heresies:

If we look into church history, we shall be still less disturbed in our estimate of German theology by the heretical elements that belong to it, since they must appear to us only as negative conditions of a new doctrinal conquest. Thus the full determination and clear, close definition of the doctrines of the Trinity and of the relation of the two natures in Christ, as exhibited to us in the ecumenical councils, were conditioned throughout by a succession of heresies in the direction of these articles. The Pelagian error must serve, in the hand of God, to unfold and establish more profoundly, through Augustine, the doctrine of divine grace and human liberty. At the Reformation also heretical tendencies, Socinianism, Anabaptism, antinomianism, and so on, come into view; as in a period of such vast excitement was to be expected. They wrought with salutary force on the development of orthodox Protestantism, making it necessary for it to understand more clearly its own commission, to discriminate more closely its proper sphere, and to fortify itself against unauthorized consequences and various misapprehensions of its true character.

[The Principle of Protestantism, trans. John W. Nevin, pp. 202-203]

If you enjoyed that, you may also be interested in Schaff’s survey of German universities and theologians, published in 1857: Germany: Its Universities, Theology, and Religion.


Image: “Weimar’s Courtyard of the Muses” by Theobald von Oer