Exploring Church History

Reflections on History and Theology

Tag: enlightenment (page 1 of 2)

Benjamin Franklin’s “Autobiography,” George Whitefield, and Early American Religion

"Portrait of Benjamin Franklin," by Joseph Duplessis, ca. 1785 (public domain), National Portrait Gallery, Washington

“Portrait of Benjamin Franklin,” by Joseph Duplessis, ca. 1785 (public domain), National Portrait Gallery, Washington

One engaging way to get a taste of eighteenth-century America is to read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. (You can buy countless editions on Amazon, or you can read it online for free at the Project Gutenberg website.) The Bostonian-turned-Philadelphia-printer is a classic story of a young working-class man who makes something of himself through hard work and industry.

In the Autobiography, one can discover much about British colonial America, from the dynamics of the economy and the dependence of the colonies on Great Britain to the politics of colonial life and the ongoing threat and reality of war in America. Franklin’s life touched on all kinds of issues in his day, making this primary source a valuable read. As one would expect, it also wades into questions of religion.

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Herbert Bayer, “Reason Is Language, Logos” (Johann Georg Hamann)

From 1950 through the middle of the 1970s, Herbert Bayer, then director of the Container Corporation of America, commissioned a series of works under the title “Great Ideas of the Western Man.” The works were inspired by the who’s who of Western philosophy, literature, science, religion, and politics.

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Summer Reading List

As summer is fast approaching, here are the books on my shelf waiting to be read!

Irena Backus, Leibniz, Protestant Theologian

1. Irena Backus, Leibniz: Protestant Theologian

Though best known for his philosophy, Backus offers a different perspective by examining Leibniz’s theology. Backus works through the relationship of Leibniz’s Lutheran theology and his philosophy, leading up to the Enlightenment.

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The Biblical Accommodation Debate in Germany: Interpretation and the Enlightenment

I’m pleased to announce that The Biblical Accommodation Debate in Germany: Interpretation and the Enlightenment will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. Since the days of the Enlightenment, one of the most significant aspects of interpreting the Bible has been the question of how God accommodated his revelation to humanity. Since God is infinite and humans are finite, God had to somehow communicate with his creatures in a way they could understand. Ever since the time of Augustine, accommodation has been a crucial doctrine for interpreters of the Bible who also seek to understand the Bible’s authority, and it remains so today. However, the contemporary discussion of the doctrine is hampered by an ignorance of its history and how a seventy-five-year debate reshaped accommodation for the modern era. My book aims to redress this misunderstanding.

In this book I set out to fill a lacuna in the history of biblical interpretation. To date, there is no work on the doctrine of accommodation during the Enlightenment. Given that eighteenth-century Germany witnessed the greatest concentrated discussion of accommodation, all in the context of historical criticism, this void in the history of biblical interpretation is quite unfortunate. My book meets this need by examining the accommodation debate of 1761–1835 in conjunction with the German Enlightenment and the rise of historical criticism.

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Lancelot Addison and the Enlightenment: A Review of William J. Bulman’s Anglican Enlightenment

William J. Bulman, Anglican EnlightenmentA while back, Emily Rutherford posited that studies on the Church of England in the eighteenth century was the “biggest gap” in current historiography. Rutherford goes on to identify Carolyn Steedman’s Master and Servant: Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age as the best exception to this lacuna. In addition to Steedman, one could also add Brent Sirota. With William J. Bulman’s Anglican Enlightenment; Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and its Empire, 1648-1715 (Cambridge, 2015; source: publisher) we can now include a pivotal study that perhaps fills this gap.

At first glance, Anglican Enlightenment seems to have a couple significant limitations. First, is not Anglican Enlightenment an oxymoron? It has long been argued that early Enlightenment in England has stood in opposition to conformist Church of England. The term Anglican Enlightenment is thus rendered nonsensical. Second, despite its title, Bulman’s work is a study of Lancelot Addison, and not the broader overview of the Church of England. This begs the question, could one case study give us a fair assessment of an entire movement such as the Anglican Enlightenment?

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The Radical Enlightenment: A Review of Martin Mulsow’s Enlightenment Underground

Martin Mulsow, Enlightenment Underground (radical Enlightenment)Martin Mulsow’s Enlightenment Underground: Radical Enlightenment, 1680-1720 (University of Virginia Press, 2015; source: publisher) has at last been translated into English. For readers of German, Mulsow’s Moderne aus dem Untergrund. Radikale Frühaufklärung in Deutschland 1680–1720 (2002) has become a standard in early Enlightenment studies. Mulsow’s study of the radical Enlightenment has established one of the ruling understandings of the movement. Now, English readers can benefit from this work.

Mulsow’s methodology is not typical of a historical study of the radical Enlightenment. Rather than a linear presentation, Mulsow chooses to delve into several microhistorical chapters.

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Leo Tolstoy and Art

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings, and also experience them.[1]  – Leo Tolstoy

In thinking about my Fall courses, I am working through some issues on the broad subject of art. One of my classes will be the seemingly impossible task of covering the entirety of art history. Of course, a semester will only allow broad sweeps with select moments of concentration if we are to get through pre-historic to the present.

In addition to a survey of art history, I periodically pause to define art and its role in society. I start with something like this video to get the conservation started.

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Take Him or Leave Him: A Review of Patrick Gray’s Paul as a Problem in History and Culture

Partick Gray, Paul as a Problem in History and CultureHave you ever wanted to know what people really think of you? What are they saying when you leave the room? What words are whispered when they think no one is listening?  Well, if you are Paul, here is your chance.

Patrick Gray provides us with an interesting take on an important issue. Paul as a Problem in History and Culture (Baker Academic, 2016; source: publisher) reads like a behind-the-scenes look at everyone who ever said something bad about Paul. The work is a thorough analysis of the who’s who of Paul’s critics.

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Johann Georg Hamann and Time

Johann Georg Hamann

Johann Georg Hamann

I have never been big on time travel movies. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of time travel is intriguing. But the convoluted nature of some of these films makes it hard to get past the many inconsistencies. I am more than willing to adhere to the film’s understanding of time, but when the storyline breaks its own rules, that’s when I bail ship (now I’m the one being inconsistent, but I did not mind About Time).

Theologians and theoreticians attempts at understanding time is nothing new and will surely continue in the future. One can turn to Augustine’s thoughts on the matter in the Confessions, or more modern discussions of A Theory and B Theory. Into this mix, I would like to throw in Hamann’s reflections on time.

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Sweeney’s “Edwards the Exegete” and “the Real Jonathan Edwards”

Edwards the ExegeteDouglas Sweeney - Edwards the Exegete represents a crowning achievement of a dozen years of studying Jonathan Edwards. Doug Sweeney, who was my doctoral advisor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and who runs a helpful blog on Edwards, has done Edwards scholars and followers a tremendous service in this volume, pulling back the curtain on a foundational aspect of Edwards’ life and thought that has generally been ignored. As Sweeney puts it succinctly, “We fail to comprehend Edwards’ life, thought, and ministry when viewing them apart from his biblical exegesis” (ix).

This monograph offers readers the first synthesis of Edwards’ exegesis across his entire corpus. Other volumes have explored aspects of Edwards’ corpus—particularly Stephen Stein’s fine introductions to Edwards’ biblical manuscripts printed in Yale University Press’s Works of Jonathan Edwards—or examined Edwards’ approach to particular parts of the canon. But Sweeney offers a truly groundbreaking study in analyzing the whole, based on a remarkable mastery of the primary and secondary literature on Edwards and his world, visible in the length and detail of the book’s notes.

As indicated by the volume title, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, 2015; source: publisher), Sweeney aims to present Edwards in his broader exegetical and cultural context without outright commending or denigrating Edwards as a biblical exegete. He admits, “I am not an Edwardsean,” and he instead seeks to approach the topic “as a historian, . . . transport[ing] thoughtful readers into Edwards’ biblical world, helping them understand and sympathize with Edwards’ exegesis, from the inside out, before resuming critical distance and evaluating his work from a late-modern perspective” (ix). He accomplishes this goal well.

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Biblical Hermeneutics: Craig G. Bartholomew and Johann Georg Hamann

Craig G. Bartholomew, Introducing Biblical HermeneuticsIt is always nice to see a discussion of Johann Georg Hamann. Craig G. Bartholomew’s address is no different. I was leafing through Bartholomew’s latest Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture, when I was pleasantly surprised to see a short treatment of the “Magus of the North.” People may be familiar with Bartholomew’s The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, a text that I have assigned this semester. Bartholomew’s latest is a thorough hermeneutic.

Bartholomew situates his treatment of Hamann in his chapter on the relationship between philosophy and hermeneutics. His task is not one of originality. Rather, Bartholomew seeks to highlight a neglected but significant voice in philosophy and hermeneutics. Thus, Bartholomew includes much information that can be found elsewhere, including John R. Betz’s After Enlightenment: The Post-Secular Vision of J. G. Hamann and my posts.

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Philosophy and Theology: A Review of John Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology

John Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology

John Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology

Full disclosure, I am not a philosopher. Far from it. However, the history of philosophy has always been an interest of mine. Whether it was working my way through Frederick Copleston’s history or the intricacies of the Hamann-Kant dialogues, the history of philosophy has been a topic I regularly return to.

John M. Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (P & R Publishing , 2015; source: publisher) is a reminder both of my love for the history of philosophy and my inadequacy as a philosopher. Frame provides a wide sweep of the discipline, yet detailed attention to key philosophers and philosophies.

This is all standard fare for a history of philosophy. What distinguishes this history is the author. Frame, known more for his work in theology, offers a uniquely Christian and theological perspective on the history of philosophy.

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Johann Georg Hamann on Eros and Sexual Holiness Continued

Hamann, Essay of a Sibyl on MarriagePicking up where we left off (see the previous post), we continue our discussion of Hamann’s wedding present to Johann Friedrich Hartknoch and Albertine Toussaint.  The unconventional gift was a short work interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the guise of a sibyl. Hartknoch, being Hamann’s publisher, found the gift worth publishing in 1775. We first took a look at how Hamann understood the relationship between God and Eros. Now we turn to the issues of the image of God and marriage.

 

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“Wondrous as Love, and Mysterious as Marriage!”: Johann Georg Hamann on Eros and Sexual Holiness

Hamann, Essay of a Sibyl on MarriageIn the first of a two-part series, I will discuss Johann Georg Hamann’s Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage (1775) and his theology of sexual holiness.

Wedding gifts run the gamut from fine china to kitchen appliances, from cheese domes to French presses. I am not sure what one gets someone in eighteenth–century Prussia, but what Johann Georg Hamann gifted Johann Friedrich Hartknoch is as good as any. In the early hours of August 26, 1774 Hamann was awaken by Hartknoch and his bride, Albertine Toussaint. Overjoyed by their visit and recent good news, Hamann welcomed his guests with a promise of an essay to commemorate their nuptials.

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“Wondrous like Love, and Mysterious like Marriage”: Johann Georg Hamann on Sexual Holiness and the Image of God

This Saturday I have the opportunity to present a paper at the Midwest Region Evangelical Theological Society conference. This year’s theme is “The Church and its Call to Sexual Holiness.” My paper, “’Wondrous like Love, and Mysterious like Marriage!’: Johann Georg Hamann on Sexual Holiness and the Image of God,” examines Hamann’s work Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage (1775).

The work, like the majority of Hamann’s corpus, is an occasional piece. Hamann was awakened early one morning by the arrival of unexpected guests. The guests were Johann Friedrich Hartknoch and Albertine Toussaint, who had just gotten married. In honor of their nuptials Hamann set out to write on marriage, a wedding gift fitting for Hamann’s publisher, Hartknoch.

The Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage plays off of Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel’s essay “Über die Ehe” (1774; On Marriage) but also uses Genesis 2 as the foundation for the work. Hamann argues that Eros is a matter of divine love, witnessed in the Trinity and creation. This is not to say that God participates in Eros, but rather, divine love defines Eros. Human expressions of Eros must originate from the divine image in which we are created and the divine command to procreate.

As Eros is rooted in the love of the Trinity and the Trinity’s act of creation, human expression of Eros must not deviate from this foundation. However, Eros is part of the human makeup. It is not antagonistic to what it means to be human. At the same time, no amount of human love can produce a rich and vibrant expression of Eros. Nor should Eros be understood as a postlapsarian alteration due to sin. For Hamann, Eros is not a passion of love but a quality of love.

Eros, as a human characteristic, is solely due to the fact that we are created in God’s image. The “pensive god of love” “took counsel with himself” to proclaim: “Let us make human beings, an image, which is like us.”[1] This is where Eros becomes part of the human makeup. We are created in God’s image to possess, experience, and express Eros. Love and Eros is part of what it means to be created in God’s image. In other words, the question of sexual identity is not merely a matter of hetero, homo, or bi. Such categories have not fully perceived the issue of sexual identity. Rather, sexual identity is a matter of divine identity.

[1] Johan Georg Hamann, Sämtliche Werke, 6 vols., ed. Josef Nadler (Vienna: Herder, 1949-57), III, 199; Gen 1:26

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