Picking up from where we left off, part 1 ,1759 was a significant year for Johann Georg Hamann. After a dissolved engagement, Hamann moved back to Königsberg to take care of his father. Over the summer, Hamann was berated by longtime friend and would-be brother-in-law, Christoph Berens, to renege his recent conversion. In support of these efforts, Immanuel Kant stepped in as an appeal to Hamann’s intellect. Hamann rebuffed the two, the latter being the only one who would remain on good terms. The Socratic Memorabilia is not only Hamann’s response to their endeavors, but the initiation to a lifelong career of writing.
Before addressing Socrates’ life, Hamann takes a moment to examine the discipline of history. According to Hamann, history serves as a revelation of God’s truth. Coupling history with nature he states, ‘As nature was given us to open our eyes, so history was given to us to open our ears.’ The significance of properly understanding history is not merely an issue of accuracy. Rather, as God’s revelation, we must understand that history is a reflection of ‘God’s invisible being, his eternal power and Godhead.’
The significance of Kantian thought in modern theology continues to be a fixture in the discipline. For instance, Gary Dorrien’s Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealistic Logic of Modern Theology (2012) presents Kantian and Hegelian philosophy as origins of modern theology. Dorrien traces Kantian critical reason and Hegelian idealism to figures such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, Ernst Troeltsch, Paul Tillich and Karl Barth. His work and other similar literature map out a cohesive progression from Enlightenment philosophy to modern theology.
Undoubtedly, there are many problems when attempting to advance such a unified proposal. Apart from giving the false appearance that those in this chosen line of history remained consistent among themselves, it also marginalizes dissenting voices. For instance, current Enlightenment studies are increasingly more aware of the various Christian elements during this period.
Given that Johann Georg Hamann was born on this day in 1730, I thought it fitting to briefly address the “Magus of the North.”
As a member of the German Enlightenment, Hamann was mentor to Johann Gottfried Herder and Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. He served as a catalyst for the Sturm und Drang. Deemed one of the leading minds of the eighteenth century by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Hamann was a significant influence on the young Goethe and many other German Romanticists. Søren Kierkegaard recognized Hamann as the greatest humorist and was singled out as the one he had learned most from.
When we think about the eighteenth-century transatlantic revivals known as the Great Awakening, we tend to think about names like George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley. These important figures helped to shape the revivals and the evangelical movement through their preaching and theology in significant ways.
In Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (Yale University Press, 2013; source: publisher), Catherine Brekus reminds us about other figures who shaped evangelicalism and its revivals, specifically women like Sarah Osborn. In fact, Osborn not only converted to an evangelical faith in the midst of the 1740s awakenings, exhibiting the effects of the revivals on laypeople on the ground, but led a notable revival herself based out of her house in Newport, Rhode Island, in the 1760s.
Brekus artfully uses Sarah’s story both to describe early American Christianity from a creative angle and to illustrate the broader contours of the evangelical movement in its nascent years. To do so, she discusses Sarah Osborn’s life and faith journey at the intersection of evangelicalism and the Enlightenment. And the reader finds an engaging narrative set alongside incisive analysis of the rise of evangelical Christianity.
The challenges of addressing the entirety of church history within a single volume are well-known. Certain events must be passed over and discussions shelved for another time. Yet, if too much material is bypassed, we are left with an unbalanced history that fails to relate the flow and development of church history.
God’s Story: A Student’s Guide to Church History is Brian Cosby’s attempt at tackling this challenge. Not only does Cosby address the church from the Old Testament to the present, he does so in a concise volume intended for a brief read. In addition, his work is intended for the young, adding an additional level of difficulty.
As the common story goes, the Bible lost its place of authority in the American mind when Darwinism and German theological liberalism cracked its foundations in the last half of the nineteenth century. In The Erosion of Biblical Certainty: Battles over Authority and Interpretation in America (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Michael J. Lee pushes back that timetable, arguing that the Bible began to lose authority in the early eighteenth century when, ironically, orthodox Christian interpreters unwittingly contributed to its demise.
In this well-documented account of Americans’ engagement with the rise of biblical criticism, Lee, assistant professor of history at Eastern University, explores interpreters from the early eighteenth to the early nineteenth century and shows how they relied increasingly on historical evidence in their defense of the Bible’s authority. Influenced by European interpreters from Benedict de Spinoza, Jean Le Clerc, and John Locke to Johann Jakob Griesbach and J. G. Eichhorn, Americans increasingly employed historically based arguments in their biblical interpretation.
Summer is always a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. Here is my top ten reading list for this summer.
1. Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis
The work is an account of an army chaplain commissioned to minister to the Nazis held at Nuremberg. Sure to be thought-provoking.
It has been a week since I have successfully defended my dissertation. Currently, I am making some revisions before I submit the final copy. The project itself examined the accommodation debate of 1761-1835. Graham A. Cole, speaking to the history of biblical interpretation, writes, “one of the most fertile ideas generated in such discussion is the idea of divine accommodation” (Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, 63). Urging for a renewal of the doctrine of accommodation D. A. Carson states that a “restatement of that doctrine would be salutary today” (The Gagging of God,130).
The doctrine of accommodation contends that a chasm exists between God and his creation. Despite being created in his image, man is bound by his limited mental capacity. Thus, the dilemma: how does God communicate his religion of truth to humankind which lacks comprehension?
George Marsden, author of pivotal works such as Fundamentalism and American Culture and the definitive biography of Jonathan Edwards, returns with a cultural and theological assessment of the “liberal consensus” and its demise. Contributing to previous accounts of liberalism, as in Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion and Matthew Hedstrom’s The Rise of Liberal Religion, Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment (Basic Books, 2014) argues that the 1950s served as a transitional period in this story. The decade witnessed the end of the American Enlightenment, along with its religious foundation, and gave way to an unsustainable liberalism which rewarded consensus and punished dissent.
There are three “motifs” central to Marsden’s work. The first sets the stage with an evaluation of American culture in the 1950s. Beyond popular depictions found in shows like Mad Men, Marsden’s analysis offers insight into the negative impact of technology and mass media on the cultural and moral development of the nation. Mass culture and new technology, such as the TV, fed off each other and propitiated a banal society aspiring for meritocracy. Recognizing this downward spiral, the cultural commentators of the day advanced an elite or intellectual leadership which sought to correct the course towards a more fulfilling culture.