Exploring Church History

Reflections on History and Theology

Tag: theology (page 2 of 2)

William Ames on the Nature of Theology

William AmesTheology. What exactly is theology? Quite literally, we might say that it is a word (logos) about God (theos). One of the most renowned phrases employed to explain theology comes from the Middle Ages, when Anselm of Canterbury (ca. 1033–1109), in his Proslogion, described it as “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum). Generally speaking, when we think of theology, we think of thinking. It is something we conceive in our minds and believe.

While this may be the common perception, many in Christian history have, in fact, connected theology with practice. The English Puritan William Ames (1576–1633) does this quite starkly in the opening of his highly influential The Marrow of Theology, which became a standard theological textbook in seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century New England, leaving its imprint particularly on the likes of Jonathan Edwards. In his Marrow, Ames defines theology as “the doctrine or teaching [doctrina] of living to God.”

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “After Ten Years”

Dietrich BonhoefferIn class, we recently finished our unit on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Here is my review of Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer). It gave us an opportunity to read Bonhoeffer’s “After Ten Years” and some of his ethics. He begins the short work with his social commentary of “people with so little ground under their feet” (After Ten Years, 3). Despite the plethora of options in our modern day, “every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile” (After Ten Years, 3). Coupled with this seemingly hopelessness is the masquerade of evil. Witnessed in Hitler’s claims for justice after World War I, evil hides itself in the good.

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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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Civil War, Contingency, and Christian Historians

Allen Guelzo - GettysburgI recently listened to Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (audiobook version; Vintage Civil War Library, 2014), and in following his account of this bloody battle, you can’t miss that it illustrates the role of contingency in historical study. That is, history is marked by asking the question, how would things have turned out differently if this or that event had not happened?

In the case of the battle at Gettysburg, the question often goes like this: what needed to happen in order for the Confederates to score a victory at Gettysburg? If only Stonewall Jackson had survived the friendly fire that wounded him two months earlier at Chancellorsville; if only J. E. B. Stuart hadn’t taken so long to get to Gettysburg and provide screening for Lee’s movements; if only Lieutenant General Dick Ewell had pressed forward on July 1 and taken cemetery hill; if only Lieutenant General James Longstreet had started his assaults on July 2 and 3 earlier in the day; if only George Pickett had received the cover he needed to conduct his charge; if only General Lee had pushed his generals to take more initiative or had backed away from a general engagement in early July to find better ground. If only.

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Kyle Strobel’s Reimagining of Jonathan Edwards’ Theology

Kyle Strobel - JE's Theology - A ReinterpretationWhat model of the Trinity did Jonathan Edwards employ in his theology? How did Edwards’ Trinitarianism shape the rest of his theological program? How did Edwards’ emphases on the end for which God created the world, religious affections, and the remanation of God’s glory cohere in this New England divine’s creative mind?

Kyle Strobel, Assistant Professor at Biola University, explores these questions—and many related lines of inquiry—in his work Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation, vol. 19 in T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology, ed. John Webster, Ian A. McFarland, and Ivor Davidson (London: T&T Clark, 2013; source: publisher). In Strobel’s volume, readers will find an erudite treatment of Edwards’ theology that explores and reframes the details of his thought in the light of his Trinitarian and redemptive emphases.

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Hamann on Kant’s Enlightenment

In the December issue of the Berlinische Monatsschrift, Johann Friedrich Zöllner pondered the question ‘what is enlightenment?’[1] While this remark found in a footnote received much attention, it was Kant’s response which became the hallmark answer to the question.[2] In December of 1784 Kant presented his “An Answer to the Question: ‘What Is Enlightenment?’[3]

Though Hamann never sought to answer Zöllner’s original question, he did react to Kant’s essay. Hamann’s response, however, is not found in a subsequent publication but rather in a letter. Christian Jakob Kraus (1753-1807), professor of practical philosophy at Königsberg and mutual friend of Kant and Hamann, had mailed Kant’s essay to Hamann. On December 18, 1784 Hamann sent his thanks to Kraus along with his opinion of the essay.[4] This letter expounded Hamann’s thoughts on Kant’s metaphor of self-incurred immaturity, the role of the guardian, and the juxtaposition of public and private reason.

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Metacritique: Hamann on Kant’s Three Purisms

As Hamann arranged for the publication  of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) with his publisher Johann Friedrich Hartknoch, it was his hope that Kant’s reading of Hume would lead Kant to the same conclusions as Hamann. In 1780, Hamann had begun a translation of Hume’s Dialogues and Natural History of Religion (1779), but due to a rival translation he gave up the project. Despite never completing the translation, Kant requested it in its partial form while writing his first Critique. However, to Hamann’s disappointment the Critique was not what he had expected.

After specifically requesting the proofs to be sent separately from Kant’s package, to avoid awkwardness, Hamann immediately read and reviewed the work.[1] He finished his review on the first of July, several weeks before receiving a copy directly from Kant. Despite completing his review Hamann never published it on account of their friendship and Kant’s financial generosity towards his son’s education.

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Socratic Memorabilia: Hamann on the Wisdom of Ignorance

Soctraic MemorabiliaPicking 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.’[1] 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.’[2]

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Socrates, Metacriticism, and the Enlightenment: Johann Georg Hamann and Kantian Reason

Johann Georg HamannThe 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.

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Hozier, “Take Me to Church,” and Augustine

AugustineOver at First Things, Bianca Czaderna has an insightful piece on recording artist Hozier’s song “Take Me to Church.” In an open letter to Hozier, Czaderna questions Hozier’s juxtaposition of sexual liberation and worship in a church. She writes,

 

With lyrics like, “My lover’s got humour . . . I should’ve worshiped her sooner” and “My church offers no absolution . . . She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom,’ The only heaven I’ll be sent to . . . is when I’m alone with you,” you’re saying that sex is more freeing, more real, more human, more worthy as a site of worship than any church. Religion is stifling; sex is liberating. That’s the neat dichotomy you think you’ve set up.

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Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics

Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics

The spiritual classics are an elusive category of works that span the history of Christianity. For some, they are celebrated for their notoriety and mysterious nature but in practicality are read only in passing quotes and snippets. For others, the mention of such works results in a rolling of the eyes and scoffs that such esoteric works, and at times contrary to orthodox theology, would be meaningful for today. Perhaps for the majority of us, the spiritual classics have been woefully neglected simply due to our unfamiliarity and hesitation towards them.

Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics (IVP, 2013) is an apologetic for the continued reading of the spiritual classics. In its four sections the work sets out to answer the why, how, what, and who of the spiritual classics. More than merely opening the door for readers to peruse the classics, the authors exhort readers to examine them as formative to contemporary theology, soul care, and edification.
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Steven Nadler and the Ban againt Spinoza

Baruch SpinozaSteven Nadler’s piece at the New York Times, Judging Spinoza, is an interesting take on the modern reception of Spinoza. In his post he recounts his role as part of an advisory committee, sanctioned by the Portuguese-Jewish community of Amsterdam, to discuss lifting the original 1656 ban against Spinoza, ordered by that same Portuguese-Jewish community. Though an admirer of Spinoza’s philosophy, Nadler ultimately advised to maintain the ban.

While we don’t agree on the merits of Spinoza’s scholarship, I appreciate Nadler’s honest depiction of Spinoza’s ban. Rather than skirting the issue, Nadler comes out and states the actual basis for the ban. He writes,

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Doug Sweeney’s Wise Words for Graduates

doug-sweeney-222x296“You will never be smart enough.” For those who study church history and theology, these words by Dr. Doug Sweeney are some of the most freeing words you will hear. The constant pressure to know more and read more can drive a graduate student crazy, but embracing our limitedness frees us to pursue knowledge with a right view of God and ourselves.

In a commencement  given at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School last December, Doug Sweeney (my doctoral mentor) draws on some of the great theologians of the past to encourage Christian divinity students to approach their future ministry with three principles:

  1. Humility – We are limited creatures who can never know enough, and thus masters of divinity are not to master God, but to be mastered by God.
  2. A Learning Spirit – This humility should not cause us to stop learning, but should give us perspective as we become lifelong learners.
  3. Confidence in God – While we have much to learn, we can have confidence in God that we have been given enough in Christ and the enduring Word of God to minister to those in our care.

During this season of commencement speeches, Sweeney’s address (read the full version here) draws from Scripture and past theologians like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and Jonathan Edwards to offer helpful perspective for graduates, challenging them not to get stuck on themselves and their limitations, but to live out their calling boldly in Christ.

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Can Denominations Express Unity? A Review of Why We Belong

Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity

Take Protestantism, drop it in the American context, and what do you get? A proliferation of schisms and denominations.

Protestantism broke off of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century and quickly formed different streams of Protestants after Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli failed to find agreement over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Fast forward to the early years of the United States when the young republic disestablished religion, and there you find Christian sects—and some not so Christian—forming even more rapidly.

Now in the twenty-first century, with the vast diversity of Protestant denominations, one wonders what unifies this colorful array of Christians? Anthony Chute, Christopher Morgan, and Robert Peterson suggest that denominationalism is not essentially at odds with evangelical unity, and in their book, Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity (Crossway, 2013), they probe this question from several angles, pooling the insight of evangelicals in several denominations to offer a helpful foray into the tension of unity and diversity in the church today.

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A Trek Through Time

We’re two historians and graduates of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who are interested in Christianity, theology, and history. We embrace an evangelical identity and value scholarly endeavors to deepen our understanding of the world in which we live.

In this blog, we hope to reflect aloud on the Christian past to help others think clearly about those who have preceded us and how they have shaped our world today. We believe that engaging the past offers beneficial perspective for the present and the future.

We invite you to join us in exploring church history.

~ David P. Barshinger and Hoon J. Lee

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