Author Archive

Harnack – What is Christianity? (Part 1)

02/28/2011

Note: I was not able to get my hands on a physical copy of this book, so I had to resort to my Kindle version; you will have to excuse my lack of direct citations.

Harnack’s lectures regarding the essence of Christianity are focused in his work: “What is Christianity?” In it he establishes the Christian religion as “something simple and sublime” and fundamentally rooted in two solely verifiable sources: the person of Jesus and the testament of the Gospel.

In all honesty, there weren’t many surprises for me in the first half of his lectures, but I wanted to note an item that I found compelling: The kingdom of God and its coming.

Harnack shows that while Jesus imported most of his eschatological message from the Jewish prophets (and surely no one should be surprised by this) he also set forth a revolutionary and distinct idea, that announcement that “it is in the midst of you.” The famous phrase, the kingdom of God is at hand, is the basis of Jesus’s eschatology. The tension, more so, between the incoming of the kingdom and the present world is ever real: “There can be no doubt about the fact that the idea of the two kingdoms, of God and of the devil, and their conflicts…” Regarding the tension, Harnack is not convinced that we are not tasked (nor capable) of resolving this tension. Instead, Harnack sees the incoming of the kingdom not as a social presence but something that takes hold of the soul of the individual: “True, the kingdom of God is the rule of God; but it is the rule of the holy God in the hearts of individuals; it is God Himself in His power…” This individual incoming is of course at tension itself with many contemporary social theologies of the Kingdom.

What I find compelling about Harnack’s theology of the kingdom is his emphasis on the social expression of the individual life: “The Gospel is a social message, solemn and overpowering in its force; it is the proclamation of solidarity and brotherliness, in favor of the poor. But the message is bound up with the recognition of the infinite value of the human soul, and is contained in what Jesus said about the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ preferential option for the poor is the driving point of his Gospel, the good news for the poor. The individual, once caught up in the dynamic energy of the kingdom, and its transformation of the inner life, naturally moves toward a disposition toward the poor and oppressed.

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Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§120-172)

02/07/2011

Given my interest of all things ecclesial, as fate (or Providence, take your pick) would have it, I find myself posting on our closing section of Schleiermacher’s “The Christian Faith.” Sections 120-172 largely devote themselves to features (i.e. characteristics) of the Church in its relationship to Christ and to the world.

The world as it relates to Schleiermacher’s notion of redemption, is found in the institution of the Church (§113). Schleiermacher states that Church is, in itself, founded on three principles: its origin (by God’s election of individuals in faith), its distinction from the world (through its features), and its consummation with Christ (the prophetic doctrines, cf. §157-63). Regarding distinction, sanctification is ultimately an inward impulse among believers. Because individuals are affirmed in a common spirit (the Holy Spirit) they are driven inward toward each other, forming what Schleiermacher notates as the “inner fellowship.” The “outer fellowship” is comprised of concerned individuals who have yet to receive the transformative event of regeneration (the beginning of a new life in Christ, as told in Col. 3). While Schleiermacher dismisses this nutshell version of Church as “novel and merely confusing,” he nonetheless admits the inward nature of sanctification (stated above) as one of the constituting factors regarding the Church.

Schleiermacher’s role of the Holy Spirit is a unifying force for the Church, but I have been to many churches in my life and only few I could confidently claim to be spiritually led. (And surprisingly enough, those few would balk to use a word like ‘church’ to describe themselves.) Additionally, as a good Methodist, I can’t help but comment on Schleiermacher’s assessment of Sanctification as an inward impulse of the Spirit. While I agree with the basic conception of Sanctification as the continual regeneration through faith in the individual (presenting the image of Christlike-ness), it is the inward impulse (supplementarily: the inner/outer fellowship) with which I see as problematic. Sanctification, if it is to be the continual spurring on of the individual to be one with Christ, does not drive oneself inward, but instead should drive forward and outward the actions of Christ from within the individual! Sanctification is not an inward impulse, but is naturally one that forces the individual in faith towards his neighbor (not to himself).

In a similar vein, I would like to discuss Schleiermacher’s conception of the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. At first, Schleiermacher affirms the inward impulse in sanctification as parallel to the Eucharist, for the taking of the elements is a confirmation of the already gathered fellowship. Schleiermacher notes that the supplementary action of the Church’s participation in the Eucharist is joined with the original action of Christ’s sacrifice (the cross) in relation to redemption. Thus the Church, in its partaking of the Eucharist, participates in a similar sacrifice (albeit symbolical). Again the purely symbolical nature of the Eucharist is lost to me; just as with sanctification, the partaking of the Eucharist is ultimately an outward action towards one’s neighbor.

Schleiermacher closes “The Christian Faith” with an affirmation of the Divine Trinity as essential to doctrine. Trinitarian theology is based on the being of God assumed in the being and work of Christ; if it cannot stand, then the whole of Christianity falls with it. In regards to what I have said above regarding the outward nature of Sanctification, not mentioned by Schleiermacher, is (as I see it) expressed well in his affirmation of the Trinity. For, if the “being of God assumed in the being of Christ” is essential to doctrine, and doctrine is essential to the Church, then the kenotic movement of godliness to humanity is referenced in the Church’s kenotic movement from itself to the world.

Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§1-45)

01/17/2011

Dogmatic. I imagine a heavy, convincing voice issuing the word in a large room of which the perfect level of reverb emerges. The word itself has a strong presence, a force to be reckoned with. My connotations are mostly negative, based in that authorities (both past and present) have used their power to quash the voices of truth and justice (however opposed to the status quo) when they arise from the margins. Such is the weight and force of the dogmatic.

However, in spite of this, we are precisely concerned with the dogmatic work of Friedrich Schleiermacher in The Christian Faith (Ed. by Mackintosh, H. R., and Stewart, J. S., T. & T. Clark, 1928). Schleiermacher’s study of Christian dogmatics initiates with its definition, for we cannot rightly say anything useful about dogmatics before first knowing where it originates (§1). Continuing, Schleiermacher wishes, alongside a definition, to point out the ‘method’ of dogmatics; for we wish to know how Dogmatics will affect the Christian life, as evidenced by the title of this work. (While I do not have the space to hash out every aspect of Schleiermacher’s comprehensive propositions, my interest in ecclesiological matters led to the author’s focus on the Church in regards to Dogmatics.)

Schleiermacher, from the outset, contends that Dogmatics can only happen in the wake of religious communion (§1). First, he discusses modes of consciousness which lead to a religious self-consciousness. Piety as “a state in which Knowing, Feeling, and Doing are combined,” (11) is consummated in the self-awareness of absolute dependence–forming a relationship with God (§4). The maturation of consciousness (to absolute-dependence) is the context which necessitates communal development and allows for the religious self-consciousness to open up and embrace the self-consciousness of others–forming community (27).

From Church–as a community of religious self-conscious individuals–there is preaching (drawing on the original preaching of the gospels). Preaching is the “self-renewing circulation” (29) of the religious self-consciousness within communion. Schleiermacher asserts dogmatics can only be considered a complete system when dogmatic expression of preaching is brought into a coherent relationship with dogmatic propositions (87). In other words, the work of dogmatic theologians ensues the expression of church life; Schleiermacher establishes an interdependency between communion and dogmatic theology. Because of this interdependency, dogmatics is situated in the historical realm: “Each presentation confines itself to the doctrine existing at a certain time… Text-books of the seventeenth century can no longer serve the same purpose as they did then… and the same fate will one day befall the present ones too” (87).

I should also note, that in regard to particularity and method, he also emphasized that dogmatics is focused on the person of Jesus and the effect of his redemption. Essentially, no dogmatic proposition can fit in without adhering to these two presuppositions (§11).

After composing a pertinent definition and methodology for dogmatics, Schleiermacher opens with his doctrine of creation; one must begin with defining our absolute dependence on the world we find ourselves. He claims absolute-dependence can only remain pre-eminent so long as we claim that nothing could have come into existence unless it is from the work of God (§§40-41). Schleiermacher affirms the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (153), creation from nothing, to belay the absolute-dependence of man in relationship to God. Admitting that God did not create, from nothing, everything would erode the foundations of humanity’s relationship with God (153). In doing so, he highlights an inconsistency with classical rabbinical work on creation. In my personal exegesis of the creation story, I found the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo to be largely un-biblical. The Hebrew text closes off the experience of the reader to the primordial event of creation–the moment, the divine fiat, of creation is unknown to us. Schleiermacher seems to admit a problem in the relationship between creation and time, but quickly dismisses its relevance to the feeling of absolute-dependence–critical to his doctrine of creation (155).