Friday, December 11, 2015

Nineteenth-Century Lutheran Theologians

This past week I learned that a new book I've edited has been published: Nineteenth-Century Lutheran Theologians, Refo500 Academic Series 31 (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016).

To give you some idea of the scope of its contents, here is a list of the theologians treated in the book (and the authors who wrote about them):

Friedrich Schleiermacher (Christine Helmer; Northwestern University)

Georg Hegel (Mark Mattes; Grand View University, Des Moines)

F. C. Baur (Mark Seifried; Concordia Seminary, St. Louis)

J. T. Beck (Roy Harrisville Sr.; Luther Seminary, St. Paul [emeritus])

Adolf von Harless (Lutz Mohaupt; University of Hamburg [emeritus])

Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig (Anders Holm; University of Copenhagen)

W. Loehe (David Ratke; Lenoir-Rhyne University)

J. C. K. von Hofmann (yours truly)

Gottfried Thomasius (Hans Schwarz; University of Regensburg [emeritus])

C. F. W. Walther  (Christoph Barnbrock; Theological Hochschule Oberuersel)

S. Kierkegaard (Carl Hughes; Texas Lutheran University)

Theodosius Harnack (Christoffer Grundmann, Valparaiso University)

Albrecht Ritschl (Darrell Jodock; Gustavus Adolphus [emeritus])

C. P. Krauth (Mark Oldenburg; Gettysburg Seminary)

Martin Kaehler (Carl Braaten; Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago [emeritus])

Nathan Soederblom (Dietz Lange; University of Goettingen)

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

This is a book about Lutheran theology in the “long nineteenth century,” that period between the political revolutions of the late eighteenth century and the end of the First World War. With respect to the history of Protestant theology, this era began with the publication of Schleiermacher’s Speeches (1799), written in the wake of Kant’s critical philosophy, and it ended with the rise of Dialectical Theology, which was inaugurated by Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans (1919) and directed against the liberal Protestant tradition begun by Kant, Schleiermacher, and Hegel. The end of nineteenth-century Protestant theology could also be tied to the beginnings of the modern Ecumenical Movement, which gained momentum in the aftermath of “the Great War,” largely through the efforts of Nathan Söderblom (1866–1931), who is the focus of book’s final chapter.

The book thus provides an introduction to fifteen Lutherans and one Reformed theologian who were active in this period. The one Reformed figure, Schleiermacher, has been so influential upon the development of Protestant theology, including its Lutheran stream, that his life and work are the focus of the initial chapter. Following the format of the essays in the companion volume on twentieth-century figures, each essay here covers the life, teachings, and abiding legacy of a given thinker. The goal of the authors has not been merely to identify how a specific individual was important in his own time and place, but to indicate why aspects of that person’s thinking might have a continuing significance for contemporary theological reflection. Hopefully readers of the book will gain deeper insight into our current theological milieu through an examination of these key figures who were active in the immediate wake of the Enlightenment and at a time when many Europeans were beginning to move beyond Christianity in search of other alternatives.

The project as a whole was initiated by the journal Lutheran Quarterly and carried forward through conversations with Jörg Persch of Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, “in order to determine how our recent past can help us shape our bearings in a new century.” Earlier versions of six of the essays (Schleiermacher, Hegel, Thomasius, Hofmann, Kähler, and Söderblom) were originally published
in Lutheran Quarterly. In addition to Schleiermacher—who, along with Kant and Hegel, has to be included among those who have had the greatest influence upon the development of modern intellectual history—the thinkers who are examined here are ones who saw themselves as working within the Lutheran-Protestant tradition of theology. Nevertheless, the reader will quickly notice the remarkable differences among these individuals in how they understood Christian doctrine and applied it to their world.

Twelve of the theologians presented here were Germans (one of whom became a U.S. citizen), two were Danish, one was Swedish, and one was American. Given the path-breaking significance of German theology in this century, one should not be surprised by the large number of chapters devoted to this tradition. No other English text provides as in-depth an examination of these key figures and
the implications of their theology for contemporary discussion. These are theologians who deserve to be better understood than they typically are, especially among English-speaking scholars. Each of the essays attempts to present its object in a new light and to show how that person not only gave shape to Lutheran theology at that time but also furthered the course of Christian thought itself.

For more information on the book, click on this link here.


  1. How has the definitions of "liberal/Conservative" changed with respect to theology over time?

    I'm curious if (over time) these theologians perspectives of critical thinking had changed.

    1. I think your question is almost impossible to answer, since I'm unaware of consistent definitions of "conservative" and "liberal" among theologians in the nineteenth century. These terms have become almost meaningless over the past century, since they are freighted differently by different individuals. BUT I do think one can point to three developments that demarcate "liberal" theologians from "conservative" ones in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: liberal theologians tended to favor the use of modern, historical-critical tools of biblical study, to accept the weight of Kant's critiques of pure and practical reason (which placed distinct limits on the possibility of metaphysics), and to make positive theological use of new knowledge from the natural sciences (or at least to acknowledge that one cannot do Christian theology the same way that people did prior to the rise of the modern sciences). If you read this book you'll recognize that there is a wide spectrum of perspectives reflected in the book, despite the fact that all (or nearly all) of the theologians treated in it claimed to be "Lutheran."

    2. I asked my wife for a copy of your book on Fundamental Theology for Christmas. You may just get me to read some theology.

  2. Never trust a theologian who still believes in a god.