I was pleased with the group meeting on Tuesday evening, when as part of the course I have written (so far) we discussed actual liberal theologians of the nineteenth century, namely Grandfather Schleiermacher, Father Ritschl, and Sons Harnack and Troeltsch. One starts in the eighteenth century and two come into the twentieth.
The sudden and intense downpour of rain saw one new attender come soaked, and another new attender come out of an earlier meeting, get soaked and went home instead. I presented the paper, and I have six more in the pipeline, but one new attender and present will become presenter of the feminist paper as she is more expert than me of the wide range of the subject.
The issue at the moment was that of Hegelian synthesising of the newly forming specialist academic subjects in the nineteenth century and theology, and that in particular history was unable as a discipline to establish any unique Christology. Ritschl started with Christology, but it remained subjective to individual faith positions. It is only when you get to Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, Bonhoeffer and even Reinhold Niebuhr that you have closed circle Chrisologies that you have to leap into. I made the point that no discipline in the university pauses at any point and asks what God is doing here, whereas Theology does and draws in other discipines. This uneven relationship of the disciplines for me is the weakness of Theology: that it needs special rules of operation, of leaping in first, though in a university it takes in non-believers too as students. It is clearly out on a limb.
However, after the modernists we get to the more contemporary theologians and specialists, and the fact that some theologies are more open again and that there is a departure between university and churches on the ground and even seminaries.
It was interesting just how few of the group thought Christianity was a historic faith. My point was surely it claims to be a historic faith, that at a point in history a revelation was made in a person that is central to the redeeming, through time, and at the end of time, to the world's perfection. I and others might not believe that this is actual, and that the alternative is something mystical or storytelling (two options) and what is just rejected, but surely there is that claim made.
Another point made that is similar to the above is one saying history is given by the winners anyway (and this applies to the form of Christianity produced) and yet, whilst this is so, the peculiar mix of imperial, top-of-the-tree cultural belief and liberality has to be first understood about the nineteenth century mind and only then criticised (the argument is this: you get magic among the savages, Hinduism is an organised Paganism, village Roman Catholicism is a stage higher, later comes far more rational Protestantism and the highest version is liberal Protestantism - and such suits the international imperialist mind.) Before Malinowski, the European Social Anthropologist sat on a very high chair looking down at the world still to develop.
I suppose the academic, particularly the sociologist researcher, is trained to first take and accept an entity describing itself. A historian looks at the documents from a time period and then tries to imagine the mind of the time. You establish the position, the claim, what there was. Only then do you apply the criticism.
This must be so when you do a book or article review. You must accurately portray the sense of the thing itself before you start to analyse it and criticise it - otherwise you are criticising your own distortion. There is a kind of faithfulness to the other that must come first.
I assume - at least to start with - that there is this thing called Christianity and that it claims to be historical: that is objectively within a process through time to the end-time. Of course very quickly we then see the variations (e.g. Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant), many of which also claim to be historical. It's only then that we find the theologies and the individual beliefs that do not accept this: that it is a mythology, or a set of stories or dramas to enact, or something mystical and like a layer over actual history, or something that just points to a greater whole, or an institutional postmodern bubble-like approach (as in Radical Orthodoxy) - and more variations.
Also, of course, we think all these varied thoughts and beliefs whilst confronting (if that's the right word) a liturgy that is unreformed (other than updates of some expressions, and a limited degendering) and overbearing, and a set of promises in the Declaration of Assent that seem as equally overbearing to individual views of religious faith.
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