Category Archives: Book Review

More Than Luther: The Reformation and the Rise of Pluralism in Europe

This volume contains the plenary papers and a selection of shortpapers from the Seventh Annual RefoRC conference, which was held May 10–12th 2017 in Wittenberg. The contributions concentrate on the effects of Luther´s new theology and draw the lines from Luther´s contemporaries into the early seventeenth century. Developments in art, catholic responses and Calvinistic reception are only some of the topics. The volume reflects the interdisciplinarity and interconfessionality that characterizes present research on the 16th century reformations and underlines the fact that this research has not come to a conclusion in 2017. The papers in this conference volume point to lacunae and will certainly stimulate further research.

Contributors: Wim François, Antonio Gerace, Siegrid Westphal, Edit Szegedi, Maria Lucia Weigel, Graeme Chatfield, Jane Schatkin Hettrick, Marta Quatrale, Aurelio A. García, Jeannette Kreijkes, Csilla Gábor, Gábor Ittzés, Balázs Dávid Magyar, Tomoji Odori, Gregory Soderberg, Herman A. Speelman, Izabela Winiarska-Górska, Erik A. de Boer, Donald Sinnema, Dolf te Velde.

My review is forthcoming.

The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy in Europe and Beyond (1545-1700)

Volume One of this three volume series has been reviewed previously, here.  The publisher also sent volumes two and three for review.

And, as always, people interested in any V&R publications in North America can order them from their distribution partner, ISD.

Exactly 450 years after the solemn closure of the Council of Trent on 4 December 1563, scholars from diverse regional, disciplinary and confessional backgrounds convened in Leuven to reflect upon the impact of this Council, not only in Europe but also beyond. Their conclusions are to be found in these three impressive volumes. Bridging different generations of scholarship, the authors reassess in a first volume Tridentine views on the Bible, theology and liturgy, as well as their reception by Protestants, deconstructing many myths surviving in scholarship and society alike. They also deal with the mechanisms ‘Rome’ developed to hold a grip on the Council’s implementation. The second volume analyzes the changes in local ecclesiastical life, initiated by bishops, orders and congregations, and the political strife and confessionalisation accompanying this reform process. The third and final volume examines the afterlife of Trent in arts and music, as well as in the global impact of Trent through missions.


A click on the volume links above will take one to the table of contents and other relevant materials.  Before proceeding you are requested to go there so as to be ‘up to speed’ with what these two works contain.

Once one comes to the realization that the volumes are comprised with the clearest and most thorough analysis of the Council of Trent presently available one can appreciate more fully the incredible importance of these works.

Volume two’s focus on clerics and governmental authority provides important materials which themselves provide insights into the 16th and 17th centuries as they are experienced by some of society’s most important personages.  To say that another way, how clerics and government officials saw themselves and their tasks are on full and clear display.  This ‘from the top down’ perspective isn’t mere elitism exposed, however but rather a clear portrayal of the wrestlings involved in important cultural trends and decisions.  And all of this in reaction and response to the decrees of the Council of Trent.

But it is volume three which enthralls and delights.  From the ways that Trent influenced art and music to the working out of the implications of Trent for Catholicism in Asia and the Global South, each essay opens new vistas and provides new insights on a very wide world.

The fact that so few (in Protestant circles) know how important and influential Trent was can be laid at the doorstep of our modern tendency to simply scratch the surface of a topic (chiefly, for many misled souls, on the wikipedia website) instead of drilling down to the meat of topics.    If one were to take, for instance, the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (which is, it has to be said, a very fine resource) as an example, one would discover merely the bare bones outline of the Council’s significance (and that, again, is as deep as most people dive today):

The spread of Protestantism and the drastic need of moral and administrative reforms within the RC Church led to widespread demand among Catholics for a Universal Council, but disputes between *Charles V and others who favoured such action, and the Popes, who were generally averse to it, long prevented a move. At last *Paul III summoned a council to Mantua for 23 May 1537, but the plan fell through owing to French resistance. In 1538 further proposals for a council at Vicenza were frustrated by the unexpected indifference of the Emperor. In 1542 the Pope again convoked the Council, this time to Trent. After yet another postponement it eventually met on 13 Dec. 1545. At the outset it was a very small assembly, composed of 3 legates, 1 cardinal, 4 archbishops, 21 bishops, and 5 generals of orders.

After describing the various Periods of the Council, they conclude

The Council ended on 4 Dec. 1563. The decrees were confirmed in a body on 26 Jan. 1564 by Pius IV, who in the same year published the ‘Profession of the Tridentine Faith’, a brief summary of doctrine, generally known as the *Creed of Pius IV. Several important works, which the Council recommended or initiated but could not effectually carry through, were handed over to the Pope for completion. The revision of the Vulgate, ordered at Trent in 1546, was concluded under *Clement VIII in 1592; and *Pius V founded the Congregation of the Index in 1571 to carry out other unfinished work, having himself issued the ‘*Roman Catechism’ (1566) and revised *Breviary (1568) and *Missal (1570). Though the Council failed to satisfy the Protestants and its reforms were less comprehensive than many Catholics had hoped for, it had established a solid basis for the renewal of discipline and the spiritual life in the RC Church, which emerged from Trent with a clearly formulated doctrinal system and an enhanced religious strength for the subsequent struggle with Protestantism.*

The entire discussion covers but two columns.  And yet thoroughness matters, and the three volumes titled The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy om Europe and Beyond (1545-1700) make that more than abundantly clear.  They should be read.  Indeed, in my humble view, students of the history of the Church should oblige themselves to read more than surface scratches.  Tolle, lege!

*F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1650-1651.

Die letzten Könige von Juda: Eine narratologische und intertextuelle Lektüre von 2 Kön 23,30–25,30

Die letzten Könige von Juda führen das Gottesvolk direkt ins Exil und in die Katastrophe der Zerstörung des Ersten Tempels. Wie dies geschieht, wer die Verantwortung trägt und welche Rolle Gott in diesem Drama spielt, sind die Fragen, denen Benedikt Collinet nachspürt. Die Könige sind nicht, wie die Erzählweise nahelegt, Hauptdarsteller des Dramas, sondern Antagonisten zu Gott. Dieser verwendet die Nachbarvölker und Babel als Strafwerkzeuge. Der Grund für die Strafen ist der systemisch gewordene Bundesbruch des Gottesvolkes. Die Bemessung der Strafen ist vertraglich geregelt (Dtn 28). Die Geschichte ist eine durchkomponierte Dekonstruktion der göttlichen Heilszusagen. Die Heilsgaben werden zurückgenommen, die Verheißungen aber bleiben intakt. Das Volk braucht einen Neuanfang, der in Anspielung auf den Exodus, einzig in der Begnadigung Jojachins angedeutet bzw. vorbereitet wird (2 Kön 25,27-30).

An English version of this carefully written work is in process.  The author provides a helpful abstract of the contents in an appendix:

This dissertation thesis deals with the ending of 2 Kings in recent literary studies. It asks what and how 2 Kgs 23:30–25:30 narrate the Fall of Jerusalem and the reign of Judah’s last kings with help of narrative analyses and intertextual references in special shape for Biblical texts. The focus is on the books of Gen to 2 Kgs.

Before these two parts a discussion of the history of interpretation from ancient exegetes until recent studies is done. Not only Christian but also Jewish writers and commentaries were read so that an overall survey on the academic reception is given. A translation of the Hebrew text (mainly MT) combined with text critical comments on the OG version and Ant/Luc opens the interpretation on the text.

The narrative analysis begins with time and space and deals afterwards with the characters in the intratextual (isolated) chapters 23:30–25:30. Open questions are answered in part D. The context helps to understand the story better, so the whole complex of what2Kgs 25 might be the end is used for an intertextual study. Lexematic work, word groups, names and motives get analysed to understand the literary and theological meaning of the text.

Two very important questions are why and to what extent does the character »YHWH« judge and punishe his people so hard?What is the use of the last Kings of Judah?

An important point, the study worked out, is the composed judgment and deconstruction of the kindgom in the people of YHWH. On the other hand YHWH strenghtens his salvation promises by keeping them and the Torah – even if this meens a curse for the people of Israel (Dtn 28). God is true to his people even if they fail, but when they fail salvation becomes curse.

The kings of Judah have to show the peoples that YHWH is the one and only God in the world, because they got this mission for the whole people of God latest after the Fall of the Northern Kingdom. They were not able to fulfill their mission, so that injustice becomes systematic and YHWH makes himself to chose the ultima ratio to rescue a rest of his people. He punishes in the way of his contract (Dtn 28), because the people failed, esp. the kings (Dtn 17 vs. realtiy of 1.2 Kgs).

All salvation gets lost, but the promises are still intact. In the end a new perspective for Israel in the HB/OT is looked for. Jehoiachin, so the thesis, is like Joseph (Gen 41) preparing the people for a new Exodus. He prepares, but he will never see it. An English translation of the thesis is planned.

I couldn’t have said it better or more concisely.  I can add, though, that the work is carefully written and it is utterly thorough in its presentation.  No stone is left unturned, no issue left aside, no scholar ignored.  The work is a virtual reception history of the passage under investigation.  As such, it is an indispensable volume for students of the Deuteronomistic history.  I cannot but recommend it.

Die politischen Gesetze des Mose: Entstehung und Einflüsse der politia-judaica-Literatur in der Frühen Neuzeit

Vordenker der Moderne wie Thomas Hobbes, Baruch de Spinoza, James Harrington, Christian Thomasius und viele mehr griffen in ihren politischen Lehren oft auf das Modell des alten jüdischen Gemeinwesens zurück. Entscheidend beeinflusste sie dabei ein Schrifttum (politiajudaica-Literatur), das in der zweiten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts entstand und Moses Gesetze als politisches Vorbild darstellte. Markus M. Totzeck legt die erste vollständige Untersuchung zur Entstehung dieser Literatur vor. Die antiken außerbiblischen Mose-Traditionen bilden den Hintergrund seiner Arbeit. Diese Traditionen waren in der Frühen Neuzeit zum ersten Mal als Druckausgaben erschienen und hatten sich im Renaissance-Humanismus mit Konzeptionen einer uralten Theologie und Weisheit (prisca theologia bzw. prisca sapientia) des Mose verbunden. Totzeck stellt heraus, wie Debatten über die politische Relevanz der mosaischen Gesetze später in der Reformation zur Entstehung der politiajudaica-Literatur beitrugen. Die ersten Werke stammten aus der Feder humanistischer Gelehrter, die in erster Linie ausgebildete Juristen und Historiographen waren, zugleich aber auch einen mehrheitlich calvinistischen Hintergrund hatten. Die Nähe zwischen humanistischer Jurisprudenz und dem Calvinismus prägte die politiajudaica-Literatur in einer ersten Phase bis zu Petrus Cunaeus’ Werk De republica Hebraeorum libri III (1617). Die Verbreitung dieses Buchklassikers des 17. Jahrhunderts führte den ursprünglichen Rechtsdiskurs in umfangreichere politische Diskussionen.

A review copy has arrived.  More later.

Reading Lincoln Harvey’s Book…

My feelings towards it  have now appeared in full in my review for Reading Religion.  Enjoy.

Zwingli Bibliographie

Zwingli-Bibliographie: Verzeichnis der gedruckten Schriften von und über Ulrich Zwingli

IMG_7881Brill have brought back this classic work from 1968 in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Zwingli’s arrival in Zurich.

Printed in the fantastic Fraktur font which graced the printings of so many wonderful volumes of the last century in Germany, this is exactly what it purports to be- a bibliography both of Zwingli’s own works and of the works which graced his personal library.

Though not as thorough as the modern critically assembled listing (which the Central Library of Zurich has put together) and though less informative than the brilliant work of Urs Leu and Sandra Wiedmann which was just published a few months ago, also by Brill, the present work nonetheless is a valuable tool for research.

Divided into two major sections, readers are provided, firstly, a listing including full title page details of all of Zwingli’s works in chronological order.  The second major section then offers a listing with all the relevant bibliographic details of works which discuss Zwingli from 1600 to the days of Georg Finsler (the author of the present tome).

Then appears an index of Zwingli’s works in alphabetical order; an index of chronological events from Zwingli’s life; an index of particular themes connected to Zwingli’s work; and finally an index arranged chronologically containing all the works in the volume.

This volume is no mean achievement; especially given that it was written long before anyone had access to computers or even modern research tools.  It was, in sum, all done ‘by hand’ and is a miracle accomplishment.

This tool is an important, indeed a critical work which needs to sit on the shelves of every research library.  Allow me to be personal and address you familiarly for a moment: if your library doesn’t have a copy of this book, tell your librarian that it must be ordered.

And then use it.


The Doctrine of Election in Reformed Perspective

Frank van der Pol
The Doctrine of Election in Reformed Perspective
Refo500 Academic Studies (R5AS) 51,
ISBN 13: 978-3-525-57070-8

In 11 essays The Doctrine of Election in Reformed Perspective reflect ongoing investigations concerning the doctrine of election, with special focus on the Synod of Dort 1618–19. Important lines of demarcation between different Reformed orthodox groups and denominations find their root divergence, as well as historical concentration point, in relation to this very issue. The ongoing research presented in this collection can open up a fresh field of fertile investigation for theological discussion. Moreover, she may lead to interdisciplinary perspectives and a cooperative approach to research, also beyond the field of theology. For this too is the field of philosophers and historians, those who trace the history of Christianity or are studying early modern Europe.

The volume consists of three sections. In the first Part three essays reflect historical and philosophical issues before the Synod of Dort. Part Two explores aspects of the Synod of Dort itself. The focus in Part Three is on the reception of the Synod of Dort. Finally, the following question is answered: How were the Canons of Dort regarded in the 17th–19th century, and what does the history of their editions tell us?

The editor, Frank van der Pol, was the program leader of the combined research group Early Modern Reformed Theology (EMRT) of the theological universities Apeldoorn and Kampen. In cooperation with the A Lasco Bibliothek Emden the EMRT organized an international conference on Oct. 29 and 30, 2014 about the doctrine of election in reformed perspective. The research group is convinced that the dual line of research on history and theology of the Reformation tradition must continue and be strengthened. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort, the researchers, wanting to do their work in a broader context with a wider dialogue, make their proceedings accessible for more people and institutes by publishing them in this volume.

More anon.

Reforming Priesthood in Reformation Zurich: Heinrich Bullinger’s End-Times Agenda

The dramatic task of re-imagining clerical identity proved crucial to the Renaissance and Reformation. Jon Wood brings new light to ways in which that discussion animated reconfigurations of church, state, and early modern populace. End-Times considerations of Christian religion had played a part in upheavals throughout the medieval period, but the Reformation era mobilized that tradition with some new possibilities for understanding institutional leadership. Perceiving dangers of an overweening institution on the one hand and anarchic “priesthood of all believers” on the other hand, early Protestants defended legitimacy of ordained ministry in careful coordination with the state. The early Reformation in Zurich emphatically disestablished traditional priesthood in favour of a state-supported “prophethood” of exegetical-linguistic expertise. The author shows that Heinrich Bullinger’s End-Times worldview led him to reclaim for Protestant Zurich a notion of specifically clerical “priesthood,” albeit neither in terms of statist bureaucracy nor in terms of the traditional sacramental character that his precursor (Huldrych Zwingli) had dismantled. Clerical priesthood was an extraordinarily fraught subject in the sixteenth century, especially in the Swiss Confederation. Heinrich Bullinger’s private manuscripts helpfully supplement his more circumscribed published works on this subject. The argument about reclaiming a modified institutional priesthood of Protestantism also prompts re-assessment of broader Reformation history in areas of church-state coordination and in major theological concepts of “covenant” and “justification” that defined religious/confessional distinctions of that era.

More on this volume in due course.

Glaube in Karl Barths ‘Kirchlicher Dogmatik’: Die anthropologische Gestalt des Glaubens zwischen Exzentrizität und Deutung

The study systematically analyzes Karl Barth’s understanding of human faith in Church Dogmatics. Barth’s anthropology founded on Christology is presented with special attention to the doctrines of creation and justification. Applying Barthian dialectics, Schüz shows how the “eccentric” nature of faith “extra nos,” and its free and historical adoption, is transmitted through interpretations.

In nine chapters this revised 2016 doctoral dissertation leads readers through the complex web of Barthian theology with the skill of an Amazon jungle tour guide.  Hacking with an intellectual machete sharpened by extreme giftedness, Juliane lays bare Barth’s understanding of ‘faith’ in a way that is both extraordinary and clear.  This is, if I may be so bold, the best analysis of Barth since John Webster’s work.  Indeed, in some respects it is better.

Following the introduction, the volume is outlined thusly:

  1. Problemaufriss und Thema der Arbeit
  2. Einführung in die Textgrundlage
  3. Die Unmöglichkeit und Fremdheit des Glaubens
  4. Die exzentrisch-christologische Bestimmung zum Glauben
  5. Glaube als frei Tat des Menschen
  6. Die geschichtliche Realisierung des Bundes im Glauben
  7. Das Sein des Glaubens im Werden
  8. Die menschliche Glaubenstat
  9. Glaube als Verstehen zwischen Exzentrizität und Deutung

Then follows a bibliography, an index of persons, and an index of subjects.  Each chapter is subdivided into major and minor sections and is heavily annotated, which is great for those interested in the source material which our author is investigating.

The present reviewer was most taken with the third chapter and the seventh.  These two sections are so extremely useful for one specific reason: they explain the more complex Barthian notions better than any rival volume has yet done.  Put another way, Juliane understands Barth better than most and because that is the case, she can explain his views better than anyone else, in language precise and unencumbered by unnecessary accretions.

Citing examples or distilling the essence of the volume in a few sentences would be a disservice to it.  To pluck out one brick of the carefully constructed argument would necessitate the plucking out of another and yet another, one after the other until the entire volume would end up reproduced here.  And that, of course, cannot and should not be done.

Instead, take my humble word for it, get a copy and read it from cover to cover.  Then you’ll understand my enthusiasm for this volume.  And you’ll see why it cannot be distilled.

Those who make the effort to read this work will find themselves both richly rewarded and even better informed about the theology of Barth than they have been before.  Barthians and non Barthians alike must read it.  It will become, in my view, one of the most important and influential works on Barth published in the 21st century.

Wahrheit – Glaube – Geltung: Theologische und philosophische Konkretionen

In einer Zeit, in der sich unterschiedliche und zuweilen widersprechende Wahrheiten nahezu täglich neu Geltung verschaffen, müssen die Wahrheits- und Geltungsansprüche des christlichen Glaubens überprüft und in einer steten Interpretation der biblischen Texte vergegenwärtigt werden. Sich in den vielfältigen Deutungen der Großbegriffe zu orientieren und theologische und philosophische Konkretionen zu formulieren, hat sich die 20. Jahrestagung der Rudolf-Bultmann-Gesellschaft für Hermeneutische Theologie zur Aufgabe gemacht. Der Sammelband dokumentiert deren Erträge.

20 Jahre waren auch Anlass für eine Rückschau. Neben zwei Beiträgen der beiden Vorsitzenden findet sich deshalb auch eine Übersicht zu den Vorstandsmitgliedern sowie zu den Themen und Vorträgen der Jahrestagungen. 

Mit Beiträgen von Volker Gerhardt, Corinna Körting, Michael Labahn, Malte Dominik Krüger, Isolde Karle, Ulrich H. J. Körtner und Christof Landmesser.

The Rudolf-Bultmann-Gesellschaft has met every year since 1998 and every year a volume of collected essays from that gathering has been published.    This volume is the 20th.

Indeed, the conference where these papers were delivered occurred exactly one year ago this week (the 19-21 of February, 2018).  They focus on the topic described in the book’s title, which was also the title of the gathering last year.  Following the introduction by the editors there are 7 essays- 5 on various subjects related to the conference theme, 2 which survey the history of the RBG and finally a summary of the contents of the volumes which the annual conference has produced.

The essays are uniformly well written but that by Malte Dominik Krüger is particularly engaging beginning, as it does, with a reference to and description of a Nespresso commercial featuring George Clooney and the discussion it engendered in Germany given it’s depiction of the afterlife.  When Krüger asks ‘Warum Heute Evangelisch Sein?’ his answer resonates not only with German society but with American too.

The last two essays take in turn the history of the RBG, first from 1998 to 2008 and second from 2008 to 2018.  The essays fully describe the conferences each year and mark the highlights and themes of those meetings.

Here are the contents:



As is the case with the previous volumes in this series, the present work is an excellent read; informative, helpful, and contemporary in terms of relevance.  Those unable to attend the annual meeting of the world’s only Rudolf Bultmann Society can ‘sit in’ through these essays as a ‘fly on the wall’ and hear some of the most groundbreaking theological material between the covers of a book.

I joyously recommend it.

Understanding the Gospels as Ancient Jewish Literature

Understanding the Gospels as Ancient Jewish Literature places the Gospels in the context of contemporaneous Greco-Roman Jewish texts (4th cent. BC–3rd cent. AD), a collection that includes the Dead Sea Scrolls and the literature of the early Rabbis.

While decades of research into the “Jewish backgrounds” of the Gospels have proven to be fruitful, little attention has been given to their function as a witness to the evolution of ancient Judaism. Comprehending this evolution sheds new light and meaning on the Gospel narratives, as well as on the core message of the Jesus movement. Understanding the Gospels as Ancient Jewish Literature argues that when viewed through the lens of ancient Judaism, the Gospels become a source for the geographical, historical, and religious reality of ancient Judaism, some of which would have otherwise been missing from the historical record. And in turn, the study of ancient Judaism clarifies some of the teachings attributed to Jesus by the Evangelists.

While slim (it’s just 38 pages in length plus endnotes) this little volume is filled with very important first class historical detail, and like all Carta volumes, richly, richly illustrated with photos and maps and charts and such.  Jeffrey Garcia offers details every student of the New Testament needs to have well in hand before beginning study of the text.

Garcia divides his work into these short major sections

  • Introduction
  • Sources for Understanding the Gospels
  • Geography of the Land of Israel in the Gospels
  • Jewish Political History in the Gospels
  • Jewish Life in the Gospels
  • Jewish Styles of Teaching in the Gospels
  • Charity, Deeds of Reciprocal Kindness, and the Image of God in the Gospels
  • The Gospels as the First Literary Witness to Jewish Practice

The work concludes, again, with extensive endnotes, rich in bibiographic references.

The sections above include sometimes few and sometimes many and in a few cases none when it comes to subsections.  The introduction is one page.  The sources for understanding the Gospels take up but three pages, etc.  Each topic is scraped across the surface and then Garcia moves on.

Each section serves, so far as I am concerned, as an introduction to the topic at hand and an encouragement to further, deeper reading on those topics which interest individual readers.

The little work is the ideal tool for classroom use and Sunday School students to find themselves face to face with the strange and foreign world of the New Testament.  I recommend it to undergrad courses and church workers as well as to interested layfolk of all levels.  It is a delightful volume.

Evangelische Kirche und Konzentrationslager (1933 bis 1945)

Um das Verhältnis der evangelischen Kirche zum KZ-System zwischen 1933 und 1945 darzustellen, untersucht Rebecca Scherf wesentliche Aspekte, die dieses Verhältnis charakterisieren: die Seelsorgetätigkeit der evangelischen Kirche, die inhaftierten Geistlichen, ihre Hafterfahrungen sowie die Reaktionen auf ihre Verhaftungen. Zur Analyse der Seelsorgetätigkeit wurden Quellen aus den frühen Jahren der NS-Diktatur herangezogen, die das Herausdrängen kirchlicher Einflussmöglichkeiten innerhalb des KZ-Systems durch den Staat bezeugen, das 1937 in einem für die damalige evangelische Kirche unverständlichen Seelsorgeverbot gipfelte.

Bereits im März 1933 wurde der erste evangelische Pfarrer in KZ-Haft genommen, bis März 1945 waren es insgesamt 71. In einem Überblick dokumentiert Scherf erstmals alle in den KZs inhaftierten Pfarrer, Vikare und Pfarrverwalter nach landeskirchlicher Zugehörigkeit, Verhaftungszeitpunkt und Inhaftierungsgrund. Zeitlich liegt ein Schwerpunkt auf den Jahren 1935 und 1941/42 mit den meisten Inhaftierungen. Die Inhaftierungsgründe sowie die Reaktionen von institutioneller und gemeindlicher Seite in jenen Jahren spiegeln dabei das sich wandelnde Verhältnis von Staat und evangelischer Kirche wieder. Die lokale Priorität liegt auf den Lagern Sachsenburg und Dachau, in die die meisten Geistlichen verschleppt wurden.

Hierbei konnte die Autorin auf der Grundlage von Tagebucheinträgen und Predigten erstmals das protestantische Leben der Geistlichen im Dachauer Pfarrerblock rekonstruieren. Wenige der 71 Geistlichen hielten ihre erlebte KZ-Haft nach ihrer Entlassung schriftlich in einem autobiographischen Bericht fest. Acht dieser Aufzeichnungen untersuchte Scherf, um persönlichen Erfahrungen und theologischen Deutungshorizonten der erlebten KZ-Haft nachzugehen. Den Abschluss bildet der Blick auf die Auswirkungen der KZ-Haft für das Selbstbild und die Fremdwahrnehmung der Bekennenden Kirche nach 1945.

Die Arbeit wurde mit dem Wilhelm Freiherr von Pechmann-Preis 2018 ausgezeichnet.

I’ve finished reading this genuinely terrifying volume.  Terrifying because, primarily, the parallels between the Christian Church which fell under the sway of the Nazis and the Christians who have fallen victim to Trumpism are so close as to be identical.  That terrifies me.  It should terrify everyone.

The table of contents, which is quite extensive, is available at the link above under the ‘Leseprobe’ tab, and won’t be repeated here.

Scherf’s goal in this work is fairly straightforward: to describe quite fully how the Church lived out its calling in the period of Hitler and how it ministered in the Concentration Camps which Hitler used to exterminate millions.  She begins

Am 20. März 1933 wurde Damian Oswald, Pfarrer der protestantisch- evangelisch-christlichen Kirche der Pfalz, aufgrund seiner politischen Ausrichtung als religiöser Sozialist in KZ-Haft genommen. Er war der erste evangelische Geistliche, der dem KZ-System zum Opfer fiel und aufgrund seiner politischen Einstellung inhaftiert wurde.

And then she proceeds to tell the story of the Church in Nazi Germany.  To be precise

Wenn im Folgenden von „evangelischer Kirche“ gesprochen wird, dann ist damit das Gegenüber von BK und deutschchristlicher Reichskirche gemeint, das sich in dem damaligen Gefüge der DEK und ihrer Landeskirchen abspielte war und von der Reichs- bis zur Gemeindeebene zu beobachten.

This leads her to assert

Für die historische Kontextualisierung des Themas „Evangelische Kirche und Konzentrationslager“ für den Zeitraum von 1933 bis 1945 wird von der These ausgegangen, dass auf gedanklicher Grundlage einer Ideologie der Vormachtstellung des „arisch“ deutschen Volkes vor allem drei ineinander greifende Handlungskategorien für die innenpolitische Machtetablierung und -erhaltung des NS-Regimes entscheidend waren: Gesetze und Verordnungen, Terrormaßnahmen und mediale Propaganda. Ausgehend von einer Untersu chung der Funktion des Konzentrationslagersystems im nationalsozialisti schen Terrorapparat wird anschließend der Fragehorizont mit Blick auf die evangelische Kirche eröffnet.

And off she goes.

This is, as hinted above, a really terrifying volume because it shows not only the horror of Nazi Germany ‘from the point of view’ of those who struggled to maintain a true Christian witness in the worst of circumstances, but the sad fact that if the Church is not ever vigilant, it can easily fall under the sway of political power and forget or abandon it’s purpose.

As Scherf tells the story, she makes it quite clear that terror played a significant part in the methods of the Nazis.  Fearmongering, othering, these tools were widely used.  The consequences were shocking:

Nach dem Reichstagsbrand am 27. Februar 1933 existierten in Deutschland circa einhundert Konzentrationslager und „Schutzhaftabteilungen“ jeweils für unterschiedliche Zeiträume.

Scherf goes on to quote a primary source (as she does many, many times) to illuminate her points:

„Am 10. November 1938, an Luthers Geburtstag, brennen in Deutschland die Synagogen … In dieser Stunde muß die Stimme des Mannes gehört werden, der als der deutsche Prophet im 16. Jahrhundert aus Unkenntnis einst als Freund der Juden begann, der getrieben von seinem Gewissen, getrieben von den Erfahrungen und der Wirklichkeit, der größte Antisemit seiner Zeit geworden ist, der Warner seines Volkes wider die Juden.

The means by which Nazis sought to terrorize, control, and manipulate have striking modern parallels.  But the most important aspect of the volume, at least to me, is the fact that Scherf tells the stories of many, many theologians and pastors who lived in and ministered to the inhabitants of the Camps.  Time and time again she informs readers about particular pastors in particular camps and what they did in those camps to help those people.

The notion that ‘Germany’ and Germany’s Christians (as a whole) went along silently is put to the lie page after page.  There was real, substantive, widespread theological resistance to Hitler and it wasn’t just from a few theologians gathered at Barmen.  One need simply read the heart-wrenching accounts of

  • KZ Fuhlsbüttel, Evangelisch-lutherische Kirche im Hamburgischen Staat, Seelsorger: Friedrich Hammer.
  • KZ Dachau, Evangelisch-lutherische Landeskirche Bayern rechts des Rheins, Seelsorger: Friedrich Hofmann.
  • KZ Emslandlager, Frauen-KZ Moringen, Evangelisch-lutherische Landeskirche Hannovers, Seelsorger: Walter Holsten.

And many others to see the truth of the matter.  And this in spite of the fact of Himmler’s efforts!

Datiert auf den 9. März 1937 erhielt der Reichskirchenausschuss ein Schreiben Heinrich Himmlers. Der Ausschuss hatte sich am 28. Januar 1937 nach den durchweg negativen Antworten auf sein zweites Rundschreiben direkt an den Reichsführer-SS gewandt „mit der Bitte, einen Befehl an die Schutzhaftlager- Kommandanten zu erlassen, durch die die Abhaltung von Gottesdiensten und die Ausübung der Seelsorge in den Schutzhaftlagern wieder ermöglicht wird.“ Dieser Bitte entsprach Himmler nicht.

Not only does the body of the work include countless important details but the indices do as well.  In particular, the list of persons including different biographical details is worthy of a read through.

This is an important, timely, amazing, and again, terrifying read.  Read it.

Multiple Reformations? The Many Faces and Legacies of the Reformation

This very good collection of essays contains the following informative works:

The Many Faces of the Reformation

  • Euan Cameron: Reconsidering Early-Reformation and Catholic-Reform Impulses –
  • Randall C. Zachman: The Birth of Protestantism? Or the Reemergence of the Catholic Church? How Its Participants Understood the Evangelical Reformation

Interpretations of Scripture in the Reformation Period

  • Manfred Oeming: The Importance of the Old Testament for the Reformer Martin Luther –
  • Greta Grace Kroeker: Erasmus and Scripture –
  • Paul Silas Peterson: »The Text of the Bible is Stronger«: The Rebirth of Scriptural Authority in the Reformation and it Significance

The Reformation as an Interpretative Event

  • Emidio Campi: The Myth of the Reformation –
  • Scott Dixon: The German Reformation as a Historiographical Construct: The Shaping of the Narrative from Melanchthon to Walch –
  • Ute Lotz-Heumann: Confessionalization is Dead, Long Live the Reformation? Reflections on Historiographical Paradigm Shifts on the Occasion of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

The Aftermath of the Reformation Period

  • John O’Malley: Catholic Pastoral Care: The Early Modern Period –
  • Jan Stievermann: Early American Protestantism and the Confessionalization Paradigm: A Critical Inquiry

Confessional Empires, Missions, and Nations

  • Simon Ditchfield: The »Making« of Roman Catholicism as a »World Religion« –
  • Patrick Griffin: The Last War of Religion or the First War for Empire? Reconsidering the Meaning of The Seven Years’ War in America –
  • Hartmut Lehmann: Nationalism as Poison in the Veins of Western Christianity, c. 1800 – c. 1950

Confessional Modernities, Enlightenment and Secularization

  • John Betz: J. G. Hammann as a Radical Reformer: Two Mites Toward a Post-Secular, Ecumenical Theology –
  • Volker Leppin: Friedrich Gogarten’s Theology of Secularization

Confessional Cultures: Legal and Diaconical Traditions

  • Christoph Strohm: Confession and Law in Early Modern Europe –
  • Johannes Eurich: The Influence of Religious Traditions on Social Welfare Development: Observations from the Perspective of Comparative Welfare State Research

Scripture and the Evangelical-Pietist Tradition

  • Ryan P. Hoselton: »Flesh and Blood Hath Not Revealed It«: Reformation Exegetical Legacies in Pietism and Early Evangelicalism –
  • Douglas A. Sweeney: The Still-Enchanted World of Jonathan Edwards’ Exegesis and the Paradox of Modern Evangelical Supernaturalism

Scriptural Authority and Biblical Scholarship in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

  • Friederike Nüssel: The Value of the Bible: Martin Kähler’s Theology of Scripture and its Ecumenical Impact –
  • David Lincicum: Ferdinand Christian Baur, the New Testament, and the Principle of Protestantism –
  • Matthias Konradt: Sola Scriptura and Historical-Critical Exegesis

These essays were all originally papers delivered at three different academic meetings all centered on the them of the varieties of the Reformation.  The topics are wide ranging as are the backgrounds of the contributors.  All are in English.

The strength of the volume is the breadth of topics considered.  But that is also its weakness.  That is, the vast array of subjects addressed is both engaging (as when one is reading a magazine that covers a lot of different topics) and disorienting (in that topics flit from one branch to another, never really alighting on one long enough for it to be fully developed).

The volume lacks an organinzing center.  When one is one moment following a discussion of the importance of the Old Testament for Luther and the next an essay about Pastoral care in the Reformation and then an essay on nationalism as a poison in the veins of Western Christianity, then one can feel a bit dizzied.

To be sure, the aim of the volume is to show a multitude of perspectives on the Reformation and its outworkings.  But so many manifestations of the Reformation under one cover may be a bit much.  One gets the feeling that one isn’t reading a book so much as a collection of student papers which are all addressing the broadly stated assignment of ‘writing an essay on some aspect, any aspect of the Reformation, that you wish’.

In spite, however, of the ‘shotgun’ style of the volume, it is very informative.  Especially helpful are the essays by Zachmann, Oeming, Campi, Lehmann, Leppin, Nüssel, (whose essay was particularly intriguing), and Strohm.  I would have, I think, enjoyed hearing those papers delivered along with what must surely have been additional spoken details which didn’t make it into the polished final versions.

The volume’s introduction describes the various colloquia during which the papers were delivered.  At the end of the volume are found a list of contributors (2 of which are women) and an index of persons.

This volume explores the inherent pluralism of the Reformation and its manifold legacies from an ecumenical and interdisciplinary point of view, asserts the dust jacket.  And that is most certainly true.  Readers interested in a forest of Reformation trees will truly find the volume useful.  So it certainly is something worth recommending, which I do.

Readers simply need to be prepared to hop and skip about on the variegated checkerboard that is the volume’s contents.  But all the hopping and skipping is worth the effort.

The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy in Europe and Beyond (1545-1700)

Exactly 450 years after the solemn closure of the Council of Trent on 4 December 1563, scholars from diverse regional, disciplinary and confessional backgrounds convened in Leuven to reflect upon the impact of this Council, not only in Europe but also beyond. Their conclusions are to be found in these three impressive volumes. Bridging different generations of scholarship, the authors reassess in a first volume Tridentine views on the Bible, theology and liturgy, as well as their reception by Protestants, deconstructing many myths surviving in scholarship and society alike. They also deal with the mechanisms ‘Rome’ developed to hold a grip on the Council’s implementation. The second volume analyzes the changes in local ecclesiastical life, initiated by bishops, orders and congregations, and the political strife and confessionalisation accompanying this reform process. The third and final volume examines the afterlife of Trent in arts and music, as well as in the global impact of Trent through missions.

All the details of the volume can be found here.   Just click the Leseprobe tab.  There you will find the table of contents, etc., so that those materials won’t be repeated here.

Readers of book reviews generally want to know what the book under consideration contain (and thanks to the internet, that information is now generally available on the publisher’s website) and, more importantly, if it’s worth buying or recommending to their library or even checking out from their lending source.

Further, potential readers of the book want to know if there are problems with it.  If it fails to meet the reader’s needs or doesn’t deliver the advertised scholarship then the review it receives should reflect those facts.  If, however, it meets expectations or surpasses them, it receives a more positive review.

This book meets expectations.  And it is the first of a planned three in the series.  Volume two will take in hand the Bishops and Princes along with Church and Politics.  And volume three will turn our attention to Art and Music followed by Global Catholicism.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself a bit and wish to return to consideration of the present volume.  It’s highlight, for me, is the chapter titled Trent and the Latin Vulgate: A Louvain Project?  This really amazing piece traces the incredible significance of the Louvain-ers in the production and promulgation of the biblical text that would be chosen as THE Catholic Bible.   Seldom does one encounter such carefully reconstructed historical detail.  Text critics and students of the history of the Vulgate will benefit immensely from reading this essay.

Equally enjoyable is G. Frank’s essay on Melanchthon and Trent.  Perhaps because I enjoy Melanchthon so much or perhaps because Frank is such a clear writer.

Not, strictly speaking, a theological essay but rather a historical one is Sachet’s “Privilege of Rome: The Catholic Church’s Attempt to Control the Printed Legacy of the Council of Trent”.  The attempts of Rome to control the narrative about Trent by controlling what was published of and from it is extremely intriguing.  The Church of Rome has always manifested a fairly high level of control.  This essay shows how that mentality worked itself out in the wake of Trent.

Enjoyable too is the essay by John O’Malley on Trent and Vatican II.  Here he shows that in spite of the major differences between the two Councils, they share some amazing similarities.  ‘They nicely illustrate the paradox of history’, opines O’Malley in the closing paragraphs.  I will let readers discover for themselves the surprise in store.

I think this is a very fine collection of essays and if volumes two and three are as excellent, then this series will become standard fare for historians of the Catholic Church.  I am happy to recommend it to your personal library and to your research library.  It fills an important gap in that it goes into greater detail on the issues of the Council of Trent than more general treatments and histories do.

Where the general textbooks scratch the surface, this volume bores into the bone.

Zwingli’s Private Library

This arrived from Brill for review a while back:

The Swiss theologian Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) was one of the most prominent reformers and the founder of the Reformed Protestant Church in the Swiss Confederation. During the last hundred years more than 200 titles from his private library have been discovered. They give an interesting insight into his interests and sources. The present book contains not only an extensive introduction and a catalogue of these books and manuscripts, but also an inventory of the lost works possessed by Zwingli. They open the door to Zwingli’s study and to the intellectual world of an important reformer.

The book is comprised of three parts.  In part one, Leu and Weidmann put Zwingli in the context of books and libraries in general and in the context of his own library in particular.  As they state it

… investigating someone’s private library is just as crucial in tracing his spiritual life and intellectual conflicts, as is the scrutiny of other personal documents.

They go on to say a bit further on

Zwingli loved the secluded life of study. It is no coincidence that he underlined the quotation by Horace: “Beatus ille, qui procul negotiis” (Happy the man who is far away from the business) in his copy of the Orationes praelectiones et praefationes by Philipp Beroaldus.

So the aim here is clearly stated: which books did Zwingli own and what did he think of them?  To that end, then, we are informed that

… a maximum of a few thousand titles would have been available to scholars during Zwingli’s lifetime.  It can thus be inferred that they had to purchase many of the books they wanted themselves, due to the difficulty, at times sheer impossibility, of accessing the material otherwise.

And books were expensive!

One of his most expensive books was probably his edition of the works of Augustine (no. 13). The edition printed later in 1529 by Johannes Froben (about 1460–1527) had cost 18 guilders.

I had to do a little research, but I discovered this bit of information about the value of the guilder:

An outdoor laborer earned 6.50 guilders per week or just over 300 guilders per year.
master carpenter earned 9 guilders per week or just over 450 guilders per year
Wages did not change for 150 years.

A pastor earned 500 guilders per year. Rent free. We have an antique Dutch book and it describes the detailed living expenses of a pastor and his wife on a 500 guilders a year salary. They could not make ends meet.

Today, economists find it difficult to express a meaningful correlation factor of cost of living between two very different cities e.g. Miami, Oklahoma and Miami, Florida, let alone find a factor for correlating cost of living between two countries over some 400 years. However, research on inflation and CPI over the period of 1600 to 2000, -as well as rate of exchange and purchasing power- gives us a workable factor of 60. That means that for the rest of this report we’ll use: 100 guilders in the 1600s equals US $6,000 in today’s money.   (Cf-

That’s approximately the valuation of the guilder used in Switzerland during Zwingli’s lifetime.  I.e., 1 guilder = $60.  That means that Zwingli’s copy of Augustine’s works cost him $1080.

Zwingli paid off this work in at least two installments because on 8th March 1521 he wrote to Beatus Rhenanus that he had sent four guilders to the bookseller Mathias Biermann to settle the debts for his Augustine.

Leu continues:

If we calculate Zwingli’s income, it becomes evident that the Reformer spent a comparatively large amount of his money on his library which numbered several hundred titles. He was prepared to spend substantial sums on books and on education. We do not know how much he earned in Glarus, his financial situation in Einsiedeln is better documented. As well as a papal pension of 50 guilders per year for his military services in northern Italy, he also had a sinecure from Glarus and received an annual salary of twenty guilders from the monastery in Einsiedeln. There, he was also entitled to part of the so-called Beichtschilling (confessional shilling), to the fees for reading Masses (Oblations) and to a quarter of the donations at a funeral (mortuaries). Furthermore, he held the parish of Glarus de jure and had a locum vicar, thus securing for him self an additional income. Zwingli certainly earned over 100 guilders annually in Einsiedeln, which was not the case during his early days in Zürich.

These fascinating details fill this volume’s first chapter and no fuller picture of Zwingli’s book acquisitions has ever been composed.

When our authors get to the second part of their work they examine in brilliant detail the works in Zwingli’s library (of three chief sorts, Theological, Historical, and Miscellaneous).  They provide many examples of marginal notations along with many historical details about the works Zwingli used.  For instance, and remarkably

Astonishingly enough, not one single German Bible has survived from Zwingli’s Bible collection, although he certainly knew the so-called Wormser Propheten (no. A 17) as well as Luther’s New Testament (no. A 18). He used both of these works in preparing his translation for the Zürich Bible. Unlike the private collection of Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger, no copy of the Zürich Bible has come down to us from Zwingli’s library, although he himself contributed greatly to its translation. We do however have a complete Greek Bible which, in a way, can be seen as Zwingli’s family Bible (no. 26). He would not have read aloud from it in the family circle, but he recorded the births of his children on the back inside cover. This list of births was continued by his son, recording his children with Anna Bullinger proving that the Bible remained in the Zwingli family after his death and was not transferred to the abbey library of the Grossmünster.

They also provide numerous illustrative plates throughout the volume.

Zwingli’s library was comprised of just over 400 volumes.  197 of them are held in the Zurich Central Library and they are available online, as we are here informed:

Finally it should be noted that all titles held by the ZBZ are available in digitized form at the following internet address:

There is a wealth of material in those volumes in the form of Zwingli’s marginal notations.

The third part of the volume is the catalogue itself.  And, unsurprisingly, it is simply a listing of those volumes held by Zwingli in his personal library.

The volume concludes with a bibliography.  It also concludes with a series of indices of printer’s locations, a list of contributors to Zwingli’s library, and finally, dedicators.

This is an exceptionally interesting book.  The historical details it shares and the massive amount of material it so carefully sifts is astonishing.  Readers of this volume will learn more about Zwingli and his world than from most other volumes on the great Reformer.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  And so I recommend it to you, to your library, and to your research institution.

A New Divinity

Mark Jones, Michael A. G. Haykin
A New Divinity
Reformed Historical Theology 49
ISBN 13: 978-3-525-55285-8

This is a study on Reformed theological debates during the »Long Eighteenth Century« in Britain and New England. By »Long« a period that goes beyond 1700–1799 is in view. This examination begins just before the eighteenth century by looking at the Neonomian-Antinomian debate in the 1690s. This is followed by the Marrow Controversy in Scotland in the eighteenth century. After that, the authors address the ecclesiological debates between George Whitefield and the Erskines. The doctrine of free choice concerning Edwards and his departure from classical Reformed orthodoxy is highlighted next, followed by reflections on the Edwardseans and the atonement. Returning to Britain again, the volume provides a study on hyper-Calvinism, and on eschatological differences among key figures in the eighteenth century. More specific debates in particular Baptist circles are noted, including the battle over Sandemandianism and the Trinitarian battles fought by Andrew Fuller and others. Returning to ecclesiology, a discussion on the subscription controversy in Philadelphia in the early eighteenth century and an analysis of the debate about the nature of »revival« in New England close this volume.

I appreciate V&R sending along a review copy (supplied by their North American distributor, ISD).

Readers are encouraged to click on the link above and then scroll down to the ‘Leseprobe’ tab to see the table of contents and other front matter.  Those materials aren’t repeated here since they are easily available there.

The twelve essays here collected offer readers very carefully presented materials on a number of very intriguing aspects of the history of the Church in its Reformed manifestation in 17th and 18th century England and America.  In particular, VanDoodewaard’s work on the Marrow Controversy, Helm’s on Hyper-Calvinism, Herzer on Eschatology, Finn on Sandemanianism, and Smart on the Great Awakening are wonderfully crafted academic essays.  Smart, concise, and informative are the three terms that come to mind whilst reading these contributions.

The editor’s introduction (which can be read at the link above) nicely outlines the essays here included and shows their relatedness.  The volume also includes a list of contributors and an index of persons.

The chief aim is nicely encapsulated in the last paragraph-

Would I recommend this collection?  Certainly.  Go read this book then.  And you’ll love it.

Ulrich Zwingli: Prophet, Ketzer, Pionier des Protestantismus

9783290178284Peter Opitz’s new book was sent along by TVZ some time back.  First of all, concerning the author, it isn’t necessary to say this but I will nonetheless just in case some readers are unfamiliar with the work of Opitz: there are very few scholars in the field of Reformation History who have his grasp of primary sources and secondary materials related to Calvin, Zwingli, and Bullinger.  Put more plainly, he knows the subject of this volume.

Second, concerning the volume, Opitz guides readers through four major aspects of Zwingli’s life and thought: his beginning as a Reformer;  Zwingli and the Reformation of Zurich; Zwingli and the Reformation of the Confederation; and Zwingli as a Protestant Pioneer.

Following the chronology of Zwingli’s life, Opitz, in around 120 pages, instructs readers as to the contributions of Zwingli to the Church and to the Reformation of Switzerland and further afield.  Opitz provides ample citations from Zwingli himself, thereby bolstering his argument and the publisher illustrates the volume with really lovely contemporary (and nearly contemporary) artwork.  For instance, here are a few of the illustrations that are included in the volume:


The most valuable, and necessary, part of the volume is Opitz’s treatment of the question of Zwingli and the re-baptizers. Here Opitz undermines the various myths and legends associated with Zwingli’s attitude towards and treatment of the members of this movement. I describe it as the most valuable and necessary because this is one of the areas where there’s so much misinformation constantly repeated that a correction is indispensable.

The fact that Opitz rightly grasps Zwingli’s significance is made most apparent when he writes

Es gibt keinen theologischen Gedanken Calvins, der nicht zuvor schon in der Zwinglischen Reformation diskutiert worden wäre. Sowohl historisch als theologisch ist Zwingli, nicht Calvin, der Urvater des reformierten Protestantismus (p. 110).

And again

Präsent ist Zwinglis Denken nicht nur im Presbyterianismus und in der Mennonitischen Theologie, sondern auch im Anklikanismus und im Methodismus (p. 111).

Zwingli is the unrecognized and unacknowledged and thus unappreciated fount of the theology of many Christian strands of thought to the very present. Opitz reminds us of that fact if we have forgotten it and teaches it to us if we have never learned it.

In terms of style, Opitz is a very fine communicator who writes with fluidity and congruency. Thought flows to thought with hardly any disruptions or intrusions of non-essential rabbit chasings.

Finally, the volume has one further very positive aspect: it debunks the nonsense spewed by Karl Barth about Zwingli in his lectures on the great man. Persons familiar with those lectures will find here in Opitz’s little book the perfect antidote to Barthian misprision. Barth may have found Zwingli an insurmountable Himalaya, but Opitz knows better and spaces Zwingli in the proper context of his time and place.

This is a magnificent book. I enjoyed it from the first page through the brief bibliography at its conclusion. I can only recommend it but were it possible, I would command it to be read. Especially by the Barthians and the misinformed Lutherans who, rather than bothering with Zwingli himself, instead bow the knee to the Baal of Barth and Luther and parrot their partisan viewpoints.

When it comes to Zwingli, Opitz is better informed than Barth and Luther, combined.

Tolle, lege.

Makers of the Modern Theological Mind: Emil Brunner

9781619707368oWhen I was but a lowly undergrad at Carson-Newman College (now University) I took a class on Systematic theology taught by Paul Brewer.  Our textbook was Hanson and Hanson’s Theology but among the supplemental texts we could choose from was Emil Brunner’s ‘Man in Revolt’ and ‘Divine Imperative’.  I was hooked.  Since then (back in the early 80’s) I’ve gotten hold of everything I could written by Brunner and not once been disappointed or annoyed by either his form or content.  He was, in my view, the greatest 20th century theologian of them all.  He was a clearer thinker than Barth and a better Churchman too.

The finest introduction to Brunner’s thought was written less than a decade after his death, in 1972, by Bob Patterson, for the series then published by Fortress called ‘Makers of the Modern Theological Mind’.  It was, and remains, the best volume on Brunner’s thinking yet written.  It was a tragedy that Fortress allowed the series to lapse out of print and it is a spectacular joy that Hendrickson are bringing it back and starting with the volume on Brunner itself, with Bultmann following next (which really is the best procedure).

If you’ve never read Patterson’s work, do so.  In the volume at hand he carefully charts the major outlines of Brunner’s theology, beginning with the need for theological prolegomenon and proceeding through treatments of his doctrines of revelation, God, man, Christ, the church, faith, and eternal hope.  Readers familiar with Brunner’s justifiably famous 3 volume Church Dogmatics will recognize immediately the outline of that work reflected in Patterson’s analysis.  But Patterson doesn’t simply cite those books; he draws, at first hand, from all Brunner’s oeuvre.

There is no finer overview of Brunner’s thought in English.  Nothing even comes close.  Thank you, Hendrickson, for bringing it back for a new generation of theologians and theological students.

An Introduction to the History of Theology

Voici la première histoire de la théologie destinée à un public protestant francophone. Des premières ébauches théologiques de l’Antiquité chrétienne jusqu’aux débats contemporains en passant par les développements de la théologie médiévale, cette Introduction présente les grandes thématiques qui seront au cœur des préoccupations des théologiens de la Réforme, des Lumières et du XIXe siècle protestants.

Rédigée dans un langage accessible par les meilleurs spécialistes du sujet, elle s’adresse aussi bien aux amateurs que la théologie intéresse qu’aux étudiants désireux d’approfondir leurs connaissances.

Avec les contributions d’André Birmelé, Christophe Chalamet, Gilbert Dahan, André Encrevé, Pierre-Olivier Léchot (éd.), Élisabeth Parmentier, Jennifer Powell McNutt, Jean-Marc Tétaz, Anna Van den Kerchove, Marc Vial et Lothar Vogel

I’m grateful for the review copy provided by the editor. The table of contents follows:

  • Avant-propos, Pierre-Olivier Léchot
  1. Chapitre premier. Formation de théologies chrétiennes dans l’Antiquité tardive. Anna Van den Kerchove
  2. Chapitre II. La théologie en Occident 500-1200. Gilbert Dahan
  3. Chapitre III. Le Moyen Âge (v. 1200-v. 1500). Marc Vial
  4. Chapitre IV. Le temps des Réformes (v. 1500-v. 1565). Lothar Vogel
  5. Chapitre V. La théologie protestante à l’âge des confessions (1565-1685). Pierre-Olivier Léchot
  6. Chapitre VI. La théologie protestante durant les Lumières. Jennifer Powell McNutt
  7. Chapitre VII. Des Lumières au néoprotestantisme. La transformation de la théologie protestante à l’époque moderne.  Jean-Marc Tétaz
  8. Chapitre VIII. La théologie protestante au XIXe siècle. André Encrevé
  9. Chapitre IX. La théologie protestante au XXe siècle. Christophe Chalamet
  10. Chapitre X. Théologie(s) féministe(s) – une autre manière de concevoir la théologie. Élisabeth Parmentier
  11. Chapitre XI. L’œcuménisme (XXe-XXIe siècles). André Birmelé
  • Index des noms

Each of the contributors responsibly highlights the chief points and persons of the period under their consideration.  And that is quite a feat indeed.  Imagine, if you will, the task of determining the most important events, persons, and theological movements for a period of a few hundred years and then distilling it all into a prose account that is both coherent and accurate and you can quickly perceive both the enormity of the task and its challenges.  And in spite of those challenges, each of our contributors manages spectacularly.

Vogel’s work in chapter four, for example, examines the historical background; the knowing of which alone makes the debates of the Reformation comprehensible.  He then narrows his focus on the Wittenberg School and its interest in the doctrine of faith, its scriptural hermeneutics, its understanding of justification, predestination, and ecclesiology.  Thoroughly treating these, and the chief persons involved in those debates, he next turns to an examination of Zwingli, Bullinger and Bucer.   And I’m really quite pleased to say that he gets Zwingli and Bullinger right.  Bucer experts will need to evaluate Vogel’s work on him.  He also gets Calvin right, whom he treats next, and quite interestingly, as a sub-heading under the major heading of those three great men previously named.   In other words, he knows that Calvin is a branch growing from another trunk.

After describing the growth of the Reformed tradition, Vogel addresses the red-headed step child of the Reformation: the Radicals and finally he brilliantly explains the Catholic reaction to the ideas of the Reformation.  The chapter ends with a very thorough bibliography which cites modern critical editions of the Reformers works along with important secondary literature in German, French, and English.

The chapter devoted to the Protestant Theology of the 20th Century by Chalamet is also really remarkably well executed.  He begins by discussing the essence of 20th century theology and then glances backward a bit to the leading theological notions of the late 19th century as exemplified by Troeltsch and Herrmann and von Harnack.

Next on the agenda is a study of the ‘Theology of the Word’ and of course this brings us to Barth and those in his sphere of influence and then those who stood alongside and opposite him- Bultmann and Brunner.  The chapter, however, doesn’t end with Barth and Brunner (as though they alone were the representatives of 20th century Christian theology).  Tillich too and Catholic thought also come to be evaluated and described.

Chalamet then takes a half step back and discusses the rise of Naziism and the response to it by the leading Christian thinkers of the time.  Process theology, Post Dialectical Theology (as represented by the likes of Pannenberg and Moltmann) are discussed too, not to mention Black theology and Green theology and others.

Along with these two chapters, the remainder too fantastically show the chief movements and movers of Christian theology from the beginning to the present.

This volume is a gift to Church historians and historians of Christian doctrine.  It should be read by all students of the history of the Church.  I highly, highly recommend it.

An Ocean Of Light

An Ocean of Light: Contemplation, Transformation, and Liberation

Out of the blue this book arrived today from Oxford University Press (thanks!).

For people drawn to a life of contemplation, the dawning of luminous awareness in a mind full of clutter is deeply liberating. In the third of his best-selling books on Christian contemplative life, Martin Laird turns his attention to those who are well settled in their contemplative practice. 

An Ocean of Light speaks both to those just entering the contemplative path and to those with a maturing practice of contemplation. Gradually, the practice of contemplation lifts the soul, freeing it from the blockages that introduce confusion into our identity and thus confusion about the mystery we call God. In the course of a lifetime of inner silencing, the flower of awareness emerges: a living realization that we have never been separate from God or from the rest of humanity while we each fully become what each of us is created to be. In contemplation we become so silent before God that the “before” drops away. Those whose lives have led them deeply into the silent land realize this, but not in the way that we realize that the square root of 144 is 12.

Laird draws from a wide and diverse range of writers–from St. Augustine, Evagrius Ponticus, and St. Teresa of Avila to David Foster Wallace, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, and Franz Wright–to ground his insight in an ancient practice and give it a voice in contemporary language. With his characteristic lyricism and gentleness, Laird guides readers through new challenges of contemplative life, such as making ourselves the focus of our own contemplative project; dealing with old pain; transforming the isolation of loneliness and depression into a liberating solidarity with all who suffer; and the danger of using a spiritual practice as a strategy to acquire and control.

It’s not really my normal fodder and I am not what you would call mystically inclined or into the whole ‘inner life questing for depth’ sort of person.  But I think I’ll read it because it might be a nice break from historical theology and exegesis.  Who knows, I might even like it (or this may turn out very badly indeed…).  So, there’s reading at the In-Laws on Christmas day waiting for the annual Christmas breakfast of gift exchange fest sorted.