Supporting Theological Reflection and Conversation that Strengthen the Ministry of the Church
All Things New: Reform of Church and Society in Schleiermacher's Christian Ethics. By James M. Brandt. Columbia Series in Reformed Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. Foreword by B. A. Gerrish. xvii + 160. ISBN 0664224482.
This reviewer is not a Schleiermacher scholar, but a retired teacher and scholar of Christian Ethics. The review is done from that perspective.
For students of theological ethics, the theological basis for Schleiermacher’s Dei Christliche Sitte is laid in The Christian Faith where the transition to Christian ethics is clearly stated, “Christian Ethics, however, will answer much better to its true relation to Dogmatics, and so to its own immediate purpose, if it drops the imperative mood altogether, and simply gives an all-round description of how men live within the Kingdom of God” (p.524, italics added). That description was not easily available even in German. The best summary of it in English for students that I found was Robert Munro, Schleiermacher, published in 1903. James Brandt, a historical theologian, was the only student I had who read and discussed key portions of Dei Christliche Sitte with me. The increase in the number of articles on Schleiermacher’s ethics, both philosophical and Christian, is a boon my generation did not have.
Brandt’s book is, in the richest sense, an Introduction to Christian Ethics. The exposition and analysis is multi-dimensional. It is the work of a historian who aptly sets Schleiermacher in biographical, social, and historical contexts. But the contexts are not in the service of “post-modern” social-historical reductionism. His history of ideas are most relevant and to the point: examples of this are his brief, but very clear comparisons of Schleiermacher with Kant’s and Hegel’s ethics. Brandt is adept at illuminating interactions between Schleiermacher’s activities as pastor, professor, and public citizen with his theology and Christian ethics. He shows how Schleiermacher’s interpretation of the Church and its activities are central to understanding how Christian ethics can be a descriptive discipline. The social/psychological (to engage in “presentism”), or organic language about life together in the Church is a naturalistic account of how Christ becomes both Nachbild and Vorbild for the community and persons who participate in its activities.
Schleiermacher’s account of the three forms of activityrestoring, broadening, and representationalwhich are “an all-round description of how men live within the Kingdom of God” are exposited and analyzed very well by Brandt. Brandt confronts the issues of the problematic of the relation of the normative to the descriptive in Schleiermacher’ ethics, and analyzes critically his views of church and state, education, family, and other areas of practice. Thus, in addition to personal, social-historical, and theological dimensions, Brandt is appropriately competent in ethical analysis.
A receptive reader of Schleiermacher, that is, one who reads with a hermeneutic of appreciation before one of suspicion, is impressed with the deep coherence between his account of Christian faith and Christian ethics. It is not only a coherence between ideas about theology and ideas about ethics. There is also a stratum of the actuality and vitality of the Christian life in relation to Christ, in and through the Church and its activities, and in relation to activities of Christians in the spheres of human life. The “organic” morphology of the whole is unique in systematic accounts of theological ethics, and its “naturalisitc” explanations were conscious of “modernity.” It is shaped by a social theory, as well as biblical, theological, and ethical learning.
To this reviewer, Brandt’s analysis and interpretation of Schleiermacher’s life and work mirrors the coherence I find in his theology and Christian ethics. This is Einleitung in the most valuable sense. I hope it finds its way into the scholarship and teaching of Christian ethics in seminaries and doctoral programs, and with other recent publications brings Schleiermacher to a more prominent place for his intrinsic, and not only historical, significance. What a comparative seminar one could conduct with fairness to both history and theological ethics, using Brandt and a translation of Christliche Sitte with other coherent accounts of theology and ethics, of Christian life and moral activity in contrast to Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth! I envy younger scholars and teachers who might do this with the assistance of Brandt’s multi-dimensional book. Technical reviews by Schleiermacher scholars, I am sure, can be found in other publications.
James M. Gustafson
PUBLISHED IN THE BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE FOR REFORMED THEOLOGY, SPRING/SUMMER 2003, VOL. 3, #2.
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