Theology and Culture

Even the purest theological issue, however, will in the long run have cultural consequences . . . And, for the most part, it is inevitable that we should, when we defend our religion, be defending at the same time our culture, and vice versa: we are obeying the fundamental instinct to preserve our existence.

— T. S. Eliot, Notes toward the Definition of Culture (1948)


The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism

The Modernist Impulse in American ProtestantismHutchison provides for the reader a concise, if not easily readable, summary of the history of modernism within American Protestantism. He traces the earliest modernist impulse back to the old Unitarians. His narrative maintains a distinction between liberalism and modernism. All modernists are liberals, but not all liberals are modernists. Liberalism could make headway within religion without the input of modernity. Modernism, however, made use of the modern Zeitgeist. Of course, this does not mean that liberalism and modernism are sealed off from one another. Very early on liberalism and modernism would become subsumed under the single referent, modernism. Hutchison primarily traces the American form of modernist Protestantism beginning with the Unitarians and ending with the Niebuhrs. As such, it makes a tacit statement that the modernist form of religious liberalism is primarily a bygone thing. Hutchison offers barely a hint of Process Theology or the ethnic-gender-socio-economic theologies. His scope seems limited when compared to Gary Dorrien’s ponderously exhaustive three volume history of religious liberalism. Hutchison’s treatment, however, seems to be an improvement on Kenneth Cauthen’s seminal work on American religious liberalism. I hope to be able to examine both of these works in the future. As such, Hutchison’s work stands prospective to Cauthen and retrospective to Dorrien.

Hutchison finds early religious modernism taking root under the auspices of what Marsden would call old evangelicalism. The denial of biblical authority in any orthodox sense and the entertaining of higher critical views with respect to the Bible first occur, in any lasting sense, within the fold of evangelicalism. The evangelical desire to affect culture not only connects it to the Social Gospel, but also aids in disguising a significant renovation of theology that was going on just beneath the surface of its social piety. This could, perhaps, explain why so many fundamentalists are still wary of any social component in the gospel or related to the gospel, and why later evangelicals would confess an uneasy conscience with respect to its neglect of the same. Hutchison relates the usual sordid details of the altercation. He relates events from the Presbyterian heresy trials to the slow takeover by modernists of all the mainline denominations and their service organizations. First individual pulpits, then seminaries, then mission boards file successively into the modernist fold. Hutchison takes time to differentiate between types of modernists. He demonstrates how different liberals may present their views. A particularly disheartening narrative is Hutchison’s depiction of the reaction of modernists to the fundamentalist uprising. Despite evangelicals and fundamentalists opining about the disruption brought about by the fight, Hutchison develops a narrative that leaves the fundamentalists as largely ignored. He does not deny that they had talent and that they had valid arguments, but by the time they mounted any real offence, modernists had largely moved on. I tend to think that those living at the flashpoints of the debate probably saw more than mere disinterest by liberals in the fundamentalists’ contentions, but Hutchison’s broad sweep of the events in retrospective does seem to provide a procrustean bed for his assertion. For all of this, Hutchison lacks interest in providing an ample description of the roots of American modernism within Europe. That seems to be his point. American modernism, to a certain extent, was a domestic brand. European thought may have influenced it, but American modernism was unique in its own right. In like manner, Hutchison depicts the next stage of religious theology

Rudolf Otto on Music’s Ability to Portray the Transcendent

On Bach’s Mass in B Minor:

Its most mystical portion is the ‘Incarnatus’ in the ‘Credo’, and there the effect is due to the faint whispering, lingering sequence in the fugue structure, dying away pianissimo. The held breath and hushed sounds of the passage, its wierd cadences, sinking away in lessened thirds, its pauses and syncopations, and its rise and fall in astonishing semitones, which renders so well the sense of awe-struck wonder–all this serves to express the mysterium by way of intimation, rather than in forthright utterance. And by this means Bach attains his  aim here far better than in the ‘Sanctus’.

Rudolf Otto, John W. Harvey, trans., The Idea of the Holy (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1958), 70.

Where or where can we find theologians that have a grasp of what music is doing after the manner of Otto?

The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. , ed. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

At the very height of the evangelical discovery of postmodernity, Vanhoozer edits this little collection of articles that purports to tell its readers about the various flora and fauna of the postmodern condition. Vanhoozer’s opening article is valuable in setting the stage for the book. Vanhoozer deftly describes what postmodernity is without making it seem messianic, as some other authors might make it seem (see James K. A. Smith’s corpus on the same subject). He is rather forthcoming regarding postmodernity’s pitfalls as well as the variegation of thought that moves under the aegis of postmodernity. Vanhoozer cites two sources which provide four-part typologies for classifying postmodern theology. He then goes on to deconstruct postmodernity with its ethic of freeing the repressed other who constantly seems to disappear, and its reflexive denial of certainty, making any object of faith nearly impossible.

The next chapter aims at describing Anglo-american postmodernity by invoking the critique of Cartesian modernity in Nicholas Lash. In this chapter, Nancey Murphey and Brad Kallenberg seek to demonstrate the force of postmodern theology’s contention that knowledge is socially constructed.

The third chapter seeks to describe Lindbeck and his school of postliberal theology at Yale. Although Hunsinger gives basic credit to Lindbeck for his founding of postliberal theology, he is nevertheless critical of him as well. Apparently progress has been made since Lindbeck. This leaves one with the suspicion that postmodernity is really just more modernity turned in on itself. According to Hunsinger, there have been more appealing postliberal proposals since Lindbeck. Hunsinger’s main clarifying statement concerning postliberalism is the admission that all knowledge assumes certain a priori beliefs anterior to that knowledge, and that constructs of knowledge are necessarily analogical. Hunsinger seems to opt for Frei’s high Christology, as one of those a priori tenets held by postliberal theology, with an open view of salvation.

The chapters on postmetaphysical theology and deconstructive theology both deal, to a certain extent, with the thought of Jacques Derrida and his import for theology. Postmetaphysical theology seeks to remove being as the primary category for understanding reality. The primacy of being in Western thought led to “ontotheology” which this postmetaphysical theology rejects. Indeed, according to Carlson’s explanation of Jean-Luc Marion, God is prior to being. It is the love of God that provides for being as a gift. Ward’s chapter on deconstructive theology is a bit more negative, asserting with his Radical Orthodox colleagues, that Derrida has provided a transcendental argument for nihilism.

Reconstructive theology seems a poor name, but it is the name by which Griffin christens Process Theology. This chapter is followed by a chapter on feminist theology. These two chapters are somewhat predictable even if they seem odd juxtaposed to one another. The former seems focused on the unity of reality, while the latter seems more focused on the otherness of certain realities.

Long’s treatment of Radical Orthodoxy is probably not the best out on the market. Smith, Milbank, Ward, and Pickstock seem to give better accountings of the project which seeks to affirm the sociological aspects of knowledge as well as a certain giveness of reality.

The first half of Vanhoozer’s collection of essays deals with a description of postmodern theologies. The second half treats the effects of postmodern theology on Christian doctrine. Our esteemed editor opens this section with an essay that seeks to affirm postmodernity’s repristination of tradition as important to the task of exegesis. For Stiver, theological method is first and foremost hermeneutical. Cunningham seeks to use the trinitarian formula as a paradigm for doing theology. Cunningham’s approach  is reminiscent of some of Vanhoozer’s earlier work in his First Theology. Clayton promotes panentheism as a resolution to the dilemma posed between an objective world or an animated world. I am fairly certain that Clayton may have presented a false dilemma.  After Webster’s foray into anthropology, Lowe seems to bring the same criticisms to classical Christology and soteriology that N. T. Wright does in his fresh perspective on Paul. The West’s soteriology is too individualistic for both Lowe and Wright. Grenz summarizes his ecclesiology of human community in Christ and in the Spirit, and Ford reappropriates Bonhoeffer’s theology for postmodern spirituality and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Vanhoozer’s collection is a mixture of introduction and application, but it does neither very well. One would be hard pressed, however, to find something better in so handy of a size.

Book Review: Avery Dulles, S.J., Models of Revelation

Avery Dulles, S. J., Models of Revelation (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1985).

Avery Dulles’ work on revelation exists as a sort of companion volume to his Models of the Church which I believe was published about five years later by the same publisher. The format is very familiar to any educated reader of theology. “Any educated reader” implies a broader audience than the profession of theology. Certainly, theologians have and will make use of it, and clergy as well; but Dulles seems to be writing to all those interested in religion, not just to the guild. The format follows that of H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture in that it seeks to abstract types or species out of a morass of possible entities. It seems that these sorts of books, a staple for the middle to late Twentieth century, come with three or five distinct possibilities. Dulles provides five, and, all things considered, his methodology fits his project much better than Niebuhr’s ever did. Niebuhr’s types or models never fit any one thing and Niebuhr decided to argue for one model to take precedence over the others despite a lukewarm commitment to even that. Niebuhr set out to do what really he could not do because of a plenitude of variables contained within his project. Dulles remedies Niebuhr’s shortcomings by applying the method to something it can encompass. Dulles’ models of revelation have relatively obvious points of demarcation. They tend to be distinct even if adherence to one model or another is not consistent. Dulles provides a two-pronged approach to his project. First, he outlines the available options in the field. Second, he synthesizes the options in the field under what could arguably be called a sixth model, but Dulles presents it as a common denominator of all the models as they stand. As a test for this common denominator, Dulles places this concept of revelation through all the salient aspects of Christian faith and practice in order to determine whether or not the proposed common denominator maintains its integrity in helping to define and communicate the essence of the faith and its incarnation in conduct. He applies this test not through merely his proposal, but his proposal as found in each of the previously reviewed five models of revelation. His success at this, to a certain degree, will depend on the judgment of the reader. In brief compass, Dulles’ approach is essentially empirical. Indeed, it is arguably Baconian, following his rough outline in observation, hypothesis, and testing. The following is a description of Dulles’ process and a review concerning his effectiveness.

Dulles, at the beginning of the book lays out the issue for his readers. He rehearses the basic difficulties for revelation such as epistemology, psychology, historical theology, and comparative religions just to name a few. He briefly considers a revelation-less Christianity of Karl Jaspers and F. Gerald Downing promising to deliver an answer through the remainder of the book. Dulles also sets up criteria by which to attest the models of his project. These are considered to be “relatively neutral” (Dulles:17), indicating that Dulles, at this point, belongs to the intellectual frontier between modernity and postmodernity. Dulles moves from the past into the future, and, while sensitive to criticisms voiced by a nascent postmodernity, nevertheless retains his modernist methodologies. His criteria includes “faithfulness to the Bible and Christian tradition, internal coherence, plausibility, adequacy to experience, practical fruitfulness, theoretical fruitfulness, and value for dialogue (Dulles:16–17).” The reader should notice that almost all of his criteria are subjective; only giving the illusion of being objective much like we find in sociology.

Following his foundation for the study and methodology for embarking on his enterprise, Dulles takes the reader through a history of the doctrine of revelation, summarizing briefly the premodern period of Christendom only to go into great detail concerning eight modern trends in Christian theology concerning revelation. Clearly this pluriform teaching concerning revelation spanning only about 200 years is the agitation providing a raison d’être for this study.

The next five chapters give exposition to the five models currently in play within modern Christendom. I will treat these briefly. The first model is revelation as doctrine. This roughly corresponds to Lindbeck’s positivist cognitive approach to doctrine, but Dulles does not treat it with disdain. He describes two varieties: conservative evangelicalism and Catholic Neo-scholasticism. The first variant tries to allow Scripture to interpret itself while the second allows the life of the church to aid in interpreting the Scriptures. Dulles is careful to recognize the intellectual congruence of both inerrancy and propositionalism. Inerrancy makes sense within the model and propositionalism is not to be misunderstood as leveling the text to mere propositions. Nevertheless, Dulles finds this model falling short of the criteria mentioned above.

The second model is revelation as history. Whereas the first model placed the locus of revelation in a text, the second model places it in acts and deeds found in history. Dulles places C. H. Dodd, the Heilsgeschichteschule of Cullman and von Hofmann, and Pannenberg within this model. For these theologians, God primarily reveals himself through his mighty deeds, often for his people and against his foes. Dulles finds this model to be biblical and plausible, but it fails in its coherence because many of the historical deeds are related in a text. Dulles notes in somewhat negative finality that the Hebrew “dabar” may refer to both word and event (Dulles:67).

The third model is revelation as inner experience. This model and the two treated subsequently reveal a more subjectivist slant than the previous two, perhaps highlighting the fault line that makes this study necessary. This view encompasses the liberal Protestant pietist theologians like Schleiermacher and Ritschl, as well as their Catholic counterparts like George Tyrrell, and Anglicans like Evelyn Underhill and Dean W. R. Inge. In fact, under this heading, Dulles lists a multitude of adherents. These theologians view revelation as an inner subjective feeling that may only be precipitated by the aforementioned words and deeds. Dulles’ definition and explanation is thorough and complete even if C. H. Dodd’s position now spans two categories. Dulles finds merits and deficiencies in this model as well. Its subjectivity undermines its value in the criteria of productivity.

Dulles’ fourth model is the ever popular revelation as dialectical presence. In this category, Dulles places all the variegations of crisis theology from Barth to Brunner to Bultmann. The revelation of God is inherently existential. It seeks to handle the difficulty of a series of contrapuntal theological propositions: the transcendence of God and his imminent revelation in Jesus Christ, the holiness of God, and man’s sinfulness. There just seems to be no real way to God from below, but human experience and the revelation of Christ seem to tell these theologians something different. The Bible becomes the locus of oracle, not the product of oracle. Dulles spends some text explaining the various themes found within this model and concludes with his standard catalog of merits and deficiencies. Particularly deficient is the recognition of word and deed revelation with no real means of allowing this to happen, so the revelation is veiled. Its significance is not recognized until the appropriate crisis arrives.

Dulles’ fifth and final model is revelation as new awareness. This wins the award for the most subjective, ephemeral, and ethereal. In this model, revelation does not occur in the specifics of words, deeds, feelings (although they come close), or crisis. Rather, revelation is a heightened awareness. This works in and through human abilities that may be latent, but are energized so that the subject experiences a new perspective. In this model, the external reality which the perspective communicates nearly dissolves in the heightened perceptions of the subject. Again, Dulles duly adjudicates merits and criticisms, most of which should seem obvious.

This ends the most useful portion of Dulles’ project. What he does in categorizing, summarizing, and critiquing provides useful information to any student of theology, but his goal to provide some common denominator by which all may fulfill the criteria he has set up seems a tall order. In fact, it seems to look an awful lot like the death rattle of a modernist methodology within the field of theology. Dulles seems to sense that modernist means of theological method have been and are being quickly supplanted by a new way of doing theology. His frequent references to Heidgegger, Polanyi, and anonymous allusions to Gadamer mark well that he has kept current in the field. His provision of the common denominator of symbol itself straddles the two worlds of modernity and post modernity. He describes symbol in such a manner so that it is flexible enough to remain relative, supplying whatever lacks in any of the previous five models, and, yet, it remains a neutral ground for discourse – a sort of Diltheyesque Holy Grail of common discourse. It stands as a modernist chimeric fantasy in capitulation to postmodern criticisms.

Dulles draws upon more aesthetically communicable ideas to promote his concept of revelation as symbol. Indeed, he calls Coleridge and Yeats as witness to the validity of his proposal. But, looking back, from the vantage point of 2009, Dulles’ proposal seems like a simplistic tautology. Language is symbol. Historical acts are symbol. Inner experiences may be reduced to symbols (sounds almost Jungian). The tension of dialectics may be captured in symbols. A heightened sense of perception may be best communicated in symbols. These are the proposals he lays before his readers, who, after the passing of some 25 years, find nothing new here regarding perceptions of how language and experience work. Derrida has so trumped Dulles such that reading this seems like reading Copernicus’ theory of a heliocentric solar system. It is no breakthrough for us now.

Dulles continues to apply the symbolic model to each of the other five models as they, in turn, grapple with the basic questions of Christian theology: Christ, Bible, Church, Revelation, and Eschatology. His treatments of these aspects are mixed. At best the symbol metaphor may help with dialogue, but it will never help theologians using a specific model to recognize others using a different model as legitimate Christians. Symbol may be useful for understanding how another model says what it says, but the diverse premises of the other models preclude harmony. Dulles’ understanding of how symbolic epistemology aids theology or works with theology is useful, but it will never put an end to critiquing theology on the basis of difference. It only puts an end to dismissing certain theologies as out of hand because it brings to light the authoritative presuppositions that lie close to the heart of the theological method of each model.

Isaac Massey Haldeman: Religous Imagination – Theology

Religious Imagination

Perhaps more attached to his fidelity and fueling his fighting and finishing, Haldeman’s religious imagination is of singular importance. A lifetime of sermons, books, pamphlets, and even architecture bespeak of a man who had more on his mind and heart than merely the religious empires of the likes of Riley and Norris. In fact, Haldeman’s pulpit faithfulness and fearless denunciation of error resemble most closely those lesser fundamentalists of R. E. Neigbour, Oliver Van Osdel, and R. T. Ketcham. While the accuracy of this assessment cannot be fully answered in this brief article, it points toward a question that should be asked and one that should be answered. Can significantly different motives be assessed to different early fundamentalist leaders or are they all of a piece? Do they all share in the same grimy and grubbing game of one-upsmanship to build empires as big as their egos? I believe that their may be reason to believe otherwise, and Haldeman’s life and ministry may be but one example of a significantly different motivation than empire and ego. The difficulty at present is that little extant materials exist that reveal the depths of Haldeman’s inner man. Scant if any correspondence is presently available to the researcher, but shortly a search for this holy grail may be underway. If research could establish a deep, abiding, and overriding motivation for Haldeman’s ministry, the fact may be established that here existed a fundamentalist of few pretensions and less ego than existed in his empire building fundamentalist contemporaries who flourished during the latter years of his life. Do any clues exist to give warrant to what may be an overly optimistic assessment of his character? Combining his biography with some aspects of his ministry may just lend us some clues that partially affirm this assessment. Clues exist in his theology and aesthetic temperament.


Beyond being just fundamentalist, Haldeman was also dispensational, premillennial, and pretribulational. It can be argued that he was the first to bring the full weight of dispensationalism devoid of spiritualized eschatology, against liberals who spiritualized the resuurrection of Christ. Nearly half of his monographic corpus is dedicated to eschatology. The other half is divided fairly evenly between dispensational teaching, modernism, and false teachings like Theosophy and Christian Science. While much, if not most, of fundamentalism  tended toward pretribulational premillennialism; the slightly more than novice student of fundamentalism knows there were other eschatological views. If  J. Gresham Machen cannot be called a fundamentalist, T. T. Shield can and was. He was also an amillennialist. Furthermore, If Cauthen took the time to divide between those in early liberal theology, would it be much of a stretch to suppose that fundamentalists did not possess similar variegation?. Even their transitional figures were of a different sort than their later exponents. Strong and Mullins were more accomodating to the new theology and more progressive than their later champions of orthodoxy. It also seems that some fundamentalists were more interested in promoting empires and conveniently used their conservative convictions to divide a market of churchgoers, donors, and circles of loyalty. Others, it may be demonstrated, remained faithful to their convictions, leveraging every fiber of the ministry against the swelling tide of liberalism and modernism. These were men who developed a message that overshadowed their personality. They developed a theology not a constituency.[1] This may only be speculation, but Haldeman’s insistence on a dispensational, premillennial, and pretribulational theology and his denunciations of anything less may explain his lack of significant involvement in the broader fundamentalist movement. While he seems to have been friends with quite a few within the fundamentalist fold, he was very clear on where his allegiances resided within the spectrum of doctrine allowed in that fold. His fierce denunciation of Philip Mauro, who abdicated his dispensational beliefs for amillennialism and then repudiated his former teaching in a book, indicates the degree to which Haldeman held and cherished dispensationalism.[2] Perhaps, his rigid repudiation of even a minority report within fundamentalism may have marginalized his influence in the movement. Nevertheless, his constant preaching, teaching, and writing in the service of promoting dispensational eschatology – to almost an excess, seems to point to some goal beyond mere empire. He preached and wrote in such a way so as to exclude his close fellowship within broad fundamentalism.

While Riley, Norris, and others may have used the old theology; they failed to promote its ability to capture imaginations outside the walls of their ministries. They seemed, rather, to draw people to their ministries by the controversies and curiosities they stirred up. In turn, they used the human capital built up from their ministries to fund schools, mission agencies, and conferences to their own liking. To be sure some of agencies they founded that were parallel to denominational agencies may have been necessary because of the pollution of modernism. Upon further reflection, however, especially in the case of the Northern Baptist Convention, these opportunistic fundamentalists only seemed to establish their many empires to confront the empire of the other. Oftentimes these many empires of fundamentalism pitted themselves against each other in struggles for control.

Haldeman, by way of contrast, had a theology to promote. In his early years of ministry it centered on the gospel. Then it grew into an exposition of the dispensational premillennialism of the Scofieldian sort. Following that, in a manner analogous to an oblique military maneuver, he made a minor directional change to take on modernism. He used an inerrant Bible to substantiate the supernatural biblical truth in view of a coming supernatural and empirically verifiable second coming and millennial kingdom. In his argument Haldeman usually asserting that the things that modernists will not believe now because of Lessing’s ugly ditch will be abundantly verifiable in the future. He provides a basis of such an assertion by relating narratives from the Bible that demonstrate that those who ignore the authoritative testimony given to them, no matter incredulous the testimony may seem, are always shown to be wrong in the end. In two of his famous diatribes against modernism, “Jericho Theology”[3] and the “The New Religion.”[4] he argues this line very effectively.

Whereas other fundamentalists used the empire that they had built as a platform to advance fundamentalism against the onslaught of modernism, Haldeman used his preaching and writing. Much of Haldeman’s preaching and writing co-opted the biblical historical accounts of divine and obviously supernatural events breaking into the past visible world of humankind with the biblical prophetic account of divine providence breaking into the future visible world. The former was empirically verifiable, and in like manner, the latter would be as well.

[1]Admittedly, my alleged fundamentalist taxonomy needs to be further developed and substantiated.

[2]Isaac Massey Haldeman, The Kingdom of God: What Is It?–When Is It?–Where Is It? An Answer to Mr. Philip Mauro’s “Gospel of the Kingdom” (New York: Francis Emory Fitch, 1931), 17–21.

[3]Isaac Massey Haldeman, The Signs of the Times (New York: Charles C. Cook, 1913), 95–122.

[4]Isaac Massey Haldeman, The Signs of the Times, 123–49.

A seminary wherein music plays a crucial role:

Music formed a huge part of the communal life a Zingst and Finkenwalde. Each day around noon everyone gathered to sing hymns or other sacred music . . . [Bethge] told them about Gumpelzhaimer, who lived in the sixteenth century and wrote sacred music and hymns, especially polychoral motets. Bonhoeffer was  intrigued. His musical knowledge went back to Bach, but Bethge was familiar with the music that preceded him. He widened Bonhoeffer’s horizons to that earlier sacred music and to composers such as Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schein, Samuel Scheidt, Josquin de Prez, and others, and that music was incorporated into the repertoire of Finkenwalde.

There were two pianos in the manor house. Bethge said that Bonhoeffer “never turned down a request to join in playing one of Bach’s concertos for two pianos.” He also said that Bonhoeffer particularly loved singing a part in Schütz’s vocal duets, “Eins bitte ich vom Herren”* and “Meister, wir haben die ganze nacht gearbeitet.”** . . . He loved Beethoven, and Bethge said “he could sit down at the piano and simply improvise the Rosenkavalier. That impressed us greatly.

as quoted in Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer, p. 267

Oh, to have a seminary like that! A place where students actually enjoyed learning music from the masters of the past. We deprive ourselves and slight our Lord of much rich worship when we limit ourselves to the immediate and familiar. Not too mention the offense that we must bring before our Lord when we offer music shaped by affections that were trained by the banality of popular culture.

*”One thing I ask of the Lord”

**”Master we have toiled all night.”