Hinlicky, Paul R. Luther and the Beloved Community: A Path for Christian Theology after Christendom. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010. 405 pp....moreHinlicky, Paul R. Luther and the Beloved Community: A Path for Christian Theology after Christendom. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010. 405 pp. $45.00.
Paul Hinlicky’s Luther and the Beloved Community is a systematic theologian’s pathfinding for theology in creedal traditions confronting post-Christendom. Drawing inspiration from Luther, or what he calls, “my Luther,” by which he means the emphases he draws from Luther, Hinlicky conversed with several disputable issues in this transitory time. His vision for appropriating Luther for contemporary theology is not limited to the Lutheran tradition but hopes to extend to inform all creedal Christianity in order to develop an ecumenical direction of thought to face post-Christendom.
The book is not for the uninitiated. Consistent use of untranslated Latin and many undefined terms suits that audience but unfortunately terminology specific to Hinlicky’s project is also left undefined. Readers unfamiliar with Hinlicky’s work are thus left without resource to understand the meanings of “beloved community” or “critical dogmatics” (which I can best describe as theologization rejecting synchronic systemization, favoring a diachronic approach mindful of ecuminical creedal orthodoxy). Also, this is not intended to be a work of historical theology but rather an appropriation of an historical figure’s thought in dialogue with contemporary issues. As such, church historians and systematic theologians both will have the delight of encountering new ideas that can stretch their attempts to appropriate historical theology or to find historical inspiration for theology.
As in Paths not Taken, Hinlicky used the path metaphor for the direction of Christian theology. Luther and the Beloved Community intends to set up a starting point for the continued path of theological enterprise; a veritable prolegomena to any future theology. Hinlicky majored on setting Luther’s thought, or at least his vision of Luther’s thought, against post-Christendom thinking, but Hinlicky did not present a unified vision for how theology should proceed. It is as though the path has been obscured by the wild brush of such thinkers as Josiah Royce or William James. Dissapointingly Hinlicky approached the obfuscated path with a theological machete, albeit a particularly sharp one, not to cut away the foliage but merely to point to each branch in the way and to declare that there is a path underneath. While there is value knowing where the path is and what problems are in the way, this must be understood as only an initial task doing little path clearing itself.
This is not to say that the book is unorganized, but direction is elusive. Even the last chapter, “By Way of Conclusion,” provides little conclusive direction for the path to be taken but rather presents a few other issues more briefly than the other issues addressed. The impression is that the work is not to stand alone but serves as a part of a larger project, including Paths Not Taken, since the chapters are Hinlicky’s settings of Luther, or at least his conception of Luther, as interlocutor to several issues with a common goal in mind for each. The book as a whole seems, then, to be setting some groundwork for what direction Hinlicky may have in mind for post-Christendom theology but his final answer is not found here. One is left picking through the book for the occasional nugget like his insistence that preaching should not be based on human persuasion but rather on the exaltation of the cross (138).
Although Luther was Hinlicky’s theological “resource,” Luther’s authentic voice is often not heard. Rather than citing Luther specifically, Hinlicky often stated his view of Luther’s theology without grounding those inferences in any specific writing from Luther. For instance, speaking of correlations between Anselm, Luther and Paul on the atonement, Hinlicky thoroughly cited Anselm and the text from Paul from which Luther derived his idea but merely stated what Lutheran belief has been (90). Further, using Luther as a resource rather than a guide allowed Hinlicky divergence from Luther’s thought. One must question the use of “my Luther” rather than an attempt to discover Luther himself. Initially, the concept of the beloved community takes a much more directive role in Hinlicky than in Luther. Meanwhile, Hinlicky draws conclusion from some of Luther’s ideas that Luther would certainly object to. When writing advising churches to recognize homosexual unions because homosexuality is a disorder of the Fall like a disease rather than a sin (215-216) one must wonder whether Luther would appreciate sexual immorality parading as a God-ordained institution being an anticipatory model of eschatological community? More suspect are instances when Luther, even in interpretation, is left out of the conversation. For instance, he is notably silent for most of the discussion on the New Perspective.
Hinlicky has invested serious thought into many issues but the full formulation of his thought remains forthcoming (xv). This book would be better read as a collection of essays rather than as a monograph since most of the materials are of independent origins (xxiii). Without the end yet in sight, however, it remains difficult to grasp the full import of what is presented. (less)
Jean Henri Merle d’Aubigné’s biography of Ulrich Zwingli begins simply by setting the scene in the Swiss Alps of Zwingli birth. The book continues, th...moreJean Henri Merle d’Aubigné’s biography of Ulrich Zwingli begins simply by setting the scene in the Swiss Alps of Zwingli birth. The book continues, though, as more than a timeline of events. Merle d’Aubigné tells the grander story of an entire nation centered on the figure of Zwingli.
The biography does not end with Zwingli’s death, but finishes with Zwingli’s influence on the nation and Christianity. Before Merle d’Aubigné arrives there, he tells of the Swiss religion. Though Zwingli is central to the book, his figure does not dominate the text.
The narrative weaves in stories in which Zwingli is a peripheral, if not absent figure. Many characters walk these scenes, displaying the varied cast involved. These narratives open the view beyond a mere retelling of Zwingli’s chronology to a view of Switzerland’s religious tenor in that time and others’ work in the reforming task.
Mixed motivations were involved in the reformation. Zwingli was the primary theological impetus, but political motivations were present in light of a strong sense of Swiss nationalism. Merle d’Aubigné consistently records Zwingli’s appeals to Swiss ancestry and a history of confederate independence as motivations for breaking with foreign Papal authority. So, the incentive for reformation was not only to form a church of doctrinal integrity but also to form a national church independent of foreign rule.
The strongest facet of this book is breadth in including narratives beyond the life of Zwingli himself. Doing so dampens the impression of Zwingli as a superhuman reformer, battling Catholicism as a lone warrior. Contemporary evangelicals can easily perceive reformers like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli as heroes who singlehandedly did their work.
Merle d’Aubigné’s inclusion of these narratives gives readers the broader perspective that Zwingli did not act alone. He could only accomplish the reforming task with the aid of men like Bucer, Oecolampadius, Myconius and others whose names, though easily forgotten, were instrumental to Zwingli’s work. Without this supporting cast, the reformation would not have come to Switzerland. Merle d’Aubigné’s biography clearly shows this, lest readers get that impression that Zwingli could conquer Catholicism alone.
The inclusion of references to nationalistic stimuli for the Swiss reformation completes the picture. Luther’s simultaneous reformation began as a purely theological matter that took on nationalistic overtones. Merle d’Aubigné makes clear that nationalist overtones were always involved with the Swiss. This aids contemporary evangelical readers who might idealize Zwingli’s theological emphases as the sole inspiration of his reform. Merle d’Aubigné elucidates that nationalism helped catalyze the theological reformation.
The book is listed as appropriate for audiences of 15-year-olds and upward. The book’s vocabulary and writing style is indeed very accessible. This praise might be due more to the translator than Merle d’Aubigné. Word usage is not overly complicated and a glossary of time period specific terms is included, although it could have contained a wider range of words.
The narratives are picturesque, yet not too florid. The dialogues do not read like a stenographer’s report but advance the story. Particularly touching is the tale of the first martyrs of the reformation. Merle d’Aubigné’s biography need not be an esoteric account of a history, and his work involves the reader in the drama of the events that led to the separation of many Swiss cantons from the Roman Catholic Church.
Merle d’Aubigné’s biography is an accessible read yet does not lose its value in content. Most importantly are the roundness of Zwingli’s character and the mood of the entire Swiss nation in its reformation. Zwingli receives appropriate honor for what he accomplished without being over exalted. Most importantly, the biography recognizes the role of the whole Swiss nation and Zwingli’s lingering effects on all of Christianity. For this reason, Merle d’Aubigné’s biography transcends the genre and is not just the story of a man but also the story of a movement within a nation. (less)
Among the lineages of influential theologians, Kennedy stated, there can be varying degrees of continuity between the theologian and those influenced...moreAmong the lineages of influential theologians, Kennedy stated, there can be varying degrees of continuity between the theologian and those influenced by that theologian (1). Calvin and the Calvinists are an instance of this model in regards to the extent of the atonement. Kennedy argued that the later Calvinist position of limited atonement is a point of disjunction with Calvin’s soteriology (2).
It would not be enough to simply find relevant passages in Calvin’s writing that demonstrate unlimited atonement. The method of evaluating the possible disjunction must look at the congruency of the implications of other aspects of Calvin’s thought. For, since later Reformed theologians held that substitutionary atonement is incompatible with unlimited atonement because the latter purportedly entails universalism, it must be established whether Calvin viewed the two as contradictory and, if not, how Calvin reconciled the two. Kennedy attempted to prove that Calvin did hold to both an unlimited substitutionary atonement without affirming universalism and reconciled this system through the theme of union with Christ (7).
The first investigation was into Calvin’s own statements concerning the extent of the atonement. While Kennedy noted that Calvin did not treat the extent of atonement extensively, this silence need not necessarily be interpreted as a tacit agreement to limited atonement as has been argued by later Reformed theologians (21). Despite the lack of such an excursis on the topic, Kennedy did find several of Calvin’s interpretations of scriptural texts that indicate that Calvin favored unlimited atonement and the offer of Salvation to all. This is indicated directly by Calvin’s interpretation of passages that have a prima facie affirmation of universal atonement and Calvin’s not taking the opportunity to show those passages in agreement with limited atonement (28-30), and indirectly indicated by Calvin not employing passages that at first seem to teach limited atonement toward proving that doctrine as has been done by later Reformed theologians (32-35). This pattern continues when investigating Calvin’s polemical writings, and supports Kennedy’s view that Calvin held to universal atonement, thus paving the way to look into the theme of union with Christ as that which reconciles what might otherwise be two contradictory doctrines.
The third chapter covers the union of Christ with humanity in the flesh. Kennedy remarked that the physical unity is a starting point in Calvin to discussing the spiritual union, which is salvation. Whereas the traditional Reformed view sees the union of Christ in the flesh with the non-elect as coincidental with the union with the elect, Calvin saw the union in the flesh as making salvation possible, but not necessarily realized. Realization comes by a further spiritual union with Christ (92). This union comes, according to Calvin, by faith, which is not viewed as a work, contra the Reformed position.
The fourth chapter begins with Calvin’s own words, demonstrating the final conclusion that Calvin saw the benefits of the cross as coming to the believer at the point of the believer’s union with Christ, not simply coming at the cross itself (110-111). This comes because the benefits of the cross, indeed salvation itself according to Calvin, are intrinsic to Christ and are not an external commodity to Christ, for Christ’ person and work cannot be separated (124,136).
It is worth remembering while reading this work that Kennedy is not arguing for or against any position on the extent of the atonement. What he is arguing is that Calvin held to a universal atonement and reconciled this with a substitutionary atonement for an elect group by the theme of the union of Christ with the believer. Therefore, when later Reformed theologians teach limited atonement, that tradition has departed from the theology of Calvin.
Perhaps one of Calvin’s most distinctive characteristics was his exegesis of Scripture. Firmly rooted in the historical-grammatical method, Calvin’s i...morePerhaps one of Calvin’s most distinctive characteristics was his exegesis of Scripture. Firmly rooted in the historical-grammatical method, Calvin’s interpretive method was distanced from speculation and was critical in many ways similar to later modern hermeneutics. Calvin’s hermeneutics in this regard was different from much of the interpretation that preceded him and different from much of the Catholic interpretation against which he often argued. How then did Calvin develop such a Hermeneutic?
Thomas F. Torrance, co-editor of a series of translations of Calvin’s New Testament commentaries, sought to answer this question in The Hermeneutics of John Calvin. In this book, Torrance purposed to set Calvin’s hermeneutic among the streams of influences that came from Mediaeval Scholasticism and the rising Humanist movement. Particularly, Torrance set out to identify Calvin’s hermeneutic as arising out of the social milieu of Calvin’s time at University in France (viii).
Torrance set out this investigation in two parts. The first is a background study to the intellectual situation in Paris and three major figures in it. The second section is a more detailed look into Calvin’s own interpretative method and Torrance’s identification of influences on Calvin’s hermeneutics.
Calvin is a minor player in the first section of the book, only being mention twice (39, 41). Torrance at this point is focusing on three figures, John Duns Scotus, his disciple William of Occam and the Scottish implant into Paris, John Major of Haddington. These expositions of the thought of these men traced their theories about how knowledge of God is obtained.
Directly relevant to Calvin’s hermeneutic is the discussion of the interpretatio of Major. It was Major’s method to utilize the analogy of faith, though not using that term, thus comparing the meaning of Scripture with itself as its own interpreter (49-52). Major also focused on the literal meaning of the text, as opposed to the letter of the text or fanciful interpretation that would go beyond where the text intended to go (52ff.). Torrance additionally pointed out that, while Major’s interpretations were grounded in the text, interpretation was to be done in recognition with the historic interpretation of the fathers and the creeds (57).
Torrance began the second part of the book by looking into Calvin’s interpretive method, not hesitating to call Calvin the “father of modern biblical exposition.” (61). If the knowledge of God is the goal, as had been sought be Scotus and Occam, this knowledge, in Calvin’s view, must come about through interpretation of Scripture (61). Torrance noted that Calvin sought such knowledge through objective interpretation, with the analogia fidei being the primary instrument of achieving such objectivity.
This method was brought into view by Calvin’s use of the Institutes for exposition. The Institutes was to serve as a guide for the proper interpretation of Scripture (68), but it was not to be Calvin’s ideas alone. Calvin placed his exposition within the context of church history, thus preventing novelty in his interpretation (68-69). Torrance summed up this relationship of theology and interpretation in Calvin by outlining that theology serves interpretation (70), that theology reduces private interpretation (70-71), and that theology invests the authority back into the Word instead of into the interpreter (71-72).
Calvin’s interpretive method included a desire to return to the original intention of the authors in light of their historical situation. That desire was reflected in Lorenzo Valla’s hermeneutic in law. Valla had reacted against the glut of glosses that had come as interpretations added onto laws already in place (96-97). Calvin mirrored this by dismissing the glosses added onto Scripture.
Torrance also divided Calvin’s hermeneutic into Calvin pre-conversion and post-conversion writings. This division played out in Torrance’s analyses of the commentary on Seneca (133ff) and of De Scandalis (140ff). Through those analyses, Torrance showed that there was continuity between Calvin’s pre-conversion and post-conversion hermeneutic, the latter gaining the benefit of the former. This recognition led Torrance to the conclusion that Calvin was a humanist, even after Calvin’s conversion (161).
Torrance brought further shape to the discussion by addressing the issue of Calvin’s religious epistemology. Calvin recognized Scripture as the source of knowledge of God (77). It is at this point that the importance of Scotus’s and Occam’s religious epistemologies becomes clear. Torrance traced the similarities of how God comes to be known between Calvin and Scotus, Occam and Major (83-90). In all of these, the knowledge of a thing and thus of God could only come from the knowledge of words, thus contrasting the scientia rerum with the scientia verbum (101-102).
Torrance brought to this study an immense amount of research. This research went beyond the area of theological studies, which would be a more comfortable area for church historians. Torrance recognized that Calvin was influenced, especially before Calvin’s conversion, by humanist, juristic and classical studies. Accordingly, Torrance spent substantial space on describing the rising humanism of the late mediaeval period in the Scotist tradition, to Parisian legal studies and to classical authors. Such understanding is important for recognizing the influences on Calvin’s hermeneutic in his commentary on Seneca and further recognizing the congruence of that hermeneutic with Calvin’s post-conversion writings.
Torrance’s plan for the book was not to describe the interpretive method of Calvin alone. Torrance sought more to identify sources of influence of Calvin’s method. While Torrance is thorough in describing the relationships betweens Calvin’s hermeneutics and the hermeneutics of others of or his jurist background, Torrance is not entirely critical of the significance of such relationships.
For example, Torrance uncritically assumes the Reuter thesis, which states that Major was highly influential in Calvin’s work. The thesis was relatively recent, having been first suggested by François Wendel in 1950 and fully stated by Karl Reuter in 1963. That thesis, however, had already been questioned before Torrance wrote this work. A. A. LaVallee in 1967 demonstrated that it was possible that Major and Calvin were not in France at the same time. Further, Alexander Ganoczy in 1966 pointed out that even if the two were in Paris at the same time, they were active in different colleges within the university and Calvin would likely have not taken in courses under Major.
It is not important at this point whether the Reuter thesis is correct, and further work on the subject has been done since Torrance’s book. Correct or incorrect, it would have been prudent for Torrance to make the reader aware of the debate rather than assume the thesis to be true. Torrance could have further argued in defense of the thesis and perhaps even suggested that the parallels he had noted were strong enough to show dependence. Unfortunately, Torrance assumed that the parallels were proof enough of Major’s influence. Torrance gives the same treatment to the putative influence of Thomas a Kempis, who, though admittedly not mentioned by Calvin, was perceived by Torrance by parallels of thought to have been an influence on Calvin (74).
Torrance’s work is the product of immense scholarship and is very useful for understanding the thought of Calvin against the background of his humanist predecessors. While Torrance’s thesis that these similarities were marks of influence was only demonstrated at the philological level, the entirety of the exposition sheds fresh light on the relationship of Calvin with the milieu of his university days and in the broader stream of humanist thought.(less)