Thursday, December 19, 2013

Troeltsch’s criticism of Schleiermacher

Once more into the Troeltschian breech!

Hans-Georg Drescher, Ernst Troeltsch: His Life and Work (Fortress, 1993), 205.
The crux of Troeltsch’s criticism of Schleiermacher is that because he came from Herrnhuter pietism and was close to the world of Romanticism in his early years he expressed his theological programme in a fantastic and unworldly way. In particular his ideal of the church seems to Troeltsch to be utopian and alien to the world. In the mature Schleiermacher Troeltsch criticizes above all his assimilation to current circumstances, to life in the Prussian church. For Troeltsch, Schleiermacher’s programme, particularly his definition of the “essence of Christianity,” is dependent on a dogmatics which puts the emphasis on the concept of redemption and which allows itself to be directed by church thinking, by an accentuation of the concept of the church.
What intrigues me about this is how Troeltsch’s criticism of Schleiermacher is almost the mirror image of what one usually finds in today’s anglophone and largely neo-orthodox (and I don’t use that term in a positive way . . . ) theology. For instance, what one usually hears (unfortunately) is about how Schleiermacher departs from Christian conviction and not least by marginalizing the Trinity, how he introduces non-theological prolegomena in his work, etc. But Troeltsch comes at it from the other side: the problem with Schleiermacher is that he is too un-critically Christian! He has too high an estimation of the church! His work depends too much on dogmatic concepts (i.e., actual Christian conviction)!

Perhaps this indicates that the theological conversation in contemporary anglophone theology has become unhelpfully narrow.



J. Scott Jackson said...

I take your point about narrowness.

But regarding F.S., I wonder what extent this in an inherent dilemma of being in the "theological circle" (Tillich) -- of being situated socially and culturally in a certain community (or communities). Such narrowness might hold not only for ecclesial and religious communities but academic ones as well-- like say, for example, your "church" happens to be handful of critical theorists who get together on Sunday mornings for coffee. Is such a group intrinsically more (self) critical than the Baptists worshiping down the street?

W. Travis McMaken said...

"Is such a group intrinsically more (self) critical than the Baptists worshiping down the street?"

One is, of course, hesitant to make sweeping generalizations, and one must account for different ways of being self-critical.

How's that for a non-answer? ;-)

J. Scott Jackson said...

Travis, I don't hesitate to make sweeping generalizations. ;)

Perhaps most of us aren't self-critical enough, or not quite in the right ways.

Schleiermacher, on the other hand, I think was pretty self critical -- and my hunch is he was pretty canny about the problems of church life, too. At any rate, he got the benefit of lots of church folks being critical -- of him.

If Troeltsch, or someone else, were to charge him with being too confessional, my hunch is that he would say, "Yeah. So what?" (but in a much more erudite way). He seems, in an almost uncanny way, to have anticipated this conception of religion as culture/way of life that has been so influential in recent decades. Maybe it's part of his pietist background. The Christian experience (of redemption, as you point out above) is normative for him.

But another piece of this -- and it's been so long, I'm pretty fuzzy on where it is in the CF -- is this bit where he holds up Jesus and church as too poles in theology; as a Reformed thinker (in contrast to the RCs), he holds up the perfect piety of Jesus as the critical norm under which the church stands. Whatever the problems are in his Christology, that is the locus for criticism. IMHO. Maybe matters are less simple for us now?

W. Travis McMaken said...

Part of what makes FDES such an interesting guy, for my money, is that he can take mirror-image criticism from "both" "sides." Barth can function in similar kinds of ways. But it seems to me like the theological conversation in North America has gotten to the point where you only get the more positivist criticisms of Schleiermacher - the folks who might have been closer to Troeltsch don't often bother with theology themselves anymore (at least Christian theology), and one tends not to hear all that much from folks who might be closer to FDES himself.

J. Scott Jackson said...

That's interesting. Would you like to expand upon that a little?
I think it might be time for me to dig into FDES some more. I find him unavoidable.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Nope, I wouldn't like to. :-)

But you should definitely go read some Schleiermacher.