More on that trumpet

SCM have put up a pdf of the first chapter of my doctrine book. So if you have always wanted to know how Jane Austen, gossip, Iain Banks, the NW London Eruv, and Edwin Drood might make it into an introduction to Christian theology, now’s your chance.

Mike Higton - Christian Doctrine

7 Thoughts on “More on that trumpet

  1. Isaac Gouy on April 11, 2008 at 12:24 am said:

    > The indispensable basis of Christian identity p15
    Karl Barth and Hans Asmussen proclaimed that these measures ran against the deep commitments of the Christian Church – were there theologians, among those who praised Adolf Hitler as a prophet come to purify the church, who also based their arguments on the deep commitments of the Christian Church?

  2. Isaac Gouy on April 14, 2008 at 9:21 pm said:

    In other words, did those who praised Adolf Hitler as a prophet come to purify the church make theological arguments to that effect?

    I’m trying to understand what seem to be arguments that such and such a reading is the essential message, and other readings are misunderstandings or corruptions.

  3. Well, any attempt to propose a way forward for a Christian community involves proposing some construal of Christianity’s past (including some construal of what is central to it, and what is peripheral – and so some proposal as to what should be taken as its ‘essential message’). Any claim to identify, or draw implications from, the ‘essential message’ of Christianity is always such a proposal, and always controversial.

    In practice, of course, such a construal simply has to win over enough people in the short term to constitute a viable movement, and one could see disputes between competing construals – competing claims to identify the ‘essential message’ of Christianity (such as the dispute between the pro-Nazi German Christians and the Barthian Confessing Church) simply as conflicts between two such movements. It would be a fairly plausible claim in the face of this to see claims about Christianity’s ‘essential message’ as always and only political gambits.

    Now, I don’t think that’s the whole truth, but neither do I think it possible to straightforwardly, once and for all to identify the one ‘essential message’ of Christianity.

    That’s because on the one hand I believe that it is possible to subject any construal of the ‘essential message’ of Christianity to real intellectual testing, but on the other I don’t think such testing enables the emergence of one clear and obvious winner.

    I’ve talked a bit about this elsewhere on this blog (and I talk about it at greater length in the final chapters of the book – the stuff on differing ‘settlements’, if anyone ever reads that far). One can ask of any such construal, more or less, whether it is coherent, resilient, habitable, plausible. More generally, one can ask whether the claims that are made in favour of this construal, in the form that the proponents of this construal make them, ask to be judged by particular kinds of evidence – and whether the relevant evidence support those claims.

    (Of course, there are also questions about the continuity between this construal and past contruals. That’s a tough issue to generalise about, because different construals will understand the nature and importance of such continuity differently. Nevertheless, because most construals of the ‘essential message’ of Christianity have some stake in claiming continuity with some historic strand of Christian thinking, there’s often a route open to historical testing of that construal’s claims).

    Now, sometimes the critique of a particular construal can be a fairly straightforward matter – and I think the case of the pro-Nazi movement in the German church is a case in point: it simply doesn’t stand up to much testing. At other times, though, such critique can be more inconclusive – so the existence and nature of the ‘essential message’ of Christianity is (and always has been) deeply contested. And Christianity has always existed in the form of multiple broadly viable construals, and most of the time in a form where at least some of those construals are deeply mutually antagonistic.

    That doesn’t mean that the nature of Christianity can’t be argued about, and that there can’t be genuine progress in those arguments – the testing I’ve described is an ongoing process – and it doesn’t mean that there haven’t emerged points of relative stability in the swirl of competing construals.

  4. Isaac Gouy on April 16, 2008 at 7:52 pm said:

    > the pro-Nazi movement in the German church is a case in point: it simply doesn’t stand up to much testing

    You were talking about testing like this – “whether lives can be lived, individually and corporately, that make sense in this worldview’s terms.”

    Is it clear that the pro-Nazi movement in the German church didn’t stand up to that kind of testing and failed from internal pressure (rather than the whole Nazi regime failing from external pressure)?

  5. I think of that kind of testing (to do with ‘habitability’) as a long-term thing, to do with the sustainability of a communal pattern of life, including its sustainability from one generation to the next. I don’t think the pro-Nazi German Christian movement ever had enough time to settle into any regular or sustainable pattern of life. So, yes, I suspect the practical failure of that movement did have everything to do with external pressures. But I nevertheless think the movement can be subjected to analysis as a proposed construal of Christianity, and questions asked of the form I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere (coherence, resilience, plausibility etc) – and when I say ‘it doesn’t stand up to much testing’, I mean that I don’t think there’s a particularly convincing intellectual case to be made in favour of it, and that it’s not hard to build a case against it.

  6. Rachel on April 17, 2008 at 12:24 pm said:

    Though actually, if I may – I think it wouldn’t be too difficult to argue that the German Christian movement did show its internal weakness pretty early, and lost ground in the mid-30s well before it was “forced” to by any external pressures, at least in part because of intra-church opposition from people (many of them not particularly “anti-Nazi”) who didn’t regard that version of Christianity as a viable “settlement”. That’s if you’re talking about the people who were arguing for a radical reshaping of Christianity in Nazi terms – as opposed to the much larger body of Christians who were more or less happy to live with Nazism but weren’t reforming their Christianity radically in order to do so.

  7. Isaac Gouy on April 18, 2008 at 2:43 am said:

    > before it was “forced” to by any external pressures

    I suppose we should distinguish between pressures external to the Nazi state and those external to the German Christian movement –

    “… Nazism was not some heretical deviation from Christianity, nor merely a ‘substitute for religion’, but rather a ‘substitute religion’, an Ersatzreligion rather than a Religionersatz. The Germans were not living in an atheistic state, but in one where a religion other than Christianity had burgeoned within the public domain.” p197
    “Sacred Causes”, Michael Burleigh, 2007.

    In anycase #3 covered most of my “essential message” question.I

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