Ten or twelve life-changing books: #4

4. 1976 Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Throughout the grinding of our souls in the gears of the great Nighttime Institution, when our souls are pulverized and our flesh hangs down in tatters like a beggar’s rags, we suffer too much and are too immersed in our own pain to rivet with penetrating and far-seeing gaze those pale night executioners who torture us. A surfeit of inner grief floods our eyes. Otherwise what historians of our torturers we would be! (Vol 1, chap 4).

I can remember how passages like this made my hair Continue reading

Noll on Bible and Slavery in US History

An essay by Prof Mark A. Noll of Wheaton College in the collection Religion and the American Civil War (Oxford, 1998) outlines the place of the Bible in the American debate on slavery during the years leading up to the Civil War. Noll identifies the dominant view of the Bible on both side of the debate as “Reformed literalist.” Given that view of the Bible, the proslavery side seemed to have the upper hand. The Abolitionists were willing to move toward a “spirit not letter” type of interpretation, but all the orthodox saw this approach as a trajectory toward liberalism. Noll knows that “proslavery” — his term — is wrong, though a high view of the Bible is right; so he explores what might have gone wrong. He examines four alternative hermeneutical traditions that could have led to a different conclusion on slavery, while still holding to a high view of the Bible:(1) the “African American” way of reading the Bible; (2) the Roman Catholic; (3) High-church Lutheranism or Reformed; (4) the non-Southern Reformed, especially Charles Hodge. Only the last named of these had enough of a foothold in America to temper the discussion, but it fell short because of a root inconsistency in the American outlook which compromised the profession of sola scriptura and led to failure to draw a key distinction that would have unraveled the proslavery argument. Continue reading

Buchenwald Inmate #2491: Christian martyr

Paul Schneider was a German Reformed minister whose early ministry coincided with the ascendancy of the National Socialist movement in the 1930s. His critique of the folk’s movement in view of the Word of God as well as a series of stands for the independent rights of the church vis-à-vis the state led to continual conflicts with Party functionaries, and penalties of increasing severity. At length, the conflict culminated in consignment to the concentration camp at Buchenwald, where his life ended. Continue reading

Francke and Halle

The return from Lutheran bare orthodoxy to inward change, known as Pietism, was begun by Jakob Spener, though anticipated in the earlier writings of Johann Arndt. It grew wings, however, as a result of the life of August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), and transformed the city of Halle in remarkable ways. This is a brief rehearsal of this amazing story. Continue reading

Book: Barnes. Prophecy and Gnosis

Review of Robin Bruce Barnes, Prophecy and Gnosis: Apocalypticism in the Wake of the Lutheran Reformation (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988). BT 819.5 .B35 1988

Under the rubric of apocalypticism, this book weaves together a story about views of time and history, eschatology, astrology, magic and secret societies in Lutheran Germany in the century following the Reformation.

Prof. Barnes (of Davidson College) defines apocalypticism as a view of the future combining prophecy and Continue reading

Dresden today

When I arrived in Dresden, I had a sense of urgency, both due to a mental tic by which I was under the impression that Tristan and Isolde was to be performed that very night (whereas it proved to be the next night, so I really had plenty of time, but didn’t know it), and due to the usual WC need: all of which caused me to think I lost my parking ticket, and on top of that it was snowing, and there were no typical tourist signs pointing things out, so I went jigging around in the snow, fretting about the parking ticket, freezing, and not knowing north from left. Continue reading

Köthen

palaceThe town of Köthen (sometimes spelled with a C) is southwest of Dessau and due north from Halle. It doesn’t even show up on the Google map until you zoom in pretty far; but as so often with German towns, it turns out to be quite substantial once you get there. (Pix is of the palace complex: it is quite modest, though there is a bit more to it than meets the eye here.)

The founder of German pietism, Johann Continue reading

Book: Zahn. The Influence of the Reformed Church on Prussia’s Greatness

This is a pamphlet I discovered at the WTS library containing a speech by one Adolf Zahn to the evangelical faculty of the Royal and Imperial University in Vienna in around 1871. It is interesting for two reasons.

First, it is fascinating to discover an intellectually vigorous Reformed movement Continue reading