on September 24, 2003
For new-comers to Schleiermacher's liberal theology, this book is an excellent place to start. In this short text, Gerrish provides an interesting overview of the development of thought Schleimacher went through to arrive at his notion of Jesus as having perfect God-conciousness. Gerrish posits three basic reasons for undertaking this look at Schleiermacher's theology. Firstly, the theologian rightly belongs alongside other giants such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, for his impact on theological thought. Secondly, Gerrish observes that Schleiermacher focused on theology that was practical and useful for the church and in the pulpit, maintaining, "theology, if it is to be soundly based, must start from what is actually or factually given in religious experience, more particularly in Christian faith" (p. 21). Thirdly, Gerrish asserts that Schleiermacher was loyal to his Reformation heritage, despite critics who charged otherwise.
With these assertions in place, Gerrish proceeds to analyze how Schleiermacher's theological thought did indeed carry on the issues of the Reformation. The author moves thematically through his chapters addressing Schleiermacher's thoughts on topics that were of direct concern to his reformation forebears: 1) the relationship between faith, piety, and reason, 2) the divinity of Christ and the debate over Christ's two natures, and 3) the nature of God. Gerrish paints a picture of a thinker who sought a way to be intellectually honest as a theologian living on this side of the enlightenment, while also maintaining the piety that he had experienced as a young man studying with the Moravians. Schleiermacher believed, quite in opposition to the modern person who felt that science had made religion defunct, that religion was in fact unavoidable as it was inherent in the human existence. The problem came when these modern folk confused the dogmas of the church for the "'sense of the infinite,' which every soul that looks can find within" (p. 45). I recommend reading this text and then moving onto Scheiermacher's actual writings.
On 'A Prince of the Church' by Professor B. A. Gerrish of the University of Chicago Divinity School, I agree with all the comments of the previous reviewer, with some additions and a caveat. I started looking for information on Schleiermacher because he is virtually the only theologean between Calvin and Paul Tillich whose works were considered when I studied Philosophy. So many more popular theologeans of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries have fallen into the mists of history, but Schleiermacher's reputation survives. On reading Prof. Gerrish's lectures, I find Schleiermacher a source of answers for most of the questions I have about faith in the ages following the Enlightment and Industrial and Scientific revolutions of these same centuries. Christian thought is so weighed down with negative sounding words such as 'apology' and 'dogma' that I'm often surprised that anyone takes it seriously at all today. Schleiermacher's great contribution is to emphasize the role of personal experience as the second of the two legs of faith, the first being the doctrines adduced from the writings of the Christian scriptures. As the previous reviewer states, this is a fine introduction to Schleiermacher's works, and will enliven your interest in this thinker. My primary problem is that it is a series of popular lectures and it did not fulfill my primary need and expectation when I bought the book. It is not a precis of Schleiermacher's theology. It is a combination of personal and intellectual profile. It's greatest service is to point out which of Schleiermacher's works are most important to read today.