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Systematische Theologie: Allgemeines


Hopper, David H.


Divine Transcendence and the Culture of Change.


Grand Rapids-Cambridge: Eerdmans 2011. XIII, 262 S. 22,6 x 15,2 cm. Kart. US$ 35,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6505-2.


Eric E. Hall

In this book, David H. Hopper is concerned to rediscover the manner in which current cultures of »change« (a term that is best understood through the idea of social-technological progress for this book) are intrinsically tied to the Reformation, its understanding and placement of God’s transcendence, and the »this-worldly« ethic that stemmed from human reaction to such transcendence. H. argues that, in the 20th century, God’s transcendence has been ignored, sublated by thinkers of all strands who have come to consider religion and religiosity expressions of immanently, self-sufficient human persons and their culture. H. wants to offer a counter-narrative to this currently popular ideology. Throughout the book, and in a number of manners, H. argues that God is the God of history, whose absolute transcendence – a God whose only point of contact is found in the Cross of Christ and its justificatory movement »toward us, for us« – opens up a concern for the development of culture and creation such that these better fit the free gift of grace of­fered by God through Christ to humankind. That is, an ethic and law grounded in the movement of God’s justification of the elect impelled early reformers to reform not merely the spiritual life of the church but the world as a whole in the image of God’s love. This means that humankind has not and could not reach a place where it could call itself autonomous, praising the benefits of its success, without at least a historical recognition of the Reformation’s work in reaffirming an absolutely transcendent God. In other words, the Enlightenment, which we are still experiencing, depended on the Reformation, a fact that persons, H. believes, ought at least to recognize for the sake of intellectual honesty.
The book is structurally split into an Introduction, followed by six chapters. On a first read, one could easily get away with reading through the first and second chapters, which treat, respectively, Reinhold Niebuhr’s typological understanding of the relationship of Christ to culture as well as contemporary understandings of such an idea, and the development of the concept of progress. One could then skip to the final chapter, which gives a summation of the relevance of Protestant ethical thought to the development of an ideal of progress. It is in these chapters, then, that the main lines of argumentation and discussion are promulgated in their fullness: that the Reformation and its re-conceptualization of God as the God of history have greatly contributed to the emergence of cultures of change.
Were one to skip the third through sixth chapters, however, one would be missing out on some of the most interesting aspects of the book. These chapters really form something like individual case studies of Reformers, lending support to the main theme of the book by showing the important historical, theological developments of God’s transcendence through several Reformation thinkers. Accordingly, in these historical surveys, H. painstakingly and with detail offers dynamic biographical, historical, and theological exegeses of Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, John Calvin, and, sur­pris­ingly but rightly, Francis Bacon. In other words, these chapters – intentionally or not – offer stand-alone insights that one could and perhaps even should refer to for historical purposes and understanding. While they are in some ways »ancillary« to the main argument, going into far more detail than necessary for establishing the main point, they certainly offer important stories from which one can reflect on, and find concrete intelligibility, in the context of H.’s greater arguments.
This book, then, offers important theological and historical insights into an issue that is and ought to be of the utmost importance: the meaning and possibility of divine transcendence. For this reason alone does this person believes it ought to be read. However, the book is not without some possible limitations. The most im­portant limitation is found in the organization of the subject matter. It can be hard to find a »main thesis« of the book, even if there are some theses that H. espouses and that I have tried to outline in the introductory paragraph. It might, in this regard, be better to think through the book as a series of explorations on the theme of divine transcendence in the Reformation and its continuing importance. This so-called limitation, however, never really presents a problem in the strict sense, so long as one is comfortable simply allowing the stories and ideas to organically arise and present themselves in, by all means, absolutely rigorous, academic terms, but with somewhat of a meditative trajectory. One will not walk away from the book with a definitive sense that H. is abso­-lutely right about some argument X, but one will walk away with a greater appreciation for Reformation influence not only on how modern persons think but on the continuing importance of the question of divine transcendence.