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Review: “Schleiermacher’s Preaching, Dogmatics, and Biblical Criticism” by Catherine L. Kelsey

Book: Schleiermacher’s Preaching, Dogmatics, and Biblical Criticism: The Interpretation of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John by Catherine L. Kelsey. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series) [AMAZON LINK]

Publisher: Pickwick Publications [LINK]

Overview: Catherine L. Kelsey is one of the leading scholars of Schleiermacher in the English-speaking world. This book is the published edition of her dissertation, which establishes her reputation as a careful and generous reader of Schleiermacher. The book examines Schleiermacher’s interpretation of the Gospel of John and the fundamental interaction between preaching, dogmatics, and Biblical criticism. Along the way, it presents an accurate picture of Schleiermacher’s significant presuppositions and theological convictions. It is a valuble study, clearly articulated and convincingly argued.


Three critical focuses of Schleiermacher’s theology are carefully examined in this study: his preaching, dogmatics, and biblical criticism. The second is often the most frequently discussed, but in this text all three are given their due consideration, bringing much-needed attention to Schleiermacher’s preaching and Biblical scholarship. Kelsey stresses the interconnection of all three, and she articulates the significant presuppositions guiding Schleiermacher’s thought.

An appropriate quotation from Schleiermacher at the beginning of the first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book:

I know of nothing better to desire for my life than the uniting of the podium and the pulpit. 1

Kelsey briefly states the purpose and goal of the work: “The chief purpose of this study is to investigate more closely the relationship between historical-critical interpretations, dogmatic interpretations, and faith interpretations of Jesus Christ.” 2 She stresses how these interpretations are not linear but are interactive. The result is a masterful study of all three interpretations of Christ in Schleiermacher—which occasions his work as a preacher, dogmatician, and biblical scholar—and the various ways in which these disciplines interact and correspond to each other.

One of the most fruitful discussions comes from chapter three, where Kelsey provides an introduction to three of the major presuppositions of Schleiermacher’s theology. These are the presuppositions she considers essential:

  1. “It is apparent to all who come into the sphere of Jesus’ influence that he is the Redeemer.” 3
  2. “Redemption is availible through the redeemer prior to his death and resurrection.” 4
  3. “Redemption is directly associated with incorporation into a community of Christians.” 5

These concisely present the core drives behind Schleiermacher’s theology, particularly his Christology. For example, presupposition number one explains why Schleiermacher placed significantly less of an emphasis on the death of Christ for redemption than he does on His life. Kelsey then makes a connection between Schleiermacher’s preaching, with these three presuppositions as its basis, and his dogmatics. This results in a careful reading of Christian Faith in the light of Schleiermacher’s preaching, in chapter four.

Finally, Kelsey examines Schleiermacher’s Biblical criticism, particularly his Life of Jesus lectures. One of the great values of this chapter, besides its nuanced reading of Schleiermacher’s lectures, is how well Kelsey defends Schleiermacher’s work against his critics. Because of the publication history of Schleiermacher’s Life of Jesus, it has become common to disregard his scholarship as inconsistent or non-historical. However, as Kelsey argues, a more careful reading reveals the benefits of Schleiermacher’s approach, even if modern historical research would invalidate some of his claims.

Overall, Kelsey offers a helpful interpretation of Schleiermacher’s multi-faceted theology through her study of these three aspects, and her work is notable for returning Schleiermacher’s preaching and Biblical criticism to a place of honor, alongside the (rightly deemed) significance of his dogmatics. The interaction of all three is important for reading Schleiermacher, as she masterfully argues in this text.

Conclusion: As a careful study into Schleiermacher’s work as a preacher, dogmatician, and Biblical critical, this study is of great value. However, it is also a great text for introducting some of the key presuppositions and drives behind his thought. Thus, it may be read as an introductory text, especially with how clear and articulate the style is.

Click here to purchase a copy of Schleiermacher’s Preaching, Dogmatics, and Biblical Criticism by Catherine L. Kelsey. 

My thanks to Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers) for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review and have presented my honest reflections on the book.

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Notes:

  1. Cited in Kelsey, Schleiermacher’s Preaching, Dogmatics, and Biblical Criticism, 1
  2. Ibid., 2
  3. Ibid., 67
  4. Ibid., 68
  5. Ibid., 70