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Book: Schleiermacher: The Psychology of Christian Faith and Life by Terrence N. Tice (Mapping the Tradition Series) [AMAZON LINK]
Publisher: Lexington Books / Fortress Academic (an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.) [PUBLISHER’S LINK]
Overview: While there is some value in Terrence Tice’s new book, I am conflicted to recommend it. On the one hand, the translation of one of Schleiermacher’s sermons into English is a great benefit, and in some of the sections, Tice writes with helpful insight into the life and work of Schleiermacher. On the other hand, the book lacked any clear vision, which made the text feel more like a collection of rambled, underdeveloped thoughts than like the scholarly resource I expected.
Terrence N. Tice is widely considered to be among the foremost Schleiermacher scholars alive today. His work as a translator has been an invaluable resource to the English speaking world. In my own reading of Schleiermacher, I quickly came to discover that any text with Tice’s name on it is worth my time, and I have rarely been disappointed. Regrettably, this book is an exception.
The main issues I have with the book is predominantly editorial: it lacks vision and clarity. But in spite of these difficulties, Tice’s brilliance as a scholar and his insight into Schleiermacher’s life and work still shines through. Accordingly, my overall impression of the book is mixed.
We will start with some of the things that could have been better about the book, and conclude with what I found valuable about it.
A lack of clear and direct vision was perhaps the greatest fault of the book. The chapters had little to no clear intentionality, nor did any major theme arise to indicate its overall goal. Accordingly, a large portion of the book comes off like the ramblings of a brilliant scholar who would have benefited from some editorial input. Many of the ideas in the book are poorly underdeveloped. If these were the off-the-cuff notes from a lecture, then it might have been acceptable; but it is not. I am not sure what guidelines were being followed. But no matter what they were, they were muddled and unclear, and it resulted in a book that could have been something far better but which, sadly, fell drastically short.
An example that is rather humorous to me is the appearance of a Donald Trump reference. It is an example of a random thought that appears in the book, but one that never develops into anything of substance. In chapter 3 we stumble upon this sentence: “Now an obviously potential fascist global billionaire leader of the ‘free world’ has been running for President of the United States under auspices of one of the two major parties.” 1 This remark does not seem to fit within the context of the chapter, which is a reflection on the reception of Schleiermacher’s thought in America. The paragraph this sentence appears in ends with a series of questions following the notion of a divided nation: “How will Schleiermacher’s thought be received in the United States of America and elsewhere in the years ahead?” 2 No clear answer is given, except for a hint towards Schleiermacher’s proto-ecological theology—something I would have been more than excited to read about, but nothing of substance is ever developed. It seems like an attempt to be speculative about the future state of America and Schleiermacher’s influence in it, but it offers little regarding what that might actually look like.
Many more examples such as this one could have been avoided with proper editorial guidance. As a whole, much of the book falls flat because of its lack of vision. Whether the editor is to blame or not is beyond me to say, but what I know about Tice makes it seem like either a blunder on his part (which seems unlikely) or editorial. I am hoping it was the latter.
But we will move on from the negatives because, in fact, there is value to be found in the book.
The most significant contribution the book offers is its new translation of a Christmas sermon Schleiermacher preached in 1820 entitled, “The Transformation That has Begun From the Redeemer’s Appearance Upon the Earth.” Tice uses this sermon as an introduction to Schleiermacher’s entire life and thought. And it is, indeed, one of Schleiermacher’s better sermons (from those I have read in English). 25% of the book is made up of this sermon and Tice’s notes about it. So as it stands, this makes it a valuable publication.
Schleiermacher’s sermons are hard to come by in English, and so this is why it is such a value (especially to us non-German readers) to have a new one made available. At the present moment, most of the English translations of Schleiermacher’s sermons are out of print, which makes it costly to obtain a copy. One such collection of sermons I have wanted to read for a while now, but it is currently $150 used and $450 new. So a new English translation of one of Schleiermacher’s sermons is of great value.
And as I said above, despite the editorial problems the book has, Tice’s insight still shines through on occasion. Chapter one is a rather strange introductory reflection, but it still offers some helpful points, including what seems like Tice’s attempt to summarize the “basic presupposition of Schleiermacher’s life and work.” 3 I found that the endnotes of the book were sometimes better than the main text itself. One example is an endnote, in chapter one, where Tice points out that Schleiermacher’s continued engagement with Scripture as a preacher and an exegete bore the most significant influence on his dogmatics (13 n11).
Chapter three reflects on Schleiermacher’s influence in America. Tice was a co-contributor to a three-volume series that examined this subject in detail 4, and this chapter seems like a brief “SparkNotes” version of that book. I have not read that three-volume text, so I learned a few surprising things from the reflections in this chapter. Two notable individuals whom Tice names are Howard Thurman and Charles Hodge (surprisingly). Tice dubs Thurman the “quintessential home-grown Schleiermacherian theologian in America during the twentieth century.” 5 This is on account of his depth of spiritual understanding, which included his fight for social justice that later inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. Interestingly, King also seems to have been influenced by Schleiermacher, and a quick search in the MLK Jr. archives shows many references to Schleiermacher.
That Schleiermacher had some influence on Charles Hodge was surprising to learn. Hodge’s Systematic Theology is a classic text of Reformed theology from Old Princeton, though he is seldom perceived as a friend to Schleiermacher. But Tice notes how he tended to veer towards Schleiermacher’s place of experience, despite retaining an orthodox Reformed theology.
Chapter 4 offers a reflection on Schleiermacher’s On Religion. Tice gives a summary of each speech, and he corrects a few misreadings of the text. Some of these remain undeveloped, but others were helpful.
Chapter 5 ends the book with a rather strange, imaginary psychoanalysis of Schleiermacher’s final days. And then a series of random thoughts about how one might construct a biography of Schleiermacher is submitted, though again without being fully developed. The tendency to throw out an idea but to leave it undeveloped is a major flaw of the book.
Conclusion: Overall, I am disappointed with this book because of the high expectations I have for Tice as a scholar due to his previous work. It lacked vision and clarity. It could have been organized much better. And while there were many hints of insight, I wish they were more fully developed. However, in spite of everything, there is still value in the text, most of all in the translation of Schleiermacher’s sermon into English. The combination of the books expensive cover-price ($85) and the aforementioned editorial issues makes it difficult for me to recommend this book without much hesitation. However, if you happen to have access to the book through your library or through inter-library loan, then by all means, give it a read for yourself. It does offer value, just not as much as I was hoping for.
My thanks to Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group for a physical 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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