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Ernst Troeltsch: His Life and Work.

Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) has come into his own! The foundation of the Ernst Troeltsch Gesellschaft near Augsburg, Germany, in 1981, several International Troeltsch Conferences, and a steady flow of serious studies on Troeltsch over the last two decades, not to mention ongoing translation of his works into English, testify to renewed and justified appreciation for the richness and significance of his thought.

The work of professor Hans-Georg Drescher of the University of Dortmund is the first full-length, warmly biographical and sympathetically critical study of the man, and the most comprehensive exposition of his thought, since Walter Kohler's Ernst Troeltsch a half-century ago. One can only welcome this timely translation of an important contribution to Troeltsch studies.

D.'s interest in Troeltsch dates to his 1959 doctoral dissertation on Troeltsch's philosophy of religion; the present fascinating study summarizes his three-decade interest in Troeltsch and incorporates a wide breadth of Troeltsch scholarship, both in German and in English. There is an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary literature, which helpfully indicates English translations, of Troeltsch's works where available, although one misses the studies of A. O. Dyson, J. Hessen, and H.R. Niebuhr.

The first two parts of D.'s study document Troeltsch's early life, his short teaching career in Bonn, his lengthy theological professorship at Heidelberg (1894-1914), and his call to become professor of philosophy at Berlin; the biography continues Part 4 with his Berlin experiences, his political involvement in the formation of the Weimar Republic, and the last scholarly concerns before his death in 1923.

The two chapters of Part 3 form a critical study of Troeltsch's most important writings, completed during his creative Heidelberg days (1900-14) and following his break with the Ritschl school. These include the book-length article Protestant Christianity and the Church in Modern Times (1906), The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches and Groups (1911), as well as The Absoluteness of Christianity and the History of Religions (1902). D. prefaces Part 3 with brief introductory remarks entitled "Troeltsch as a Theological Author," in which he argues that Troeltsch always maintained his concern to provide "a religious and theological perspective" for his readers, and that his contribution to the history of modern thought is also truly theological. Sarah Coakley's Christ Without Absolutes: A Study of the Christology of Ernst Troeltsch (see TS 50 [1989] 803-5) made the same point.

D. criticizes Troeltsch for an overly-psychological, insufficiently-historical interpretation of Luther, but defends him against the charge of "culture Protestantism," and praises him for his cultural analysis of the period. But D.'s greatest contribution here is to place Troeltsch within the intellectual context of his period, and to indicate what repercussions his thought has had on successive German theologians, such as, e.g., Bultmann, Barth, and Pannenberg.

D. concludes, as Kohler had done 50 years before, by arguing that Tillich was wrong in suggesting that Troeltsch had provided only the negative presuppositions for modern theology; Troeltsch had also articulated questions about the relation of Christianity to history and culture, and the relativity which that entails--questions which continue to dominate contemporary speculation.

There are surprising translation errors; e.g., Troeltsch's early death is attributed in part to lack of discussion of his work (xvi)--the original German has it just the other way around. At times the sense of the translation is apparent only when one consults the German original; inclusive language was obviously not a priority. Footnotes have become endnotes and frequent typographical errors mar the English version, especially frustrating in the Index. Nevertheless, D.'s work is the most comprehensive and through introduction to Ernst Troeltsch available in English, and it is well worth reading.
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Author:Griener, George E.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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