Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- October 1999- Vol.V, no. 10


Dear Friends,

Contents: 1) Conference Announcement, Penn State University

2) Boston College conference report

3) Forthcoming conference, Notre Dame,Ind.

4) Book reviews

a) C.O-Moore, H.P.Hughes

b) A-K Finke, Karl Barth in Grossbritannien 5) Journal article, Moses:

Justifying War 6) Book notes

7) In memoriam

1) The Pennsylvania State University is arranging a conference on the theme

of "Bonhoeffer's Dilemma: The Ethics of Violence" to be held on October

28th-31,1999 at the Nittany Lion Inn, Penn State University Park, with a

very distinguished cast of speakers and the world premiere of a new opera on

Bonhoeffer. For more information, contact Chriss Schultz by E-mail:

2) Boston College conference, Sept 17-18th 1999

The very useful meeting held at the prestigious Jesuit centre of Boston

College last month provided an opportunity for some 20 scholars to discuss

"Christian Life and Thought: confronting totalitarianism/authoritarianism".

Meeting in plenary session for two whole days gave a chance for both younger

and older scholars to have an intensive and valuable exchange of views,

particularly across denominational lines. In fact, apart from one paper

which examined the remarkably favourable treatment of the Mormons in the

German Democratic Republic, the rest of the papers were concentrated on the

churches' responses during the Nazi period. The reason is clear: for

historians, the archives are now fully accessible and are being well used;

for the theologians, the issues have been around long enough for cogent and

critical discussion. The same amount of excellent scholarship could hardly

have been mobilised for papers on the churches' responses to Soviet


How did the churches react to Hitler's rise to power in 1933? With

acclamation, enthusiasm and a readiness to believe that, in their hour of

need, God had granted Germany a new heroic leader. Such were the illusions

which accompanied the signing of the Concordat, or which led many

Protestants to seek to align their beliefs with Nazi ideology. We heard a

scathing account of how leading Catholic theologians like Karl Adam and

Michael Schmaus instrumentalised their theology for political purposes. Many

of the papers in fact drew attention to the dangers of lending theological

legitimisation to political regimes in this century. The dilemma for

theologians under pressure to adopt a position in times of political crisis

is clear. The German case stands as a warning, but the issue still deserves

further examination. By what criteria can a justified political theology be

assessed? This was one underlying theme of the conference.

A second theme related to the topic of resistance. To what extent can the

examples of non-conformist behaviour displayed by various church members be

seen as resistance? There was agreement that, from the point of view of the

Nazi authorities, the churches were particularly suspect and therefore all

deviant behaviour was treated as punishable treachery. But in fact, almost

all church members remained loyal to their concept of Germany, even when

they disobeyed some of the Nazi edicts, and certainly didn't consider

themselves to be part of a resistance opposition, let alone seek to

overthrow the regime. Such were the cases of those Catholic priests in rural

areas who regarded Polish forced labourers as fellow Catholics to be treated

with sympathy rather than with racial antagonism, or those pastors who

prayed weekly for the Nazis' victims by name from their pulpits. The

ambivalence of their stance is reflected in the continuing uncertainty of

how they should be categorized by historians.

A third unavoidable theme was the response of the churches to the

persecution and sufferings of the Jews. Even after sixty years the aura of

guilt still haunts this topic, whether it is the ongoing debate about Pius

XII or the motivations of pastors such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the former

case, since the documents remain unavailable, the result can only be

speculative, and the danger of scapegoating is evident. In the latter case,

a valuable corrective was heard against too easy a presumption of

Bonhoeffer's pro-Jewish stance. At the same time it was valuable to hear

about such righteous Gentiles as Corrie ten Boom or the Viennese journalist

Irene Harand. a hitherto almost unknown Catholic campaigner on behalf of the

persecuted Jews. As our Jewish colleague noted, Corrie ten Boom's undoubted

supersessionism should not be equated with antisemitism, however

theologically incorrect it may now seem.

The witness of such figures was however too little regarded in post-war

Germany, where the lessons of the Church Struggle were interpreted in

different ways to suit the need of the future. For the most part the

conservative wing of the Confessing Church, self-satisfied with its stance

against Nazi heresies, was able to restore the church-political landscape to

its liking, and to suppress the more radical wing which looked for a more

complete church renewal.

The German churches' responses to totalitarianism were and are significant

to more than just the Germans. The explanation for their failures has to be

found less in moral than in historical terms. To be sure they were indeed

intimidated and persecuted, but not entirely so. Rather their early

enthusiasm has to be ascribed to the lack of preparation, theological as

well as political, for such an onslaught. And this in turn was largely due

to the confusion and uncertainty caused by the disasters of the first world

war. The remainder of this century can, in fact, be seen as the working out

of the dilemmas and challenges of that time, many of which still remain


3) Upcoming Event: International Symposium on "Military Chaplains in their

Context", University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, 17-18 March 2000.

There will be a keynote address and a small number of papers by invited

presenters. Anyone interested in the role of military chaplains from late

antiquity to the present is welcome to attend and take part in the


For more information, contact Doris Bergen, Department of History,

University of Notre Dame, IN 46556. Tel: 219-631-7189


3a) Book review: Christopher Oldstone-Moore, Hugh Price Hughes. Founder of a

new Methodism, Conscience of a new Nonconformity. Cardiff: University of

Wales Press 1999 393pp.

Hugh Price Hughes was an eminent late Victorian Methodist, now forgotten. In

his heyday he was known as a spell-binding preacher and an active social

reformer. Christopher Oldstone-Moore's newly-published and laudable

biography seeks to make him known to today's audience, because he

represented a force for good which is no longer so vital in British

religious life, but which deserves to be remembered.

A century after John Wesley's death, the Methodists had grown by leaps and

bounds to become a truly national entity. But they still suffered from

questions of identity. Disdainfully dismissed by supporters of the

established Church of England as "nonconformists", Methodists saw themselves

as the champions of religious freedom from state control. But they still

felt discriminated against, on both social and religious grounds. Or again,

their fervour and devotion was often highly internalized. This quest for

personal salvation eclipsed any concern for the political and social welfare

of their fellow citizens. All this Hugh Price Hughes sought to change.

He made it his mission to convince his followers that nonconformity should

be seen as a positive virtue. Nonconformists enjoyed opportunities for

witness not given to the established church. They could embark on campaigns

for social and personal improvement which the Church of England, so long

embroiled with the ruling classes, could never undertake. As a young

minister, he was quickly involved with the temperance movement. But he came

to realise that campaigning against the "demon drink" was not just a matter

of personal moral righteousness. Rather it needed to be part of a wider

concern for social reconstruction.

Before the days of the Labour Party or of radio and television, and with

only the initial stages of trades unionism, the socially-minded churches

were the only means to arouse public concern for good causes. The memory of

the anti-slavery campaign was ever-present. But Hughes rightly saw that

consciences needed to be aroused and kept alert. This was what nonconformity

was called to do. In many ways he himself personified this new stance,

throwing himself into all sorts of struggles against social evils and


At the same time he brought his intense vitality and institutional

leadership (what he called Christian audacity) to the task of refashioning

Methodism for the tasks ahead. The 1880s were a time of considerable

optimism and growth. Hughes wanted Methodists to outgrow their reputation of

being earnest, if narrow-minded, enthusiasts, and did much to promote the

denomination's theological capacities. His principal achievement in

propagating his vision of a socialistic and democratic Christianity was to

found and edit a new Methodist newspaper to give impetus to the moral

reconstruction of the nation along evangelical lines. This venture copied

the secular press in being lively, personal, direct and topical, and soon

had a large readership.

This idealistic programme demanded commitment. Hughes and his wife both

fully exemplified this requirement. But, in the long run, this stance was

subject to erosion from two directions: many conservative Methodists were

only partly convinced of this social gospel, and preferred the earlier

emphasis on individual holiness. On the other side, social radicals

persuaded themselves that they could do good without having to subscribe to

any Christian doctrine. But, in the short run, the impact was undoubted,

especially in the ranks of the newly-founded Labour Party, which was rightly

categorized as "owing more to Methodism than to Marx".

Oldstone-Moore ably outlines the ecclesiastical and political struggles in

which Hughes was involved. He admits that Hughes was an impassioned,

sometimes impulsive, man given to rhetorical excess. But the need for moral

regeneration made anything less than the highest standard of public

behaviour a betrayal. His watchword was: what was morally wrong cannot be

politically right. So compromises came with difficulty. His insistent

earnestness was an example to many But it took its toll in constant

frustration and even embitterment. And it is doubtful that the level of

evangelical, political and philanthropic enthusiasm which Hughes demanded of

his followers could have been maintained on a continuing basis.

The 1890s were in any case difficult years. The Irish Home Rule bill was

defeated. Mr Gladstone resigned. His successor was an aristocratic gambling

horse race owner. And shortly afterwards the conservatives returned to

power, from whom no advances towards righteousness could be expected. And

even though Hughes' pre-eminence was recognised by his election as President

of the Church and the Free Church Association, the strain of his unceasing

efforts proved too much. He died of a stroke at the age of 55.

His optimistic preaching of the social gospel had been inspiring. In his

day, as Wesley had done before him, he convinced many thousands that God was

working out a new salvation in the world. But, with the onset of the first

world war, such idealisms seemed sadly out of place. In subsequent years the

appeal for building a righteous nation faded away, heralding the decline of

Methodism and other churches throughout this century.


3b) Anne-Kathrin Finke,Karl Barth in Grossbritannien: Rezeption und

Wirkungsgeschichte. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 1995 ISBN

3-7887-1521-9, xiv+354 pp.

In this book, the reworked version of her thesis (KiHo Berlin 1993),

Anne-Kathrin Finke has two aims. The first is to offer a detailed discussion

of the influence and reception of the theology of Karl Barth in Great

Britain (or, more precisely) in England and Scotland), proceeding both

chronologically and critically. The second is to offer insights into the

different approaches to "doing theology" in Britain and Germany. The first

aim should be understood as primary. Finke's work draws upon a wide range of

theological discussions of Barth's work to provide what she hopes will be

"an adequate description of the development in British discussions of Barth"

(p.11) She demonstrates, in contrast to the conclusions drawn by Richard

H.Roberts, that British discussions of Barth's theology have been, not

one-sided, but fundamental, fair and fruitful.

Finke structures her work largely chronologically. Writing for a German

audience and assuming (probably rightly) that most German readers will need

an introduction to British theological thought, she opens with a brief

discussion of the history of theology in England and Scotland in the

nineteenth and twentieth centuries, concluding that British theology in the

1920s was still dominated by liberalism and influenced by German liberal

theology. In his introduction, Christoph Gestrich hopes that Finke's

introductory chapter might be of use also to British readers, but both

British and German readers would be well advised to seek additional

background information elsewhere. The section on the Reformation in England

and Scotland contains some strange omissions (for instance, there is no

mention of the Prayer Books of either 1552 or 1559, the latter noted for

drawing together different theological interpretations and thus of some

importance, one would think, to Finke's argument). She gives the impression

that England and Scotland were entirely separate kingdoms until the

beginning of the eighteenth century. Her discussion of the Church in the

nineteenth century would have benefited from reference to general

discussions other than Vidler's The Church in an Age of Revolution (perhaps

Owen Chadwick's The Victorian Church). On Lux Mundi there is now a detailed

discussion by Ulrike Link-Wieczorek (however this was not available to

Finke). And while the opening chapters introduce the German reader to

important aspects of English and Scottish theology, the English-speaking

reader unversed in German (theological) history may well be left wondering

in what way German theology, not to mention the situation in Germany in the

1920s, differed from that in England. What was the crisis that produced

Barth's so-called "crisis theology"? The reader must be in a position to

know this, for Finke will not tell her.

Finke proceeds to discuss the theological work of Peter Taylor Forsyth. The

similarities between Forsyth's theology and that of Barth, observed by early

British commentators such as John McConnochie and noted by Barth himself,

demonstrate that a "barthian" or dialectic theology can emerge from a

totally different context from that of post-First World War Germany. Finke

does not elaborate on the differences between the theologies of Forsyth and

Barth, and since she admits that Forsyth's theology cannot be said to have

prepared the way for Barth's, the impact of Forsyth's work remains somewhat


The remainder of Finke's work is devoted to a discussion of the reception of

Barth's theology in Britain. She identifies four phases in this reception,

of which the first is the impact made by Barth's early theology from 1924 to

1936, the year in which George Thomas Thomson's translation of the first

half-volume of the Church Dogmatics was published. From the beginning,

Barth's rejection of natural theology was a primary concern - and point of

criticism - for British theologians; this early focus remained central in

the continuing discussions of his theology. In this period, English and

Scottish considerations of Barth's theology take a similar line; the primary

work is that of Hugh Ross Mackintosh and John McConnochie. The second phase,

1936-1945, was the period in which Barth had most personal contact with

British theologians. It was also the time when his political profile as an

opponent of the Nazi regime in Germany was highest. This juxtaposition was

not without its complications, for, as Finke makes clear, theologians and

churchmen (for instance Bishop George Bell) who applauded Barth for his

opposition to Hitler were often unable to share his theological concerns.

Nevertheless, Finke concludes, "despite their semi-Pelagianism, natural

theology, moralism and optimism," Barth found the British very attractive;

so much so, indeed, that he wrote to Bell in 1946: "Were I not Swiss, I

would choose to be British" (p.177).

It was only after the Second World War, in what Finke identifies as the

third phase of the reception of Barth's theology, that this came to be

appreciated in its entirety. Barth's Church Dogmatics was translated in its

entirety between 1956 and 1977, and thus became accessible to non-German

readers. Finke traces the increasing difference between Scottish and English

understandings of Barth in the post-war years, and especially the growing

influence of Thomas Forsyth Torrance, whose extremely individual

interpretation of Barth's theology affected generations of systematic

theologians in Scotland. Despite the importance of this achievement (an

entire chapter is dedicated to Torrance), Finke notes that it is not always

easy to distinguish between Torrance and Barth's interests; however, she

believes that Torrance's interpretation of Barth still informs British

theological debates about Barth today (p.245). In the final phase, the 1970s

and (early) 1980s, British - and perhaps especially English - theologians

began to take seriously John Baillie's plea that "there can be no hopeful

forward advance beyond (Barth's) teachings . . if we attempt to go round it

instead of through it" (p.202).

Finke's study offers a consideration of a wide range of theologians and

theological works. Her "person-centred" approach, probably the only approach

possible given the extent of her material, leads sometime to some odd

chronological juxtapositions. Thus, Barmen (1934) is discussed in the

chapter dealing with 1936-1945, and the beginnings of the ecumenical

movement in the 1930s appear in the post-war chapter. Sometimes her view of

cause and effect seems a little over-simplified: can there really be "no

doubt" that interest in Barth "accounts for the founding of the Study for

the Study of Theology" (p.197)?

Taken as a whole this book offers a resource which summarises who in Britain

wrote what about Barth when. Moreover the wide range of topics discussed in

the reception of Barth's theology suggests that Finke could well be right to

claim (against the perhaps characteristic modesty of many British

theologians themselves!) that the British reception of Barth offers an

adequate and considered understanding of Barth's theology, especially given

that it is, as Finke conceded, impossible to define who or what is "the

whole Barth". Her claim might however, have been further substantiated had

she at some point defined what she understands to be an adequate

understanding of Barth's theology. As it is, this issue can only be decided

by those more versed in Barth's theology than I.

If"the whole Barth" is impossible to characterise, so too is "German

theology". But however it may be defined, it would be risky to assert that

it is exclusively Barthian. Finke seems not to have taken this into account

and it is for this reason that, in my view, her book cannot claim to be a

comparative study of British and German theological mentalities. Barth has a

reception history in Germany just as he has in Britain; a comparison of

German and British reactions to Barth might offer some real insights into

the different ways of "doing theology" to be found in the different

contexts. Finke's book offers a good resource for such a project, but her

achievement is another. She has produced a useful and detailed survey which

indicates that the impact of Barth's theology on British theological

thinking has been both broader and deeper than has previously been


Charlotte Methuen, Ruhr-Universitat, Bochum

4) Journal Article:

John A.Moses, Justifying War as the Will of God: German theology on the eve

of the first world war. in Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand

Theological Review, Vol 31, no 1, May 1999, p3-20.

Because this journal may well not be widely available beyond its homelands,

John Moses' contribution to the most recent issue deserves mention. He seeks

to assess the part played by theologians and church leaders to the climate

of excessive nationalism, militarism and racism which has been frequently

seen as the cause of Germany's disastrous history during this century.

Whereas critics of this Sonderweg view of secular German history have

claimed that other "great powers" did not behave too differently, so that

there is only a factor of difference of scale, Moses shows that as far as

the theologians goes, the Germans played a considerable role in maintaining

the idea of their spiritual separateness because they had received a special

calling from God and consequently a world mission unlike any other country.

From 1870 onwards there was a remarkable rise of national Protestantism and

its identification of the nation with the will of Almighty God, or the

advocacy of the idea that God had chosen Germany to be His agent on earth,

as His instrument in the "History of Salvation".

This conflation of sacred and secular history should not be ignored by even

the most materialist of historians. It explains why religion came to endorse

limitless violence, how war was prioritized, and how German national

aggrandisement came to have spiritual significance. Alas, this view survived

the shock of the 1918 defeat, and came in handy for Hitler's propagandists.

We even heard overtones about God's hand guiding Germany's destiny in 1989.

However, after the impact of the Holocaust's revelations, the use of

national Protestantism as a tenable paradigm for educated Germans has been

effectively discredited. The religious Sonderweg has therefore been

abandoned, but what is to follow remains to be seen.


6) In Memoriam

We learn with sadness of the death of Sabine Leibholz, the twin sister of

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. She herself was also a victim of the Nazis when she and

her husband were forced to leave Germany in 1938, and seek refuge in Oxford.

Her husband subsequently returned to have a distinguished career in the

German Supreme Court. Sabine was the last of this generation of Bonhoeffers,

and took a lively interest in the activities over the years designed to

commemorate her brother.

With best wishes

John Conway

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