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One noteworthy element in our new book Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to the Postmodern World is our telling the story and drawing on the insights of J. G. Hamann. This 18th century thinker is being hailed today as perhaps the greatest critic of what would become both modernism and postmodernism. The basis of that critique was a very sophisticated application of Lutheran theology.
Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788) was very influential in his day–having a strong impact on Goethe, Kierkegaard, and C. F. W. Walther–though he has since fallen into obscurity. But he is being rediscovered by intellectual historians and by the “radical orthodox” theologians.
Man - Hamann - Circle - Philosophes - Champions
As a young man, Hamann belonged to a circle of German philosophes, champions of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Also in this circle was Hamann’s good friend and fellow Königsberg resident Immanuel Kant. One day, as he was struggling through some personal problems, Hamann started reading the Bible. The Law and Gospel did their work. He experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity.
His sophisticated, rationalistic friends were concerned by Hamann’s new-found piety. They tried to persuade him to return to the principle of “reason alone.” Reason didn’t bring me to faith, he told them, so reason is unlikely to bring me out of it. But they did their best to convince him to abandon his “irrational” supernatural beliefs. To no avail. Whereupon Hamann responded by addressing their irrational rationalism.
Hamann - Critic - Enlightenment - Target - Pretension
Hamann became what has been called “the most sophisticated critic of the Enlightenment.” His target was the pretension of human beings thinking they have “figured out everything” just by constructing a set of all-encompassing abstract ideas. He wasn’t attacking science. In fact, he was re-directing “the Age of Reason” to science by stressing the importance of empirical experience and physical reality.
The Enlightenment is considered the beginning of...
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