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The book is amazing. Dorrien takes the reader on a journey through the development of modern liberal theology full of illuminating detail in the development of ideas, biographical information on the lives, relationships, and conflicts of the theologians and philosophers involved, and description of the social context surrounding the development of this great tradition. His mastery of the material and nuanced interpretation are evident throughout. Again and again his treatments of individual theologians are superb small-scale intellectual biographies. I found his treatments of Schleiermacher, Coleridge, Strauss, Kierkegaard, and Barth especially fascinating, though others were jewels as well.
With so wide-ranging a book, focusing on both German and British traditions in the 19th and 20th centuries, there will certainly be debates and disagreements, but one could hardly ask for a better guide through this material than Dorrien has become.
I am really grateful to Audible Ltd. for bringing a book of this quality into the realm of audiobooks. I would have put off the reading of so formidable a volume, but I started listening to it, and its content captured me. It was a truly interesting journey.
The great incongruity in the experience, however, was with the reader. This is a book with the names of two German philosophers in the title! How could a reader be chosen for it who has no idea how to pronounce German (or French or Latin for that matter)? The reader has a beautiful, sonorous voice and reads smoothly and quickly. But so many names are mispronounced! And this book is full of German names. He even mispronounces "Mozart." Hasn't he even seen "Amadeus"? When he reads titles, it becomes a sport trying to figure out the German behind the garble.I especially loved the hilarious sounding "jar-bucker."
His reading of English is also very careless. He drops syllables from many longer words and often supplies the "not quite right" word into the text. He reads dialect for dialectic, cavalry for Calvary, aspirations for aspersions, revalant for relevant, "vow-shaved" for vouchsafed, and on and on and on. The simple word "piety" and related words such as pietism must occur well over a thousand times in this book. It would take only a moment to look up the pronunciation in any dictionary. But using a variety of mispronunciations, the reader mangles the words every single time they occur.
This is a long book and the reading is a persistent distraction to concentrating on its great content. It's like the great suffering one must go through to reach a worthwhile goal.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
The book reads like a chronological reading of an encyclopedia for the major thinkers in the development of modern theology from Kant to the mid 20th century.
The author's approach is to look at each of the major players one at a time. He starts with Kant and shows the subsequent thinkers in detail and how they led to Hegel, and then tells the story in the same way up to the mid 20th century (ending with Karl Barth). He'll spend a couple hours on each of the major players and a little less on the minor players and then move on chronologically. I think he quotes Barth as saying that most of modern theology had been making God less serious and Barth wanted to make God more serious. It's a good quote and it describes a lot of the development of theology.
I don't really understand theology that well and got lost on some of the discussion on the post Hegelian thinkers. He does spend about 2 hours on Kierkegaard and shows how he was mostly ignored in his own time, but becomes relevant in the early 20th century. I just recently listened to Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" and followed that up with Hegel's "Phenomenology of Spirit" so this book was a natural follow up for me. Also, I was surprised that he frequently would make Heidegger as a re-occurring background character
in his telling of the 20th century theologians.
Most people say that Kant is the hardest of all philosophers to read and that Hegel's Phenomenology is impenetrable. The author provides the listener with detailed explanations and summaries of their philosophies and gives biographical background and context beyond what reading their books give, and it's not really necessary to have read their books before reading this book (though I would still recommend listening to them before having listened to this book, or if you prefer, you can listen to this book's brilliant summaries and get even more by listening to Kant and Hegel yourself each available on Audible).
I would strongly suggest the listener listen through to the end. The author gives a very good re-summary of the theologians he's introduced in the book and explains them once again but in a modern context so that the non student of theology can figure out what the major points were. In addition, he has a long segment on the obvious racism and antisemitism that many of the thinkers mentioned in this book espoused and goes into great detail about Ernst Haeckel (not a theologian).
I don't know a lot about theology and at times I would get confused and I always like learning new things that I didn't already know even though I sometimes have a hard time understanding, but I like the author's encyclopedic approach of telling the story One-Darn-Person-After-Another (ODPAA).
5 of 5 people found this review helpful