Commentary: Theology:

Man in the Context of Life in His World

By Dr. Arnd Hollweg
Berlin, Germany

In the scientific perception of the relation between man and world today there is a double divide: on the one hand man from the world, on the other hand man from himself.  In perceiving this divide man in a way abolishes himself; he turns himself into a function of himself in technological-instrumental thinking, in which the technological-functional perception is transmuted into an objective reality.  Scientific analysis in a way takes man to pieces, and each piece requires its own epistemology and its own scientific method.  In this the anthropological relational reality is gradually dissolved.  We are increasingly unable to find a relation to ourselves as humans in the functional perceptions we have of humans (cf. E. Chargaff, Vermächtnis, 1993; Ernste Fragen, 2002). As long as scientific statements are understood in an empirical and hypothetical way there need not necessarily be a fundamental collision between the epistemologies of natural science and of human science.  This collision is inevitable only when reality as a whole is seen as a mathematical and scientific paradigm.  In that case science, even in its dogmatic and theological form, becomes an alternative faith that is irreconcilable with the Biblical faith.

At the same time a contrary development in physics has been evident for several decades, the consequences of which have not yet been fully understood.  This centers on the questions of quantum theory and its relativity.  The physicist began to see himself as the observer of the process in his sealed laboratory shielded from historic and social reality and from living nature.  Even in an isolated laboratory he remained the only part of the process with the necessary knowledge. It is not only his eyes which registered what happened in the scientific experiment.  They are organs of a human being who sees with his eyes. He can no longer fade himself out as a human being. Physics no longer was a "science as such" but a human science (cf. on this A.M.K. Müller, Die präparierte Zeit, 1973; Das unbekannte Land, 1987).  This insight had far-reaching consequences that so far have attracted little attention in the normal business of science where the separation between subject and object still seems to be an insurmountable barrier.

In the world of human life that we encounter from our birth, everything that we separate in our minds is really connected.  We can build up many isolated theories and thought constructions of an ideological or mental kind about the historic and social reality that we experience and in which we live. We cannot thereby abolish it but in our thinking we simply ignore it by and loose the connection with the reality of our life.   Man knows no other world than this one even if his ability for scientific or theological knowledge could grow indefinitely.  He would necessarily fail when trying to generalize his knowledge in this way, and make it absolute.

Abolishing the split between subject and object.

We do not know that we exist because we think("Cogito ergo sum").  Our thinking presupposes that we live.  Everything that happens in our life also influences our thinking. This insight abolishes the split between subject and object.  Subject and object cannot be isolated from each other.  Anthropology and epistemology may have to be distinguished from each other but belong together in the relation of their otherness.  No man can perceive without living, and nobody lives without perceiving.  We even have to go further: no man can do anything without living and perceiving.  But how do we answer the question of who we are as human beings?

In the mental and imaginative world of the sciences we objectify our living body and use it instrumentally like a thing. When the human being turns his living body into an object of his perception, the only thing left of him is a dead object.  In this projective relation with himself the human being only perceives his human life in images of the intellect in which it disappears from his perception. The objectifying and ontologising imaginary world of the instrumental intellect replaces a reality that has been cognitively blended out.  Therefore there is no objective perception, just as there is no human being who is an object or a thing.  We cannot turn the human being into our object if we want to perceive and know him.  There is no reality as such, in separation of which I can live as the subject.

I myself am living in the world that I have been asked to perceive and understand.  I have my place in it.  Therefore I cannot observe it from the outside.  If I did so I would identify cognitive perception with the recognition of myself as a human being in my corporeity and spirituality. It therefore is necessary always to include the anthropological facts into the perception process; otherwise it would loose its relation with the reality of life.

I have a place in the world but am also facing it at the same time. Otherwise I could not be conscious of the reality in which I live. How this is possible can only be understood by way of the human link with transcendence. As a human being I am different from the non-human reality.  I can therefore not derive myself from it (cf. H.G. Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 1960). Thus the doctor as scientist and the pastor as theologian share a common humanity.

As a human being I do not only live in the world but also at my place in time, in a changing socio-historic reality. In culture and language for instance I can achieve the same in another form, or something different in the same form.  Therefore I must attempt to perceive the phenomena of the socio-historic world I inhabit in their various relations to each other.  I will have to ask in which concrete context a scientific term is used.  Only then can it become clear what it means.  This raises for us the question of how far phenomena are communicated by each other.

The multi-dimensional use of the term "world".

I would like to illustrate this by way of the multi-dimensional use of the term "world".  According to its context this can mean the historic world, the social world, the cultural world, the world of human life, the world of the imagination, the world of appearance, the world of illusion, the reality of life, the cosmos and many others. We therefore cannot see the phenomena of reality without the many-layered socio-historic and corporeal context in which we are living as humans in time and in the world.  Therefore we can only state simply that your world is not my world.  I see the world differently. But what does that mean?  I do not see it from the outside.  I have within me an image of the world but this has to be distinguished from the reality in which I live.  This image is a projection of my imagination onto reality.

I therefore will always have to tell other people what I understand by world as a scientific term.  It is difficult to clarify this matter in a dialogue but it is possible to begin to do so.  During his life a person is always involved in such a process of clarification through the ages. As one who knows he is an "I myself".

Scientific knowledge as the search for power.

No person and no academic discipline, not even a theological one, can explain the world.

In this objectivity it does not even exist for us.  Our attempts at explanations are ideas and images of our intellect through which we try to control the reality in which we live.  We are still living in a tradition that ended with Schopenhauer in his book "Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung". In his discussions with Schopenhauer, Nietzsche considers the religion and culture of his time to be on the way to nihilism, in which the human being denies himself and turns his will against himself.  Thus life becomes void (cf. introduction to Genealogie der Moral, § 5).

We cannot turn back the history from which we come.  In his criticism of the Western thought systems the French philosopher Michel Foucault holds that the scientific and academic discussions of modern times are not at all concerned with the question of truth but only with power.   Scientific knowledge itself is concentrated on power.  It seeks to dominate reality.  Thus at present it enters into competition with the political struggle for power.

Disorientation, arbitrariness and blindness follow. We no longer see and account for what we have immediately in front of us, where we are.  In our imprisonment in theoretical knowledge there ultimately are as many images of the world as there are people on earth.  This leads to a power struggle between ideological and mental powers that rule unrecognized in the human worlds of ideas.

God’s Spirit and the human spirit.

No human being has made life in the world and the reality in which it happens.  Nature and world, human being and the non-human world are the work of a creator unknown to him, whose unimaginable acts he encounters in his world of life on earth. We can only understand what we are able to produce through our human spirit by the work of our hands. Instruments and gadgets designed to replace our hands do not change this fact.  Human hands have produced them also.  Thus we encounter in our world the mystery of the workings of an alien Spirit who at the same time sets a limit to the knowledge of our spirit.  Therefore we must not confuse God’s Spirit in his creation with our human spirit that owes itself to the working of our divine creator. We must distinguish between God’s work and our work, God’s actions and our actions, God’s thoughts and our thoughts.  Although we face Him as His living images we are not equal to Him but are in a relation of otherness to Him. We therefore cannot identify ourselves with Him and act as if the world belonged to us.  We did not create it, nor were we there when it was created. Our perception comes up against an insurmountable barrier in God’s act.

When however we make contact in our spirit with the spirit of our creator in His creation, creation will speak to us.  It proclaims to us the work of His hands.   In it we experience ourselves as being related to Him in everything. This can be expressed in art, in pictures, culture and in religious rites. Our relations as humans with the eternal God are a matter of His living word through which He reveals Himself personally in the socio-historic and physical life context of the history of Israel.  In the communication of His spirit through Jesus Christ He becomes present in our lives.  In Christ, God’s Spirit tells our spirit that we are His children.  We answer in thanksgiving and praise for His acts in our inner and outer lives in history.

Visible and invisible reality.

We see God’s creation in our everyday lives in front of us in living images, in still or moving forms: we see crossing the road, we hear the noise of building or traffic around us, trees line the edge of the road, birds fly through the air, cats and dogs run around, flowers bloom on balconies, bicycles are leaning against the walls of houses, children play in the park. All this is part of God’s creation in which man shares as an active being. But he finds reality and has to react to it. In it he meets his fellow human beings and responds to them.  He gets into different situations and has to react to them.  And yet, what he sees with his eyes as images is not reality as a whole but only its external appearance.  In the different forms quite different things happen; this is expressed by their appearance but remains invisible in them. From what we see with our eyes we cannot say what we perceive in reality.

There is a hidden relation in everything we see with our eyes. Among the multiplicity of impressions we have to distinguish to what, and how, we react in each case. But passive and active ways of perception cannot be isolated from each other.  We cannot see reality as a unity in which diversity is abolished.  That would mean blending out the truth. This today is one of our biggest problems in connection with life, behavior, knowledge and action. In a cognitive way we increasingly reduce our perception of the reality of life to functions of dealing with it, in which we blend ourselves out in our relation with it.  Thus we loose the ability to distinguish between the imaginary worlds and the real world.

Our ideologically and mentally derived imaginary worlds replace the invisible reality in which we live. But this is not identical with the abstract world in our head. This false identification leads us to relate our abstract imaginary worlds only to the external world of appearance that we see with our eyes.  The consequence is a disastrous rupture in our relation with reality as a whole.  We loose contact with it.  Even when we abolish the invisible reality in our abstract imaginary world its otherness remains active in our life and thinking.  Reality does not conform to our perception, rather we have to try and accept it in our perception.  This however presents us with the challenge of how to blend in again what we have blended out, and of whether the fixations that developed can be eradicated. A symbiotic way of thinking with its undifferentiated mixture of terminology cannot be the answer.  It is often confused with spirituality or mysticism.

Man’s question about himself in the context of his life.

In Biblical faith we find the ground of our being in the working of God’s Spirit, not in the imaginary worlds that we try to realize in order to ground ourselves in them.  God’s working always precedes our human workings in its causal connections. For us it is irreplaceable.  Nor can we, as has been misguidedly attempted in the Enlightenment, call Him to the forum of our reason, to ask Him to account for His thinking and His actions.  This means perverting our relation with Him.  On the contrary, we have to be accountable before Him because we owe Him our life in all its contexts as its creator. Through the working of His spirit in our spirit He communicates to us the knowledge of the right use of our intelligence whose activity is necessarily part of our humanity.

When we derive our analytical and causal thinking from ideological or mentally abstract presuppositions we isolate ourselves from ourselves, from our fellow human beings and from God. We have critically to examine these contradictory and antagonistic tendencies of perception in science and faith today and ask how and through what they can be reconciled. If theological thinking, in analogy to and in imitation of, the perception processes, understands itself to be similar to other sciences it would have to be the first to change. In both ways of perception in their relation of otherness from each other we should look for their presuppositions in the reality that precedes our life and thinking. Neither man nor the world nor God is a reality as such.  Every person is a personal whole that can only live in inter-personal relations.

Above all we have to be accountable to ourselves about the way we are sharing in the inter-personal relational reality in our thinking, behavior, perception and actions.  When a person is split in himself he also looses the relation to himself and the relation to the socio-historic and corporeal experiential reality.  A permanent division process sets in that we are suppressing and hiding from ourselves through global technological and functional networking. The human being cannot turn himself into a function of himself.  Basic questions of the human perception of reality arise in the many misunderstandings and conflicts between people, nations and societies, between cultures and religions that dominate human coexistence on our earth.  Whether in our Western society idealistic and metaphysical, dogmatic-theological, mathematical and physical or technological and functional paradigms determine our perception of reality, they all blend out the socio-historic world of the human life in its corporeity and therefore no longer see the human being.

In the relation with ourselves we are dealing with a living, personal relational unity of body, soul and spirit.  In this unity the body is the external side of life, the soul the inner world and the live spirit the link between the inner and the external sides of life. The inter-personal relational reality in its socio-historic context is the earthly world of the human being in which his life is embedded in body, time and world in its affinity with non-human nature.  The trans-personal relation with God is a matter of the inaccessible world of the eternal God who, out of it, transcends us human beings through the working of His Spirit through Christ and includes us in His rule; it is a matter of faith at work.

In this way the human being in his corporeity enters into a new relation with nature.  He cannot free himself from his ties with nature although he may try to split himself off in his perception in order to dominate it.  In the relation to God for which we are freed in Christ we experience ourselves to be no longer imprisoned by nature in heathen beliefs, but sharing in nature and able to react to it.  Through God’s presence in Christ man is called to life in the historic present and must accept it challenges.

The critical dialogue between faith and the sciences is concerned with the relation between man’s theoretical imaginary worlds and his anthropological practice of life. Theoretical thinking and its application in action have to be included, and accounted for, in the human socio-historic experiential reality. It is a matter of the relation between theory and anthropological world of life, not of the relation between theoretical imaginary worlds in competition with each other.  

We therefore have to return to our human everyday life in nature and in the socio-historic life context that are the origin of our mental images and imaginary worlds.  Here we come to questions about the ground of our human being that are beyond scientific perception. They rather block it when perception tries to claim an absolute role in objectifying and ontologising the human imaginary worlds.  Perception is not an end in itself.

In everyday life we share in very different areas that are increasingly separate from each other, in the advanced division of labor in our society.  The social dynamic that is active in the human relational reality on the other hand has made all areas of life permeable, whether they are geographic regions, scientific and academic disciplines, areas of national sovereignty etc.  In everyday life they all intermingle.  Man is omni-present in them in his living corporeity. In everyday life it is a matter of the power and violence in the inter-personal relational reality in which we live together as people on earth and depend on each other.  There we learn how to react to our fellow human beings, and to discern what we are challenged to do in any given situation.  This is not only true for the individual but for ethnic groups, religious communities, churches, nations and all social bodies where human life takes place. Powers intervene in our life that we are not able to control or understand. This raises the question of the meaning of our life, and the question of the creator to whom we are all related.  This is the place where the ultimate and penultimate questions are linked with each other.  This is where we can learn the holistic and personal thinking needed to complement analytical thinking.

In contrast to animals, God has given our human spirit the gift of language so that we can communicate with each other in our corporeal separateness.  We need this communication with our fellow human beings, with ourselves and with God in order to learn better to perceive and understand what is happening in our life.  God’s miracles in His creation drive us, His creatures, to seek Him in the perception of human suffering.  We, too, have been given His promises in Christ, that He will let Himself be found by those who are seeking Him and who open their spirits to the working of His Spirit.


Dr. Arnd Hollweg was born on March 23, 1927 in Monchengladbach, Germany. He studied theology, social sciences, philosophy, and pedagogic at the universities of Bonn, Gottingen, Tubingen, Munster and the University of California at Los Angeles. From 1955 until 1963, Dr. Hollweg was a religious teacher and lectur­er at the Institute of Theology and Education of Rhineland Protestant Church, as well as Region Pastor for Christian education. In 1964 and 1965, he worked as Researcher at the Ecumenical Institute at the University of Bonn for two years, following which he served as Pastor in Bad Honnef until 1972. The following year Dr. Hollweg joined the German Protestant Church's Headquarters of the Diaconical Relief Center as a Department Head and Editor of Diakonie, a post he held until 1976. He later served as Pastor and Chairman of the German Reformed Church in West Berlin for the next fourteen years. From 1978 until 1983, Dr. Hollweg taught at Free University and Kirchliche Hochschule. Since 1990, he has been a scientist and freelance writer. Throughout his career, Dr. Hollweg has been the author of several books, including Gruppendynamik und 1 Interpersonale Theologie, Theologie und Empirie, Gruppe, Gesellschaft, Diakonie, and Obdachlosenhilfe. He and his wife, Astrid Hollweg, wrote Biblischer Glaube und neuzeitliches Bewufitsein in 1999, and numerous essays published in specialized journals, handbooks, and volumes. Dr. Hollweg, along with others, is a founder of Deutsche Gesellschaft fUr Pastoralpsychologie, member of Gesellschaft fUr Gestalttheorie und ihre Anwendungen and Gemeinschaft Evangelischer Erzieher. In the dialogue with American and Continental European traditions of thinking, social and religious life, it is  Dr. Hollweg's intention to overcome totalitarian structures of thinking in church and society. He opens a way of perceiving reality, in which we exist and experience our life and world. Dr. Hollweg involves empirical, prag­matic, physical, social, psychological theories and humanities. He stresses the point that in the perception of real­ity, human beings have to be included from the very beginning. From this point of view, he criticizes all ideolo­gies based on a metaphysical or scientific ontology, which try to embrace reality as a whole. Dr. Hollweg believes that the place and context where human beings perceive and realize the phenomena is always inside the world and rejects transcendental philosophical and theological approaches in which the experience of transcend­ence in life is replaced by mental ontology. Dr. Hollweg believes that human life and recognition of the world cannot be separated when trying to construct a world view from the outside. However, in the horizon of biblical history and its Jewish-Christian tra­dition it is God who comes from outside into the life and world of human beings. God can therefore be met and experienced in the immanent world, if we open ourselves to his transcendence and enter into a dialogue with him. On this front Dr. Hollweg is striving to break up the dichotomic patterns of totalitarian thinking which iso­late active from passive intellect, operational reason from spirit, human beings from reality, individuals from mankind, transcendence from immanence, God from the world, and so forth. He demonstrates the relevance of his approach for mediating between theories and practice in many different fields of church and society where he has worked professionally.

Dealing with the Problem of Language for Faith

An Assessment of Arnd and Astrid Hollweg’s book[1], by Dietrich Braun

Arnd and Astrid Hollweg have used the weekly watchwords of the Church Year as the basis opportunity for writing an impressive meditation on each of them. Unlike the customary linguistic usage in the church they use the word "meditative" for a mode of thought that is deliberately different from analytical-theoretical thinking. Whilst the latter starts "with the fading-out of everything that is not part of a definition of terms", their meditative thinking "is based on the blending-in of whatever is a constitutive element for recognizing what is happening in the reality of human experience and human relations".  They hold that meditative thinking brings together what is separated by the mental act of analytical thinking. The authors want to provide an introduction to the procedures of such a meditative practice in working with the Bible.  They maintain that it is obvious that the Biblical message challenges us to realize that out life between birth and death happens "in the relation between transcendence and immanence, between the outer and the inner world, between spiritual and sensory experiences on the basis of our physical existence". Equally the encounter between Christian faith and modern consciousness always leads us first to the reality of elementary experiences, to our historic and social every-day life where we find ourselves even when we follow the instruction to blend it out mentally. The happenings in this every-day world can in fact not be discussed by using the methods of the objectifying thinking of analytical science. What science usually considers as belonging to human consciousness the authors therefore have tried to place into the comprehensive "structures of meaning" that are revealed to the believer in the context of the Biblical message.

This sums up Arnd and Astrid Hollweg’s concern: they want to enter into dialogue with Christians as well as with non-Christians; they want to start a conversation that is to show how things threatening to fall apart today really belong together – a conversation about reality.   What is actually real, and what is appearance?  The Bible confronts us with the historic reality of experience.  Where the meditations do this as well, based on the Biblical texts, they want to call to critical vigilance.  They hold that scientific and philosophical ideas of reality or lack of reality in fact continue to raise again the old question of what is real and what is appearance.  The introduction states in a matter-of-fact way that we live in a culture "which is characterized by the fact that the religious questions are blended out in the sciences and academic disciplines and separated from human consciousness in its relation to reality". The thought models of the mathematical and physical sciences based on the separation between human being and the world have been made absolute and projected onto reality as a whole.  This ignores the fact that the relation between scientific and religious experience, perception and understanding of the human person are part of the unity of the person and are fundamental for our behavior and our actions in the world.  Within the earthly reality of experience in which we live the question of truth arises when it comes to religion, just as in our scientific work since both, religion and science, share the operation of human intelligence. Therefore we must be ready to ask, and in all honesty always ask ourselves, what we are prepared to be led by in each case. The authors demand that modern science must not be content to turn religion simply into an object of research. The religious question in research always appears as the ontological question about its relation to reality.  This makes a "change of horizon" essential. The reasons for this are so weighty that Arnd Hollweg does not fail to recall them for the readers in a lengthy "after word". In the form of a critical and theoretical discourse he shows what implicitly had already been made clear in the meditations: his own epistemological presuppositions for a discussion with the sciences and academic disciplines, and therefore also for the questions that arise from it concerning the relation between the Biblical faith and modern consciousness.    


“Through the Bible we gain access to something that is happening throughout the whole world at all times.  The Bible is the testimony of the history of God’s Kingdom on earth, of God’s actions in the lives of individuals, of groups and communities who witness to His presence in the world and who place their individual lives and their living together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit “. These are the first sentences in the after word.  It represents a short summary of the basic insights that the author has gathered both from his experience as a minister and pastor of an inner city congregation and from many years for participating in epistemological research in human, social and natural sciences and in the relevant ongoing theological discussions. Important publications on the subject have since made his research internationally known.[2]  In the same context it continues that, as Christians from heathen nations our only access to God’s history with the world is in Jesus Christ. But this history does not start with him.  Through Christ we others simply gain access to the history which has begun before us in Israel.  But the importance of this fact has only been fully realized again in recent times. The holocaust had clearly disproved the idea that Christianity had simply replaced Israel and thus negated its existence.  This substitution had found its intellectual expression in the fact that in early Christian times already the Biblical history as a whole was replaced by a non-historic, metaphysical and ontological understanding of the God-event in Christ – an understanding that logically abolished the independence of Israel’s history according to the Old Testament.  In later times access by heathen peoples to the one God in Jesus Christ and Israel’s access to God’s Old Testament covenant became increasingly irreconcilable.  In the author’s opinion this state of affairs represents, in church history, the original form of the later modern substitution of the metaphysical and ontological understanding of the God event by theoretical and practical interpretations of the world that led in its ideological form to the holocaust, and in its pseudo-scientific shape to the loss of reality and to the danger of the self-destruction of all culture and civilization in modern times.

Arnd Hollweg is a Reformed theologian and therefore at home in the Puritan tradition, and feels himself to be close to a mainly Old Testament-based covenant theology. The revision of the understanding of Israel, the reinstatement of the Old Testament‘s independence and dignity for him is closely linked with a turning towards a way of thinking based on experience that – structurally similar to the thinking of the Biblical witnesses – had once been deliberately developed by Anglo-Saxon philosophers of Calvinist origin. He is therefore convinced that, despite the historic distance in time and the different conditions, we are living today in the context of the same human history as the Biblical witnesses: in the same world and before the same God.  He says that what we have in common with them, and what differentiates us from them, looks different in the context of the reality of experience than in that of epistemological and logical systems in which "knowledge is derived from knowledge" because these systems lack the relation to the contexts where human life is lived.  For A. Hollweg this is the reason why they are not able to help seekers to find the way in a world in which experience and knowledge ultimately cannot be separated.  Like a doctor the author therefore makes several attempts at diagnosing the situation of human beings who today are in acute danger of being entirely captivated by a self-made world of abstract, disparate intellectual knowledge although everything depends on their remaining closely and very consciously connected with the reality of historic experience – i.e. that other original world in which we have always been, which cannot be derived from any scientific epistemology but rather transcends them all.  Although the author admits that modern sciences can study the phenomena that we have in front of our eyes he demurs that "we have no access to the reality in which we live" because it cannot be placed in front of us like an object.  Experiential and epistemological access to it are different. Man can easily turn himself into an object of his own intellect or into a function of a technological and operational process.  However this would ontologically not turn him into what he is making of himself.  If he were to stop differentiating in this way, and to start identifying himself and reality with what he is trying to make of them he would abolish the relational reality in which he lives and acts.  A world of objects, functions and things would take its place.

In fact the human being of late modern times is not far from such forgetfulness of being. Irrespective of the fact that the more recent situation in scientific theory shows some pluralist features, the scientifically operational intellect is still dominant.  According to Hollweg it has developed the technological and industrial society whose functional structures still dominate and shape our everyday life. The mental problem of mathematical and physical thinking therefore does not lie accidentally in "in its inherent process of making itself absolute following its separation from experienced reality."  On the quiet so to say, we turn our self-created functional world into the horizon for all our thinking and find it extraordinarily difficult to recognize the reality we find.  In truth we see ourselves  "only in the light of our own work" and therefore succumb to the obligation of having to adjust to its structures. The original "world of relations" is replaced by a "world of functions" that isolates human beings and reality from each other by a "world of gadgets". If this is correct a "symbiosis of man and gadget" will evolve which will subject the laws of human movement and perception to the functional contexts of society.  No wonder therefore, according to Hollweg, that the individual perceives the world as something that "only exists for him as a function of himself".  Mentally he may feel all-powerful but in reality he gets progressively more deeply entangled in his personal, social and ecological relations.  "Lack of commitment, depersonalization, frustration, randomness of thinking, nihilism, problems of addiction, behavioral disorders etc. show the growing deracination of human beings from their own relational reality." The desire to be all-powerful proves to be an "expression of his powerlessness" from which the knowing human being flees.  He simply projects it onto God whose power he denies, and who doesn’t even appear any more in his worldview.  For Hollweg the consequence is obvious: the anthropological, theological and ontological questions have been abolished although each of them deals with the context of the epistemological and scientific theoretical question. The operational intelligence today therefore is challenged to find a new relation to "what has turned it into a non-reality". Since the human being cannot do this by himself the question should not be avoided, however, of whether theology might be of some help.  But the author’s answer is rather sobering. Here, too, he first explains his basic conviction and with self-critical and reformatory intentions speaks of an "impasse of Western theology".

This is not the place to enter into an inner-theological debate with Arnd Hollweg concerning this view of matters.  If one has carefully taken note of the reasons for his critical comments about the intellectual situation in general and the theological situation in particular one will be prepared for the answer by which he shows a way out of this crisis. The author is a theologian of mediation.  Therefore it is clear to him that the thinking of the Biblical witnesses is related to experience and that, on the other hand, a way of thinking based on experience can show that the authors of the Bible were witnesses of a concrete relational thinking.  Against the horizon of the Bible all human life is embedded in the basic structure of “separating from each other in order to face one another in a relationship “. Since, unlike in paganism, man’s relation with the world changes when it is mediated through his inalienable relation with God, the Bible has been able to incorporate into its essential monotheistic relation of transcendence and immanence many different systems of thought and understanding from the different historical contexts.  Since its witnesses were living in constant mutual inter-dependence with their contemporary historic, religious, scientific and philosophical contexts it means that we now have to enter into discussions with present-day science and philosophy because, as the authors stresses repeatedly, we are living in spite of the historic distance in time "in the context of the same human history, in the same world and before the same God".

The "openness for the God who is beyond" is the crucial characteristic of the relational structure into which human life is embedded with its experiences, understanding, behavior and actions; human beings cannot detach themselves from it. In spirit the human being may be able to leave his body and face and perceive himself but he will always remain linked to it. The author deems that this does not exclude the possibility that the human being can, in his spirit, experience himself as being related to a reality that is not identical with the world in which he finds himself bodily and sensually. This experience will rather make him search for an answer that can be neither secular nor human but transcends both.  In contrast to this, the answer given through the Biblical revelation is described as follows; "Christian faith comes about in the experience of the working of God’s Spirit, in which He reveals Himself to our spirit through his word".  When the human being meets God Himself in Christ, "his self-transcendence" changes in this event of God’s Spirit "into the opening of himself towards God in whom he finds his ultimate destiny". When God, the self, one’s neighbours and the world are brought to face each other in this way and enter into relation with each other we begin to share in the history that is determined from within by the event of God’s Kingdom and its powers.  This is to show that even the apparently religiously neutral, technological and operational processes in which we share are concerned with the relation between faith and work.  The author further maintains that Christian life and action – according to Paul the "walking in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16; 25.  Rom8: 4) – have to be understood "as the context of the activity of the instrumental intelligence".  In any case the "I" of faith that is under the rule of God’s Spirit in Jesus Christ must not surrender itself in its turn to the domination of an intelligence formed in such a way but must resist it with determination for the sake of God, for the sake of itself and its fellow human beings and for the sake of the experiential reality.  It must not be forgotten that, because through the work of His Spirit God’s love, truth and peace want to be at work in the relations of our life we are "in a struggle with other personal and spiritual powers in us and in the world.  Lies, deception, enmity etc. lead to perversion, entanglement and destruction of the relational reality and thereby into death." Therefore this struggle of faith is always concerned with our answer to God’s call and with our responsibility in the secular contexts since the present historic and secular reality of experience is our allocated place "where the eternal, other God comes to us in the event of His Spirit so that we shall live in the world in relation with Him…"


The meditations by Arnd and Astrid Hollweg are an impressive witness that the event of God’s Kingdom mentioned in the Bible also happens in our lives and requires to be continued there.  Since in our professional education we were mainly trained in analytical thinking which, as has been mentioned, is characterized by a "blending-out" of everything that is not part of the definition of a term, meditative thinking clearly needs "conscientization and strengthening". In it the action of the spirit with which we perceive is linked to the use of the analytical intelligence.  Therefore it is necessary – against the horizon of Biblical faith – to include into our thinking "what happens internally in our souls" as well as "the history in which we live at any given moment".

This is not the place to discuss in detail the individual meditations.  Each of the reflections on a Biblical text represents a unity in itself and should be understood as such, regardless of its particular place in the Church’s year. However these positions could nevertheless help the reader, over the course of a year, to become familiar without too much trouble with the basic questions of the Biblical message against the background of the more recent theological scholarship.  All together the 66 meditations contain an astonishing wealth of knowledge and insights, directions and thought impulses designed to help in a multitude of troubling questions, and to show the way out of doubts and tribulations of different kinds.   Arnd and Astrid Hollweg link both personal experiences from their encounters with people in the framework of pastoral care and church work and insights gained from discussions with representatives of disciplines like philosophy and natural science as well as with ecumenical partners, as well as numerous memories of their different but ultimately shared personal histories, lived and suffered in their trust in the presence of God’s Spirit, with the exegesis of the different texts.  Therefore these texts begin to speak to us as if they had not been written two thousand years ago but were being addressed to us today.  In the exposition of the Biblical message it proved to be particularly helpful that, by stressing their relation with contemporary life, the authors kept their eyes on the theology of the different Biblical authors.  In this they were guided by the insight that the weekly watchwords of the Church year cannot be adequately understood if they are not considered in their Biblical context.  Arnd and Astrid Hollweg assure us that they have meditated on the text in this context, and want to encourage the readers "to do likewise and open the Bible in order to do so."

There certainly are also questions that one would like to put to the authors.  Where they arise we must not forget that the merits of this book lie in the fact that it frees the readers from the difficulties of language for faith and wants to encourage them to rethink the Biblical message in the context of modern consciousness and, in order to do this, to enter into discussion with those who mediate it, i.e. the contemporary scientists and philosophers.

[1] Arnd and Astrid Hollweg, Biblischer Glaube und neuzeitliches Bewusstsein: aufgezeigt und enfaltet am Leitfaden der Wochensprüche des Kirchenjahres .Frankfurt a.M. Berlin. Bern. New York. Paris. Wien 1999

[2] A. Hollweg,  Theologie und Empirie, Stuttgart 3. Edition 1974; ep. Gruppe, Gesellschaft, Diakonie, Stuttgart 1976.

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