Article Note: Heath A. Spencer, “Kulturprotestantismus and ‘Positive Christianity’: A Case for Discontinuity”

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 1, March 2010

Article Note: Heath A. Spencer, “Kulturprotestantismus and ‘Positive Christianity’: A Case for Discontinuity.” Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Heft 2/2009: 519-549.

By John S. Conway, University of British Columbia

The latest issue of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte commemorates a number of significant anniversaries in the life of Germany’s church and state, and is entitled  “2009 – A Year of Commemoration and Jubilee”.  The articles however cover a wider range of topics in recent European and American church history.  Only two are in English.  Most notable is the contribution of ACCH member Heath Spencer of the Department of History, University of Seattle.   His article discusses “Kulturprotestantismus and ‘Positive Christianity’: A Case for Discontinuity”.   In this essay he refutes the opinion advanced by Richard Steigmann-Gall in his book The Holy Reich, in which he claimed that German liberal Protestantism had a striking resemblance to Nazi conceptions of Christianity. Steigmann-Gall also believed that the pro-Nazi Protestants who so loudly acclaimed Hitler in 1933 derived their views from their predecessors in the ranks of liberal Protestantism. Spencer, while acknowledging that there were some overlapping similarities, shows that Steigmann-Gall downplayed the differences between these two groups.  Most liberal Protestants, for instance, were put off by the virulence of Nazi racism and appalled by the totalitarian appeal of Nazism.  They did not reject the Old Testament as a Jewish document, like the pro-Nazi “German Christians”, but saw it as a valuable source of historical knowledge. In short, liberal Protestantism contained a wide variety of opinions. Rather than these proto-Nazis inspiring or turning into pro-Nazis, the situation was much more complex.  This leads Spencer to claim that the discontinuities proved to be more significant than the similarities.