Kühn, Johannes (b. 1887)

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Johannes Kühn was the author of Toleranz und Offenbarung, eine Untersuchung der Motive der Toleranz im offenbarungsgläubigen Protestantismus (Leipzig, 1923, 473 p.). It is perhaps the first book to present an adequate and fair interpretation of Anabaptism in general.

Kühn posed the question of the motivation of the different denominations within Protestantism which accept the revelation of the Holy Scripture as the final authority (offenbarungsgläubig is his term) for toleration or the opposite. In this field the book is a valuable contribution to the history of ideas in the 16th and 17th centuries. Kühn discovered that the groups were by no means uniform in their spiritual attitudes, and thus he had to develop a typology of his own to make the attitudes for or against freedom of conscience understandable. He was of course familiar with the typology of Troeltsch (church and sect) and the latter's term "spiritual reformers," and F. Heiler's typology of prophetic and mystical religion; but he found such a condensation into polar groups wanting in the face of the many-sidedness of the real history of ideas. Thus he developed a five-point typology which surprised many but which came to be fairly generally accepted. Kühn proposed five types:

(1) The prophetically preached religion of revelation, Martin Luther being an example. The Word of God has been revealed to us, hence we have but to preach it (verkündigen) and cannot permit any deviation from it. No room is left for effective toleration (except in the private sphere of unspoken thoughts).

(2) The spiritualistic motive (this term Kühn borrowed from Troeltsch). As an example Schwenckfeld is named, and for the Anglo-Saxon world Roger Williams, the Baptists, Congregationalists, and John Milton (whom Kühn describes as half way between Luther and the rational idealists of type 5). This type of Protestantism has no objective (formulated) creed; it believes in a "concrete" spiritualism and in figurative interpretation of the Scriptures. The church concept is accordingly loose and without much obligatory discipline.

(3) The motive of Anabaptist discipleship (täuferische Nachfolge), where the teachings of Jesus and his message of the kingdom overshadow the doctrinal formulations of Paul. Two representatives are discussed: the Anabaptists for Central Europe, and the Quakers for the Anglo-Saxon world. Both emphasize the intention of active sonship of God (tätige Gotteskindschaft) which issues in a sacred communal life (heiliges Gemeinschaftsleben). The two great symbols of such a discipleship Christianity are (a) love and (b) the cross. For the Anabaptists the cross (i.e., the suffering church) is almost more significant than love since the principle of separation from the world restricts the latter to their own group. Quakers, who are more open to the world, do not emphasize the cross so much (although they knew it only too well in the 17th century) but prefer to teach love in action. It implies also toleration, as the church concept is one of voluntary association (Freiwilligkeitskirche). Kühn effectively defends the Anabaptists against the reproach of "legalism" and stresses their biblical concreteness, namely, to actually live the way which Jesus has shown. Here the difference from the basic theological structure of the great reformers becomes particularly evident (224). Love assumes the connotation of nonresistance and non-vengeance; faith is considered a free gift of grace which cannot be constrained (hence liberty of conscience). The fight for the kingdom of God is exclusively done with the "sword of the spirit." It was not until 20 years later that H. S. Bender introduced the idea of discipleship into the discussion of the essence of Anabaptism again; since that time it has become more and more evident that this is perhaps the most adequate interpretation of the spirit of Anabaptism which can be formulated. To be sure, however, it does not yet exhaust the theological basis of this orientation.

(4) The next type is the mystical form of Biblical Protestantism. Actually and strangely, there are very few mystics within Protestantism (over against Catholicism). Apparently Protestantism does not lend itself easily to this type. Kühn discusses as an example David Joris (was he really a mystic?) and Jacob Boehme (in whom, incidentally, Rufus M. Jones recognizes a forerunner of Quakerism). In Joris the motives are rather mixed but the idea of dying (to the world) and resurrection (to celestial vision) is present in any case. The final unio mystica with the divine is the very goal of all meditation.This type of Christianity dissolves to a large extent the idea of Scriptural revelation (over against the spiritual reformers), and is little interested in group or church life, thus working strongly for individualism.

(5) The last type: ethical and rational religion, actually a form of Christian "idealism" (or, in the 19th century, liberal Protestantism), has finally lost all concreteness of the Scriptural revelation, reducing Christianity to a sort of ethical reasonableness or humanism. It is a cool and intellectual affair with Sebastian Castellio (Switzerland) and Arminius (Netherlands) of the 16th century, and with Hugo Grotius and Chillingworth of the 17th century, and similar forerunners of rationalism and enlightenment as examples. Strangely enough Kuhn includes in this type also Philipp Spener, the "father of Pietism," known for his emphasis on emotional inwardness and subjectivism. But a finer analysis proves that his roots were of the same kind; revelation is now dissolved (hence toleration promoted) and emphasis is shifted to the ethical aspect.

Needless to say, this typology, like all other typologies, is not always fitting. Historic realities do not exactly match given categories, and most persons and movements cut across different types. Also the concept of the "spirit" within the many Christian groups of modern times is oscillating and many sided. Still, a framework like the one described helps much toward a clearer picture of the development of ideas, and in particular its interpretation of Anabaptism may be called new and highly acceptable.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1958

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Friedmann, Robert. "Kühn, Johannes (b. 1887)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1958. Web. 28 May 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=K%C3%BChn,_Johannes_(b._1887)&oldid=92358.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1958). Kühn, Johannes (b. 1887). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 May 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=K%C3%BChn,_Johannes_(b._1887)&oldid=92358.

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