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from chapter 4 in Paul House, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision.
1. Bonhoeffer believed that seminary is a time for students to learn how to lead a faithful Christian community.
2. “Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.”
3. Without Christ, students’ egos would keep them from loving one another.
4. But the greatest danger to Christian community is a wishful image. Only when all such images are broken, and disillusionment sets in, can the community begin to be what it should be in God’s sight.
5. Students did not always stay at Finkenvalde. Bonhoeffer himself wished to get away. People grumbled. The Confessing Church did not always live up to its promise. Visions of the future got crushed.
6. “God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly.”
One evening, after his young students at the underground seminary of Finkenwalde had finished their supper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went alone to the kitchen to wash the dishes.
He began the work alone, then requested the help of his pupils. But the seminarians did not budge, leaving Bonhoeffer alone scrubbing silverware. When no one offered to serve alongside him, he locked the door. When the students realized what he had done, they felt badly and finally offered to help. The door, however, remained locked and Bonhoeffer finished the work alone. His lesson was simple: service and leadership go together, and true service does not stem from lazy pity.
Each of the students at Finkenwalde had a number of these experiences when, because of his intense desire to teach them, Bonhoeffer would do or command something unusual in order to underscore the radical nature of life within the kingdom of God. To make disciples of Jesus in this upside-down kingdom required hyperbole and dramatic expression. And on one occasion, it meant locking the door while washing the dishes.
Thinking and doing
My introduction to Bonhoeffer came through his small book entitled, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. My wife had taken it off her stepmom’s bookshelf when we were in high school and dating. Near the end of that little book, Bonhoeffer’s best friend, Eberhard Bethge, wrote “A Biographical Sketch” of the pastor and theologian. In this section, Bethge describes his friend’s time as a leader of the secret, underground seminary.
‘[At Finkenwalde] he shared with them his personal belongings—material as well as spiritual—his time, and his plans. He was magnanimous … many students were at first startled by his strength and power of his thought but soon discovered that no one was able to listen to them so well and so completely, in order to be able to advise them and to make demands on them which none previously had been able to make with success. Here in the seminary everything was done in a fresh way.”
This short passage piqued my interested in Bonhoeffer, leading me to read Life Together and his Letters and Papers from Prison.
A good post on Bonhoeffer and preaching…
If you aren’t familiar with the story of Detrich Bonhoffer, you should change that.
A lesser-known part of Bonhoffer’s ministry centers on the two years he headed up an underground seminary in Finkenwalde (1935-1937). During these years he trained future pastors—preparing them for ministry in a turbulent, hostile society.
Some of his lectures from Finkenwalde are preserved in Volume 14 of The Detrich Bonhoffer Works. I found his lecture on preaching to be fascinating. While I differ with some of his views (for example, he dismissed the need for sermon introductions, conclusions or applications), I’m convinced Bonhoffer has much pastoral and homiletical wisdom to pass on to all who preach or teach God’s Word:
Here are a few of his insights that I…
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“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
“A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.”
In the new volume of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works, Vol. 14: Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-37, there are some very interesting (to me) observations made by Jürgen Henkys in the “Editor’s Afterward to the German Edition”.
In particular, I note five particularly interesting observations Henkys’s makes about what emerges from the present collection.
(1) Finkenwalde was a protest and a prophetic discipleship against and in relationship to the dramatic take over of the German Church by the Nazis and the response of the Confessing Church. The Preachers Seminary was founded in response to the Confessing synods of Barmen and Dahlem in 1934. As the Seminary opened with its second of five sessions it was declared illegal by the state in a statement called the Fifth Implementation Decree published on 12/2/1935. The seminary opened its doors in April 1935 and was closed in September 1937 by the Gestapo.
(2) The Bible was the primary resource for Bonhoeffer in the Finkenwalde years. Particularly as everything was being reconsidered by the Confessing Church in response to the challenge of the Third Reich.
It is no accident that the Bible stands at the beginning and the end of this enumeration . . . Everything that had to be justified anew here—with respect to pastoral care, ecclesiastical politics, ecumenical and dogmatic issues—could not be addressed adequately at the level of traditional academic theological deduction (975).
(3) But the Bible is read anew in light of the present experience. There is an important hermeneutical approach Bonhoeffer takes as evidenced in his lectures and sermons. He sees that there is a need for something in addition to historical-critical exegesis. The Church Struggle becomes a hermeneutical lens for reading the Bible aright.
His writing, teaching, proclamation, and admonitions were all guided now by a new manner of reading the Bible, a manner with which not even he had much familiarity yet; the Bible was now to be read with an eye on the decisions—both imminent and past—that affected the church’s concrete present (975).
Bonhoeffer allowed the contemporary theological and ecclesiastical conflicts to shape the lecture’s task (984) Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutics pointed him in the direction of exegesis substantively shaped by the church’s own contemporary experience rather than exegesis somehow removed from time. As he reminded his candidates, academic theological departments were not the ones carrying the Church Struggle and were thus unaware of this question regarding the space of the church; those carrying that struggle were instead the pastors and congregations themselves. Bonhoeffer concludes, ‘the theology and question of the church develops from within the church’s own empirical experience and encounters. It receives blows and realizes: the body of the church must take this or that particular path. (985)
In the Bible study (“The Reconstruction of Jerusalem according to Ezra and Nehemiah”), the path to a contemporary statement or position does not emerge from any comprehensive examination of the biblical textual material nor from any enumeration of the results of historical scholarship regarding that material. What moves the exegete instead is the urgent question already on the table, concerning the church dispute and the theological assessment he has already made about this issue. The edifying elements and orientation solicited from the text itself emerge not by way of exegetical derivation and historical considerations. Rather, it is discovered, recognized anew, welcomed as confirming challenge by an exegete who reads Scripture with the assurance of the truth of the struggling church itself, which has already decided in favor of the understanding of its confession required by the contemporary situation (998).
(4) The New Testament was the primary textbook for the training of the seminarians.
The most distinctive feature of Bonhoeffer’s teaching at Finkenwalde is his exegesis of the New Testament in session after session (982).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer stressed the value of meditating on God’s Word when he was the Director of the underground seminary at Finkenwalde. Students were required to meditate 30 minutes per day on a passage selected by Bonhoeffer.
Today, I have focused on Lamentations 3:26…
“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (ESV).
With the pressures of ministry, I found peace when I waited quietly (No phone, no Facebook, no TV, etc.) on the Lord through prayer and meditation.
How is your meditation coming? I still have a long ways to go!
“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”