Archives For Confessing Church

paul-schneider-quote-2Arrested four times, Paul Schneider became one of the first theologians of the Confessing Church to be murdered by the Nazis, and the first protestant pastor to die in a Nazi concentration camp.

In a nut shell, Schneider was labelled a firebrand. Like a lot of the Confessing Church Pastors and theologians, his theological resistance was “politically incorrect”.

His defiance was a veritable revolt against ‘compromise with Nazi ideology, and the indifference of the people.’[i]

As a result the ‘terror state would forbid him to preach, and attempt to silence his opposition by enforcing a form of exile’[ii]. Schneider was later arrested and imprisoned.

His tenacity is evidenced by accounts such as this:

‘In January 1939 two prisoners who tried to escape were hanged in front of the assembled inmates. Paul Schneider called out through his cell window: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners…The response was another twenty-five lashes.’ (source)

Greg Slingerland narrates the scene brilliantly:

On a January morning in 1939 in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, two beleaguered prisoners who had attempted to escape were brought into the parade grounds of the camp. There they were mercilessly executed.  As the bodies of the two prisoners went limp, a voice rang out across the camp from the window of the punishment cell.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners!”

Not quite six months later, Schneider, beaten and starved, was euthanized by the Buchenwald camp doctor. Schneider was survived by his wife, Margarete and their six children. (source [iii])

Along with Schneider’s outspoken preaching in prison, his theologically informed political defiance permeated his sermons.

The first in 1934, where he firmly asserts a theological critique against the ideology of the day:

‘we have tolerated the teachings of Balak (Numbers 22.6), of liberalism that praises goodness and freedom of men and women while minimising the honour of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze[iv]we cannot close our eyes to the high storm-waves we see surging toward our people in the Third Reich[v]

The other is in a sermon smuggled out of a Gestapo prison camp in 1937 entitled: ‘About Giving Thanks in the Third Reich’. He draws deliberately onBelshazzar, a poem written by Heinrich Heine, a 19th century German Jewish poet[vi].’

Schneider matches the attitudes of late 1930’s Germany with the attitude of ‘the Babylonian ruler, who fully ripened in his godless, proud, and wasteful misuse of God’s gifts, had drunk himself sick and mocked God’[vii] (Daniel 5:13-30)

‘…His face is flushed, his cheeks aglow, till a sinful challenge to God resounds.
He boasts and blasphemes against the Lord, to the roaring cheers of his servile horde…
“Jehovah, your power is past and gone – I am the King of Babylon”
But scarce the awful word was said, the King was stricken with secret dread.
The raucous laughter silent falls, it is suddenly still in the echoing halls.
And see!
As if on the wall’s white space, a human hand began to trace.
Writing and writing across the stone, letters of fire, wrote, and was gone
The King sat still, with staring gaze, his knees were water, ashen his face.
Fear chilled the vassals to the bone, fixed they sat and gave no tone.
Wise men came, but none was equipped, to read the sense of the fiery script.
Before the sun could rise again, Belshazzar by his men was slain.’(source)

 

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123

Dean Stroud notes:

‘Schneider no longer believed that ‘’our evangelical church” (read German Evangelical [Free] Church) could avoid direct conflict with the Nazi state’[viii]

For the Church in the West, these are still ominous words. As witness (marturion; martyr) they also point us towards the ‘storms that are not so much around us, but in our hearts.[ix]

Heard as they must be heard, Schneider joins the chorus of voices who cry out to us today against complacency, indifference, arrogance, and the unwillingness to face the danger posed by those who seek to be our ideological masters. Dangers that we as a multi-ethnic community can still face up to together, or continue to ignore and find ourselves bound together under those ideologies to their yoke of slavery.

“In regimenting German thought, all radio programs emanate from the – [state own broadcaster] – the Department of propaganda. Every newspaper prints only what the State wants its people to read and any letter in the German mail is subject to censorship. For in Nazi Germany any instrument that forms thought, communicates ideas; must be used to glorify the Nazi super state and its demigod”
(Henry R. Luc, Julien Bryan, Louis de Rochemont, March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany, 1938)

Each poignantly targeted at us today, Schneider’s words and example, are yet another loud theological indictment on the lifelessness of ideological servitude.

For:

“The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain.”
(Ronald Reagan, 1964. A Time For Choosing)

References:

[i] Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing p.75

[ii] Ibid, p.94

[iii] This website is in German, but can be translated via the Google toolbar. {the mechanic seems reliable}

[iv] Given the content, what he means here is a view of freedom without responsibility; power without accountability; denial of the transcendent.

[v]  Ibid, p.80 (Schneider)

[vi] Ibid, p.96 (Schneider)

[vii] Ibid, p.104 (Schneider)

[viii] Ibid, p.76

[ix] Ibid, p.82 (Schneider)

Image 1: Rembrandt, 1686-8 ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’

Image 2: Paul Schneider, graphic created using picmonkey

Updated 15th May 2017, from an article I originally posted on October 1st, 2014

amphitheatre-1004396__180Some academic internet interlocutors recently tried to stick some historical parallels on Donald Trump and American Evangelicals. They were attempting to link the precedent set by the German Christian movement and its support for Hitler, to that of American Christians and their support for Trump.

While I don’t disagree that there are slight similarities within the rhetoric, their conclusions were too easily settled upon.

Hitler was a seducer with a total grasp on the passions and faith of a people. Trump on other hand appears incoherent and at other times inconsistent in his message. To put it simply, he’s proven more to be kryptonite than an advocate for any “Aryan super-race filled with the Übermensch – superman”. As most people would agree, Trump repels rather than attracts.

I wont go into more precise differences because I believe that anyone with a basic education in social etiquette, even before its takeover by the parochialism of the excessively politically correct, knows the truth in the axiom, that “you catch more flies with honey, than with vinegar.”

Hitler put this into practice and seduced a nation. Eventually bending that nation towards his, and his political movement’s libido dominande (will-to-dominate). The German Christian Movement utilised similar tactics in gaining support for the NSDAP, which was in turn used against the remnants of the German Evangelical Church, the Pastors Emergency League and their justly rebellious descendant, the Confessing Church.

There are a spate of more relevant current events to choose from. The loudest of which concerns Islamism and the growing militancy of Leftist ideology.

Both of which do violence to classical liberal rights, such as free speech, freedom of religion, and, in the case of the Left, families and thousands of unborn children every day. It’s concerning that academics are falling over themselves to denounce Trump. Yet fail to acknowledge the more pertinent historical parallels, which share a closer affiliation with a Nazified Germany and the compromised Church of the 1930s and early ’40s.

The most significant parallel’s being Islamism’s closeness to the doctrine of “blut und boden – blood and soil” and Leftism’s selective outrage. Outrage that is often positioned between one selective set of protests and another. The targeted call to inclusion, for instance, shows up as a front for the more sinister goal of picking and choosing those who will have to be excluded; which is potentially those who disagree. It’s not far to jump from this to the assumption that such selectivity could result in the doctrine of “Lebensunwertes Leben – life unworthy of life.” (or in a more milder dosage, people unworthy of an opinion)

The secular and sometimes Christian left, for example, are  quick to write-off and then propagandise any dissent against its position. Anyone who does is automatically treated with the suspicion, or worse, the accusation, that their questioning is rooted in a “phobia” of some kind. As is well established, the pattern of behaviour is to denounce any disagreement and then shame anyone who raises honest questions about serious social, theological or political issues, that the Left would claim to be the only answer to.

The pattern is consistent. Shame into silence anything that challenges Leftism. Intimidate and then threaten all who speak out against its narratives. Such as, the use of a politics of diversion and evasion, when it comes to the dangers of Islamism and their bizarre placating of those who’s own self-interests lie in controlling the debate over gay marriage; and in controlling those who oppose the Leftist construct of “gender fluidity.”

The pattern is clear. The Leftist will allow all criticism and violence against those things Leftism hates, but will remain complacent in the face of more urgent historical parallels that demand fair attention.

I get the criticisms of Trump, but as far as historical parallels go, only the short-sighted, given the contexts, would be ignoring the relevance of those historical events to the intolerance of Leftism, ISIS, Islamism and the connection of the latter to these more recent developments:

1. Turkey seizes ALL Christian churches in city and declares them ‘state property (Express.uk)

2. Attacks on Christians in Egypt raise alarms (USA Today)

‘Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally’ on Sunday in Istanbul, marks the climax of three weeks of nightly demonstrations by Erdogan’s supporters.
Banners read ‘You are a gift from God, Erdogan’ or ‘Order us to die and we will do it’ […] [i]

If by mentioning the past we seek to passionately avoid its mistakes, we must answer the storms of today, by also passionately mentioning the mistakes that enabled them happen.

As Churchill, C.S Lewis, and George Orwell pointed out in regards to pacifism and appeasement; and for Dwight Eisenhower, complacency:

“The handicaps were many. The greatest obstacle was psychological— complacency still persisted! Even the fall of France in May 1940 failed to awaken us— and by “us” I mean many professional soldiers as well as others— to a full realization of danger.
The commanding general of one United States division, an officer of long service and high standing, offered to bet, on the day of the French armistice, that England would not last six weeks longer— and he proposed the wager much as he would have bet on rain or shine for the morrow. It did not occur to him to think of Britain as the sole remaining belligerent standing between us and starkest danger. His attitude was typical of the great proportion of soldiers and civilians alike.
Happily there were numerous exceptions whose devoted efforts accomplished more than seemed possible.
Despite the deepening of congressional concern, the nation was so unprepared to accept the seriousness of the world outlook that training could not be conducted in realistic imitation of the battlefield.
We had to carry it on in soothing-syrup style calculated to rouse the least resentment from the soldiers themselves and from their families at home. Many senior officers stood in such fear of a blast in the headlines against exposing men to inclement weather or to the fatigue of extended maneuvers that they did not prescribe the only type of training that would pay dividends once the bullets began to fly.
Urgent directives from above and protest from the occasional “alarmist” could not eliminate an apathy that had its roots in comfort, blindness, and wishful thinking.” [ii]

It must be said, then, that the path to the resurgence of fascism doesn’t begin with Trump, or the rhetoric of Trump’s campaign. Nor does it rest in the endorsement of American Evangelicals.

Granted there are small similarities between Nazism and the German Christian movement, Trump and American Evangelicals. That link, however, if it can even be called that, is weak. No more so then when it is compared to the greater examples that appear on the horizon as this century’s very own gathering storm.


Sources:

[i] Erogden Stages Mass Rally In Turkey sourced August 8th 2016 from Skynews.com

[ii] Eisenhower, D.D. 1948 Crusade in Europe: A Personal Account of World War Two Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Ed. (Loc. 251-256;260-262 ).

In the process of studying, sometimes, amusing things happen. The quirky. The cool and the outright – “this has to be the part where Paul talks to us Christians about what it means to be Spirit lead, right?.”

The main two reads I’m working on at the moment are Karl Barth’s 1942, Church Dogmatics II:2: The Doctrine of God and Eberhard Bethge’s, ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography.’ 

On the side, I’ve just completed Bonhoeffer’s ‘Creation & Fall (DBW 3), which enhanced our homeschool journey through Genesis, and is, overall, an excellent and interesting resource. (Review/thoughts blog post pending)

I’m now moving through W.Du Bois’ 1905,  ‘The Souls of Black Men’ and John Walton’s 2015 work, ‘The Lost World of Adam & Eve’.

In recent months, Sundays have become my reading day. It’s also always good when some much needed rain, helps push that study along.

I’d just gotten through reading a long stretch about Bonhoeffer’s pastoral work in London, 1933-1934. In this part of the chapter Bethge discusses Dietrich’s fervent quest to counter the compromises being signed into church governance by Nazi party favourites, who’d been slipped into governing positions within the church, such as the ”German Christians”, Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller. Bethge: ”Müller was the man most highly esteemed by the Party.’ (Bethge, p.348)

Inspired by Bonhoeffer’s own words and response, (which were considered too radical for a large majority in the opposition within the famous ‘Church struggle’ at the time), I remarked:

Blogpost 5th June 1 Tweet

Then, about an hour later, after settling back down to read some more I came across this remark by Bethge:

Blogpost 5th June 2 Tweet

Call it text-book fog, but I laughed at the “co-incidence.” One of the greatest, underrated characteristics about God is His sense of humour. 🙂

On a more serious note.

Here’s the difference between the approaches of Martin Niemöller and Bonhoeffer’s, Christian opposition to the imposition of new cultural laws in Germany during the 1930’s. Form the start Bonhoeffer was issuing a loving ”no.” Niemöller’s came much later on. Both paid a price for it.

 

Bonhoeffer Post 5th June 2016

 

Bonhoeffer, at this early point in time had stood against, among other things, the church accepting and implementing the Aryan clause.

‘His was a lone stand.’ (Bethge, p.306)

Sadly, although it hasn’t yet reached the same intensity for us. The imposition of new cultural laws on Western citizens is, today, beginning to happen on two opposing fronts: the placating of Islamists and the demonising of those in loving opposition to the advances of LGBT ideology.

In our own loving “no,” may we ‘do everything we can to keep things clear, courageous and untainted.’ (Bethge, p.337)


Source:

Bethge, E. 1970 Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography Fortress Press, U.S.A

Hitler's Traitors: German Resistance to the Nazis, Susan OattawayThis past week I finished reading Susan Ottaway’s 2003 book, ‘Hitler’s Traitors.’

I had borrowed this with the purpose of finding and filling gaps in my own knowledge of early-mid 20th Century European history. What I found was an excellent introduction to it. It’s a text I’m now planning to use for homeschool. (Worth noting, the Nazis banned homeschooling. So there’s a small sense of irony here.)

The book’s potential lies in its content and flow. I was particularly attached to Ottaway’s blunt opinions and it’s likely that these pieces of commentary contributed to her reasons for saying, ‘this is not a scholarly work’ (xiii).

Scholarly work or not, Ottaway’s book is well researched and her criticisms are balanced. The text is indexed, bibliographed and it contains four appendages that present primary documents, including the White Rose leaflets and photos of key people.

Ottaway doesn’t sugar coat the truth.

Chronologically written, her book deals with a long list of historical figures and complex events. What unlocks this as a suitable homeschool text is its conversational style. With brevity and wit, Ottaway explains the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles and the initial well-intentioned, but ultimately ignorant approach of the Allies.

Additional themes include the politics of appeasement, the fall of the Weimar Republic, German anti-Nazi resistance, the horrific persecution of European Jews, the rise of communism and the defeat of Nazism.

The only real downside to the book is that it has no footnotes and not every reference is cited meticulously enough to allow an easy follow up reading.

Finding good resources for homeschool is hard. It’s usually because there’s a limited budget and a somewhat specific curriculum to follow. It’s not for lack of choice. American resources that are directed at homeschooling abound. While Australian material, for the most part, is not. Hence, the age old struggle to find the right resources can snare us in a web of high cost with little reward.

We have enough and we’re grateful for it. Still, ordering the wrong resources could cost us time and hit the budget hard. It means being careful in choosing supplemental material, once the must-buy material has been purchased.

This need to be fugal is a gift. It helps us to focus our aim. It encourages us to be creative and industrious. It means making an effort to find the right resource that’s right for the job.

Ottoway’s book fits this description.

It precisely carries the intensity of an era dominated by Germany. ‘Hitler’s Traitors’ teaches early-mid 20th Century European history in a way youth can hear and understand.

What Ottaway has done is create an in-depth overview of this period in modern history. It’s readable and it digs deep enough.  Ottaway successfully illustrates what life was like and what life could be like, should we fail to remember and act on what this history teaches us.


Related post: Never Again

Stern and Sifton Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi No Ordinary MenElisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern’s, 2013 publication, ‘No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi,’ is, to loosely apply the cliché, an appeal to the sublime.

Their primary goal is to raise awareness of Hans von Dohnanyi, a lawyer in the Abwehr (German Army Intelligence), who played an important role in the German anti-Nazi movement.

Sifton and Stern do an outstanding job of briefly paralleling the stories of Dohnanyi with that of Bonhoeffer’s, showing that a nexus did exist between the narratives of both men.

For instance there is some discussion about whether or not, Dohnanyi, in attempting to save Bonhoeffer’s life, actually only ended up unintentonally instigating his eventual death at the hands of the S.S. [i]

Two chief reasons for this exist,

Firstly, it was Dohnanyi who stopped the authorities from conscripting Bonhoeffer into the army, like they did to a large amount of Confessing Church theologians. It was Dohnanyi who ‘decisively turned Bonhoeffer from church opposition to state resistance.’[ii]

Secondly, it was Dohnanyi who helped to set ‘Operation Valkyrie in motion’[iii], bravely compiled the damning dossier of Nazi atrocities, (The ‘Zossen Files’), and it was Dohnanyi who was regarded by the Gestapo as being the ‘‘Spiritual head of the conspiracy to eliminate Hitler”[iv], not Bonhoeffer; making Dohnanyi a vital player, right at the heart of the resistance movement.

One fair criticism raised by Sifton and Stern is that Bonhoeffer’s biographers (Ebherhard Bethge, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen and the much derided Eric Metaxas) tend to not make a clear enough distinction between the roles both men played in the small, but considerable German Anti-Nazi resistance movement.

These facts lead Sifton and Stern to claim that Bonhoeffer’s biographers have ignorantly overlooked and as a result, overshadowed Dohnanyi, by over-emphasising Bonhoeffer’s role in the German anti-Nazi resistance movement.

They argue that it is ‘historically wrong and morally unjust to Dohnanyi, to play down his role in the resistance movement.’[v] This is because the ‘Third Reich had no greater, more courageous and more admirable enemies than they; both men’s lives offer lasting moral instruction[vi], therefore, Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer deserve to be remembered together.’[vii]

From another angle, ‘No Ordinary Men’ is also a counter balance to rhetoric which attaches itself to the icon[viii] that Sifton and Stern think Bonhoeffer has become.

‘After the war, many German pastors wanted to emphasize his church work and disassociate their fallen colleague  from any tyrannicidal activity, of which they strongly disapproved; others were happy to do the opposite, emphasising his participation in the anti-Hitler plots and averting their eyes from the sorry record of their churches’ collusion with the dictator. It was convenient to simply transform Bonhoeffer into an icon of heroic German Protestantism; that one could call him a martyr made it even better.’[ix]

Unfortunately, the brilliance of ‘No Ordinary Men’ is itself dwarfed by some of its more jarring conclusions.

Ambiguity and generalisations exist within Sifton and Stern’s criticisms. Each is found in a list of concerns they voice about the qualifications and agenda of Bonhoeffer’s key biographers[x].

For example, they are more forgiving to Bethge and even Ferdinand Schlingensiepen in their short critique, than they are towards Eric Metaxas, who they charge as

‘trying to capture Bonhoeffer for the cause of fundamentalist evangelicalism, consequently blurring’ Bonhoeffer’s story.’[xi]

That Metaxas or even Bethge overreach in rhetoric at times, for the sake of readability, is not in dispute.

What is questionable though is Sifton and Stern’s own conclusions about Metaxas.

I have Schlingensiepen’s German edition and am finding my way slowly through Bethge’s monumental work on Bonhoeffer. I’ve also read the unabridged version of Metaxas’ work, and find myself in disagreement with Sifton and Stern.

For this reason, whether they want to or not, Sifton and Stern, appear to propagate a war-like suspicion. One that assumes the “right” is actively employing a conspiracy against the “left.”[xii]

Moreover, their final criticisms make them appear petty; it’s as if they only unveil an appeal to a ‘fundamentalist cause’ of their own.

From an Australian perspective, this only serves to be yet another example of the burgeoning, dangerous and conceited cold civil war between left and right American academia. An ideological, theological and cultural war that is continuing to cripple respectful debate, academic impartiality, and respect for diversity of thought.

Sifton and Stern appear unable to understand that Metaxas has made the historical context, details of Bonhoeffer’s life, and the life of those around him, including Hans von Dohnanyi, more accessible to the less-than privileged majority. Bonhoeffer’s story is available and affordable reading for those who will never have a tenured chance to read Bethge’s monumental and costly version; or who neither have the time nor the privilege of patronage that will enable them to study the primary documents at the highest level of empirical accuracy.

One begins to wonder, whether, if at some point, a form of hypocrisy exists in their appeal to popular criticisms of Metaxas. This raises questions about whether or not these popular criticisms hand out the message that no one knows, or can know, write or speak about Bonhoeffer unless they align to a particular theological position or a particular political, intellectual class?

The tentative conclusion is that Sifton and Stern are guilty of tu quoque, implying that Bonhoeffer’s biographers have created some sort of hagiography, then inferring that those biographers have defiled some sort of saintly subject.

In the end, however, the reader is still left with a positive impression. The Church must not forget that Bonhoeffer did not act alone.‘No Ordinary Men’ is not so much about calling for a total re-reading of the historical Bonheoffer as it is a call to rescue the historical Dohnanyi from the fog of history.

It brings the life of Dohnanyi into focus. By setting Dohnanyi alongside the life of Bonheoffer and the long history of the German anti-Nazi movement, Sifton and Stern, bring Hans von Dohnanyi’s brave efforts against Nazism further into the light.

Despite some let-downs, ‘No Ordinary Men’ is worth taking the time to read. It’s an informative, well-written, honest attempt to raise Hans von Dohnanyi up to his rightful place in history.

Sifton and Stern do this and, for the most part, they do it well.


Sources:

[i] Sifton and Stern point out that Dohnanyi wrestled with this as well.

[ii] Sifton, E. & Stern, F. 2013 No Ordinary Men: Resisters Against Hitler in Church & State New York Review of Books,  (p.141)

[iii] Ibid, p.118

[iv] Ibid, p.126

[v]  Ibid, p.141

[vi] Ibid, p.141 & 142

[vii] Ibid, p.142

[viii] ‘the elevation of Bonhoeffer to iconic martyrdom occluded the larger, more significant German historical drama in which he played such an important part’ (ibid, p.141)

[ix] Ibid, p.140

[x] This is laid out in the appendix

[xi] Ibid, p.147

[xii] Which is interesting, because hasn’t this group, themselves, laid quiet claim to Bonhoeffer over the years?

[The title of this post is borrowed from page 141 of Sifton and Stern’s ‘No Ordinary Men’]

Candle2_V4With justification, the general reasoning against any sizable interest in the suffering and pain of Germans in World War Two might go along these lines: ‘’Well, the fact that some Germans suffered horribly doesn’t equal the unnecessary loss and pain their country caused to the Jewish people or the Allies.’’

German suffering is avoided with the vigour of a young theologian. Who once confronted with the task of unpacking Karl Barth’s complex rejection of natural theology, quietly seals it up in a quaint summary and stamps the details with a Dante-esk ‘abandon all hope – ye who enter here!

The conversation moves on and the issue is quickly concealed.

So it is with some difficult primary documents.

They are politely ignored or misappropriated in haste; dangerously decontextualised in attempts to bring the past into agreement with the present[i]. In this case true history is abandoned in favour of an ultra-conservative or progressive party-line. Primary documents are for a time effectively written off, partially discounted, misused or conveniently ignored.

The victim? A warts-and-all linear view of history.

Read and received rightly, primary sources show us exactly where, how and when the past can read and inform the present.

Such an undertaking allows us to carefully acknowledge the past with all the seriousness and respect that it rightly deserves.

If allowed to speak as it is, what a primary source can teach us is invaluable. Their contents will challenge comfortable opinions by dragging us into the context. Sometimes even becoming a contradiction to the self-serving and selective views of history so endemic of our time.

It’s a rare occurrence for those in the English-speaking world to be granted a first-hand insight into the pain, suffering and thoughts of those few Germans who went against the stream during World War Two.

Christian Puritz’s 2013: ‘Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch’ is a recent example of such rarities:

WilhelmBusch_Family photo 1943

Busch and Family, 1943. Just before Wilhelm’s son (centre) left for the Russian front. He fell there a year later.

When my son reached the senior classes in the grammar school he himself wanted to resist the ungodly repression of those days. He chose his friends from the Bible Circle that I was leading. This work had already been so defamed that only a handful of young people had the courage to swim against the tide and keep coming.
His friends decided one day to disobey the command of the Hitler Youth (to which all young people without exception then had to belong) to assemble on Sundays during the time of the church service. (Church Youth Groups were forbidden by the Gestapo, the Secret State Police)
I never commanded my son to enter my youth work; he just grew into it of his own accord.
My boy decided to do a bicycle tour. He invited his friends. And in the end he said it would be nice if his father came as well…
On one of the tours we made a discovery that shocked us. My boy had a nose bleed which just would not stop. We took him to a hospital and eventually were told: ‘This boy has haemophilia; his blood can’t coagulate.’
And yet later they conscripted him for the war in Russia. I ran to see the army doctor who examined him. But a pastor who belonged to the ‘Confessing Church’ and was not ‘standing without reserve behind our beloved Führer’ did not get a hearing.
I can still see the little troop standing on the station. Destination Russia!
They were just children, eighteen years old. I could have screamed when I saw my child marching away, looking so pale. What did this tender artistic soul have to do with an unjust war? He had been caught in a pitiless machine.
Then somewhere in Russia he bled to death. Abandoned and alone! No! Not alone! In his wallet was found a bloodstained scrap of paper with the words: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want… And though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.[ii]

It’s true enough that when compared to the suffering of millions under the Nazi reign of terror, this is of little consolation.

However, within these first-hand accounts there is a uniqueness. The showing of an exception, in Germany by Germans, to what might otherwise be mistakenly understood as the rule; the total alignment of all Germans to the Fascist state.

This kind of insight is also reflected through the lives of German men and women, such as: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Theologian), Oskar Schindler (Industrialist), Paul Schneider (Pastor), Claus von Stauffenberg (Soldier), Edith Stein (Feminist/Carmelite Nun), and Sophia Scholl (Student).  {Oskar Schindler being the only one on this list to not be murdered by the Fascist State}

6220_dietrich

Left to Right: Bonhoeffer, Schneider, Stauffenberg, Schindler Scholl & Stein

 

In these cases and the few like them, there is a juxtaposition of those inside the Axis with those outside it.

In their resistance we witness a politics of realignment. The unavoidable and political ”nein”  to any state, political party, ideology or politician who lays claim to being a secondary messiah equal to that of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We are reminded that in Jesus Christ we are turned back towards God. In their struggle we are handed the reminder that we may stand, must stand and therefore ought to stand against any stream, scheme or masked revelation that seeks to ‘tame and control the Gospel by adapting it rather than being adapted by it’. (Karl Barth CD.II/I:163)

Just as

…’the light of eternity shines into the sadness.[iii]

Insight brings hope.

 ‘It would be wrong not to lay lessons of the past before the future’[iv]
– (Winston S. Churchill, 1948)

 


 

Sources:

[i] For example: the attempt to synthesise this (White Rose Society) with this, (The Historical White Rose Society).

[ii] Puritz, Christian (Trans/Ed.) Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966) (First) (Loc. 2137-2169) Evangelical Press. Kindle Ed.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Churchill, W. 1948, The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Vol.1 Houghton Mifflin Company Kindle Ed. (Loc.39)

Karl Barth

Karl Barth

There are a vast number of books that discuss Karl Barth’s theology.

So far some of the best include Gorringe, Busch, Hunsinger, Bloesch and Webster.

Outside selected writings, which were core readings while I was at college, I’m yet to completely engage with William Willimon, Sung Wook Chung  or explore works from W. Travis McMaken and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

Given the amount of lecturer-directed reading we did of Barth and the student-directed discussions about his theology over those years, my focus since then (as some of you will know) has been on working through his Dogmatics; consulting ‘companion texts’ or sending off an email to mates for their perspective when I’ve found it necessary to do so.

Places to start actually reading Barth are Evangelical Theology: An Introduction’ and ‘Dogmatics in Outline’. These are almost always readily available and inexpensive.

As far as good, short accessible introductions to Karl Barth’s historical context and theology go, I reckon Dean Stroud’s (2013)[i] outline in ‘Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow’  is a serious contender:

‘In 1930 Karl Barth began teaching at the University in Bonn, and not long after that he was calling Christians to radical opposition to the “Thüringen {Nazi-conformist} German Christian movement.’’ (circa 1920’s-1938[ii])
But even before his arrival at Bonn, Barth’s commentary on Romans had caused a stir.
The first edition had appeared in 1919, which was followed by expanded editions from 1921 through to 1932. In his reading of Romans, Barth challenged readers to hear the epistle as God’s word directly addressing the present moment.
No longer was the letter a relic of the past whose message was more historically interesting than contemporarily relevant.
Heinz Zahrnt, whose history of Protestant theology in the 20th Century contains a lengthy discussion of Barth’s commentary, calling it ‘’a great explosion,’’ (bomb theology) in that Barth ‘’proceeds with the single assumption about the text ‘that God is God.’
For Barth, secular history was not an “idealized pantheistic” course of grand events so much as a record of “naturalistic” and “materialistic” forces.
In short, human history was nothing to brag about and certainly it was no hymn of praise to human achievement and progress, given recent events such as World War One.
As Zahrnt expressed it, Barth “turned 19th Century theology on its head” and then went “not from the bottom up but from the top down”. I.e.: we do not reach God by starting with humanity or human achievements and victories, but rather, God reaches out to us in revelation…
For Barth “God is the subject and predicate of his theology all in one”.
Barth and neo-orthodoxy sounded radical to those trained to view Scripture as a curious example of ancient history, not the sacred word of God.
According to Barth’s interpretation, no longer is the reader in charge of the biblical text but the text judges the reader.
And so when the “German Christians” insisted on inserting Hitler and racial hatred into the Scriptures or removing Paul and robbing Jesus of his Jewish identity, Barth was ready to object with a vigorous regard for biblical authority.
19th Century liberal theology had weakened biblical foundations, and “German Christians” has simply taken advantage of this human-centred interpretation.
Barth’s neo-orthodox interpretation of Romans repeatedly hammers away against idolatry of self-worship in human form, nation, or leader…
The gulf between humans and God is too wide for the human eye; only God in his revelation and his word may cross that divide. Hence every human effort to identify a leader, a nation, a fatherland, or a race with the divine always results in the worship of the “No-God.”
Barth urged future preachers in Germany to take the biblical text seriously, to submit themselves to it, and not the other way around.
By focusing on the text through exegesis, pastors would hold up and alternative rhetoric to the culture. From his lectures it is clear that for preachers in the Barthian tradition, the biblical text reigns supreme.
Without the preacher intending to be controversial or political, the Holy Spirit may make him so in the faithful hearing and proclaiming of Scripture. Barth issued a call to arms against the German Christian movement and argued against any marriage of Christianity with Nazism.
He warned that “what under no circumstances is allowed to happen is this, that we in zeal for a new thing we consider good, lose our theological existence.
God is nowhere present for us, nowhere present in the world, nowhere present in our realm and in our time as in his word; that this word of his has no other name and content than Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ for us is nowhere in the world to be found as new every day except in the Old and New Testaments. About this we in the church are unified or we are not in the church”
Theological existence today, for Barth, was being bound to God’s Word and to Jesus Christ alone and to no other name or race of land.’[iii]

On the whole I’m uncomfortable with labels outside just being called a Christian, so the term Barthian is not something I’m quick to apply to myself or others with any deliberate zeal.

I am, however, convinced that what The Word of God might say to the Christian through a Barthian lens has the potential to transform lives, beginning with their theology.

Sources:

[i] Stroud, D. 2013 (editor), Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of resistance in the Third Reich, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[ii] Ibid, p.23

[iii] Ibid, pp.31-33

Image: Storied Theology – On Loving Freedom