Sunday, June 27, 2010

"If we cannot help them in this, we do not help them at all": Bonhoeffer on Training for Ministry:

The following excerpt is from a letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to Karl Barth on 19 September 1936, regarding his underground seminary at Finkenwalde:
I am firmly convinced that in view of what the young seminarians bring with them from the university and in view of the independent work which will be demanded of them in the parishes . . . they need a completely different kind of training which such a life together in a seminary unquestionably gives. You can hardly imagine how empty, how completely burned out, most of the brothers are when they come to the seminary. Empty not only as regards theological insights and still more as regards knowledge of the Bible, but also as regards their personal life. . . . But there are very few who recognize this sort of work with young seminarians as a task of the church and do something about it. And it is really what everyone is waiting for. Unfortunately, I too am not able to do it properly, but I show them by having them practice with one another. That seems to be the most important thing to me.
. . .
. . . The accusation that such practices are legalistic does not really bother me at all. What is really so legalistic about Christians beginning to learn what it means to pray and spending a good part of their time on this learning process? When a leading man of the Confessing Church said to me recently, "We don't have any time now for meditation; the candidates should learn to preach and teach the catechism," that is either total ignorance of what a young seminarian is today, or it is culpable ignorance about how a sermon or catechism lesson comes to life. The questions that are seriously put to us today by young seminarians are the following: How do I learn to pray? How do I learn to read the Bible? If we cannot help them in this, we do not help them at all. . . . It is clear to me that all these things have a place only when really accurate theological, exegetical, and doctrinal work is done together with, and at the very same time as, these spiritual exercises. Otherwise, all these questions are given a false emphasis.
- Letter to Karl Barth, September 19, 1936 in Way to Freedom 117, and A Testament to Freedom 431 (Gesammelte Schriften 2:285) as excerpted in Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 5) (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 121-2.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great excerpt, David. Sobering to reflect upon, especially as a Dean!