I have been reading a new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which has been a delightful read, but I was particularly interested in several of Dietrich’s comments regarding American Seminaries during 1930-31. Bonhoeffer’s time in America greatly shaped the rest of his ministry upon his return to Germany. In America, he acquired four friends that influenced and challenged him, but it was also the place where he first encountered the racism he would later see in Germany. I would like to at this time quote several things that he said in regards to American Seminaries. NOTE: ALL quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer below are from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2010).
There is no theology here…They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria. The students – on the average twenty-five to thirty years old – are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level. (pg 101)
This is characteristics of all American thought, particularly as I have observed it in theology and the church; they do not see the radical claim of truth on the sharpening of their lives. Community is therefore founded less on truth than on the spirit of “fairness.” (pg 104)
The lack of seriousness with which the students here speak of God and the world is, to say the least, extremely surprising….Over here one can hardly imagine the innocence with which people on the brink of their ministry, or some of them already in it, ask questions in the seminar for practical theology – for example, whether one should really preach of Christ. In the end, with some idealism and a bit of cunning, we will be finished even with this – that is their sort of mood. The theological atmosphere of the Union Theological Seminary is accelerating the process of the secularization of Christianity in America. Its criticism is directed essentially against the fundamentalists and to a certain extent also against the radical humanists in Chicago; it is healthy and necessary. But there is no sound basis on which one can rebuild after demolition. It is carried away with the general collapse. A seminary in which it can come about that a large number of students laugh out loud in a public lecture at the quoting of a passage from Luther’s De sevo arbitrio on sin and forgiveness because it seems to them to be comic has evidently completely forgotten what Christian theology by its very nature stands for. (pg 105)
I am particularly struck by Bonhoeffer’s comments because I don’t think much has changed since then. Most of our ‘Christian’ Universities are more of a vocation school rather than seminaries. The vast majority of Christians are more concerned with figuring out a way to make a living for themselves, than learning and studying the faith they adhere to in order that the truth of the Gospel can correctly impact their lives and in addition, assist them in detecting false teaching. Scholarship has greatly decreased among Christians and as a result, we cannot adequately articulate or defend what we believe, nor can we spot the false teaching that is running rampant throughout the church today.
Sadly though, Christians have greatly departed from the path of critical thinking. An example of this comes yet again from the biography. I have learned that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while being educated in Germany, attended the classes of professors that he did not agree with, yet it did not change his thinking. Going into the course, he knew what he believed and was able to respectfully stand against any errors that came his way. This is an exercise that Christians on whole are lacking incredibly.
How long must the Church lie in ignorance? Ignorance is killing us because we don’t know what we believe, why we believe it, and the result therefore is that we cannot properly live it out. Essentially, the truth we claim to hold to has had no effect on our lives because we do no even know what the truth is!
It is important to realize though that you do not have to be an academic professor or have a PhD. in order to be able to becoming literate in your faith. All you really need to do is apply yourself to studying the Scriptures and find some great resources in order to aid and teach you. (Hence I have a recommended reading page and a ‘Trustworthy Resources’ tab of links) So quit sitting on the sideline and begin by knowing what you believe, why you believe it, be able to defend it, and apply it to your life.