BONHOEFFER, part 4

Bonhoeffer in America, 1: “There is No Theology Here”, part 3

Earlier I wrote of Bonhoeffer’s shock and disappointment of his time at Union Theological Seminary and of the Modernist–Fundamentalist controversy in the background.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, Time Magazine, September 21, 1925

Bonhoeffer continues in his lament of the bankrupt theological instruction that seminarians were receiving at Union Theological Seminary:

“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 servo arbitrio1 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.”2

This disillusionment was unfortunately not contained to the lecture halls but was exemplified in the pulpits too, and must surely have included Fosdick’s:

Things are not much different in the church. The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I’ve been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation…
One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak of Christianity, … There’s no sense to expect the fruits where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se?…
In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.3

1 Latin title for Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will.

2 Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third Reich (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 105.

3 Ibid. 106.


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