Learning from Finkenwalde

This year includes the 70th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). Never heard of him? There’s a brief acount of his life and work here. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/martyrs/bonhoeffer.html

A conference is taking place in Adelaide to mark this important milestone and I was delighted to be asked to be one of the speakers.

I chose for my theme: “Learning from Finkenwalde: What does Bonhoeffer’s seminary have to say to theological education in Australia today?” Finkenwalde was the illegal seminary that was set up by the break away Confessing Church after the Nazis took control of the German Church in 1934. It operated from 1935-1937 and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was its Director. It wasn’t created so that the Confessing Church would look more like a “real church” because it had a seminary. It was created because of the deep disappointment of the Confessing Church with the Congregations’ response (or lack of response) to Hitler. Part of the remedy, they thought, must involve the formation of a new generation of Pastors – a different kind of Pastor. And the 29 year old Bonhoeffer was drafted to envisage and lead this radical departure from the familiar model of theological education.

Some of Bonhoeffer’s most important writing was done in the Finkenwalde years: his great books, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, and fragments like the lovely Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible and his Lectures on Preaching. But Bonhoeffer was probably more satisfied with the remarkable cohort of Pastors that emerged from the Finkenwalde experience. The Gestapo closed the seminary and more than two dozen of its former students were arrested.

There’s a helpful summary of the “Finkenwalde Project” here. http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/116020.pdf

Australia in 2015 is very different from Germany in 1935, of course. (In their First Report, in 1959, the Joint Commission on Church Union was careful to make much the same acknowledgement when they tried to draw lessons from the Confessing Church.) But I’m looking forward to re-viewing what I know about theological education in Australia today through the lens of Finkenwalde.



    • Details haven’t been published yet Jock, but the conference is on Saturday, 11 April 2015 ~ 9:30 am to 5:00 pm Immanuel Lutheran Church, Archer Street, North Adelaide Cost: $30, Student/Concession: $20

  1. Hi Andrew, have your thoughts from the conference been published anywhere? I’d be interested to receive a copy if available? Geoffrey Lilburne

    • My next column in Australian Leadership has some reflections Geoff. But, to be honest, I’m still thinking about it – particularly in the present political climate.

  2. Hi Andrew, Blessings to you! My church is doing a Lenten study on Life Together by Bonhoeffer. We are searching for a usable picture of him, in a standing position, and my marketing team tells me that your picture is the best they have found. Would you give us permission to download and use your picture here for our sermon series? Thank you. Lana Johnson, Liberty Crossings UMC – Birmingham, AL 205-951-7707

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