YOUTHFULNESS & Bonhoeffer’s quote examined by Scot McKnight regarding the lure of focusing on the youthful spirit rather than the Holy Spirit.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1930 …

“Since the days of the youth movement [referring to the German Youth movement in the late 19th century] the church has been more obsessed with the youthful spirit than the Holy Spirit.”

What Happens to Church Ministry When…?

by Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed, 10/27/14.

What happens to ministry, then, when we turn the pastor from the giver and the audience as receivers into the pastor as a kind of mentor or guide for the congregation to discover God at work in their life as they really live it? This is the question Andrew Root thinks is at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s own ministry to youth (Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker).

This question transcends youth ministry. This question leads us from Sunday as performance to Sunday as worship; from the pastor as didactic performer to the pastor as, well, pastor and spiritual mentor. It leads us in some ways to the vision of Eugene Peterson.

To move on from where we were in our last post Bonhoeffer moved on from Barcelona back to Berlin to do his second dissertation (Act and Being) but his supervisor (Seeberg) kept DB from doing a study of child and youth, though he smuggled in some theology of youth at the end.

Off to Union he went and at Union in NYC he came in contact with Abyssinian Baptist church where he became a Sunday School teacher for youth, and is right here that Root sees Bonhoeffer’s great contribution to youth ministry as a theological turn in youth ministry. DB moved from the phraseological (which he saw throughout the American church, which was mostly NYC and Union), to the real. Here is how Root captures it, and it leads to this question: which of these expressions capture what we need to learn?

In youth ministry the theological turn is a turn into the real; it is the seeking divine action in and through the concrete and lived experience of young people. Bonhoeffer’s experiences in New York provide a great lesson for those us of seeking the theological turn in youth ministry today. It shows us the negative so that we might move into the constructive. We hear that the theological cannot become the phraseological and that we must take every step with our young people to avoid all loose phrases that are not bound in their experience of wrestling with God. To fall into the phraseological blinds us, as youth workers, from seeing the concrete humanity of young people and helping them see the humanity of others. “Youth ministry can so often overlook the reality of the suffering other, avoiding the challenges of reality in favor of safe programmatic language, settling for a drive toward religious socialization.”

The theological turn in youth ministry does not simply use the language of theology or religion. Rather, the theological turn in youth ministry seeks the living revelatory encounter with Jesus Christ (the real, as Bonhoeffer says). And Bonhoeffer’s New York experience not only gives us the negative, a warning to stay away from the phraseological, but also pushes us into the constructive and practical. Watching Bonhoeffer, we see how forms of art (like the [Negro] spiritual for him) capture the deep expressions of others’ concrete and lived experience. Bonhoeffer’s own youth ministry, which moved from the phraseological to the real, from the abstract to the concrete, from theology to the theological, involved inviting young people to reflect on art (deep expressions of pathos) as an introduction to young people themselves doing the theological, seeking God in the midst of their own deep questions and experiences.

Bonhoeffer was not trying to get young people to like art, to become fans of the spiritual, but was inviting them to step inside it as a concrete articulation of the human experience, to dwell in the experience for its corollaries to their own concrete and lived experience of Negroes, to seek the God who suffers the experience of exclusion. He wanted them to seek God’s act and being in and through Jesus Christ within the experience, to speak of the presence and absence of God within the concrete and lived as the way of doing the theological.

During his time in Harlem, youth ministry remained and even deepened as Bonhoeffer’s ministerial focus. But as such it also became more integrated. Bonhoeffer took his rich theological conceptions of sociality and Stellvertretung and pushed further into the concrete. The spiritual and Harlem helped move in this direction. Even his classes at Union, the classes he was reluctant to take when arriving, turned him to the practical. As a doctoral student in Berlin, Bonhoeffer had been drawn to practical theology courses, and at Union he found that such practical theological classes moved him into further reflection on youth work (85-86).

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YOUTHFULNESS & Are you yearning for something more at church than skinny jeans, hipster hairstyles and pop-40 music? So was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Read on…

“The Good News should be a life transforming message that utilizes culturally relevant methods, but is not captive to them nor obsessed with them.”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: A new book by Andrew Root titled “Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness,” reminds us that sharing the gospel can become captive to trendiness, hipster appearances and pop-40 music. Rather the Good News should be a life transforming message that utilizes culturally relevant methods, but is not captive to them nor obsessed with them. For good insights check out Root’s book as well as read this interview with the author.

“Responding to American Christianity’s obsession with youth” By Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service, 3/2/18.

(RNS) — Centuries ago, some of our ancestors powdered their wigs in order to appear older and wiser. Today, adults dye their hair darker to seem young and relevant. It’s difficult to dispute that, as Simon Donnan put it, “Youth is the new global currency.”

One might assume that the Christian church, which often touts itself as counter-cultural, would buck this trend. But many American congregations have embraced it instead. Have you ever been to a house of worship with a top-40 style music and a skinny-jeans wearing pastor donning a carefully coifed hipster hairdo? Then you know exactly what I mean.

This trend is born out of an earnest desire to “reach the next generation” and is usually well-motivated. But according to Andrew Root, author of “Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness,” it is a recent phenomenon and creates challenges that must be addressed. Here we discuss how American Christians can understand and respond to our obsession with youth.

RNS: Talk to me about the history of “youthfulness.” What are the key turning points?

AR: I am developing this idea of “youthfulness” because of a thesis that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1930, in it he said, “Since the days of the youth movement [referring to the German Youth movement in the late 19th century] the church has been more obsessed with the youthful spirit than the Holy Spirit.”

When I read this five years ago, I almost jumped out of my chair; it felt incredibly prophetic and like Bonhoeffer was speaking to the American church today. I think the legacy of youthfulness, like Bonhoeffer says, goes back to “the days of the youth movement”; as some cultural theorists point out, it is always 1969 in America. In the late-1960s the counter-culture drew from older avant-garde communities to embrace this ethic of authenticity, opposing a larger sense of obligation and duty. The baby boomers shifted the whole ethos of the culture to follow only what speaks to you. We all, in one way or another, live in this legacy now.

RNS: How did American society specifically become obsessed with youth culture?

AR: How we got here was not just young people growing their hair long and smoking weed, but Madison Ave picked up these themes of authenticity. After World War II, it was your duty to buy. Madison Ave took the counter-culture ethic of authenticity and made it the new engine for buying and consuming. Youth become the prophets of the age of authenticity – to be authentic is to be youthful. This continued to be sold to us for the past 50 to 60 years. So as the church finds itself with an authenticity deficit, it often runs to youthful forms to legitimate it.

RNS: I’ve heard some Christians say that working to attract young people is a good thing, that the youthful spirit will keep the church vibrant. Is this true?

AR: I clearly want young people in the church. I am a professor of youth ministry, after all. My concern is that the youthful spirit becomes a certain form of idolatry – a way of saving ourselves without the need for God. Do they actually want to attract young people? Real young people will force them to have relational encounters that will change them and their church. Or do they like the idea of having young people as a measure of their church’s vibrancy, legitimacy, or longevity?


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BLACK BONHOEFFER & How the Black Church in America helped convert Bonhoeffer from his racist roots

Commentary by Prof. B:  The following is an powerful excerpt from Reggie Williams’ powerful book Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus (Baylor Univ. Press., 2014). I hosted Dr. Williams when he visited IWU and was still conducting research on Bonheoffer.  He found prior to the time Bonhoeffer spent in NYC among the Black community, that he considered himself a theologian … but in hindsight not converted (in a similar fashion as did John Wesley).

The following excerpts (quoted at the bottom of the first page and top of the second) show how villainous Nazi ideology had crept into Bonhoeffer’s thinking prior to his experiences in African American churches. Soon after, Bonhoeffer would be converted in a Harlem, African American church. The African American community impacted this theologian so deeply (my students are encouraged to read the book to understand more) that Bonhoeffer became a brilliant and sensitive theologian who gave us among others, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community and The Cost of Discipleship . To better understand how Christians can reconcile in a polarized world, read Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus and then Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community and The Cost of Discipleship . You will find the call to reconciliation is difficult, but a cost Bonhoeffer reminds us that maturing Christians are prepared to bear.

Black Bonheoffer 1

Black Bonheoffer 2.jpg

Black Bonheoffer 3.jpgRead more at … Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance.

VISION & The Abuse of Vision: What Did Bonhoeffer Mean?

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 6/18/15.

A student once brought up a very interesting quote by Bonhoeffer. I thought the quote and a brief look at the hyper-visionary culture amid which Bonhoeffer wrote (Nazi Germany) could throw some light on the power and potential for degradation of vision.

The student wrote: “I just was reading through Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and he talks about visionaries. He says, “God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges that brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself” (2009 ed., p. 27).

The student continued. “At first, this seemed a bit shocking to me and goes against what I believe to be true about dreaming, creativity, innovation, and being on the cutting edge. Bonhoeffer is one of the most brilliant Christian minds of the last century so I had to take that into account as well. I read a few articles and Northwest Church had this to say about it: “When we add fluff, entertainment, programs, and all kinds of things to ‘enhance’ Christian community we are often just providing superfluous distractions from what God intended. When somebody steps forward with some grand new vision of what the church should look like and be like they are often either watering down the community God intended or adding something unnecessary and perhaps even harmful.” (

The student concluded, “So I can get on board with that to a certain extent but then I had to take into account everything I just read in Growth by Accident. I think the first thing we need to start with is admitting that “We don’t know.” Socrates said that that admission was true wisdom. Several times throughout the chapter, Dr. Whitesel makes the point that we cannot compromise theologically. That’s incredibly important. And, also, we need to be culturally relevant or we won’t have any sort of impact on anyone. But there is a line between being “superfluous” and watering down the message of the gospel and being innovative to reach the un/dechurched. Christian pastor and author, Chip Ingram says in his blog, “So often we mistakenly believe that the power is in the messenger. But the Bible says the power is in the message and not in the messenger.” (  Being creative, innovative, and dreaming big dreams have to come out of a place of true humility and prayer. We were created with great minds and the ability to be amazingly creative and I think it is true what Dr. Whitesel says in Growth by Accident, “Creativity is a reflection of a Creator who glories in the originality of his handiwork.” (Kindle Edition) But when it becomes about “us” and what we can do, that’s when it’s necessary to take a step back and make sure that the goal is still honoring and bringing glory to God.

Here is how I replied.

Hello ___student_name___.  You certainly are right about Bonhoeffer. If you read his writings it becomes evident that he is speaking to a church that was bought into a vision that was opposite that of Christ. When I attended the German Church Days (Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag) in 1982 there were many posters that were plastered around the conference. The posters depicted a photo of a Lutheran Church with a large swastika that had replaced the cross above the altar. The caption said “We are headed this way again!”

The point that the Germans were reminding the conference attendees was that entertainment, attraction and drama do not replace what Rudolph Otto called the “experience of the numinous” (1950, p. 3-5). This means encountering God is why we come to church, not to encounter a movement or anything human derived … be it preaching, music or something else

Vision is important for helping people see what God is calling the church to be. But the way vision was used in Nazi Germany to direct churchgoing people to support a human movement shows vision can be corrupted. Thus popularity is not a good indicator of anointing. So when a vision is corrupt you will see it through pride, status and autocratic behavior … exactly the things Bonhoeffer warned about. This is I think the important lesson we take today from Bonhoeffer.

Now ask yourself, what do you think about this tension between vision and Christ-like authenticity?  And how do you think you can tell if someone is acting with vain, egocentric vision like Bonhoeffer described?  Maybe write down one or two revealing characteristics that might indicate a leader is casting a vision for personal rationale and not a missional one.

Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans John W. Harvey, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), p. 27.

PREACHING & A Bonhoeffer Quote on the Use of Symbols via @LenSweet

The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cited by Len Sweet in his book, “Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching” in the chapter titled, “Under the Microscope: Preaching in. Google World” (see the picture).

Original at …