10.08.2015

Too Long for a Tweet, Too Short for a Blog Post XXIV

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51sD2KoN4CL.jpgHere's an excerpt from a book I am reading, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" by Eric Metaxas.

There, in the socially downtrodden African American community, Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested. The preacher at Abyssinian was a powerful figure named Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr...

By the mid-1930s, Abyssinian boasted fourteen thousand members and was arguably the largest Protestant church of any kind in the whole United States. When Bonhoeffer saw it all, he was staggered. Starving from the skim milk at Union, Bonhoeffer found a theological feast that spared nothing. Powell combined the fire of a revivalist preacher with great intellect and social vision. He was active in combating racism and minced no words about the saving power of Jesus Christ . He didn’t fall for the Hobson’s choice of one or the other; he believed that without both, one had neither, but with both, one had everything and more. When the two were combined, and only then, God came into the equation. Then and only then was life poured out. For the first time Bonhoeffer saw the gospel preached and lived out in obedience to God’s commands. He was entirely captivated, and for the rest of his time in New York, he was there every Sunday to worship and to teach a Sunday school class of boys; he was active in a number of groups in the church; and he gained the trust of many members and was invited to their homes. Bonhoeffer realized that the older people at Abyssinian had been born when slavery was legal in the United States. Surely some of them were born into the horrid institution...

It’s easy to snicker at the lack of foresight, but the Bonhoeffers had grown up in Grunewald, a neighborhood of academic and cultural elites, a third of whom were Jewish. They had never seen or heard of anything comparable to what they discovered in America, where blacks were treated like second-class citizens and had an existence wholly separated from their white contemporaries.  

What Bonhoeffer soon saw in the South was more grievous still. The comparison was more difficult because in Germany, Jews had economic parity, while in America, blacks certainly did not. In terms of influence, German Jews held top positions in every sphere of society, something far from the situation among blacks in America. And in 1931, no one could imagine how the German situation would deteriorate within a few years. Bonhoeffer’s experiences with the African American community underscored an idea that was developing in his mind : the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering. Somehow he had seen something more in those churches and in those Christians, something that the world of academic theology— even when it was at its best, as in Berlin—did not touch very much.
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