Daily Riches: The Problem with National Exceptionalism (Charles Marsh)

“I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Adolf Hitler

“The weight of German exceptionalism and the spiritual veneration of military valor were not easy inheritances to disown. In nineteenth-century Protestant Prussia, no less a philosopher-patriot than Hegel resolved that his beloved Machtstaat (the ‘power state’ that was the German imperium) had been chosen by God to rule the nations by example, fiat, or force. It was God’s nature to manifest his will in superior and powerful nations, which demonstrated their providential purpose by imposing their will on their neighbors, as the ancient Hebrews had done. By the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of Germany as such a ‘world-historical nation’ had become as hallowed as the historicity of the biblical narratives. . . . Seeberg believed he was fulfilling his spiritual vocation by helping the German people discern the powerful hand of God in the new forces gathering to propel Germany to greatness. Among the professoriate there were precious few willing dissenters from this conviction. German Protestant theology from Schleiermacher to Harnack and Seeberg presumed the providential blessings of the warrior God. . . . In Protestant faculties and congregations, churchmen of fixed and iron-hard purpose who called themselves the Deutsche Christen, the ‘German Christians,’ were pedaling their loyalty to the fatherland. They claimed that God had chosen a new Israel, the German Volk; that the Christian doctrine of revelation had brought about the disinheritance of the Jews and that Jesus Christ had abrogated Israel’s ancient covenant. They wanted a strong church of muscular virtues–a manly church, eine mannliche Kirche–unified by German ideals. They even convinced themselves that Jesus was not a Jew. They boasted of their mission in the most inspiring terms imaginable: as the completion of Martin Luther’s work.” Charles Marsh

“What are nations without justice but large bands of thieves?” Pope John XXIII


“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,
and give to God what belongs to God.”
Jesus in Mark 12:17

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • National “exceptionalism”, God’s “new Israel”, “muscular values”–even “the providential blessings of the warrior God”–we’re hearing these kinds of themes again. What is your response?
  • Do you believe it’s “God’s nature to manifest his will in superior and powerful nations which [demonstrate] their providential purpose by imposing their will on their neighbors?” What’s the danger is such a view?
  • Hitler claimed to serve God, and most of the church supported him. What can we learn from this sad story?

Abba, help us discern your hand in power and in weakness. Ground us in reality, truth and courage.

For More: Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh 

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I hope you’ll follow my blog and share it with others.  I really appreciate your interest! – Bill

Daily Riches: The Inaccessibly Transcendent Christ (Charles Marsh, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Myles Horton)

“A Union student from east Tennessee named Myles Horton met him after he returned from his first visit to Abyssinian [Baptist Church.] Bonhoeffer, Horton recalled, was in an expansive mood and eager to talk. Horton accompanied him on a most animate walk down Riverside Drive, the whole way Bonhoeffer speaking excitedly–in both English and German, which Horton did not understand–of the preaching, the congregant’s participation, and ‘especially the singing of black spirituals.’ He conveyed the thrill of the flock voicing ascent with the preacher. Completely unguarded, at one point Bonhoeffer stopped abruptly and told Horton that this morning in Harlem was the only time ‘he had experienced true religion in the United States.’ Indeed, he had never seen such joy in worship anywhere before, certainly not in the melancholy north German plains. Bonhoeffer concluded that ‘only among blacks, who were oppressed, could there be any real religion in this country.’ His presence at Abyssinian that year coincided with important changes in Powell’s vocation as an urban minister. A skilled administrator as well as an eloquent preacher, Powell had already been senior pastor at the neo-Gothic church for more than twenty years. But with the Great Depression sweeping over the neighhorhoods of Harlem as bad as anywhere, he felt summoned to new convictions. For most of his ministry, he had traded comfortably on a notion of Christ as inaccessibly transcendent, the God-man in majesty. Lately, he had begun to dwell on Jesus as the one who wandered into distressed and lonely places to share the struggles of the poor as a friend and counselor. Bonhoeffer’s later formulation of the ‘Christological incognito’ bears the impress of Powell’s decisive awakening, of Christ going incognito into the world, ‘an outcast among outcasts,’ hiding himself in weakness.” Charles Marsh

“Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem”
Isaiah 53:3

Moving From Head to Heart

  • Does your understanding of Christ make him so lofty and powerful that he seems distant and inaccessible? Is there a place in your religion for the “despised” sufferer of Isaiah–who “shares the struggles of the poor as a friend and counselor?”
  • Would the Christ that your congregation worships have sufficed for Harlem’s forgotten people in the midst of the Great Depression?
  • When you think of Jesus, do you think of “an outcast among outcasts … hiding himself in weakness?” Would making room for such a Jesus lead you to some kind of “awakening?”

Abba, grant me a decisive awakening to Christ incognito in my day, in my world.

For More: Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. I hope you’ll follow/share my blog. – Bill