Thy Kingdom Come: A Blumhardt Reader
Thy Kingdom Come: A Blumhardt Reader
Edited by Vernard Eller
This publication was originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1980).
As Dr Eller states in his Preface to Thy Kingdom Come, he worked closely with the Bruderhof communities and their Plough Publishing House in preparing his book. Hard copies of this book can still be obtained from Plough (1-800-521-8011) as well as the following titles by Christoph Blumhardt:
Bible selections are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 (NRSV) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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The subject of my doctoral study was Søren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth-century Danish thinker. In the course of that research I came across Emil Brunner's testimony to the effect that the best predecessors of Neo-Orthodoxy were "two great figures of Pietism--Chr. Blumhardt, in Boll, and Kierkegaard." The strange pairing stuck in my mind: the name I had never heard along with the one heard all over the place. Were these two to be considered equals?
It was, then, in 1966 I discovered some of Blumhardt's work, namely, the 1963 Plough Publishing House translation of Lejeune's Christoph Blumhardt and His Message. Since that time it has been my magnificent obsession (well, one of my magnificent obsessions) to get more of the work of the Blumhardts--father and son--known in larger circles of Christian theologians and laity.
The Plough Publishing House is the publishing arm of that longstanding Christian community commonly known as the Bruderhof, officially as "The Society of Brothers," and more recently as "The Hutterian Society of Brothers." My interest in the Blumhardts immediately got me into contact with these dedicated and friendly people, resulting in two different visits to their headquarters and archives at Woodcrest, Rifton, New York.
Out of longstanding interest and through connections with descendants of the Blumhardts, the Bruderhof has been largely responsible for keeping the Blumhardt tradition alive in this country. These people regularly use readings from the Blumhardts in their worship and meditation. They are responsible for virtually all of the translation and publication of Blumhardt material in English and hold the largest collection of Blumhardt materials outside Germany.
Gottlieben Blumhardt, daughter of Christoph Blumhardt, devoted the last years of her life to collecting the works of her father and grandfather. It was this effort that made possible the German publication of a great deal of Blumhardt material during the past decade.
It Is too little to say that the Bruderhof has been helpful in connection with this book. Without the Bruderhof archives, Johann Christoph Arnold (the Plough publisher), and the anonymous members who did the first draft translation of much of the material herein, this book simply would not have been possible. I want to take the opportunity to express my profound gratitude to the community and to all the individual members who have lent themselves to ourmagnificent obsession.
The search for a publisher to take on the book and competent translators to get the Blumhardts' German into English has been a long-drawn and many-directioned one. The publishers, of course, have now come down to one and the translators to four or five of us; but along the way, a whole host of well-wishers and moral supporters did their bit to keep the obsession alive. For a while it almost amounted to the establishment of an underground Blunthardt society; my file of correspondence is several inches thick.
One sort of support came from several different book editors--none of whom were able to sell their houses on the book idea but who did give personal encouragement to the project. There could be enough Blumhardt books to have given one to each, I am sorry that did not happen; but I am grateful for their having made the big try.
Some of the people now to be named are since deceased, and others have moved from the institution with which they are here associated. Many of the contacts were made through the Bruderhof rather than directly with me. But one way or another, to one degree or another, there have been expressions of support from the following.
From Germany, Karl Barth (via a letter written by his secretary, Eberhard Busch); Eduard Heimann (a long-time colleague Paul Tillich); Gottlieben Blurnhardt (daughter of Christoph Blumhardt); Margrit Hönig (granddaughter of Christoph Blumhardt); and Christine Ragaz (daughter of the Swiss theologian, Leonhard Ragaz).
From this side of the ocean, Markus Barth (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary); James Smart (Union Theological Seminary); James Luther Adams (Harvard Divinity School), who also offered to speak for his deceased friend, Paul Tillich; Franklin Littell (Temple University); Harvey Cox (Harvard Divinity School); Martin Marty (University of Chicago Divinity School); and H. Martin Rumscheidt (Atlantic School of Theology).
Recommendations of this caliber convinced me that the project represented an essential contribution and thus kept me at it through the years. I am grateful to all these people.
Because of my own obvious inadequacy in the German language, I have had to have the help of those who could perform at least the first step toward an acceptable translation. These people will be named at the point in the book where they made their contributions: but here I want to take public notice of the time, effort, and skill they have given and express heartfelt gratitude for it.
Finally, I want to recognize and thank (without naming) all the relatives, colleagues, friends, and some new acquaintances who have constituted a general support group for the project and for me in the project. Among these certainly are to be included Eerdmans Publishing Company and all the people there.
La Verne, CA
In this introduction there are two things I want to do and one I do not want to do. The not doing of the one will be the most difficult.
But, in the first place, no matter how sore the temptation, I am going to try not to do anything in the way of introducing the Blurnhardts' thought--whether describing it, characterizing it, explaining it, or commenting upon it. Once I start that, there would be no end. I prefer to devote the space to letting them introduce their thought for themselves--which is what this whole book is about.
Besides, these two are fully capable of introducing their own thought. Perhaps every word of theirs recorded here originated as oral discourse delivered informally before a lay audience. The Blumhardts may be the theologians who least need a third party to analyze and "explain" them. if their own words fail to inform, enlighten, or move the reader, there are no words of mine that could reverse the situation.
Besides attempting not to introduce the Blumhardts' thought, I intend to present a whole collection of facts purposed to show the sort of influence the Blumhardts have had upon modern Christian thought. The hope is that this will arouse within the reader the question, "Why have I not heard of them before?" thus exciting him to do something about It, namely, read the remainder of the book. Finally, then, I will offer brief biographical sketches of the two men.
The two Blumhardts, Johann Christoph (1805-80) and Christoph Friedrich (1842-1919), were father and son. Their careers--much more pastoral than theological in character--focused upon the son's succeeding his father as leader of what might be called a Christian retreat center that the father had established at Bad Boll in southwestern Germany. The thought of the two men shows enough continuity and agreement that it cm be treated as one "theology."
We already have noted that Emil Brunner identified Christoph Blumhardt and Kierkegaard as the two greatest predecessors of the Neo-Orthodox movement. Karl Barth also said enough to indicate that he would agree with the opinion. And, Independently, both Leonhard Ragaz and Theodor Haecker had made the same pairing and showed interest in it. Brunner's father had as much as been converted by the younger Blumhardt, which certainly made Emil's own relationship to Blumhardt much more than a sheerly intellectual one.
Eduard Thurneysen, Barth's long-time pastor-partner, visited Bad Boll and studied under Blumhardt as early as 1904. And it was he who subsequently introduced Barth to Bad Boil and to Blumhardt. In 1926, Thurneysen published a small book Introducing Blumhardtian thought; and he quoted the Blumhardts at some length in his books on pastoral care. Over a period of thirty years, Barth wrote three different essays on the Blumhardts and gave them major notice both in Church Dogmatics and in other of his works. Barth's chosen touchstone for his own theology, "Jesus Is Victor," is a motto from Father Blumhardt. In Gerhard Sauter's doctoral study of the Blumhardts (the normative scholarly analysis of their thought), there is a major section entitled, "Considerations Regarding the Relationship of Christoph Blumhardt to Karl Barth."
James Luther Adams has testified to Paul Tillich's interest in what Adams calls "the religious-socialist element In Blumhardt"--although I think it would be fair to say that this social concern is about the only element of commonality between Blumhardt's theology and Tillich's.
When I was a seminary student, the book that set the direction of my understanding of Scripture for time to come was Oscar Cullmann's Christ In Time. More than a decade later, upon discovering the Blumhardts, I was convinced I bad found a forerunner of the Heilgeschichte (Salvation-history) idea. When I met Cullmann, I put it to him whether he was familiar with the work the Blumhardts and had been influenced by it. His face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes," he said.
I had not discovered that, in his published works, Dietrich Bonhoeffer ever mentioned the Blumhardts; but I had suspicions nevertheless. When the opportunity presented itself, I asked Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's confidant and biographer. He assured me that Bonhoeffer had been well familiar with Blumhardtian thought and strongly influenced by it. This is confirmed in Gerhard Sauter's study. Although it does not include a separate section on Bonhoeffer, that book, at a number of points In passing and in one passage of several pages, does rather conclusively demonstrate how several of Bonhoeffer's most important concepts tie back into the Blumhardts.
Even so, the fact that Gerhard Sauter is a recognized theologian in his own right and the fact that he has done this major study of the Blumhardts--these things have the effect of bringing the Blumhardtian influence directly into the present generation of German theologians with their "theology of hope," "political theology," and "liberation theology."
Karl Barth had called Blurnhardt's a "theology of hope" long before Jürgen Moltmann was even born (in 1967, Moltmann published a book of that title to launch at least something of a movement). Moltmann is aware of the connection. As editor of the sourcebook, The Beginnings of Dialectic Theology, he chose one of Barth's Blumhardt essays for inclusion. And in personal conversation he was quick to confess his debt to the Blumhardts. There is no knowing how many more of the so-called "younger" German theologians would be ready to confess the same.
Finally, my own "best" theologians include not only Kierkegaard and the Blumhardts but also the contemporary French maverick, Jacques Ellul. Ellul has mentioned and quoted the Blumhardts a few times in his works. There are many of his ideas that could be attributed to Blumhardtian Influences--although, most often, these probably came via Barth. Yet I did do an article showing the profound likenesses and convergences between Kierkegaard, the Blumhardts, and Ellul (with Malcolm Muggeridge thrown in as fourth). Ellul himself accepted my interpretation wholeheartedly, demurring only that I had placed him "too high."
So the Blumhardtian heritage has been and even now is very much with us--mainly through the offices of the continental theologians with whom we have been involved. After this introduction already had been written, quite by accident I learned that the Blumhardts are better known among the Christians of Japan than among us, that there Is more Blumhardt material in print in Japanese than in English. And that makes the question all the more poignant, "Why have we not heard of these Blumhardts before?"
Particularly is this so when we learn that, in Germany, Thurneysen's 1926 volume is circulating in a new edition; the 1887 biography of the elder Blumhardt has gone through at least twenty printings and is still available; the collected works of both Blumhardts are still in the bookstores. But on the other hand, in English, apart from a few books (such as those by Thurneysen and Barth, and a few on the history of NeoOrthodoxy) which refer to and quote from the Blumhardts, virtually all of the Blumhardt material comes from the Plough Publishing House (the Bruderhof).
Heading that list is R. Lejeune's Christoph Blumhardt and His Message. Almost the first half of that book is given to Lejeune's introduction, the remainder of the volume presenting nineteen selected talks and sermons from the younger Blumhardt. Also important is Action in Waiting, a slight volume incorporating Barth's first essay on Blumhardt (1916) and one of Christoph Blumhardt's crucial sermons, "Joy in the Lord." Then there Is a pocket-sized book, Evening Prayers for Every Day of the Year, compiled after his death from spontaneous prayers the younger Blumhardt used at Bad Boll. There is next a slim, 31-page paperback, Now Is Etermity, something of a random sampler of very brief "sayings" from both of the Blumhardts. And finally, there has just appeared a beautiful little 58-page paperback, Thougts About Children, compiling material from both Blumhardts on the topic.
In addition to these from Plough, there is yet, from Thomas E. Lowe, Ltd., a 63-page paperback,Blumhardt’s Battle. After a quite un-Blumhardtian introduction, this translates Father Blumhardt's official report to his Synod regarding his involvement with the case of demon possession of Gottlieben Dittus, one of his parishioners (which incident is recounted below).
"So why haven't we heard about the Blumhardts before?" Partly because so little material is available In English; and because what is available has come from small, private presses. "But why have other publishers failed to pick up on the Blumhardts?" My best guess in that regard is that, because the Blumhardt impact naturally came with the younger Blumhardt's maturity, death, and the generation of thinkers who continued the tradition from that point. and because that point itself coincided with the First World War, the war itself prevented the Blumhardt reputation from jumping either the English Channel or the Atlantic Ocean at the time it normally would have. Then, later was too late: why publish the works of the Blumhardts when no one knows who the Blumhardts are? Who would buy?
Now we will attempt to rectify that ignorance. The elder Blumhardt, Johann Christoph (1805-80), was educated for the Reformed ministry and, after a brief term as executive for a missionary society, became pastor in Möttlingen, an obscure village of Württemberg, southern Germany. His career was uneventful until, in 1842, he had to deal with one of his parishioners, a young woman, Gottlieben Dittus, who suffered some sort of severe nervous disorder and whose household was visited with strange psychic phenomena.
Blumhardt concluded that the case was of a kind with those reported in the New Testament as demon possession.
After two months of pastoral care and reverent hesitation, discovering that he had no wisdom or power that could help, he and the girl prayed together: "Lord Jesus, help us. We have watched long enough what the devil does; now we want to see what the Lord Jesus can do." This prayer-battle continued for almost two years without change--the situation deteriorating, if anything.
Finally came the moment of crisis. At a point when Blumhardt’s prayer and the girl's trouble were at a pitch, Gottlieben's sister (who had recently come under demonic attack herself) in a strange voice suddenly uttered the cry, "Jesus Is Victor!" --and it was all over. Gottlieben later becme a servant in the Blumhardt household and lived there the rest of her life; but she was never troubled again. Blumhardt understood the voice to be that of the demons who had just been conquered and expelled.
There is much in this story at which modern readers inevitably will look askance (as in the story to follow as well); but it must be said that both of the Blumhardts were solid, unflappable characters with nothing of the fanatic about them. In fact, rather than doing anything to encourage sensationalism or a personality cult centering in themselves, they regularly took deliberate steps to dampen such tendencies. Even so, very strange and wonderful things did take place.
Jesus' victory in the demented girl immediately triggered an in-breaking of kingdom power that transformed the entire village of Möttlingen and attracted people from miles around. The congregation experienced revival to a degree quite beyond even the dreams--let alone the actual accomplishments--of modem programs of church growth and renewal. There were many healings, conversions of some of the church's most determined opponents, and radical transformations of life and character. Marriages were saved, enemies were reconciled, there was an outpouring of evangelistic zeal and missionary fervor--all under the conviction that, because Jesus is victor, the kingdom of God has become a real possibility for life here and now.
As might be expected, this sort of goings-on at Möttlingen aroused the criticism of many of the church authorities. Blumhardt's vision of Christianity was larger than the church institution could manage. Thus, after a few more years at Möttlingen, the pressures toward churchly conformity became so constrictive that Blumhardt gave up his pastorate and, for all intents and purposes, formal connection with the Reformed Church. He moved a short distance away to Bad Boll, where he purchased a vacant resort hotel and made it into something of a retreat center, a place to which people could have recourse for periods of rest, meditation, study, and pastoral counsel--and a place where Bllumhardt was free to operate according to God's leading.
He continued this ministry until his death in 1880, the testimony of his life perhaps best being summed up in a hymn with which he had been inspired at Möttlingen and which remained popular in Blumhardt circles:
Jesus is victorius Lord Who conquers all his foes; Jesus 'tis unto whose feet The whole wide world soon goes; Jesus 'tis who comes in might, Leads us from darkness into light.
Son Christoph was born at Möttlingen in 1842, at the very time his father was becoming involved in the struggle with Gottlieben's demons. As his father had done before him, he took university training pointing toward a Reformed pastorate. However, he became disillusioned with the church and theology and so decided simply to return home to Bad Boll and act as a helper there. Upon his father's death, then, he took over as housefather and continued the work until his own death in 1919.
In time, the younger Blumhardt became quite renowned as a mass evangelist and faith healer. But after a very successful "crusade" in Berlin in 1888, he drastically cut back both activities, saying,
I do not want to suggest that it is of little importance for God to heal the sick; actually, it now is happening more and more often--although very much in quiet. However, things should not be promoted as though God's kingdom consists in the healing of sick people. To be cleansed is more important than to be healed. It is more important to have a heart for God's cause, not to be chained to the world but be able to move for the kingdom of God.
Blumhardt's interest gradually took what could be called "a turn to the world," namely, a focus upon the great socio-economic issues of the day. Under the impetus of this concern Blumhardt chose, in a public and conspicuous way, to cast his lot with Democratic Socialism, the much maligned workers' movement that then was fighting tooth and nail for the right of the working class. Although it brought upon his head the wrath of both the civil and ecclesiastical establishments, he addressed protest rallies, ran for office on the party slate, and was elected to a six-year term in the Wörttemberg legislature. He was asked to resign his ministerial status in the church.
Blumhardt began as a very active and energetic legislator, but as time passed he greatly curtailed this activity and bluntly declined to stand for a second term of office. Clearly, the pattern was of a piece with his earlier retreat from mass evangelism and faith healing.
Blumhardt's disillusionment with Democratic Socialism--i.e., with the party politics, not with the movement's purposes and ideals--and the even greater disillusionment which came toward the close of his life with the dark years of World War I--these brought him to a final position expressed in the dialectical motto: Wait and Hasten. His understanding was that the call of the Christian is still for him to give himself completely to the cause of the kingdom. To do everything in his power to help the world toward that goal. Yet, at the same time, a Christian must remain calm and patient, unperturbed even if his efforts show no signs of success, willing to wait for the Lord to bring the kingdom at his own pace and in his own way. And, according to Blumhardt, far from being inactivity, this sort of waiting is itself a very strong and creative action in the very hastening of the kingdom.
Blumhardt suffered a stroke in 1917 and died a peaceful death on August 2, 1919.