By Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, edited by Charles E. Moore. Plough Publishing House, 2015. 138 pages. $12/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
So what does a former German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and socialist from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have to say to twenty-first-century Quakers? That’s what you may wonder if you pick up this little book from Plough Publishing, which is the publishing house of the Bruderhof, a movement which includes families and single people from a wide range of backgrounds living in community in the United States, England, Germany, Australia, and Paraguay. I certainly wondered that. That Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove penned the foreword piqued my interest. I have a lot of respect for his work in forming Christian communities with a radical emphasis on social action.
So I started reading and quickly encountered a kindred soul whose words spoke to my condition. I knew it when I read these words by Wilson-Hartgrove: “At the beginning of the so-called ‘Christian Century,’ when science and progress seemed to be bringing Christendom to its full height of glory, Christoph Blumhardt heard a word that cut through his cultural formation and easy assumptions: Everyone belongs to God.” I set the book down. Before I read further, I decided I needed to know a bit more about this Blumhardt fellow.
Born in Möttlingen, Germany, in 1842, he followed in his father’s footsteps by studying at university for the ministry. He became disillusioned with the organized church of his time (hmmm, shades of George Fox here?) and became a lay minister, writing broadly on a number of topics; in the process, he became a prime influencer of a generation of German theologians such as Karl Barth. He was profoundly antiwar in war-possessed Germany. He was anti-imperialistic in imperial Germany. He was a Christian counter-culturalist in a society that had co-opted Christianity and reshaped it to society’s needs and wants.
No wonder he has something to say, I thought.
Returning to the book, I found it filled with sincerity, wisdom, compassion, and challenge. I rarely highlight sections in books. In the case of Everyone Belongs to God, my highlighter ran dry. I rarely read on airplanes (I don’t like flying, so tend to listen to music and try to zone out), but Blumhardt’s thoughts were so compelling that I read and re-read parts of it while zipping through the stratosphere.
Blumhardt’s writing emphasizes that we are to share “the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of the Christians.” “It is a crime,” he continues, ”against God’s love to think of anyone as being lost or bad.” “Love each person with Christ’s love.” That sounds pretty similar to some of Fox’s and the early Friends’ writings (if updated with more modern language).
Besides the deep spirituality in Blumhardt’s writing, there is a strong call to social justice. But it’s a social justice rooted in a life of the Spirit and following the leading of Christ our Present Teacher and the recognition that everyone belongs to God. Whenever I travel on a train or use some other modern convenience, I do so knowing that countless others have slaved away to make this happen. The advantages you and I enjoy mean that thousands suffer. It is at their expense that we live well.
If we want to remedy this, we need to rely on God’s direction, says Blumhardt, and not ourselves and “in our clever solutions.” “The main thing,” he says, “is to find an opening for the Spirit to work.”
We need, he maintains, to understand that his central thesis that everyone belongs to God—that there is that of God in every person as Friends would say—is not his idea. It comes from God. And that our current religious structures deny that reality. “Our whole … system, with all its forms, lacks respect for different cultures and ways of being.… Regard every person as a child of God equal to every other person and yourself.”
“Whoever does the will of God is a child of the kingdom of heaven, whether he takes his cue from Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, or the Church Fathers,” proclaims Blumhardt.
I’m finding this a volume which sits on my desk and that I pick up frequently during the day when I need a good word—or a challenge. Though over 100 years old, it offers important guidance for living a life in the Spirit today.