Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Andrew Root will be discussing the backstory to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s passion for working with young people.
Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker. The winners will be announced at the end of the month.
Everyone loves a backstory. Case in point is the new AMC hit series Better Call Saul. The whole show is a backstory on how Saul became the always witty, gleefully corrupt lawyer of the meth dealer Walter White in Breaking Bad (it’s a backstory spinoff, and though that sounds like the recipe for a crap show, it’s great—but I digress).
In these four short blog posts I’m providing a little backstory: how Dietrich Bonhoeffer became a theologian with young people on his mind, or how Bonhoeffer was a youth worker doing the theological with young people. Some may think it odd for me to be connecting Bonhoeffer and youth work at all. But one of the most glaring oversights in Bonhoeffer scholarship has been the inattention to the utter consistency of Dietrich’s ministry with children and youth. From the time Dietrich was nineteen (in 1925) until the war broke out in 1939, the most consistent piece of Dietrich’s life was his ministry to young people. Looking at Bonhoeffer from the locale of his pastoral ministry, it would be mistaken to see him as anything other than a youth worker.
But I won’t try to convince you of this in these four posts. (You’ll have to check out the book Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker for that). Rather, I’ll ask you to assume this is central in Bonhoeffer’s life and take you instead to the backstory. We will explore what in Bonhoeffer’s own childhood and youth made him so interested in young people. I believe that there are a couple of important experiences that not only made Bonhoeffer aware of the importance of children, but more deeply, made him recognize that their experience holds deep theological and existential significance.
Why is this important? Exploring Bonhoeffer’s own childhood experiences may help us see something important about our own ministries to the young. We’ve too often seen children’s or youth ministry as the operation that wins youthful loyalty, as zones of entertainment, and privileged (set apart) spaces for learning, but Bonhoeffer saw young people and our ministry to them as something much deeper. So before we can get to a little backstory from Bonhoeffer’s childhood, we need to first explore Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the place of the child in the church. That will be our topic next Monday (4/13). Then we will uncover the impact of Walter’s death (4/20), and the role of his siblings (4/27).
Andrew Root (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is Carrie Olson Baalson Chair of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of numerous books, including The Children of Divorce, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, and Relationships Unfiltered, and the coauthor (with Kenda Creasy Dean) of The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry.