Bonhoeffer’s Hands-on Faith

In Reggie L. Williams’s “Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus”, there’s the following passage:

“FAITHFULNESS IN ACTION Bonhoeffer’s exposure to ministry at Abyssinian was the stimulus to help capture a Christian social perspective that he would otherwise not have known as a German Lutheran. It helped him meet his goal of studying systematic theology ‘as it has developed under completely different circumstances.’ He found that Powell’s ecclesiology harmonized the polarities of African American life under the gospel, demonstrating the complexity of black churches as social and political institutions and their multifaceted theological stimulus for ministry.” (Williams, 2014, p. 1741/4051)

This is in direct relation to the “extracurricular activities” on offer at Abyssinian. As Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., himself in his autobiography, “Against the Tide”, describes them:

“Our School of Religious Education included teacher training classes, weekday religious education classes and five Bible classes. We were conducting classes in physical education, elementary English, citizenship and our system of government, designing and dressmaking, home nursing, typewriting and shorthand as well as a school of dramatic art directed by Richard B. Harrison of “Green Pastures” fame. There were four clubs for boys and six for girls, a Thursday Community Forum led by Attorney Aaron Smith, a Sunday Evening Community Lyceum presided over by the brilliant attorney, Myrtle B. Anderson, and a Book-A-Month Club conducted by the scholarly Mrs. Lillian A. Alexander.“ (Clayton Powell, 1938, p. 158)

And exposure to this experience would prove inordinately successful in providing Bonhoeffer with a taste for hands-on faith. After his return to Germany in 1931, as well as taking up a teaching post at the Technical University in Berlin, he also taught a group of confirmands in the city’s working-class Prenzlauer Berg locality. It doesn’t get much more hands-on than that!


Clayton Powell, Sr., A. (1938). Against the Tide

Williams, R.L. (2014). Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus


Photo by Sabine van Straaten on Unsplash