Finkenwalde: In the School of Bonhoeffer

As many of you know, in May I took a job at Beeson Divinity School (of which I am a graduate and where my husband teaches) as its marketing and communications coordinator. It has been a wonderful experience, and I am blessed to be able to serve at and for a place such as this one that seeks to train called men and women for service in the church of Jesus Christ.

One of the responsibilities of my office is to create a booklet that accompanies each semester chapel theme as a worship and reflection aid. This fall the semester theme was chosen before my arrival — Finkenwalde: In the School of Bonhoeffer.

Many people don’t know Bonhoeffer as a theological educator when in fact he was a seminary director for longer than anything else he did in his life (1935-40). This work would’ve continued if the Gestapo hadn’t finally closed it down. When he was first called by the Confessing Church to come serve as a seminary director, his group of first students and he met temporarily at a place called Zingst. They lived here for a couple of months before securing a more permanent location at Finkenwalde.

They would spend the longest time at Finkenwalde, which is why the name became synonymous with his seminary. But they actually met in three other locations after the Gestapo closed down Finkenwalde. This was an illegal seminary from the beginning.

Beeson’s Old Testament professor Dr. Paul House wrote a book on this period of Bonhoeffer’s life, “Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision,” that recently came out by Crossway. His book is the inspiration and text for our fall theme.

When I first began work on the booklet, I was given a portion of House’s book for the booklet, which was to serve as the text. So what I really needed was pictures for the book. One of the most exciting finds of the book was Bonhoeffer’s Zingst seal. While researching for the booklet, I came across an image of a seal/emblem that had never been noticed or seen before by scholars (Dr. House, Dr. Timothy George, Dr. Victoria Barnett). With the help of Dr. Barnett (the general editor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works), who contacted a colleague in Germany on my behalf, she found the only mention (at least that I know of) of the seal in a memoir written by Bonhoeffer’s friend Eberhard Bethge that has yet to be translated into English. He writes that Bonhoeffer had the seal created when they first came to Zingst and even though they had other seals created later after they moved they continued to almost exclusively use the Zingst seal in the books of their library and, as we know, on fliers and possibly letters or other documents.

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The seal is also special because of its confession of “Christ alone is Lord” a direct affront to Hitler and the German Christians who claimed Hitler as lord (or fuhrer). Unlike the German Church, which had a swastika imposed over a cross, this seal only has a dominant cross with the confession surrounding it in the middle of the seal.

After discovering the seal, I asked my graphic designer to recreate the seal for the booklet (as seen above). He did a beautiful job! By having the seal throughout the booklet and in our weekly chapel worship guides, we are giving something back to the public that has been forgotten of Bonhoeffer’s. We are paying a tribute to the work and confession of his seminary as well as joining him in the same confession. We, too, confess, “Jesus alone is Lord.”

On August 20, we launched the Finkenwalde emphasis at Beeson. Hear from our Dean Timothy George talk about why are we looking at Bonhoeffer again in chapel (this is the third semester we have studied Bonhoeffer), from me as I talk about the booklet, from Dr. House as he talks about his book, from Dr. Mark DeVine as he talks about his book, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today,” from Dr. Robert Smith, Jr., about Bonhoeffer’s time in the States and his love of the African-American church and spirituals, and from Christy Harper about our upcoming Finkenwalde Day. It’s a video full of rich content that I think you’ll enjoy!

Also, if you live or are ever in the Birmingham area, come join us for chapel services in Hodges Chapel on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. as we seek to become students in the school of Bonhoeffer once again.