Third in a Series

The broken grip of both Barth and Brunner on the theological mood of many German ministers and divinity students is due only in part to Bultmann’s neoliberal counterthrust. The stress and sting of World War II created a distinctive religious atmosphere, one which indelibly marked the spirit of the younger clergy.

Between the appearance of Barth’s Roemerbrief (1919) and the 1960s stand two generations of Protestant ministers. Those of the first generation, who were steeped and submerged in liberalism, heard Barth’s plea for special divine revelation sounding like a thunderbolt from above. Soon divinity students and young pastors told of their revolt against liberalism. “Barth saved us for the ministry,” they confessed, and they dedicated themselves to proclaim “the theology of the Word of God.”

When the second ministerial generation arose, in an era soon to be differentiated by its own peculiar outlook, the theological complex of the Continent had already largely embraced the “theology of crisis.” The tense struggle with National Socialism and the tragic events of World War II secretly shaped a harsh fate for Gennan Protestantism. Nazi antipathy toward outspokenly critical churchmen soon mounted to persecution and punishment of those who resisted government policy. The long tradition of a German Church enjoying special state privilege and public prestige was shattered. A national Lutheran and Reformed mind-set reaching back to the days of the Protestant Reformation was interrupted. These extraordinary developments distinctly colored the heritage and outlook of this later generation of German Protestant leaders in the twentieth century.

THE SHADOW OF HITLER

The “second generation” vividly recalls the anxious decades ...

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