Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich

Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich

Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich

Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich


What did German preachers opposed to Hitler say in their Sunday sermons? When the truth of Christ could cost a pastor his life, what words encouraged and challenged him and his congregation? This book answers those questions.

Preaching in Hitler's Shadow begins with a fascinating look at Christian life inside the Third Reich, giving readers a real sense of the danger that pastors faced every time they went into the pulpit. Dean Stroud pays special attention to the role that language played in the battle over the German soul, pointing out the use of Christian language in opposition to Nazi rhetoric.

The second part of the book presents thirteen well-translated sermons by various select preachers, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and others not as well known but no less courageous. A running commentary offers cultural and historical insights, and each sermon is preceded by a short biography of the preacher.


In the early 1970s I was studying at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, preparing for pastoral ministry. As colleagues from my generation will recall, we devoted much time to reading and discussing the three Bs: Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Bultmann. Although we carried around a copy of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, we did not really dwell much on the background of those prison writings. Instead, we tried to figure out what “religion-less Christianity” might mean, one of the terms he mentioned without providing details. We considered Bonhoeffer the theologian, not only in that book but also in his Cost of Discipleship, where he offered his thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount. We read as if Bonhoeffer were addressing us directly, and not the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany. I cannot recall one lecture on the German Church Struggle that would have put his thought in its historical setting.

Even more so than with Bonhoeffer, the historical context of Barth’s neoorthodoxy and Bultmann’s demythologization of the New Testament never surfaced, at least not in a memorable way. I recall reading long selections from the massive and overwhelming Church Dogmatics. and so I left seminary with little historical background, and went into the parish, where occasionally sermon preparation or a discussion group would bring me back to those names. But I knew no more about the situation in which they lived than I had known at seminary.

My first parish was a small Presbyterian church in Mansfield,Louisiana, during the closing years of the civil rights movement. Although I never experienced hostility to my preaching on current events, I do recall sitting in the study working on the sermon for Sunday with a vague sense of unease when I saw the biblical text moving me into areas of controversy. What to say?

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