Bonhoeffer on Spiritual Care for the “Cultured”
Conversation with the cultured tends to be protracted. Much junk has to be cleared out of the way. There aren’t many who are in a position to carry on such extended conversations. it is very difficult and demands a lot of tact. Two possibilities present themselves.
Give a person witness of faith in childlike simplicity unhampered by doubt, criticism, or spiritual superiority! The cultured person must be attentive to that. Only a real spiritual word has credibility. The reaction could go something like this: “If I could only believe once again in a childlike way. But of course we are no longer children.”
The other way is to make an understanding entry into his situation. After a lot of silence, the person on will at length ask his own questions. The pastor shouldn’t say much about himself. His partner will immediately rubricate what he says–he can hardly help it–and then the words lose their effectiveness. The question should be awakened within him, “What’s behind this understanding and participation? A lot more than naked curiosity! How can one be so understanding and yet believe all that?” Don’t expect overnight success on this path. The roundabout way of philosophical, semi religious conversation is not totally commendable. The pastor can enter it only if he knows the subject matter. The partially educated person who acts as if he knows a lot gets on people’s nerves. Candid matter-of-factness and love are a unique witness to the things of Christ. An arrogant tone on the pastor’s part is totally devastating. The cultured person’s educational ideal includes modest objectivity and a recognition of one’s own limits. By such gauges he will measure a pastor. The Christian faith is usually stated poorly in discussion and discourse; its proper setting is proclamation. For this reason Künneth’s Antwort auf den Mythos (Answers to Myth) is not a good book. Where the truth of the gospel is concerned, one proper does of clumsiness (see Luther!) is more adequate than such attempts at discussion. The pastor should maintain the same distance to philosophical question that his partner does, just so long as he doesn’t discuss things he discuss things he knows nothing about. He should protect himself from making moralizing judgments like “You cultured people always want to be so clever. You and your Latin!” To criticize the faculty of reason would be the dumbest thing the pastor could do. When the moment to witness arrives, let him speak impartially, confidently, and with certainty about Christ.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care, tr. by Jay C. Rochelle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), 49–50.