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arly work. But in reality most of the students in their lecture rooms don't want to
take up an academic career at all. They want to be pastors for their congregations
in the church. They want to know what good all the theological theories will do
them later, in their sermons, in their pastoral work, and in the building up of their
congregations. But about that a great many professors haven't a notion, because
they were never congregational pastors themselves, and-at least in Germany-
have an extremely detached relationship with their local churches.
So in the theological faculties a gulf opens up between academic theory on the
one hand and pastoral practice on the other-a broad and repellent ditch. And stu-
dents who then arrive in their congregations proudly equipped with a doctorate in
theology have become strange and alien to normal Christians; they have to make a
painful leap over that broad ditch between the educated and the uneducated, and
have first to learn again that in Christ the difference between "Greeks and barbar-
ians" counts for nothing, but that all are one. After all, the apostles, men and
women both, had no Ph.D.s, and-except perhaps for Paul-none of them would
have passed our theological exams.
I have vivid memories of my first congregation. I had studied theology in
Gottingen, received my doctorate, and came to a little country church near Bremen.
Sixty small farms, 500 souls, and 3,000 cows. So there I stood in the pulpit with all
my learning, feeling pretty much a fool. Fortunately; I had spent more than three
years in the hard "school of life" and had lived with farmers and workers in pris-
oner-of-war camps in Scotland and England. It was from those experiences that
I then preached, not from the lecture notes I had taken in Gottingen. Perhaps I
wasn't a great teacher for my congregation in Wasserhorst, but I did learn something
there: I learned and came to understand the "theology of the people." Every
Christian, man or woman, young or old, who believes and thinks at all about that
belief is a theologian. In those farming families I learned to value the general the-
ology of all believers. I came to understand what Luther meant when he said: We
are all theologians.

Omnes sumus Theologi, that is to say, every Christian.

Omnes dicimur Theologi ut omnesChristiani.

(WA 41,11)
Ever since then I have known that if academic theologians do not go to the people,
picking up and learning the general theology of the people and working for the peo-
ple, they lose their basis. Their theology becomes abstract and sterile and no longer
has much to say to the students who are studying in the theological faculties so that
they can minister to the congregations at the grass roots. But on the other hand,
this means that theology isn't just a task for the theological faculties. It is a task for

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wasa time when I wasftill of enthusiasmfor FriedrichNietzsche,who deeplyinflu-
encedmodem atheism,nihilism, and today'spostmodemism. But when I readhis
book The Antichrist,I knew that it was Christianitywith its morality of compassion
that was right, not Nietzschewith his immorality of the superman.The very thing
he condemnedwasfor me the bestof all. Thereis a protestatheismthat deniesthe
existenceof God becauseof the suffering of the innocent that cries out to high
heaven. I just read an interview with Polly Thoynbeein Third Way(August 1998)
whereshecomplained:"How dare [God] createthe suffering? I won'thaveit." And
sheprotested:"Christiansare sadlymistaken." This atheismor antitheismis pro-
foundly theological,for the theodicyquestion-If thereis a God, why all this suf-
fering?-is the fundamentalquestionof everytheblogian,too,fromJob downto the
Christ dying on the crosswith the cry "My God, why haveyou forsakenme?"
Dostoyevskysplendidlydepictedtheology'stwo sides,the believingside and
the doubtingside,in the brothersKaramazov, Alioshaand Ivan. Both of themwres-
tle with God in the face of senseless suffering in the world. But Aliosha believes,
and Ivan protests. One submits,the other rebels.
The story Ivan tells is horrible enough.A Russianlandownersetshis hounds
on a little boy and allows them to tearhim to pieces. The boy'smother is forcedto
look on. "What kind of harmonyis that in which there are hells like this?" Ivan
cries out, and declares:"Is thereanyonein the whole world who could forgiveand
who is permitted to forgive? I don'tlike the harmony. I don'tlike it becauseof my
love for the world. I would rather keepthe unreconciledsuffering It isn't that I
don't acknowledgeGod, but I am respectfullygiving him back my ticket to a world
like this. Understandme, I acceptGod,but I don't acceptthe world God hasmade.
I cannotresolveto acceptit."
And his brotherAliosha answerssoftly: "That is rebellion.Yousay:'Is therea
beingin the whole world who could forgiveandwho is permittedto forgive?'There
is someone,and he can forgive everything,all and everyone,and for everything,
becausehe himselfpoured out his innocentblood for everyoneand everything. You
have forgottenhim. It is on him alone that the building [he meansthe kingdom of
God] will be built. To him we can cry: 1ust art Thou Lord, for all Thy wayshave
Protestatheismhere,theologyof the crossthere. Dostoyevskyportrayshim-
self in the dissimilarbrothersKaramazov.And I think the samegoesfor theolo-
gians. We are consciousof both sides in ourselves,the rebellion againstthe God
who permits so much meaninglesssuffering,and faith in the crucified God, who
sufferswith the victims and forgivesthe perpetrators. The personwho has never
"contended"with God like Job did doesn'tunderstandthe crucified Christ. And
conversely,the personwho doesn'tbelieve in God and his justice ends up by no

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and all one's soul and all one's might" (Deuteronomy 6:4) or not at all. It is impos-
sible to love God if we are half-hearted and divided in mind, or only in passing, as
it were, as if our love kept office hours. A theologian has to invest his own existence
in his theology. Kierkegaard was right when he said that here "subjectivity is truth."
But if we contribute our own existence to the searchfor theological knowledge, we
sense immed~tely that God isn't a philosophical idea or a religious notion. God is
a terrifying and yet fascinating mystery (a mysterium tremendumetfascinosum). We
find ourselves caught up in a personal struggle with God, like Jacob'sstruggle at the
brook Jabbok. It is "terrible to fall into the hands of the living God." We emerge
from these struggles with God not only limping, but also blessed. For a wise old
theological saying tells us that "to know God means to suffer God." We "suffer
God" when we sense his absence, when God "hides his face," as the psalms put it;
we sensefirsthand the God-forsakenness of Jesus on the cross when "the dark night
of the soul" descends on us, and we can find no answers to our questioning: My
God, why? There is only silence. Luther described this out of his own experience
in his second lecture on the Book of Psalms in 1519:

By living-no, much more still by dying and by being damned

to hell-doth a man become a theologian, not by knowing,
reading, or speculation.

(Vivendo,immormoriendo et damnandofit theologus,non

intelligendo, legendoaut speculando)
(WA 5, 163)
By saying this he was not, of course, condemning study; reading, or knowledge. But
he was nevertheless pointing unmistakably to the personal experiences of God out
of which theology springs and from which a theologian emerges. This isn't theol-
ogy as science or technolo~ It is theology as wisdom made wise by life and death
experience: sapientia.
Before people become psychoanalysts, they have to undergo analysis them-
selves. I think the same is true in the case of true theology. A true theologian has
to have addressedand come to terms with his or her personal experiences of God-
his or her fears of God and joys in God. Theologians have to assimilate their per-
sonal experiences as God-forsaken sinners and as God's liberated children,
pardoned and born again to true life. They must be consciously aware of these
things and must not suppress them, especially not the negative experiences of the
self before God. It is good if we can perceive in a person's theology his or her own
self, in the sermon the preacher and in the company of the theologian the human
person. For this, theologians need the courage of their own personal convictions.
They must follow their own consciences first and foremost in all things and must

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the biblical words into our lives and find ourselves in the biblical stories. Here the-
ological exegesis of Scripture and existential, personal self-interpretation belong
together. They complement and deepen one another mutually. They come into
being together and at the same time.
later Rudolf Bultmann called these individual dealings with the Bible, on the
one hand, and personal existence, on the other, "existential interpretation," mean-
ing by that more than a historical-critical exegesis, on the one hand, or a personal
testimony, on the other. In the generation that followed Bultmann we expanded his
"existential hermeneutics" into the "political hermeneutics" of the real, political,
economic, and social situation of human beings. Today the favorite expression in
ecumenical circles is the "contextual interpretation" of biblical texts. This is open
to every woman and to every man, to children and to the old alike. It is not an
advanced skill.
A wonderful example is The Gospel of Solentiname,which Ernesto Cardenal
wrote on an island in lake Nicaragua, with simple peasant farmers and fishermen,
during the Somoza dictatorship. The community does not just contribute personal
opinions to the reading and hearing of the biblical stories and to meditation on
them. The people give expression to their practical, specific situation, too, and take
the biblical texts into their own context.
All biblical exegesis is contextual, but not all exegesis is aware of the fact.
Once we become aware of it, we have to interpret our personal and social context
just as much as we interpret the biblical stories; we must lay bare the links between
the two in our meditation. But, as the word "context" suggests, it is the text of the
Bible that is determining for its present context, not vice versa. If we confront the
biblical stories and messageswith our present personal and political situation, what
emerges are by no means only correspondences and agreements,but rather contra-
dictions and conflicts between what we hear from the Bible and what we see and
experience every dar It is only the will to liberate this life from its humiliations and
oppressions that leads out of these contradictions, so that the contradictions may
turn into correspondences. There are circumstances in our lives that seem to cor-
respond to the biblical message about God's kingdom; but there are far more cir~
cumstances in which we can see only contradictions. "The kingdom of God is not
indifferent toward prices in international trade," writes German Roman Catholic
theologianJ.B. Metz, because on the prices depend the living and dying of the poor
and the children, to whom, according to Jesus' perception, the kingdom of God
Tenatio: This brings us to the third factor that makes someone a theologian.
It is the conflict where internal and external enemies emerge.These are not personal
enemies; they are the enemies of the liberating and consoling Word of God. For

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tance between the finite human being and the infinite God remains. Our theologi-
cal statements about God are at best inadequate analogies and metaphors. All, the-
ological statements about God are no more than "similarities in still greater
dissimilarity," as the Fourth Lateran Council declared in 1215. Human theology is
analogical, metaphorical theology. Consequently; negative theology is always part
of it, too, i.e., the theology that tries to describe or paraphrase the mystery of God
not through analogies but through negations. Orthodox theology knows this as
apophatic theology. So every analogical statement "God is like..." has to be accom-
panied by the negation "God is not like..."-a father or a king, for example.
The positive possibility that finite human beings can talk about the infinite
God in analogies, and are permitted to do so, is based on the presence of God in
what he has created. His special presence is found in the beings he has created to
be in his "image." To be an image implies correspondence, likeness, reflection,
echo, and response. So human reason is created in such a way that with its ideas
and concepts it can correspond to God and can express his eternal presence in its
temporal metaphors. Through his general presence in the created world, the
Creator authenticates the analogical knowledge of God through the beings he has
created; for knowledge of the other presupposed the community of those who are
But this is only general, natural theology. Special Christian theology starts
from a different presence of God in the world: God's incarnation in Jesus Christ.
The distant, detached relationship of the Creator to his creatures is combined with
Christ's inner relationship to God. This is the reciprocal trinitarian knowing of the
Son by the Father, and of the Father by the Son, in the Holy Spirit. That sounds the-
ologically somewhat complicated, but it only means what Matthew 11:27f. says in
different words:
All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one
knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son
chooses to reveal him: Come to me, all who labor and are
heavy-laden, and I will refresh you.

Perfect knowledge of God the Father is possessedby the divine Son,who is of

like nature with him; and vice versa. It is an exclusive knowing of God by God the
Father, of the Father by the Son, and of the Son by the Father. This exclusive circle
is broken through by the Son-become-human, in that he reveals it. How does he
reveal it, and to whom? By calling the weary and heavy-laden to himself, and by
gathering them into his relationship to God, so that they know God as they are
known by God. In the liberating fellowship of Christ we are no longer dealing with
analogical images of God. Here we have to do with God himself, with the knowl-

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