The entire education of the younger generation of theologians belongs today in church cloister schools, in which pure doctrine, the Sermon on the Mount and worship are taken seriously (1934, letter to Erwin Sutz).
The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together to do this (1935, letter to his brother Karl-Friedrich).
The author of these words was a radical man, at least as radical to those around him as his words are to us today. He gave his life for his principles, principles which history now justifies, though most his contemporaries certainly wouldn’t have. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (for so it was) stands as one of the bright points of a very dark time in western history.
These words on education, especially coming from such a man, are intriguing. They probably make us scratch our heads and say, “Huh?”
St. Andrew’s Academy and her similar sister schools often gets that same confused look, along with questions of the “huh?” variety:
“Why do you pray every day?”
“Do you teach subjects, or is it just religious?”
“Why academic gowns?”
“Won’t your students be undersocialized? Maladjusted? Undereducated? Overeducated?”
“But do you have football?”
What people are really asking, through all these questions, seems to be: “Will your students be . . . normal?”
There are just too many things meant by the word; how to answer? Before trying, we ought to examine “normal” in our communities, churches, and families.
Normal seems to be primarily an individual who is unconnected from community. Normal might first find a job, move, and then hope for a good church nearby. Some normal takes the words of television talk-show hostesses for wisdom. Normal obeys its thirst; has it my way, right away; is an army of one.
In Bonhoeffer’s day, normal accepted that Jewish Christians ought to have their own separate churches. Normal believed theology could be separated from faith, and that miracles don’t happen. Normal looked to the Führer to save Germany and the German church. Normal respectably looked the other way. Normal looked askance at men like Bonhoeffer with their radical ideas.
Think of those people who have changed the world for the better, who worked for God’s kingdom; even just in the last century. Our German martyr; that famous Albanian nun; were they “normal”? Did they make sense? We need, like Bonhoeffer and his kind, to let go of this idol normal, and all that goes with it— applause, leisure, wealth, and the white picket fence.
St. Andrew’s Academy, we joke with some bit of seriousness, is semi-monastic. We are a small school, a ministry of a little church, in the midst of a tiny community, two hours from any major city. Here our students read classic writers. They learn formal logic, Greek, Latin. They study philosophy. They sing together every day, pray together every day. Normal? Hm . . . .
But do we want our students to converse with adults about things that matter? To attend church faithfully? To be loyal friends and committed spouses and loving parents? If our age finds this strange, odd, statistically aberrant, so be it. There is a “normal,” it goes deeper than the statistical, and many call it radical. It’s discipleship. That’s what we want at St. Andrew’s Academy.
Originally published in October, 2011 issue of The Standard, the newsletter of St. Andrew’s Academy.