Tuesday, September 13, 2005


"Theologians Under Hitler" Documentary
This documentary from Vital Visuals and producer-director Steven D. Martin examines how three of the most prominent German theologians in the 1930s capitulated to and helped promote Nazi ideology.

Today I was blessed to be able to sit in on a preview screening of an upcoming documentary, "Theologians Under Hitler". The director, Steven D. Martin, is a United Methodist elder here in TN. The premise of the documentary was that although we like to think that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the model for church leadership and Christian scholarship in Nazi Germany, most church leaders and scholars were supportive to Hitler and the Nazis. The question this documentary poses is, "How could something like that happen?" and "Could this happen again?"

It was a strong film, focusing on 3 theologians- Paul Althaus, Emanuel Hirsch, and Gerhard Kittel.

The really interesting part of the screening came, for me, after the movie. There was a panel group for discussion who had great insights into Nazi Germany, these theologians and contemporary America and the state of politics and faith today.

The comment was made how easy it is for us to look at Hitler and the Nazis and say, "Wow, THAT WAS EVIL". But to live in Nazi Germany after WWI, hoping for revitalization, and traditional values- Hitler and the Nazi way of life seemed very enticing to most of the German people. The statement was made that we look upon history in black and white (literally through old news footage) and it all seems so cut and dry. But like the present day- what seems like black and white, for those who live in it- it's very gray. The gray area is where these pastors and theologians were and Hitler and his ideology of strong nationalism appealed to them.

One figure on the panel group stood out to me- Lee Camp, professor at David Lipscomb University, a Church of Christ College here in Nashville, and author of Mere Discipleship. Lee made the statement, concerning, "Could this happen again?":

The film opens up making us feel that the support of Hitler was the fault of the liberals, but then as the film continues we find conservatives and keepers of a flawed "traditionalism" to be to blame. But what this film is really about is power. The Church since Constantine has maintained or done it's best to maintain power. The liberals and conservatives of the Church do what they can today to continue to control and maintain power in the Church. We in America need to really look at the role our Churches are playing in being part of the catalysts for national identity and not an identity rooted in the Kingdom of God.

In one respect, since 9-11 we have moved further toward a nationalistic church that if not careful could move us closer to an unfortunate answer in "could this happen again?".

I've paraphrased what Camp said (and have not said his words as eloquently as he did) but it was a strong statement.

One person said that what he likes about the film is that in using a historic film, he thinks it will open up dialog for his congregation to talk about today's issues concerning nationalism and ecclessiology in a non-threatening and non-polarized way.

I'll probably buy the DVD and study guide and use it at Blakemore and West Nashville.
Click here to see a segment of the documentary


Dale said...


That was good wasn't it? It was good to see you there today. I'll probably get the DVD as well. I'll certainly post on this as well in the next couple of days.

I had to slip out and make a couple of calls, came back and heard some panel, and then left again as the third panelist was responding.

I'd like to find that book (it seems to be out of print---or at least Amazon doesn't have it new)

Anyway, thanks for getting this blog entry up about it


Dean Snyder said...

When is it coming to the nation's capital? I very much want to see this movie.

daniel greeson said...

Lee Camp is one of the reasons I had been planning on going to Lipscomb (as well as John Mark Hicks)...

very interesting movie it seems..

St.Phransus said...

it was. it makes me want to research to role of nationalism and Nazi germany. I'm not a huge history buff so my knowledge of history is simply that of what i took in high school and undergrad- a lot of overviews. this was fascinating though.


monkey czar said...

Jonathon - Thanks for the insights, as I am very interested in church-state issues. I've taken the liberty of reflecting on your post at Ten Cheeses. and instead of clogging up your comments, I'll simply point you there..