What do such wildly diverse movements as religious socialism, neo-orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, and such Christian thinkers like Karl Barth, Eberhard Arnold, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jacques Ellul and Jürgen Moltmann, have in common? They all trace their Christian understanding of the world and God’s kingdom to Johann Christoph Blumhardt, a humble pastor in Germany who lived in the 19th century.
How did such a simple, rural pastor near the Black Forest have such influence on so many people? Zündel’s account, in Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt, explains why. This landmark biography, now available for the first time in English, not only takes the reader on a truly amazing spiritual journey, but leaves one with a deep thirst for what Blumhardt himself experienced from God.
Zündel’s account is nothing less than remarkable. Right from the start one gets the impression that Blumhardt was destined to be used by God. From the dire circumstances and miraculous protection of his birth, to his uncanny ability to turn his childhood peers to faith and to his early work among hardened, unruly youth, Zündel tells how a young rural pastor, in a small town held hostage by superstition and magic, battled and overcame the forces of evil.
That battle began in earnest in1841, with Gottliebin Dittus, a young woman in Blumhardt’s congregation known to suffer recurring nervous disorders and various other strange and inexplicable “attacks.” Blumhardt’s friends advised him to stay away from her, but he could not be dissuaded. As a result, he embarked on an uncharted course that ended in the defeat of very concrete demonic powers. Gottliebin was not only freed but the entire town of Möttlingen was swept up in an unprecedented movement of repentance and renewal. Stolen property was returned, broken marriages restored, enemies reconciled, alcoholics freed, and more amazingly still, an entire village experienced what life could be like when God ruled.
Opposition to Blumhardt’s ministry gradually grew, particularly from ministers and the state church authorities who complained about the flight of their parishioners to Blumhardt. Despite opposition, even threats and attempts on his life, and despite the invasion of curious onlookers and scores of seekers, Blumhardt tirelessly, unassumingly, and simply turned conscience-stricken, heavy-laden people to the saving power of Christ.
Blumhardt’s parsonage eventually could not accommodate the numbers of people streaming to it. He thus began to look for a place with more room and greater freedom. He moved his family to Bad Boll, a complex of large buildings which had been developed as a spa around a sulfur water spring. Zündel recounts in vivid detail one story after another of how through the small circle at Bad Boll, desperate individuals of all stripes— burdened with mental, emotional, physical and spiritual maladies—found healing and renewed faith.
Zündel's biography is fascinating on an historical level, but more importantly it is infused with rich insights from the Bible addressing some very important questions: What is the connection between sin and suffering? What does it mean to pray and believe that God hears us? Why isn’t healing always given by God? What role does confession of sin play in the Christian’s life? What does it mean to live as if Jesus is victorious in everything? Can God’s kingdom really break into our world today? Can we really expect a renewed outpouring of God’s Spirit like it was given in the early church?
Unlike so many of his colleagues, Blumhardt possessed no tidy “theology.” On the one hand, he was a man of experience, led by God’s Spirit while ministering to people’s real needs. On the other, he possessed such a living, confident, broad vision of God’s kingdom that those who encountered him could not go away unaffected.
Zündel’s vibrant, yet down-to-earth, retelling describes how powerfully Blumhardt, and those who worked closely with him, witnessed first-hand the presence of God’s future. He leaves the reader pondering why it is we don’t experience more of God’s Spirit today. For Blumhardt believed that only a fraction of the promise in Joel’s prophecy—that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh— was fulfilled at the time of the apostles. He was convinced that it wants to be fulfilled today on a much larger scale. One cannot put Zündel’s biography down without asking: Are we so convinced, and if not, why not?
Charles E. Moore is co-editor of the book Pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt.
The book can be bought here.