This article first appeared in Plough’s Autumn 2020 issue.
One hundred years ago, as Germany reeled from World War I and the revolution that followed it, Plough’s founding editor Eberhard Arnold announced the launch of a new publishing house, then called Neuwerk, the “New Work”. This mission statement still guides our work.
The Neuwerk Publishing House is a communal publishing enterprise. It exists not for the profit of one or more entrepreneurs, but instead as a community of common purpose that manifests and pursues its shared spirit and goals through all forms of publishing. The publishing house takes its name from its biweekly magazine Das neue Werk: der Christ im Volksstaat (The New Work: The Christian in Democracy).
The mission of the magazine shows the way forward for the mission of the publishing house as a whole. This mission is to proclaim living renewal, to summon people to the deeds of the spirit of Christ, to spread the mind that was in Jesus in the national and social distress of the present day, to apply Christianity publicly, to testify to God’s action in the history of our days. Though this task is not tied to a church, it is a religious task. It means penetrating down to the deepest life forces of Christianity and demonstrating that they are indispensable for solving the most urgent problems in contemporary culture.
Why We Publish
Humankind, just like each individual, needs a renewal arising from the depths of the spiritual world. For this, it is equally fruitless either to withdraw passively into the interiority of the soul, or to throw oneself into the outward exertion of moral effort or activist gesturing. Rather, what matters is that an active life of deeds gains nourishment from the blessing of inwardness in God and the wholesomeness of the pure atmosphere of Christ. No advance in the education of the masses, no religious renewal, is possible without applying Christianity to every sphere of personal and public life. The practical efficacy of the highest spiritual powers must be proved in the world as it is: man must take a creative and formative role in the world, becoming the master, not the servant, of chaotic physical reality.
We need a publishing house that will encourage Christians to take up the tasks required today: to oppose all lust for war, all caste attitudes, all mammonism, by letting the spirit of Christ rule. We need a publishing house, accordingly, that is attentive to all actions and events that resist the forces of self-interest, hatred, and arrogance, one that musters every element of truth wherever it may be found – doing so from a perspective that holds together the totality of the cosmos and world history.
A movement is springing up that places witness to Christ – Christ who was crucified, rose, and will come again – directly into the full context of life in a way that contemporary people, with their natural and newly awakened strong social conscience, look for and long for.
This presents Neuwerk with a double task. On the one hand, our task focuses on personal faith in Christ, that is, on the personal experience of faith and of practical action in the spirit of Christ; this involves putting ourselves on the side of the have-nots and working for justice against every injustice. It comes down to personal Christianity. From this focus emerges writing that highlights Christian faith, Christian love, and God’s working in the Christian church.
On the other hand, our task focuses on God’s working outside the Christian church, on the entirety of his action in human history and in the creation of the cosmos. Here our publishing house finds the second part of its task: to understand the divine significance of today’s powerful movements advocating for the working class and for a peaceful future, recognizing how God is working toward his ultimate goal in the socialistic and pacifistic actualities of today. His goal is the future kingdom of peace and justice on earth; this is Christianity’s hope. In view of this hope, our publishing house must stand for all those things in political and economic life, as well as in society’s spiritual life, that strive for the goals of conscience belonging to this kingdom.
What We Publish
Among the many active publishing houses in our country, none has yet tackled these tasks. In contrast to many other social-minded publishing houses, for us it is decisive that activism in the service of love and the spirit of community must draw its strength from an inward source. With this in mind, Neuwerk’s Inner Vision series lets us hear the voices of people whose inner eye has caught a glimpse of the essence of things. Their affirmation of life is free of false narrowness (and free, too, from an overestimation of theological and philosophical modes of thinking); it looks out from the inner center to see what God is doing and thus what we should and must be doing. Figures such as Zinzendorf1 and Landauer,2 the two Blumhardts,3 and the Quakers guide us toward deeds born of the inner vision of faith.
For us it is decisive that activism in the service of love and the spirit of community must draw its strength from an inward source.
But our concern is not a purely contemplative turn away from the outer world, and so the Inner Vision series does not stand on its own. Instead, it is the New Work series, which focuses broadly on economic, political, and social life, that actually represents our movement’s program. In this series, we are concerned with God’s history, with God’s action in the entire context of humanity, with the future state that Jesus will bring, with the activism born of faith.
Then, still from the viewpoint of religious inwardness, the Homeland series allows us to view the realm of nature, which discloses to us the whole of created life as coming from Christ and leading to Christ. In this series, the eye illumined by God looks at life and at nature as given by God, recognizing in it the best connecting point for every naturally sensitive person to the highest and ultimate values.
The connections that come to expression in these books are not dependent on the arbitrary decisions of an editor or group of authors. Rather, they arise from a growing and developing movement. This movement expresses itself in our publishing house’s anthologies: The Plough (1920) is a collection of mature authors, both men and women, who are active in the movement and represent the most varied points of view within it. Fresh Seed is dedicated to the Youth Movement, a movement that is led and motivated by the same powers as our own; in this book, Youth Movement participants show how the divine seed is at work everywhere.
What Guides Us
Today a movement is arising, both within student groups and among working-class youth, which can only be termed Christian and social in the sense used here. This movement strives toward the personal and the inward, toward the immediate and the absolute; it is intensely conscious of the experience of nature and of the developing international solidarity of all humankind.
Here in Germany several revolutionary youth groups are embracing this spirit, and many Christian youth circles that until now were caged in dogmatic and political narrowmindedness are now awakening to this deep liberation of the soul. Meanwhile, within the romantic-tinged movement of the Free German Youth and the circles allied with it there are both smaller and larger groups who long for a decisive experience of Christ. Likewise, in the communal settlement movement there is a deepening realization that only the renewing spirit of original Christianity can achieve the communal form of life and education which so many have (unsuccessfully) tried to establish.
It is Neuwerk’s task to allow all these various influences, guided by the right Spirit, to work on the people of our German nation. Germany’s sacred mission – to be a people of inwardness and of actions that flow from inwardness – is in reality not Germany’s alone, but rather corresponds to the deepest and most fundamental vocation of all humanity. Thus, our publishing house affirms that it belongs in its goals and development to the Christian international workers’ movement [Christliche Internationale], which in many countries around the world seeks and professes this new way of life guided by the action of God’s love.
With breadth of vision and energetic daring, our publishing house must steer its course right into the torrent of contemporary thought. Its work in fields that are apparently religiously neutral will lead to new relationships that open new doors for our life’s most important tasks.
It is therefore also important for us that the production of our books meets the requirements of the best artistic taste. We must avoid anything affected or strained. Simplicity and genuineness should mark our work; here lies the secret of what is beautiful and true.
Abridged translation by Eileen Robertshaw and Peter Mommsen from Eberhard Arnold, “Der Neuwerk Verlag” (Bruderhof Historical Archive, EA 20/32). Headings added for clarity.
- Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf (1700–1760), German religious and social reformer and bishop of the Moravian Brethren (Unitas Fratrum).
- Gustav Landauer (1870–1919), social anarchist, pacifist, and Jewish mystic whose thought inspired community movements including the Bruderhof and kibbutzim. Landauer had been murdered by right-wing paramilitaries just months before this statement was written.
- Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805–1880), German Lutheran pastor and pioneer of kingdom-now theology. Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt (1842–1919), his son, was also a Lutheran pastor, evangelist, and founder of the Christian socialist movement to which Karl Barth, Eberhard Arnold, and the Neuwerk network belonged.