Book review: ‘Saving Germany’

Feb 26, 2018 by

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Saving Germany: North American Protestants and Christian Mission to West Germany, 1945-1974 is a book about North American Protestant efforts to “save” Germany from social and political chaos and spiritual disorientation in the three decades after the end of World War II. This Christian mission by different groups had many dimensions. Included were work to stave off widespread starvation immediately after the Allied defeat of the Nazis, the desire to “democratize” German church life, the need to combat the spread of Communism, and much more.

"Saving Germany"

“Saving Germany”

The author goes beyond the popular memory of American political and military salvation of postwar Germany through the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

This book has all the marks of specialized academic scholarship — extensive footnotes and earnest claims of how this study differs from and corrects the writings of previous scholars. It successfully documents the mission work of North American mainline and evangelical leaders and organizations — the Baptists, Youth For Christ, Billy Graham and others. It is somewhat less complete in telling the story of German religious leaders and organizations.

Mennonites played a remarkably prominent role in this story, given their small numbers compared to the larger denominations in North America. Enns treats the role of Robert Kreider and other Mennonite Central Committee leaders as a case of “Supporting the Mennonite Freikirchen [Anabaptist-oriented free churches] through material aid and community centers.” Kreider was a Civilian Public Service worker seconded by MCC to lead the Council of Relief Agencies Licensed for Operation in Germany, or CRALOG. He sensed Germany’s greatest need was spiritual rather than material. But MCC’s most impressive achievement was in material aid.

MCC had a primary interest in aid to and through German Mennonites, and a concern for Mennonites who were fleeing from Russian Communism. But the bulk of MCC material aid went to non-Mennonites. The total amount was amazing for such a small denomination. In 1947 MCC sent 39 percent of the total tonnage of food supplies that CRALOG distributed in Germany. MCC moved to establish community centers in Heilbronn, Krefeld, Hamburg, Neustadt and Kaiserslautern.

Some readers will question the author’s view that Mennonite promotion of the Christian peace witness was an expression of American democracy. This peace witness included publications and international conferences on the biblical basis of pacifism. Enns quotes Harold Buller, who succeeded Kreider at CRALOG, that MCC offered “a healthy balance of Christian character and American democracy.”

One example of this alleged democratic message was conversations with European leaders about peace as a central theme of the Christian faith. From 1955 to 1967 a series of five “Puidoux” conferences, named after the town where the first meeting was held, were held. A brilliant young theologian, John Howard Yoder, was the primary Mennonite spokesman. Mennonite participants were greatly encouraged by the openness of European religious intellectuals to the pacifist gospel.

Yoder and his fellow Mennonites were anti-militarists. One wonders whether they would have agreed with Enns’ implication that their anti-military gos­pel somehow fit with the American democratic military crusade that had helped to destroy Germany and to carpet-bomb Japanese cities.

A very different Mennonite-background evangelical mission to postwar Germany was that of the Janz Team, an organization that originated with a quartet of young Canadian men who had grown up on farms of Mennonite refugees from Russia. The Janz Team did not preach Christian nonresistance. They were distinctive for their radio broadcasting, use of German traditional Protestant hymnody and primary residence in Germany. Over the years they helped bring fundamentalist tent crusade evangelism closer to the evangelical mainstream in Germany. Along with the Youth for Christ evangelistic programs, the Janz Team had an impact “as ambassadors of a wider set of democratic values that American conservative evangelicals in particular associated with the Christian message.”

The Janz team and the Billy Graham crusades were cultural ambassadors who changed the means and the style of evangelism to including massive tent meetings, Christian rock music and radio broadcasting. Enns devotes a full chapter to the Graham crusades.

Enns concludes that the immediate goal of Protestant missions in the postwar decades was to “restore a vibrant Protestant presence to Germany.” His book teaches much about American Protestant missions but somewhat less about German Protestantism. It also includes insights about American foreign relations and the development of world Christianity. A growing concern about secularization of German society appears rather late in the postwar decades. American Prot­estants were in the vanguard of new understandings of world Christianity and a view of former Christendom countries as a new mission field.

James C. Juhnke is professor emeritus of history at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan.


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