Thomas Kelly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Search for Community

The following is an excerpt from a paper presented by ESR student Diane Reynolds at the June 2012 conference of the Friends Association for Higher Education. The paper was originally written for a History of Christianity II course with Ken Rogers:


Although separated by nationality and denomination, Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly and Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had surprisingly similar faith journeys. Both were transformed by their encounters with the divine, and for both, their search for meaning was structured by their shared social location as Euro-centric early twentieth century white males.

In their most famous writings, which were informed by their experiences of German totalitarianism, each man shared a similar quest: to find a vehicle for the Christian faith that would transcend the limitations of convention. Each came away with the conviction that developing small, cohesive “monastic” student groups was critically important to reinvigorating the church and hence society. In an era of increased isolation, in which on-line education is aggressively marketed as the answer to the cost of higher education, Bonhoeffer and Kelly’s monastic models are relevant to the survival of Quaker liberal arts colleges.

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