On the death of my dear teacher, Georg Huntemann, – especially on ethics and Judaism – my obituary appeared in 2014 in the journal of the Martin Bucer Seminary “Glauben und Denken heute” in issue 1/2014 (PDF) together with a classical essay by Huntemann “Eigentum als Schöpfungsordnung Gottes”.

Here I present the text and my two photos from old times:

My Teacher Georg Huntemann: Requescat in Pace

Private Annotations

On February 13th, 2014, my teacher, prof. Dr. theol. dr. phil. Georg Huntemann (born June 10th, 1929) passed away at the age of 84. Thereto the Weser Kurier of Feb. 20th 2014 reports:

“Pastor Georg Huntemann, one of the most controversial conservative evangelical theologians in Germany, is dead. According to an announcement of the St. Martini Church of Bremen, he died on Thursday last week at an age of 84. Among other things, he strictly disapproved ecclesiastical blessing of homosexual couples and the ordination of women. He served as a pastor at the St. Martini Church from 1974 to 1987.”

Thus, from the perspective of the ‘zeitgeist’, which Huntemann denounced all through his lifetime, this is all that remains of a very prolific life with decades of activity as a university teacher, and more than thirty books!

From 1978 to 1982, Huntemann was my teacher in Basel, and from 1991 to 1996 he was my colleague and mentor in Basel, during which time I took over from him the ethics seminars for two semesters, and we scheduled block teaching into those weeks. Originally I was supposed to wholly succeed Huntemann in October 1995 (and at the same time also, as desired by the principal of STH, Samuel Külling, be his own successor in the office of the principal), but then, as we were all sitting ready to hear the announcement of the handover (see photo – Huntemann sitting to my right), the principal declared that, after 25 years of rectorate, God had granted him another 25 years. All of us took it more or less as a joke, but nonetheless I, soon after that, terminated my teaching assignments in mission and religious studies and ethics at the STH und handed the teaching subject of ethics back to Huntemann, who now, instead of the desired retirement, was obliged to teach ethics for some more years, whereas he at the ETF in Leuven he was able to transfer ethics to his former doctoral student Patrick Nullens. (As late as one semester after that, unfortunately a press debate was held in Switzerland, in which Külling opposed me; but shortly before his death, on the occasion of a conference in St. Chrischona, he apologized and reconciliated with me, which meant a lot to me.)

Ironically through an encounter with the just as powerfully eloquent Billy Graham, Huntemann’s liberal theological worldview was shaken – even though he had originally come to criticise him. He experimented with Russian-Orthodox liturgy and incense, but ultimately ended in Bremen’s  Reformed-Calvinistic tradition. He preached about sexual ethics and Satan, began to attack the liberal Lutheran Church and eventually wrote his first book, “Attack on Modernism – Christian Faith Yesterday and Tomorrow” (1966), and all this in a liberal church steeped in tradition with two very liberal colleagues. Finally, in 1967, the St. Remberti Church showed him the door; six of the twelve “deacons” (being equivalent to presbyters) resigned, as the church declared, that, to be sure, they “had been a haven full of freedom of faith, conscience and doctrine” for centuries, but that “in the tradition of St. Remberti the Gospel would be represented in the spirit of free Protestantism, which way of faith should also ‘in unity be maintained for the future’”. The newspaper Die ZEIT reported about this in 1967 and wrote among other things:

“Together with two colleagues, Georg Huntemann has worked for ten years at St. Remberti, in a church, to which, according to the senior clergy of St. Remberti, ‘due to their liberal tradition, liturgism and clericalism is anathema’. In the opinion of his theological opponent, Huntemann has developed from a ‘liberal’ to a ‘fundamentalist’ and has thereby brought the church to the verge of a poisened scism’.”

Thus Huntemann, at an age of 38, unvoluntarely changed from St. Remberti to the local Epiphanias Church, from where he eventually returned permanently, from 1974 to 1987, to the venerable city church St. Martini, the church of his first work experience, where also the funeral service was held.

Since 1970, the founding year of the “Free Theological Faculty” in Basel, which was subsequently named Staatsunabhängige Theologische Hochschule [Independent Theological Highschool] (STH), Huntemann taught there as a full professor for Ethics and Apologetics until the year 2004. In addition he holds a professorship at the Evangelical-Theological Faculty in Leuven (Belgium).

Huntemann as a Lutheran can only be understood in the context of the Bremen Church, which differs from all other German Lutheran churches in the fact, that in her the independence of the local churches is a paramount principle and that therefore her church government is not comparable to any of the other Lutheran churches. Moreover, in Bremen every church member has the right to decide, without parochial pressure, which local church he wants to associate with, so that several local churches with distinct focusses have emerged.

My own first two major works, my Commentary on Romans, “Der Römerbrief” (Huntemann on the back cover: “Really excellent thoughts and vistas … almost ingenious perspectives”) and the “Ethics” (ditto: “A theological masterpiece – take it and read”) were greatly promoted by Huntemann, even though I’m aware of the fact, that he would never express such exaggerations without a smile. Nevertheless, I give him all the more credit for this, as I have not always been on a par with him, and as he occasionally found me too pussyfooting, and, most of all, as he was more interested in pursuing the broad lines than in “small pietistic pretty-pretty stuff”, as he called it, whereas I had special interest in a fusion between my pietistic background and my Reformed worldview and an endeavour for openminded, ecumenically informed and academically safeguarded ethics, which is why I always understood and understand ethics as sanctification.

That his “Biblical Ethos in the Age of Moral Revolution” (1999) was issued as late as five years after my “Ethics” – in fact in the same blue textbook-series of Hänssler publishing house –, is a very deplorable fact, but he was the kind of professor, who write their principle work toward the end of their creative period.

Huntemann again and again saw himself and called himself the “only really existent rightwing-Barthian”, but he was prepared to extend that title to me. One, who has noticed in my “Ethics” of 1994 the frequency of occurrance of Barth’s (but also of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and Emil Brunner’s) ethics, can easily pursue this thread to me. In passing, this also applies to my doctor supervisor in philosophy, the jewish philosopher of religion, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, whose footprints can be traced directly to my investigations of National Socialism (primarely in “Hitler’s War Religion”). Being influenced by Schoeps, Huntemann (as well as, later, myself) always had a high regard for Old Testament Judaism and its Torah – and therewith bucked the trend of liberal, and also some conservative theological schools. To this day, the Torah is, in my view, the constitution of the church, which, just as a modern constitution as a written guideline standing above all else, limits human authority.

Huntemann’s view of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“The Other Bonhoeffer”, 1989) I have perpetuated with full conviction (“The four mandates: Highly Topical Core Element of Biblical Ethics”, pages 7-38 in Thomas Schirrmacher (ed.) The Four Orders of God’s Creation: Church, State, Economy and Family with Ditrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther. VTR: Nuremberg, 2001; „Foreword“, pages 5-18 in: Hans-Arved Willberg and others “Einer von uns? Evangelikale Beiträge zu Theologie und Leben Dietrich Bonhoeffers.” (“One of Us? Evangelical Contributions to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Theology and Life”) VTR, Nuremberg, 2006; as special print: „Einer von uns? Beiträge zu Theologie und Leben Dietrich Bonhoeffers“, MBS Texte 68. Bonn: Martin Bucer Seminar, 2006).

Disciples of Huntemann among the occupants of professional chairs of Ethics could hardly be more varying, even though they are all located in the wider orbit of Reformed Christianity. Christian Frei, his only doctoral student at the STH, Basel, probably comes closest to Huntemann, as regards contents, and now holds Huntemann’s chair. Huntemann’s spunky temperament is alien to him, though. Patrick Nullen, his only doctoral student at ETF, brings evangelical theology into conversation with academic ethnical debate of all disciplines und formulates fundamental ethnical values in a way, which even expert colleagues with non-Christian orientation can relate to. From Huntemann’s point of view that would not have been avowing enough and not sufficiently argued from the basis of infallable Scripture, but he would have greatly appreciated, that the philosophical debate is being held and that ethics are now being considered from the most fundamental standpoint. Jürgen-Burkhard Klautke, on the other hand, has chosen the way to even surpass Huntemann on militancy and acerbity. Huntemann would have missed the academic wide range and the inclusion of non-theological disciplines, but the robust and aggressive elements of speech would have easily reminded him of his own.

My own path was to be none of this. As the years passed, being less and less “dressed up for strife” (as I still was in the 1990s) and more and more well read in old and new literature of all denominations and in secular literature of all sorts, being too much bothered (according to Huntemann’s view) with detailed exegesis and ethical single issues, such as “Are Christians allowed to vow?” (Huntemann: “Take the plunge, don’t get stuck in studying the pretty-pretty stuff!”), in addition, becoming proficient in Anglo-Saxon theology and increasingly interested in worldwide theology, I nevertheless theologically remained within Huntemann’s orbit, and no theologian among my teachers has influenced me as much as he has. To be sure, the socio-religious shaping by Karl Hoheisel, Manfred Funke and by the late Peter Berger was added, but all this rather blended in with the broad perspective of the worldview drawn by Huntemann.

Furthermore, Huntemann has unwittingly passed on nine things to me – which became apparent to me only much later:

  1. The live literally in a vast private library, because, from the outset, even confessional theology has to listen as much as possible to friend and foe, living or departed, contemporary or authored 1800 years ago.
  2. To be well-versed in an additional, non-theological discipline – in his case philosophy, in my case sociology and comparative Religious Studies. The fact that there were several professors at our “biblically orientated” college, who had graduated twice (e.g. Eberhard Grossmann in theology and psychology, Friso Melzer in theology and German studies, Georg Huntemann in theology and philosophy), was, from my present viewpoint, a piece of luck, which, intentionally or not, added a broad perspective to the narrow theology. In his above mentioned obituary Nullens says: “Georg Huntemann studied theology in Hamburg, Erlangen, Zürich, Tübingen, Göttingen and Bern. He earned two doctorates. His knowledge of German theology was profound and phenomenal. But he was equally at home in philosophy. His interpretation of Martin Heidegger and Friederich Nietzsche was original and fresh. As is fitting for a European intellectual, he moved seamlessly between philosophy, the humanities, and theology.”
  3. To Huntemann, theology first and foremost, was worldview, in the most comprehensive sense of an interpretation of world, mankind and history. Thereby theology, on the one hand, naturally competed all other worldviews, religious and non-religious, but was, on the other hand, also required to thematize not only problems of an individual nature, but at the same time to address the areas of politics, arts, technology, education and many more.
  4. The coherence between the parish office, meaning active personal engagement for the local church of Jesus Christ, and the academic teaching profession. Huntemann presented his lectures in the style of sermons, and his sermons were contentual heavyweights; pulpit and teachers desk for him – as for Bucer and Calvin – were not far apart. This – besides his rhetorical skills – was undoubtedly the reason, why he, for decades, filled big halls in Germany, Austria and Switzerland with his theological lectures, camparable only to his theological opponent, Eugen Drewermann.
  5. Huntemann’s role models were the prophets in the Old Testament. Patrick Nullens, in his excellent obituary, puts it in a nutshell: “This brings me to one of the most important characterizations of Huntemann’s style and method. Theology and Ethics are always contextual and prophetic. They are not abstract, but always a reaction to a concrete challenge in society.”
  6. The importance of a readiness for suffering for the sake of theology and piety. Although this readiness in my case rather took shape in an engagement for discriminated and persecuted Christians, this does not change the fact, that Huntemann never regarded suffering as antithetical to the faith, and that he always emphasized, that Christian faith was never to suppress the readiness to suffer and that the theme of suffering must be a crucial element in dogmatics and in ethics.
  7. The meaning of Scripture: The Bible is a Torah, a constitution of the church, to which – just as to a political constitution – all people are subordinated. Supreme authority is a paper, which represents the supreme authority, which, in this case, is God. He, who rejects such a “paper-pope”, needs a human person above Scripture, whether it’s the pope, or a caste of liberal theologians. The Holy Spirit is being represented within the church by God’s written Testament. Thus, although in many ecclesiastical debates the issue of Scripture may not visibly take center stage, it ultimately always does, because we only know our Lord and Master Jesus Christ by and from Scripture. Huntemann’s favorite title, which he always wrote along with his name and which also appears on his obituary notice, was the old Calvinistic and Bremian designation “V.D.M.”, short for Verbi Dei Minister, servant of the Word of God. Nothing more and nothing less.
  8. Huntemann loved to pillory pietistic and evangelical hypocracy, whether it be in small and great instances. In doing so, he never missed a chance to mention himself as a case in point. Ironic remarks about himself were an integral part of all his lectures. He constantly illustrated ‘simul iustus et peccator’ by his own weaknesses. At the same time he denounced the „pious knuckling“ before titles, offices would-be important people in church, media and politics, and especially – one of his standard phrasings – the “lacking courage before the thrones of bishops” and the “unability of the pious” (resulting from their “theological fussyness”) to follow the historical exampel of Barmen, 1935 in constituting a Confessional Synod.
  9. Moreover, Huntemann had a self-critical view – adopted from John Calvin – on the theologians’ status, whose legitimacy he questioned and before whose life of its own he warned. Time and again he warned me, that theologians, even conservative theologians, were one of the most voracious species, who often would rather devour one another than fight the evil in the world. And yet, he was himself a full-blooded theologian, who did not hesitate to make pointed statements. What Nullens wrote, word for word coincides with my own experience: “Discussions were sometimes like a sword fight, lightly wounding one’s partner, leaving one better prepared for the next round. In the fire of the battle one was no longer a colleague or doctoral student, but a combatant and friend whom he fully trusted. Behind the mask of a dramatic robustness hid a vulnerable man with a great heart for God and his Church, a man overflowing with love and passion.”

Nobody criticized the conservative ecclesiastical world more sharply; nobody was more ready to take position for the faith and the confessing church and to receive blows. This symbiosis of self-criticism and self-confidence of Reformed and evangelical existence is something, that I want to continue to take inspiration from.


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