Tag Archives: spiritual warfare

Dark Nights of the Soul – the Leadership Journal article


Here is the finished, significantly revised and polished form of the Leadership Journal article I wrote this summer on “dark nights of the soul” in the lives and thought of C S Lewis, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Martin Luther (the longer forms of each person’s story are linked at the end of this post):

The following article is located at:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2011/fall/historydarkness.html

Leadership Journal

A History of Darkness
The struggles of these spiritual giants yielded unexpected blessings.
Chris R. Armstrong

Monday, November 7, 2011

Christian faith is built on presence. Whether in the pillar of fire, the still small voice, or the incarnate Son, God has been Emmanuel, “with us.” He has promised never to leave or forsake us. In thousands of hymns, we have sung of an experienced intimacy with God in Christ. We have prayed, wept, and rested in his presence.

For a committed Christian, then, nothing is more devastating than divine absence, spiritual loneliness, the experience of our prayers hitting a ceiling of brass. Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Anfechtungen–his own dark nights of the soul, and how they affected his teaching and ministry


Martin Luther 2

Image via Wikipedia

Well, it seems that each of the three sections of my forthcoming article for Leadership Journal has ballooned to the projected size of the whole piece: 2,500 words. So if I am to share in full what I have learned about Martin Luther’s teachings about spiritual depression (Luther is the third of three figures in the article, along with C. S. Lewis and Mother Teresa of Calcutta), it will need to be here:

Perhaps just as surprising as the story of Mother Teresa is that of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. Well known is the story of how, as a young monk, Martin struggled mightily with a sense of his own sinfulness and inability to please God. This struggle culminated in the revelation that triggered the Reformation: righteousness is not within our ability to achieve; God himself freely gives it. Surely such a truth would free a man like Luther from all spiritual darkness. And yet it did not. Again and again throughout his life he descended into severe spiritual anxiety and emotional struggle, starting with a particularly long and intense depression that begin a scant few years after the Reformation, in 1527. During that period, he heard a haunting inner voice that asked him again and again, “Du bist allein Klug?” “You alone know everything?” That is, what if you are leading thousands of people into damning error and breaking the church? At this, said one Luther scholar, “self-reproach plummeted him into the utter depths of despair.”

Historian David Steinmetz describes the terror which Luther experienced at these times as a fear that “God had turned his back on him once and for all,” abandoning him “to suffer the pains of hell.” Feeling “alone in the universe,” Luther “doubted his own faith, his own mission, and the goodness of God—doubts which, because they verged on blasphemy, drove him deeper and deeper” into despair. His prayers met a “wall of indifferent silence.” He experienced heart palpitations, crying spells and profuse sweating. He was convinced that he would die soon and go straight to hell. “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God.’” His faith was as if it had never been. He “despised himself and murmured against God.” Indeed, his friend Philip Melanchthon said that the terrors afflicting Luther became so severe that he almost died. The term “spiritual warfare” seems apt. Continue reading

How to get to know Johann Christoph Blumhardt: A never-before-translated biography


Now that I have your attention on the Blumhardts, here is the very first English translation of the standard German biography of the elder Blumhardt, Johann Christoph. This is the first in what will become a 10-book series edited by my colleague Christian Collins Winn.

The price-tag is aimed more at libraries than individuals, but it’s well worth looking up.

I hope to give it at least a quick read over the coming months and report back. Meanwhile, you might want to click the link above and then either pick it up or look for it through your local library system.

Rick Warren says: U need to know Christoph Blumhardt. OK. Blum-who?


Well, we should all know about Johann and (his son) Christoph Blumhardt–that’s for sure. And not just because Rick Warren tweeted the other day and said that we should (the tweet read: “Wherever a handful stand together on the Rock, the realities of God’s Kingdom appear” Christoph Blumhardt (U need to know him)).

You’re in luck! My brilliant friend and colleague, the rising theologian Christian Collins Winn, who teaches at Bethel University (my seminary’s sister institution) has written and continues to write on these fascinating Blumhardts. And when I asked, he was only too happy to provide the following brief meditation on their lives and theology(ies):

[UPDATE: Here is a post describing a never-before-translated biography of the elder Blumhardt.]

Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805–1880) and his son Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919) would certainly qualify as  “neglected theologians.”  Both Blumhardts, charismatic pastors from southwestern Germany (Württemberg), managed to be two of the most influential “theologians” of the later half of the nineteenth-century without anyone, at least not anyone in the English speaking world, really knowing about it.  But don’t take my word for it, listen to Emil Brunner speaking about the origins of what has come to be called dialectical theology: “The real origin of the Dialectic Theology is to be traced, however, not to Kierkegaard, but to a more unexpected source, to a place still farther removed from the main theological thoroughfare-to the quiet Boll of the two Blumhardts.”[1] Or consider these words recently published by Jürgen Moltmann: “My ‘Theology of Hope’ has two roots: Christoph Blumhardt and Ernst Bloch.”[2]

Rhetorical hyperbole you say?  Perhaps, but given that not only Brunner and Moltmann, but Karl Barth, Eduard Thurneysen, Friedrich Gogarten, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Cullman, Paul Tillich and Gerhard Sauter all claim to have been influenced, or at the very least,  to have known the thought of the two Blumhardts with some intimacy, a strong case can be made that the “pastors from Boll” had an important role in shaping the theological imagination of one of the most creative generations of Protestant thought in recent memory.  This fact alone warrants the Blumhardts far more attention than they have received. Continue reading