Bonhoeffer with his students at Finkenwalde Seminary.

Underground Seminary is inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the early 20th century German pastor, theologian and resistor. Bonhoeffer challenged the dualism within the Western Christian tradition that led to spiritual inwardness (and its obsession with personal innocence), theological abstraction, and social apathy. Instead, he emphasized the sociality of the faith through the incarnation. Jesus Christ must be real both personally and communally within the world. This led him to question the strictly academic approach to pastoral formation with his Finkenwalde seminary experiment during World War II. For Bonhoeffer, seminary education was a time of “intensive preparation for service to others,” with a focus on material reality, community life and non-anxious embodiment.

We are also in conversation with alternative seminary experiments across the country. Seminary education today is in crisis. This is connected to the larger collapse of Christendom (e.g., decline in student enrollment and funding) and the crisis of the university (e.g., rise of adjuncts, student debt). While we affirm the continuing need for traditional seminaries rooted in the university model to still serve the existing structures, we also recognize a need for new types of seminaries to emerge on completely different foundations for the church of the future. What does Christianity look like as a minority witness amidst larger imperial realities, and how can seminary education equip leaders to faithfully navigate this situation? The “radical discipleship” movement has been at the forefront of this reimagining, giving rise to a number of exciting experiments — e.g., The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia, PA; Seminary of the Street in Oakland, CA; Word and World in Greensboro, NC; and The Bartimaeus Institute in Ventura, CA. We seek to learn from these communities, while offering the opportunity for full-time study in a local-church context, bringing together critical learning, apprenticeship and intentional living in a worshiping community with others.

Inspired by Bonhoeffer and these alternative seminary experiments, Underground Seminary offers a “this-worldly” education rooted in the experience of “life together” that equips students to follow the way of Jesus in their time and place.