Dietrich Bonhoeffer — April 9

Dietrich Bonhoeffer at 18 in 1924

Bible connection

Read Matthew 5:38-42

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

All about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister were born in a Prussian city (now in Poland) in 1906. His family moved to Berlin a few years later. Bonhoeffer earned a doctorate in theology at the age of 21 from one if the most prestigious universities in the world at the time – the University of Berlin.  He began to work as a pastor and also continued to pursue academic studies which took him to Spain and then to Harlem. Dissatisfied with the lack of rigor at Union Seminary, where he was teaching and doing post graduate work, he became a disciple and Sunday school teacher at Abyssinian Baptist Church, where his love for spirituals developed along with his deep desire for the Church to change the world.

Two years after his return to Germany, the Nazi Party rose to power. Bonhoeffer was overtly critical of the regime and a resister from the beginning.  While Hitler and the Nazis infiltrated and found a stronghold in the German Church, Bonhoeffer was building something new in Germany through the Confessing Church.  After only a few months living under Nazi control, Bonhoeffer moved to London to work on international ecumenical work. He was very frustrated with the state of the German church.

Two years later, rather than going to study non-violent civil disobedience under Gandhi, he returned to Germany, responding to the repeated pleas and demands of Swiss theologians and Karl Barth, who’s battle cry, “Revelation, not religion!” would remain a basic element of Bonhoeffer’s theology to the end. Barth was sent back to Switzerland and Bonhoeffer found the Confessing Church to be under fire by the Nazis.  He soon lost his credentials to teach because he was a “pacifist and enemy of the state.”  He began underground seminaries and further resisted.

Bonhoeffer became more involved in direct resistance and was arrested in 1943.  He was part of a group that was responsible both for attempts at liberating Jews and attempting to assassinate Hitler. His pacifism has been widely written about, especially in light of this glaring contradiction. In the last 10 years historians have disputed the assumption that Bonheoffer deserted his pacifism for the practicality of assassination. See Mark Theissen’s book: Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging The Myth, Recovering His Call To Peacemaking (2013).

Dietrich was executed on this day in 1945, two weeks before US soldiers liberated the  camp where he was imprisoned.  He is largely considered a martyr for the faith and for peace, and for being a Nazi resister.

Two of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most influential works are Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship this quote is from the latter:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.


Want to watch a small documentary about his life? Here is a [link] Another from 2003 [link] One is upcoming [link]

Bonhoeffer speaks out against Hitler [link]

His philosophy, theology and books. [link]

Biographer interview. [link]

What do we do with this?

Bonhoeffer applied himself to unmasking the lies of his culture and the ideologies that took God’s place. It was not easy, since the church was generally in line with them. In spite of state threat and lack of support from the church, he took risks to teach the truth, even moving back to Germany when he would have been safer elsewhere.

That kind of courage is demonstrated in the Bible repeatedly by people whose loves are trained on God. What threat do you feel from those you know and from the great “other” of the powers that be when it comes to expressing your faith in word and deed? Pray for courage. Pray that we build a confessing church in a culture of lies.

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