Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Unsettled ChristianityOne blog to rule them all, One blog to find them, One blog to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was one of the most compelling theologians of the twentieth century. Moreover, his life and writings continue to fascinate and challenge Christians worldwide. The Wheaton Theology Conference will explore Bonhoeffer’s thought and ministry, focusing particularly on his views of Jesus Christ, the Christian community, and the church’s engagement with culture. In the twenty-first century, Bonhoeffer’s legacy is as provocative and powerful as ever.
Go here. You can register and see previous conferences
Dietrich Bonhoeffer To Eberhard Bethage, April, 1944:
What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience–and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving toward a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as “religious” do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by “religious.”
Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the “religious a priori” of mankind. “Christianity” has always been a form–perhaps the true form–of “religion.” But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was a historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless–and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any “religious” reaction?)–what does that mean for “Christianity”? It means that the foundation is taken away from the whole of what has up to now been our “Christianity,” and that there remain only a few “last survivors of the age of chivalry,” or a few intellectually dishonest people that we are to pounce in fervor, pique, or indignation, in order to sell them goods? Are we to fall upon a few unfortunate people in their hour of need and exercise a sort of religious compulsion on them? If we don’t want to do all that, if our final judgment must be that the Western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity–and even this garment has looked very different at different times–then what is a religionless Christianity?
The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God–without religion, i.e., without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even “speak” as we used to) in a “secular” way about God? In what way are we “religionless-secular” Christians, in what way are we those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?
The Pauline question of whether [circumcision] is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation. Freedom from [circumcision] is also freedom from religion. I often ask myself why a “Christian instinct” often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, but which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, “in brotherhood.” While I’m often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people–because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it’s particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable)–to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course.
The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God. God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village…How this religionless Christianity looks, what form it takes, is something that I’m thinking about a great deal, and I shall be writing to you again about it soon. It may be that on us in particular, midway between East and West, there will fall a heavy responsibility.
To Eberhard Bethage, July 18, 1944:
[Religious man] must therefore live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. He must live a “secular” life, and thereby share in God’s sufferings. He may live a “secular” life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man–not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.
To Eberhard Bethage, July 21, 1944:
During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…
Beck is ramping up more eschatological fear and terror (I wonder why he hasn’t bought into the May 21st thing yet) with this later event announced on today’s show.
He’s quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer of all people. That’s like Jim West quoting N.T. Wright, and especially getting it so very wrong…
Now, start listening to what he is calling for… he wants to go to Jerusalem for a last stand…
Glenn… Ezekiel hasn’t been written for 5000 years….
And… ‘Gates of Hell’…. I wonder if he knows what that really means…
And does anyone else think that he sounds like a prosperity preacher?
This was originally posted here, but Cindy agreed to let me cross-post it. – Joel
Last night I woke up somewhere between 1-2 am, and as usual, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I tend to grab my phone to check the time and then hop on Facebook for a few minutes. Of course, it only took me a matter of seconds once I opened up my Facebook application to see the news spattered across my newsfeed that Osama bin Laden had been killed. My first gut response was, “Good!” but then as I read various people’s reactions to the news, I started to more seriously consider this piece of news and its implications. There is no doubt that this is a significant moment in American history. This is a man who has reveled in the atrocities of the world and has cast a dark cloud of terror over the past decade. The world is probably better off without him. And yet, is this moment a call for celebration, or is it a moment in which we come to recognize and grieve over the absolute brokenness of our world? Is this a moment for Christians to rejoice, or a moment for Christians to pray and work towards the day when God’s peace will reign, when the lion will lay down with the lamb, when death will be no more?
I’ll be honest and say that a question that I perpetually struggle with and will likely struggle with until the day I die is the place and use of violence in our world, especially for Christians. My senior thesis in college sought to answer this question, and it drove my Masters thesis at St. Andrews. I’ve spent hours upon hours writing on this topic and many more hours reading about it and thinking on it and wrestling with it, and will continue to do so. With that said, I believe that the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers us some wisdom during this significant moment of American history. Please bear with me, this may be a longer post that usual, but I think it is a topic that needs careful consideration and faithful reflection.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who lived and worked during the reign of the Third Reich of Nazi Germany. He has been celebrated by many as a martyr for the faith, being one who spoke out and acted against the inhumane acts committed by the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer, from the beginning, had strongly rooted beliefs in non-violent resistance. He stood firmly in line with the long tradition of Christian pacifism. Nonetheless, as the atrocities of the Third Reich continued, he found himself drawn in to the underground political resistance and took part in two assassination attempts on Hitler’s life. How did Bonhoeffer make this move from pacifism to actively trying to take a life? Did his ethics change? Were his actions justified? Is violence ever ok in the eyes of God? These are all questions that help frame our response as Christians to the death of Osama bin Laden.
In his essay, “The Church and the People of the World,” Bonhoeffer focuses on the idea that God has commanded peace among his people and his Church. Bonhoeffer saw it as the primary responsibility of Christians to keep this command, and he saw two possible responses to it: 1) to strive always to live into peace or
2) the hypothetical question of the serpent: “Yeah, hath God said…?” This question is the mortal enemy of all real peace. “Has God not said? Has God not understood human nature well enough to know that wars must occur in this world, like laws of nature? Must God not have meant that we should talk about peace, to be sure, but also make ready tanks and poison gas for security?” And then perhaps the most serious question: “Did God say that you should not protect your own people? Did God say that you should leave your own prey to the enemy?
For Bonhoeffer, the only response was the first response, to strive towards that ultimate peace. Peace lies in the hands of God rather than in weapons and in violence. The way of peace is not one of security, but of one that leads to the cross. This is the peace that God demands. If evil does not meet the resistance that it expects, it will eventually run itself to a standstill. Violence that fails to evoke violence in return fails. (He explores this more in his most famous book, The Cost of Discipleship, which is a book every follower of Christ should read). But how does a man who holds to this belief come to the point of trying to take another man’s life?
One thing that Bonhoeffer did not do was to retreat from the reality of the world. For years he attempted to work through the means of non-violent resistance. For years he led a resistance movement within the German church, attempting to jam a spoke in the wheel of the Third Reich. But those efforts did not make much difference and the Nazi machine continued to commit worsening atrocities as Hitler pushed across Europe and sent more and more Jews, gypsies, and others to concentration camps. Bonhoeffer came to a point where he started to feel the need to move towards other forms of resistance. Nonetheless, he continued to remember that “those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Even though Bonhoeffer was making this move towards a more violent resistance, he still saw these actions as always subject to judgment from God. Bonhoeffer became a double agent in the Abwehr, an underground political movement that was seeking to overthrow Hitler and the Third Reich. Outwardly, he appeared to support Hitler, but in reality he was an information gatherer to further the efforts of overthrowing Hitler. Eventually, these efforts still proved not enough, and he took part in two unsuccessful assassination attempts on Hitler’s life. Bonhoeffer was arrested shortly thereafter, not for these attempts, but for his participation in “Operation 7,” which was an initiative to smuggle a group of Jews out of Germany. While Bonhoeffer was in prison, his participation in the assassination attempts were uncovered, and it was for this that he was hanged.
I share all of these details to lead up to this point, which I think is crucial: Bonhoeffer did not see his actions of violence as a good under any circumstances. Instead, the were only a lesser evil than the evils being perpetuated by Hitler and his regime. Bonhoeffer knew that if he took up the sword that he would perish by the sword, and he did not try to deny this. Even through this difficult decision, Bonhoeffer knew that assassination was not something that God could approve of, but nonetheless, because he had such a strong sense of social responsibility, he felt that he had no choice but to sacrifice himself and immerse himself in the world and the ways of the world in this particular instance. But he says these words that are certainly also for us today, at this moment of history:
Before other people, the man of free responsibility is justified by necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience; but before God he hopes only for grace.
I recognize that the death of bin Laden is welcomed by many. I understand that some people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks might be feeling some sense of closure or justice. I myself feel a bit of relief at the news. I certainly remember my sheer horror, anger, and grief as I watched the events of 9/11 unfold, and I have not forgotten. I do not forget the great sacrifices our military men and women make each day to prevent things like that from happening again on our soil. I do not deny that the bin Laden’s death may have been a necessary evil, and a lesser evil than the evils he perpetuated, but it is still an evil just the same. If Bonhoeffer’s witness has any truth to offer us, it is this: violence and killing are never something that God desires. Our actions may be justified before our fellow human beings, they may be justified before our own consciences, but they will never be seen as a true good before God. I am thankful that we do have the hope of God’s grace, but every act of violence, every act of killing, even if we believe it is justified, requires us to go before God with truly repentant hearts.
As I look at news articles and videos from around our country responding to the death of bin Laden, and the celebratory fervor that is taking place, I understand something of the sentiment, but find the gleeful abandon very troubling. Yes, it was at the hands of this man that thousands of our citizens were killed. Yes, it was at the hands of this man that sons lost fathers, husbands lost wives, parents lost children. Yes, he has caused grief for some beyond which I am able to imagine. Yes, this man committed evil acts and rejoiced in atrocities. Yet this truth still prevails over all of that: for Christians, the only death worth celebrating is the one that takes away the sin of the world.
In New York, they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ…. So what stands in place of the Christian message? An ethical and social idealism borne by a faith in progress that – who knows how? – claims the right to call itself ‘Christian’. And in the place of the church as the congregation of believers in Christ there stands the church as a social corporation. Anyone who has seen the weekly program of one of the large New York churches, with their daily, indeed almost hourly events, teas, lectures, concerts, charity events, opportunities for sports, games, bowling, dancing for every age group, anyone who has become acquainted with the embarrassing nervousness with which the pastor lobbies for membership – that person can well assess the character of such a church…. In order to balance out the feeling of inner emptiness that arises now and then (and partly also to refill the church’s treasury), some congregations will if possible engage an evangelist for a ‘revival’ once a year. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (c. late 1930′s)
“Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are…. [The church will] be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.” – from Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963
Who then is the prophet of our generation calling the Church back to Christ and away from nationalism, pride, war, high society and political intervention?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 8: Letters and Papers From Prison
Author: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Editor: John W. de Gruchy
Hardcover: 800 pages
Publisher: Fortress Press, 2010
I recently received a copy of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, part of the Bonhoeffer Works series from Fortress Press. The sixteen volume series is claimed to be “the definitive English translation of Bonhoeffer’s theological and other writings. It includes a great deal of material that appears for the first time in English, as well as documents discovered only after the publication of the original German volumes.” (xvii)
Letters and Papers from Prison contains 206 letters written to or by Dietrich Bonhoeffer from April 11, 1943 to February 28, 1945. It was originally compiled by Eberhard Bethge (August 28, 1909-March 18, 2000), a close friend of Bonhoeffer and a fellow resister of the Nazis. Bethge was also a biographer of Bonhoeffer.
My favorite letter/paper was #187: Outline for a Book. This paper was written after the failed attempt on Hitler’s life (annotated by Bethge as August 3, 1944). Here, Bonhoeffer outlines a three chapter book:
1. Taking Stock of Christianity; 2. What is Christian faith, really? 3. Conclusions. (499)
In this letter, Bonhoeffer draws some interesting conclusions about what it means to be the church. How the church is supposed to get there is even more interesting.
The church is church only when it is there for others. As a first step it must give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the freewill offering of the congregations and perhaps be engaged in some secular vocation [Beruf]. The church must participate in the worldly tasks of life in the community-not dominating but helping and serving. It must tell people in every calling [Beruf] what a life with Christ is, what it means “to be there fore others.” (503)
I don’t know of too many Lutheran pastors who would agree with Bonhoeffer here…at least concerning their vocation…but it’s an interesting thought nonetheless. It is a shame that all we have is this paper that contains the rough outline.
This is an excellent resource for those studying Bonhoeffer. There are a plethora footnotes that cross-reference other letters/papers in this volume as well as other volumes in the series. These notes contain other information as well, including information on whether the specific paper/letter was published, or if excerpts were published as well as background context for the letter/paper.. This is the scholar’s edition of Letters and Papers from Prison.
While not my favorite book in the series to date, this book is an important reference to one of the greatest theological minds of the 20th century.
I received this book free from Fortress Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expresses in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
The Pfarrernotbund (English: Emergency Covenant of Pastors) was an organisation founded on 11 September 1933 to unite German evangelical theologians, pastors and church office-holders against the introduction of the Aryan paragraph into the 28 Protestant regional church bodies and the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche (DEK) and against the efforts by Reich-bishop Ludwig Müller and the German Christians (DC) since April 1933 to merge the German evangelical churches into one “Reich’s church”, that would be Nazi in ideology and entirely lacking any Jewish or Christian origins. As a Christian resistance to National Socialism it was the forerunner of the Confessing Church, founded the following year. (Start here and then find more to read)
On April 9, 1945, 65 years ago today, just a few weeks before an allied offensive brought Germany to its knees and ended World War II in Europe, a young, mild-mannered Lutheran theologian was hanged by the Nazis in Flossenburg Concentration Camp.
His crime … conspiring to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theological genius of the 20th century, is now emerging as a war hero, martyr and spy.
“What is so amazing about the story of Bonhoeffer is that he puts a completely different spin for us as Americans on World War II,” says Eric Metaxas, author of “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (Thomas Nelson, 2010), the first biography in 40 years of this influential Christian. The book is being released on Friday, the anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s execution. (read the rest here)