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Sometimes, it is helpful to see a timetable of a person’s life. Below is one Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I found this is at…
1906
4. February: the twins and Sabine Dietrich Bonhoeffer are born. They are the children of Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology Karl Bonhoeffer and his wife Paula (born von Hase).

1912 Moving the family to Berlin.
1923-1927
Protestant theology studies in Tuebingen, Rome and Berlin.

1927
Promotion in Berlin with the work “Sanctorum communio. An investigation of Sociology of the Church”.

1928
January: Bonhoeffer, the first theological exam.
Vicariate in Barcelona.

1929/30
Assistant at the Berlin Theological Faculty.

1930
Study stay at the Union Theological Seminary in New York (USA).

1931-1933
Lecturer at the University of Berlin and student priest at Berlin’s Technical University.
Bonhoeffer learns from Karl Barth in Bonn.

1933-1935
After Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor, he travels to Britain to care for the German Protestant community in London Sydenham.

1934
As the head of the German youth delegation, he takes an ecumenical meeting at Fanoe (Denmark) and warns in its “peace speech” from the looming threat of war.

1935-1937
Representatives of the “Confessional Church, Christianity and the Nazi racial ideology as incompatible with each other, Bonhoeffer ask for his return to Germany. Although he was aware of the risk Bekennens in the National Christian socialism is aware he follows the call to run the preacher seminary of “Confessional Church in Zingst and Finkenwerder Grove (near Stettin).

1936
August: His teaching permit is revoked for universities.

1937
A decree Heinrich Himmler, means the closure of the preacher Finkenwalder seminary. The work of Bonhoeffer goes underground.

1939
Bonhoeffer rejected an appeal in the United States and returns just before the start of the Second World War from a lecture tour of North America back to Germany.

1940
Bonhoeffer receives speech and writing ban.
Bonhoeffer’s siblings, Klaus Bonhoeffer and Christine von Dohnanyi, are involved in the resistance.

1940-1943
He receives the news about his brother Hans von Dohnanyi‘s connection to the political-military resistance to Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, who in office abroad / security supreme command of the Wehrmacht (OKW). As trust builds, Bonhoeffer becomes involved because of the help of his ecumenical contacts between the Western governments and the German resistance.

1942
In Sweden, he meets with a representative of the German opposition George Bell (1883-1949), the Bishop of Chichester. Both discuss peace plans for the elimination of Hitler. The British Foreign Ministry refuses, with a new German government to conclude peace, without such capitulated unconditionally.

1943
7. January: Engagements with Maria von Wedemeyer.
5. April: Bonhoeffer by the Secret State Police (Gestapo) under the accusation of military force arrested decomposition.

1943-1945
Detention in a military prison Berlin-Tegel, in Berlin’s Gestapo prison in the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse and in the concentration camps (KZ) Buchenwald.

1944
Only after the failed assassination attempt of 20 July 1944, Bonhoeffer’s resistance activity demonstrated.

1945
February: He moves into the camp Flossenbürg.
8. April: Shortly before the liberation of the camp by the U.S. Army, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wilhelm Canaris and Hans Oster of an SS-state court are sentenced to death.
9. April: In the early morning hours, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is executed by the strand.

1996
6. April 1945 and rehabilitated Bonhoeffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Rebel and Martyr

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Protestant Pastor and a theologian. He was known as one of the few figures of the thirties who could understand theology both in English and German. He was also one of the principal figures of the German Resistance to the Third Reich led by Adolf Hitler.

He was born on February 4th, 1906, in Breslau. He was the sixth child of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. His father was a well-known psychiatrist and neurology professor; his mother, one of the few women in those years with a university degree.

He studied theology in Tübingen, Berlin, and in the Theological Union Seminar in New York. He also took part in the European Ecumenical Movement.

After studying for three years in the Berlin University (1924 -1927) he wrote his lecture, Sanctorum Communio, and he obtained his doctorate with honors. The name of his thesis was Act and Essence approved in July 1930, which allowed him to give classes in the University of the German Capital.

From 1929 to 1930 Bonhoeffer carried out pastoral activities in a German Congregation in Barcelona.

After taking a post-graduate course in the Seminar of the Theological Union in New York, from 1930 to 1931, he went back to Berlin University to act as a lecturer in theology. In November of that very year he was ordained in St. Mathew Church in Berlin.

In September 1933, he helped organize the Pastors Emergency League. Afterwards he took office as a Pastor in the German Evangelic Church (the most important Protestant Church in the country) and in St. Paul Reformist Church in London.

During his stay in England, he developed a great friendship with George Bell, the influential bishop of Chichester. In May 1934, after organizing the Confessional Church in Barmen, Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went back to England to take on the seminar in Zingst town – a school which was moved to Finkenwalde, in Pomerania, that very year.

In September, 1937 the Gestapo closed the Finkenwalde seminar. In November, 27 of Bonhoeffer’s ex pupils were already in prison.

The Confessional Church had been born by the initiative of the most important opponents to the Nazi interference in the churches. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was among them.

In the essay The Church and the Jewish Question, wrote in 1933, Bonhoeffer was the first to deal with the emerging problems that had to be faced by the church under the Nazi regime.

Bonhoeffer made it clear that the church was obliged to fight against political injustice.

From his experiences in Finkenwalde not only two of his most known books came up, The Cost of Discipleship, and Community Life , but also his less known writings, such as Spiritual Care.

The Confessional Church held that Christianity was incompatible with the National Socialism and its racial doctrines. Bonhoeffer not only insisted in the freedom to preach the Gospels but he was also ready to risk his life as a Christian who withstood Hitler and who helped Jews to avoid being captured.

As a result of this, on August 5th, 1939, his authorization to teach in the Berlin University was withdrawn.

He went on forming pastors of the Confessional Church until 1939.

According to Robert S. Wistrich in his book Who’s Who in Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer repeatedly stated that “a church is a church, when it exists also for those that do not belong to it”, and he proclaimed its “unconditional obligation for those victims of any social system, even if they did not belong to the Christian Community”.

During his stay in Sweden, in May 1942, Bonhoeffer got in touch with the Foreign British Office. He carried there concrete offers of a resistance group he was part of, led by General Hans Oster and by General Ludwig Beck. The motion was turned down.

Bonhoeffer’s contacts and activities made him one of the principal suspects for the secret police and the Reich security services. After closing the seminar for a second time in 1940, the Gestapo prohibited him to speak, preach and publish his writings.

On April 5th, 1943, he was arrested and taken to prison, accused of rebelling against the army. After the trial against him in 1944, Bonhoeffer was sent to Buchenwald and finally to the concentration camp in Flossenbürg. On April 9th 1945 he was hung. He was 39 years old.

Three other members of his family were also murdered for taking part in the Protestant Resistance Movement.

The letters that he wrote during his last two years were posthumously published by his pupil and friend Berhard Bethge with the title Letters and Writings from the Prison. The letters to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, were published as Love Letters from Cell 92.

As a theologian, Bonhoeffer’s ideas and his discussion on a “Secular Christianity”, which were reinforced by his martyrdom, had a considerable influence upon the post war protestant thinking in Great Britain and America.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also a musician and the author of plays and poetry.

When I first became acquainted with Dietrich Bonhoeffer back in the 1970’s at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in St. Paul, MN, I was both fascinated and confused about his involvement in the resistance movement in Nazi Germany since he made it clear earlier in his life that he was a pacifist.

I have learned since that there was no contradiction in Bonhoeffer, but rather development of his original thoughts on living for Jesus in an evil society. Bonhoeffer’s varied responses corresponded to the three possible responses of the church he outlined in his address, “The Church and the Jewish Question” in April of 1933.[1] In the early years, Bonhoeffer’s response resembled “something of a ‘pacifist.’” [2] But as the historical conditions changed, Bonhoeffer reacted accordingly.

For example, Bonhoeffer eventually was involved in smuggling Jews out of Germany. He was a civilian member of Abwehr[3] from 1938 until his arrest in 1943.[4] This was the German Intelligence Service. Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, a staff member of Abwehr, recruited him as a front for exemption from being drafted into the military.[5] This gave Bonhoeffer an appearance of loyalty to the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer’s involvement with a movement to smuggle Jews out of Germany again corresponded with his essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question”. In it, Bonhoeffer appealed to itHitlHGalatians 6:10 as support to bandage the wounds of the Jewish people: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” He argued that “the church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.”[6]

There was a biblical mandate for Bonhoeffer to risk his own life to save others. This risk became more apparent as conditions worsened in Germany. Kuhns writes that the “need was sharper, more urgent.”[7]

A demonic government was dragging the German people into destruction and ripping open Europe at the same time. What the world needed most now was not peace, not a quieting of the havoc, nor even primarily an effort to rescue the victims of the havoc. “The third possibility,” Dietrich had written in 1932, “is not just to bandage victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.”

The historical moment made that third alternative for Bonhoeffer an imperative…In terms of the historical moment, then, Bonhoeffer’s transition to conspiracy against the government is not a total reorientation…What Bonhoeffer did when he became involved in the Abwehr circle makes sense in terms of what he always believed and hoped in. For he believed more deeply in relating to the present, in identifying the concrete needs of the moment, than in simple pacifism.[8]


[1] Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Testament to Freedom, 532.

[2] William Kuhns, In Pursuit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 228.

[3] Kelly and Nelson, The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 28.

[4] Kelly and Nelson, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Testament to Freedom, 543.

[5] Kelly and Nelson, The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 28.

[6] Kelly and Nelson, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Testament to Freedom, 132.

[7] Kuhns, In Pursuit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 229.

[8] Ibid.

Bonhoeffer for the Twenty-First Century
February 3, 2006
by Robin W. Lovin

Foremost among the theological influences on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s generation was the development of the Confessing Church. German Protestant Christianity was not a particularly likely place for resistance to develop. There was a traditional Protestant deference to secular authority — the enthusiastic nationalism of the old Prussian “union of throne and altar” — along with the lack of a natural law understanding of the world that could provide a critique of tyranny in moral terms. Nevertheless, for Bonhoeffer and his contemporaries the church was the place where their resistance started. The key to their thinking was the idea of a church that would be faithful to the historic Reformation confessions and resist the incursions of Nazi organization and ideology.

In 1934, a gathering of Protestant pastors, led primarily by Karl Barth, met in the German city of Barmen and announced that they were organizing themselves as a Confessing Church, outside the framework of the state churches Hitler was trying to control. For them, they declared, this was not a matter of creating a new church. They were the true church of the Reformation.

Bonhoeffer was not present at the Barmen gathering, but he quickly became one of its younger leaders, and he spent most of the rest of the decade of the 1930s as director of a Confessing Church seminary, operating under increasing scrutiny and constraint by the Nazi authorities. It is to this period that we owe two of his most accessible and popular works, LIFE TOGETHER and PRAYERBOOK OF THE BIBLE.

The Confessing Church maintained a courageous resistance to Hitler’s decree that every German institution had to reorganize itself in conformity with National Socialist policies. Simply by its continued presence, the church defied the ideology that every person and every institution exists to serve the nation at the command of the Fuehrer. “The Body of Christ takes up space on earth,” as Bonhoeffer put it in THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP. “That is a consequence of the Incarnation.”

Photo of Dietrich Bonhoeffer In Bonhoeffer’s context, insisting that the church takes up space was a political statement, susceptible to interpretation along classical Lutheran lines in which the secular ruler is entitled to obedience in everything except matters of faith, which may be interpreted in such a way that they take up very little space, indeed. By 1938, most Confessing Church pastors had taken some form of loyalty oath to Hitler.

Bonhoeffer remained a loyal pastor in the Confessing Church through the years leading up to the war and, indeed, through his participation in the conspiracy against Hitler and his arrest and imprisonment. But he was increasingly clear that the Confessing Church’s stance was not sufficient to answer all of the questions he was facing in his own life. He struggled with ideas of Christian pacifism and Gandhi’s nonviolence. He considered the possibility of exile, returning to his teaching career in the safety of an American seminary. In the end, as we know, he became a part of a conspiracy against Hitler at the highest levels of the German government, using his role as a civilian agent in military intelligence as a cover for ecumenical connections that allowed the conspirators to make tentative contacts about a peace settlement with the British government.

One of the puzzling aspects of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is his apparent transformation from vocal pacifist to taking a role in the resistance against Adolf Hitler. In the book, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Testament to Freedom, Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson write that to Bonhoeffer, a Christian’s response to the evil in society will vary:

According to Bonhoeffer, the movement from life in the Christian community to service of one’s neighbor is the only one true movement toward God that God’s gift of faith makes possible. He argues, moreover, that the demand for spontaneity in one’s response to people in need makes it impossible to produce a systematic ethic. Every changing situation of need can become the specific locus of God’s command.[1]

This “demand for spontaneity” explains why it seemed that Bonhoeffer went from a pacifist to an active role in the assassination of Adolf Hitler. When he wrote The Cost of Discipleship in 1937,[2] Bonhoeffer “offered a compelling argument on behalf of pacifism as blessed in Jesus’ beatitudes…”[3] However, when he wrote Ethics:

…his thoughts…became conditioned by the reality of an entrenched, seemingly insurmountable evil that no ordinary means, least of all that of pacifism, appeared capable of nullifying. The times called for another approach, one inspirited by his practical sense of responsibility for the victims of Nazism and his trust in the incarnate presence and forgiving power of Jesus Christ.[4]

Larry Rasmussen offers legitimate questions about this possible shifting of Bonhoeffer’s position:

But what about that most intriguing journey of all, from a committed Christian pacifism to Christian participation in tyrannicide and coup d’etat? What explains Bonhoeffer’s twisting path of resistance in the Church Struggle and in the military-political conspiracy? Does this journey, varied in form and perhaps contradictory and ethically problematic, also belong and hold together?[5]

To Bonhoeffer, however, there was no contradiction because he would maintain that his devotion to the example of Jesus allowed times for pacifism and also times for a more active role in representing Christ in the world:

Although the peacemaking dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s Christian spirituality seemed muted by his arguments in Ethics in favor of tyrannicide and violent interventions to the end of the war, in truth Bonhoeffer’s reliance on Jesus Christ’s example and mandates of responsibility never ceased to be his primary motivating force.

Hence, however, it is the Christ who lives and acts for others, to take on the guilt of sinners. He who did not hesitate to place his healing touch upon the rotting skin of lepers, to associate with the hated Samaritans, to become one of society’s deviates and outcasts of all sorts, now sets the example for those who must enter into the sinful, guilt-ridden world of a political conspiracy.

To act on behalf of the victims of the widespread suffering inflicted by Nazism militaristic bloodletting meant that law-abiding citizens had to break the laws and plan the violent death of a dictator.[6]

Rasmussen also argues that there was no inconsistency in Bonhoeffer, and that the seemingly different approaches to Nazism are simply the unfolding of his Christology:

…Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s resistance activity was his Christology enacted with utter seriousness. Bonhoeffer’s resistance was the existential playing out of christological themes. Changes and shifts in his Christology were at the same time changes and shifts in the character of his resistance. In the other direction, changes in his resistance activity had an impact on his Christology.[7]

This is one reason why I have been intrigued by Bonhoeffer ever since my days at Bethel College.


[1] Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, eds., Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Testament to Freedom, 34

[2] Ibid., 533.

[3] Kelly and Nelson, The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 112.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Larry Rasmussen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance, 8.

[6] Ibid., 113.

[7] Ibid., 15.

I came across a blog site called, “Doing Discipleship”. Below are some practical ways to memorizing God’s Word. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that when we meditate, we are also memorizing…

I have been thinking a lot lately about memorizing scripture. I know I should do it regularly and yet I often fall short in follow-through in this discipline of the Christian walk. Jesus modeled to us the importance of memorizing God’s word as he used it to defeat temptation as he quoted scripture to Satan in the desert as he was tempted for 40 days.

I have used business-card sized sheets for memorizing in the past, and I carry them in my pocket and read them during down time (sometimes while driving too, although I can’t recommend this). I have also used a “top 10″ verses for the month before and had them taped to my computer screen. Heard of others who put them in a plastic sleeve in the shower and I may try this one out.

Here are some great Bible Memory Websites

For the rest of the post, click

Because twenty-first century preachers and pastors face many demands on their time, it is crucial that a portion of time be set aside daily to meditate on God’s Word. What would this look like in the daily schedule of a preacher? John Piper explains the process of scripture meditation:

Now what does this meditation involve? The word “meditation” in Hebrew means basically to speak or to mutter. When this is done in the heart, it is called musing or meditation. So meditating on the Word of God day and night means to speak to yourself the Word of God day and night and to speak to yourself about it—to mull it over, to ask questions about it and answer them from the Scripture itself, to ask yourself how this might apply to you and others, and to ponder its implications for life and church and culture and missions.

One simple way to do this is to memorize a verse or two and then say them to yourself once, emphasizing the first word. Then say them to yourself again, emphasizing the second word. Then say them a third time, emphasizing the third word. And so on, over and over again, until you have meditated on the reason why each word is there. Then you can start asking relational questions. If this word is used, why is that word used? The possibilities of musing and pondering and meditating are endless. And always we pray as we ponder, asking for God’s help and light (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, 125).

Piper’s understanding of biblical meditation is similar to Bonhoeffer’s perspective. In Meditating on the Word, he defined it as:

In the same way that the word of a person who is dear to me follows me throughout the day, so the Word of Scripture should resonate and work within me ceaselessly. Just as you would not dissect and analyze the word spoken by someone dear to you, but would accept it just as it was said, so you should accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart as Mary did. That is all. That is meditation…Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you! Then ponder this word in heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken possession of you (32-33).

A twenty-first century pastor and preacher must possess the discipline to set aside portions of the day to meditate on God’s Word. In doing so, “we are taking the time to ponder the Word of God, allowing for the Holy Spirit to reveal the riches of wisdom” (Douglas J. Rumford, Soul Shaping: Taking Care of Your Spiritual Life, 252)

Let’s take one more look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s description of “The Ministry of Bearing”. These words come from his enduring and practical book, Life Together

The Bible speaks with remarkable frequency of “bearing.” It is capable of expressing the whole work of Jesus Christ in this one word. “Surely he hath bore our griefs, carried our sorrows…the chastisement of our peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Therefore, the Bible can also characterize the whole life of the Christian as bearing the Cross.

It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian.

If any member refuses to bear that burden, he denies the law of Christ (100).

Thus, to be a Christian means to bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Jesus.

Let’s continue Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s description of “The Ministry of Bearing”. As we do, please notice how the mandate to bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Jesus is founded in the cross of Jesus…

The Christian…must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a brother that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated. The burden of men was so heavy for God Himself that He had to endure the Cross. God verily bore the burden of men in the body of Jesus Christ.

But he bore them as a mother carries her child, as a shepherd enfolds the lost lamb that has been found. God took men upon Himself and they weighted Him to the ground, but remained with them and they with God. In bearing with men God maintained fellowship with them.

It is the law of Christ that was fulfilled in the Cross. And Christians must share in this law. They must suffer their brethren, but, what is more important, now that the law of  Christ has been fulfilled, they can bear with their brethren (Life Together, 100-101). 

Today is my 49th birthday. No big deal really. Many people in my church still consider me just a kid! Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the young age of 39. He left behind a legacy. Below is a nice tribute to him…

April 9, 1995 was the 50th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by the Nazis. He died at 39, but left a legacy in his writings that now, a half-century later, still provides valuable insight for Christians seeking to live faithfully to the Gospel in a culture dominated by hostile ideologies.

To read the rest…

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