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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran.  Today, October 31 is Reformation Day!

The formalities of admission were correctly completed.  For the first night I was locked up in an admission cell.  The blankets in the camp had such a foul smell that in spite of the cold it was impossible to use them.

Next morning a piece of bread was thrown into my cell; I had to pick it up from the floor.  A quarter of the coffee consisted of grounds (Mary Bosanquet, The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 247)

This would be just the start for Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison

Mary Bosanquet, in The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, gives the details of that day…

…the next day, April 5th (1943), at midday, when Dietrich tried to speak to (his sister) Christine (von Dohnanyi) by telephone in her house at Sakrow, the telephone was answered by an unknown man’s voice.  Dietrich guessed the truth at once: that Hans and Christine had been arrested and that the secret police were ransacking the house.

Without saying anything to his parents, he went next door to his sister Ursula Schleicher and asked her to prepare him a large meal.  Then he went up to his attic bedroom in his parents’ house, checked it once more for incriminating papers, and left about, not too conspicuously, one or two specially fabricated notes which he wished the Gestapo to find.

Then he returned to the Schleichers’ house and waited there with the Schleichers and Bethge.  About four o’clock his father looked in: “Dietrich, two men want to see you in your room!”  The two men were Roeder, Chief Investigator for the Air Force, and Sonderegger, a member of the Gestapo.  They said little and without producing a search warrent or any formal notice of arrest, they ordered Bonhoeffer to accompnay them to their car.

Quietly, undramatically, the black Mercedes drove away.  Soon Dietrich saw the gloomy facade of Tegel Military prison rising in front of them, a frowning cliff of masonry, pockmarked with barred windows.  The car halted.  They stood at the entrance.  Roeder said a word to the warder who approached.

Without ceremony, Bonhoeffer was bundled over the threshold.  The iron gates crashed to behing him.

He was in prison (244).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had plenty to be concerned about with Nazism and a German Church that leaned towards a cheap grace.   Justin Taylor, on his blog site, Between Two Worlds, posted a Nightline interview with Benny Hinn.  It is interesting how Hinn worms his way out of providing adequate answers for his lack of medical verification to his “miracles” and to his lavish lifestyle.

To view the video, click…

How would Bonhoeffer react to Benny Hinn? I would guess that Bonhoeffer would be horrified that a “Christian evangelist” would cheapen the grace of Jesus. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s conspiratorial work was finally discovered.  On April 5, 1943, the Gestapo arrested him, along with Hans von Dohnanyi, and his wife.  Christine von Dohnanyi was released from prison after five weeks.

(Renate Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life, 64).


by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, August 23, 2008

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live”
(Galatians 2:20).

I have been criticized for quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous statement, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963 reprint, p. 7). Conservative Christians have told me that Bonhoeffer was a theological liberal. On some things he was, but there was one point on which Bonhoeffer was more fundamental, more true to the Bible, than many conservative preachers, and this is the point – “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” I think he meant exactly what Paul meant in Galatians 2:20,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Galatians 2:20).

I think Bonhoeffer understood that verse. Oh, yes, I know he studied in a very liberal seminary when he came to New York from Germany. I know he believed some liberal teachings he learned there. I was told this about Bonhoeffer at the liberal Southern Baptist seminary I attended. But I also know that Bonhoeffer was a better Christian than he was a theologian. I mean that his heart was better than his head. This comes across in that famous statement of his, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” I think he was saying, in his own way, what the Apostle Paul said,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Galatians 2:20).

What a man does is the best revelation of his heart. And Bonhoeffer literally lived out that verse in his own life. He returned from England and New York, where he had preached and studied, to Nazi Germany under Hitler. He had signed the Barmen Confession, which was written by some German pastors and theologians against Hitler. He deliberately went to Germany to preach Christ under Nazi persecution. It cost him his life. He was arrested by the Nazi Gestapo and put in prison for his preaching. A few days before the end of World War II the Nazis, under order from Hitler, tied a piano wire around his neck and hanged him. He choked to death, a martyr for Christ, shortly before the Allied forces liberated Germany at the end of World War II. He was thirty-nine years old. I admire this German preacher because he gave his very life as a martyr for Christ, thus proving to my mind that his faith was better than his theology, and that he truly believed what he said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And I think that his words reflect that statement by the Apostle Paul,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Galatians 2:20).

What did the Apostle Paul mean by that statement, “I am crucified with Christ”? Dr. Lenski said,

Note the force of the perfect tense “I have been crucified”: having once been crucified, Paul remains so; the effect is permanent. This state of crucifixion is the state of death Paul entered when he died to law. Only by being crucified with Christ does one die to law. It is the one avenue of escape. Otherwise law has us by the throat and will destroy us. Faith…alone joins us to Christ crucified to be crucified “with” him (R. C. H. Lenski, Ph.D., The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961 reprint, page 116).

I believe that Paul meant that the real Christian must die with Christ, if he is to live with Christ.

1.  Jesus began to die in the Garden – under the weight of man’s sin. So, you must go through the experience of Gethsemane before you can be crucified with Him, and become a real Christian.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live”
(Galatians 2:20).

2.  Jesus went through great agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. So, you must go through the agony of conviction and inner torment for your sin before you can be crucified with Christ and become a real Christian.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live”
(Galatians 2:20).

3.  Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, beaten and mocked by the high priests – so you must go through belittling and pain from unbelievers before you can be crucified with Christ and become a real Christian.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live”
(Galatians 2:20).

4.  Jesus was flogged under Pontius Pilate. This flogging was part of the payment for your sin. So, you must be flogged with Christ by God’s Spirit, until your heart is softened and you feel your need for Christ strongly enough to want Christ.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live”
(Galatians 2:20).

5.  Jesus was nailed to a cross to die for your sins. So, you must be crucified with Christ. You must die with Christ to the allure of the world.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live”
(Galatians 2:20).

6.  Only then can you say with the Apostle,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live”
(Galatians 2:20).

These are the marks of a real conversion: the suffering of conviction for sin (as Christ did for you, so you must experience it by being convinced of your sin). You must go through agony of soul, as Christ did in the Garden, before the weight of sin burdens you to the point of dismay. You must go through belittling and scorning by former friends. As Jesus did, you must lose your dearest friends (they all forsook Him and fled). You must be flogged so hard by God’s Spirit that you feel torn up inside. As Jesus felt when they scourged Him, you must feel the scourging of your own soul for your inward and outward sins. More than that, you must go to the Cross with Jesus, and be united with Him in His dying agony for your sin. In short – you must be “crucified with Christ.” It is only when you come to Jesus, that you can be crucified with Him. And it is only when you have died with Him, in real conversion, that you can say,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Galatians 2:20).

George Bernard Shaw once said,

People are so inoculated in childhood with small doses of Christianity that they seldom catch the real thing (quoted by Richard Wurmbrand, In God’s Underground, Living Sacrifice Books, 2004 reprint, p. 120).

If you have been in church a long time in a lost state, it is doubtful that you will be converted, because you have been “inoculated with small doses of Christianity.”

Those who suffer for Christ as martyrs have truly been crucified with Christ. They are not “inoculated with small doses of Christianity.” They have caught the real thing. They can say,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Galatians 2:20).

Pastor Wurmbrand said,

I was kept in solitary confinement in this cell for two years. I had nothing to read and no writing materials; I had only my thoughts for company, and I was not a meditative man, but a soul that had rarely known quiet…
Did I believe in God? Now the test had come. I was alone. There was no salary to earn, no golden opinions to consider. God offered me only suffering – would I continue to love Him?
Slowly, I learned that on the tree of silence hangs the fruit of peace. I began to realize my real personality, and made sure that it belonged to Christ. I found that even here my thoughts and feelings turned to God, and that I could pass night after night in prayer, spiritual exercise, and praise. I knew now that I was not play-acting. I BELIEVED (Wurmbrand, ibid.).

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Galatians 2:20).

You also must go through a dark night of the soul. You must feel your sin, feel the lash of the law, feel the nails, die with Christ, and be born again – united with Christ in His death and resurrection – washed clean from your sins by His Blood!

You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Bonhoeffer, Unplugged

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Biography. Eberhard Bethge. Fortress Press (Rev. ed. 2000), softcover, 1,048 p., $39.00.

“Jesus! That book’s bigger than the Bible,” exclaimed our bartender when he noticed the biography on the stool next to my wife. Within a hundred pages of finishing it, I had hauled the 1,048 page volume on the subway ride downtown from New York City’s Upper West Side to the Union Square area, site of a Bobby Flay restaurant that is one of our favorites. When the book’s subject was mentioned, Paul, the bartender, responded enthusiastically, “Dietrich is what my friends named their son, my best little buddy,” as he whipped open his wallet and displayed a picture of the boy.

The book on the barstool was the second English edition of Eberhard Bethge’s classic biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. More than five decades ago, the author and his wife also named their boy Dietrich. From his prison cell in Tegel, Bonhoeffer wrote poignant sermons on the occasions of the wedding of Renate, his niece, and Bethge in May 1943 and the baptism of their son, his namesake, one year later.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was first published in the United States in an English translation in 1970, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death by hanging at the hands of the Nazis. In The New York Times Book Review, John Macquarrie, Oxford divinity professor, wrote at the time, “Mr. Bethge has created a memorable portrait of a great Christian and moral leader of this century.” This new edition, published to coincide with the year of Bethge’s ninetieth birthday, provides for the first time in English the complete text of the German edition originally published in 1967.

Bethge’s professional career is one of high distinction, wholly apart from his close relationship with Bonhoeffer. This definitive treatment of Bonhoeffer’s life testifies to Bethge’s stature as biographer. The passages of particular vibrancy, and there are many, radiate from Bethge’s first-hand role as a witness to key parts of Bonhoeffer’s life. He assisted Bonhoeffer with the Finkenwalde seminary until it was closed by the Gestapo and then with underground pastorates. Like Bonhoeffer, Bethge was imprisoned for his role in a conspiracy against Adolf Hitler. He possessed not only the inside view of his subject, but also the milieu of Germany as it gradually became ensnared by National Socialism.

Bethge’s original German subtitle is echoed in the phrase of the title page: “Theologian, Christian, Man for His Times.” It also provides the form and function of the work itself, as the three main sections reflect what Bethge interprets to be the major changes in Bonhoeffer’s life. (Dietrich’s twin sister Sabine Leibholz, in her 1968 Portrait of a Family, emphasizes that the stages described by Bethge are to be read as fully cumulative, not merely sequential.)

The lure of theology is evident throughout the periods of his childhood and youth, his student years, and his postings as assistant pastor in Barcelona and assistant lecturer in Berlin. These years culminated with his first trip to America and nine months based in New York City at Union Theological Seminary. The first great change, according to Bethge, occurred around 1931-1932 “when Bonhoeffer the theologian consciously grasped the fact that he was a Christian.” The following years were characterized by his activities as lecturer and pastor, his time in London, and “life together” at preachers’ seminary, Finkenwalde, and the collective pastorates, again culminating with travel to America. Finally, in 1939, upon his return to Germany from New York after an abbreviated stay of less than two months, “the theologian and Christian became a man for his times.” The urgency of the most difficult of all his decisions, to return and face what even then seemed inevitable, was such that Bonhoeffer’s room at Union was left strewn with sheets of paper and the large quantity of cigarettes he had smoked.

While major changes did occur, Bonhoeffer remained unchanged. His love for art, literature, and music never waned. The “Negro spirituals” he cherished from gramophone records collected while in Harlem ministered to his German colleagues many years later. He never abandoned his recreational breaks or the enjoyment of nature and games, regardless of the setting or pressures on all sides. His extraordinary spirit of generosity was consistently revealed. This was true whether he contributed disproportionately to the vital needs of room and board for a group of theologians, or gave simply for the pleasure of it, as when he paid the airfare to Berlin for two ordinands whose deepest wish was to fly for the first time. While in prison, he provided legal help for a young prisoner with his own funds. Later, when all he had left was a remnant of tobacco, he divided it among his fellow prisoners.

These personal attributes helped touch everyone from George K. A. Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, to the prison guard who requested that his photograph be taken with Bonhoeffer in the Tegel courtyard. Payne Best, the British secret service officer and author of The Venlo Incident, after a few short weeks imprisoned with Bonhoeffer in Buchenwald and Schšnberg, wrote, “He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom his God was real and ever close. . . . He was, without exception, the finest and most lovable man I have ever met.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is highly recommended. It is so well written and translated that it seems to have been originally done in English by a gifted native-born speaker. With more than 900 pages of biographical text, seventy-six pages of supporting notes, a chronology, a detailed twenty-page index, and two appendices (notes on the Zossen files and a list of his readings while in prison), the sheer length of the biography may seem daunting at first. Be forewarned; Bethge’s two-page personal portrait of Bonhoeffer appearing before the text is enough to turn readers from casual or curious to avid.

It is axiomatic that Germans keep doors closed. During his first sojourn in the United States, Bonhoeffer had difficulty adapting to the open doors and loss of privacy at the seminary. At times, the book is laden with meticulous theological and ecumenical content and context, and bound by an insular national perspective on German history in the first half of the twentieth century.

As a result, Bonhoeffer can seem closed behind a door barricaded with theology. But these passages are worth navigating because, when Bethge opens the door to Bonhoeffer’s personal life, and portrays a man for others, the biography soars and inspires.

In the end, Bethge’s methodical approach is purposeful, serving as foundation to his exposition of Bonhoeffer’s unfulfilled new theology. He admirably preserves Bonhoeffer’s “nonreligious interpretation” of Christianity in the “world come of age,” and the quest to find “genuine worship” in the face of “arcane discipline.” Whether for research and scholarship, or for lay insight into the German whose memorial service was broadcast by the BBC, whose statue stands at the main west front of Westminster Abbey in central London, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the starting point.

Bonhoeffer’s legacy continues to grow. Progress continues on the sixteen-volume English edition Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works project. Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom, a dramatization by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, won the 1997 Peabody Award and a new film, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, premiered on PBS in June 2000 after winning the top honor at the Monte Carlo TV Festival. Bethge’s biography is seminal, no matter through which medium or for what audience the Bonhoeffer story of vision and courage may be told.

At a noon meeting on April 5, 1945, with the end in sight, Hitler personally presided over the order to kill Bonhoeffer. After his murder four days later, his body and remaining possessions were burned. Maria von Wedemeyer, Bonhoeffer’s fiancée, learned in June while searching for him throughout western Germany that it was to no avail. It’s difficult not to lament what might have been for Dietrich and Maria Bonhoeffer, perhaps even for the course and contours of Christianity today, or merely for the friendship between Bonhoeffer and Bethge.

Bonhoeffer’s literary efforts from Tegel transcend the sermons he provided for his eventual biographer. Amidst the Letters and Papers from Prison that first introduce the man for many of us, mingled with fragments of a play and a novel are his poems, including one called “The Friend.” “Finest and rarest blossom, at a happy moment springing from the freedom of a lightsome, daring, trusting spirit, is a friend to friend.” On March 18, 2000, shortly after publication of his biography’s revised edition, Eberhard Bethge died at home in Wachtberg, a suburb of Bonn. After fifty-five years apart, the best of friends are at last together again.

–Tom Fredrick

Tom Fredrick is a lawyer living with his wife and five children in New York City.

Maria called Dietrich in January 1943 and told him that she wanted to abide by her mother’s insistence on waiting a year, but that she was determined to marry him then.  From that time on, they regarded themselves as engaged, even though though no one other than Eberhard Bethge knew about it.

(Renate Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life, 63)

(Bonhoeffer’s Love Letters (from Time magazine on December 1, 1967)

Picking Furniture. Jailed as an enemy of the Third Reich, in 1943, Bonhoeffer was allowed to receive visits by Maria, who took him books, laundry and food. She once arrived lugging a huge Christmas tree, causing considerable laughter among the guards. Bonhoeffer “remarked that maybe if he moved his cot out of his cell and stood up for the Christmas season he could accommodate the tree comfortably.” Although suspected of treason, Bonhoeffer retained the hope that he would eventually be freed, encouraged Maria to plan ahead for their marriage. “It helped him to envision a specific piece of furniture in our future apartment,” she says. “He enjoyed talking about details of our wedding; he had chosen the 103rd Psalm as a text.”*

His letters to her, often smuggled out by a sympathetic guard, contain several impressive statements of his Christian conviction. On Aug. 12, 1943, he wrote: “You cannot imagine what it means in my present situation to have you. Our union can only be a sign of God’s grace and kindness, which calls us to faith. And I do not mean the faith which flees the world, but the one that endures the world. Our marriage shall be a yes to God’s earth. I fear that Christians who stand with only one leg upon earth also stand with only one leg in heaven.”

As the prospect of freedom dimmed, Bonhoeffer suffered moments of discouragement. “Slowly it gets to be a waiting whose outward sense I cannot comprehend,” he wrote to Maria. “Your life would have been quite different, easier, clearer, simpler, had not our paths crossed.” But the majority of his letters reflected overwhelming courage and inflexible faith. In his last message to Maria, written at Christmas time, 1944, he said: “What is happiness? It depends so little on the circumstances; it depends really only on that which happens inside a person.” Four months later he was hanged at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria.

*Its most famed excerpt:

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone . . . But the steadfast lore of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.

Bonhoeffer’s Love Letters (from Time magazine on December 1, 1967)

The contemporary fame of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Nazi German Protestant theologian who was executed in 1945 for taking part in the plots against Hitler, rests primarily on the Letters and Papers from Prison he wrote to friends and family. In these cryptic messages, most of them smuggled out of his cell in Berlin’s Tegel Prison, Bonhoeffer outlined a new kind of secular theology for a “world come of age” that has become the axiomatic premise for post-Christian thought. Last week a new cache of Bonhoeffer letters came to light—revealed by the woman to whom he was once engaged.

She is auburn-haired Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, 43, who came to the U.S. in 1948 on a graduate fellowship in mathematics at Bryn Mawr, and now lives near Boston, where she works as a computer systems analyst. In all, she received more than 40 letters from Bonhoeffer while he was in prison; the 38 she was able to keep when she fled East Germany during the Russian invasion have been given to Harvard’s Houghton Library, with the stipulation that they not be published without her permission during her lifetime. In an article about Bonhoeffer in the current issue of the Union Theological Seminary quarterly review, she quotes at length from several of the letters. What they reveal is not more of Bonhoeffer the theologian but of Bonhoeffer the man—who was, Mrs. von Wedemeyer-Weller notes, “deeply in love during this important period” of his intellectual ferment.

Confirmation Flunked. There was an element of incongruity in their relationship. Bonhoeffer was a mature intellectual with a passionate commitment both to Christian theology and the anti-Nazi underground; Maria, half his age, had no zest for either theology or politics. The two first met in 1936; Bonhoeffer was 30, she was twelve. At the time, he was operating an underground seminary for anti-Nazi divinity students in Finkenwalde; Maria, member of an aristocratic, landed family, was living nearby with her grandmother, who asked Bonhoeffer to include the girl in a confirmation class for Maria’s older brother and two cousins. Bonhoeffer flunked her. “Whatever the reason,” Maria recalls, “I remember that it caused Dietrich considerable amusement and my grandmother none at all.” She also recalls one gathering when Bonhoeffer boasted that he had learned his first ten sermons by heart. Maria “quietly left the room for fear he might be tempted to prove his statement!”

The friendship of Maria and Bonhoeffer blossomed into romance in 1942, after her graduation from high school. “The rapport,” she remembers, “was immediate. He was able to transform the fumblings and erratic emotions of a young girl into the assured certainty that this was an addition and a source of strength to his own life.” Following their engagement, Bonhoeffer initially accepted the prospect of a lengthy betrothal out of respect to Maria’s family. “But soon,” she writes, “he objected clearly, decisively and repeatedly. When we succeeded in changing the dictum, it was too late; he had been imprisoned.”

October 2009


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