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Tonight, Lois and I, will go to our favorite restaurant to celebrate her birthday!DSCN2017

Dietrich Bonhoeffer met Maria von Wedemeyer when she was only twelve years.  Years later when Maria was 19, they grew closer to one another.  In November of 1942, Dietrich spoke with Maria’s mother, Ruth von Wedemeyer, about his intention to marry Maria.  Maria’s mother, however, was of the opinion that her nineteen-year-old daughter was too young to get married and insisted on a year of separation so that Maria could take a break.

Naturally, neither of them was happy about this!

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


IEP on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906—1945)

bonhoefferFor Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behaviour lay in how the reality of the world and the reality of God were reconciled in the reality of Christ. Both in his thinking and in his life, ethics were centered on the demand for action by responsible men and women in the face of evil. He was sharply critical of ethical theory and of academic concerns with ethical systems precisely because of their failure to confront evil directly. Evil, he asserted, was concrete and specific, and it could be combated only by the specific actions of responsible people in the world. The uncompromising position Bonhoeffer took in his seminal work Ethics, was directly reflected in his stance against Nazism. His early opposition turned into active conspiracy in 1940 to overthrow the regime. It was during this time, until his arrest in 1943, that he worked on Ethics.

Table of Contents

  1. Life and Resistance
  2. Ethics
  3. References and Further Reading

1. Life and Resistance

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau on February 4, 1906. Dietrich and his twin sister, Sabina, were two of eight children born to Karl and Paula (von Hase) Bonhoeffer. Karl Bonhoeffer, a professor of psychiatry and Neurology at Berlin University, was Germany’s leading empirical psychologist. Dietrich received his doctorate from Berlin University in 1927, and lectured in the theological faculty during the early thirties. He was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1931, and served two Lutheran congregations, St. Paul’s and Sydenham, in London from 1933-35.

In 1934, 2000 Lutheran pastors organized the Pastors’ Emergency League in opposition to the state church controlled by the Nazis. This organization evolved into the Confessing Church, a free and independent protestant church. Bonhoeffer served as head of the Confessing Church’s seminary at Finkenwalde. The activities of the Confessing Church were virtually outlawed and its five seminaries closed by the Nazis in 1937.

Bonhoeffer’s active opposition to National Socialism in the thirties continued to escalate until his recruitment into the resistance in 1940. The core of the conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler and overthrow the Third Reich was an elite group within the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence), which included, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Head of Military Intelligence, General Hans Oster (who recruited Bonhoeffer), and Hans von Dohnanyi, who was married to Bonhoeffer’s sister, Christine. All three were executed with Bonhoeffer on April 9, 1945. For their role in the conspiracy, the Nazis also executed Bonhoeffer’s brother, Klaus, and a second brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher, on April 23, 1945, seven days before Hitler himself committed suicide on April 30.

Bonhoeffer’s role in the conspiracy was one of courier and diplomat to the British government on behalf of the resistance, since Allied support was essential to stopping the war. Between trips abroad for the resistance, Bonhoeffer stayed at Ettal, a Benedictine monastery outside of Munich, where he worked on his book, Ethics, from 1940 until his arrest in 1943. Bonhoeffer, in effect, was formulating the ethical basis for when the performance of certain extreme actions, such as political assassination, were required of a morally responsible person, while at the same time attempting to overthrow the Third Reich in what everyone expected to be a very bloody coup d’etat. This combination of action and thought surely qualifies as one of the more unique moments in intellectual history.

2. Ethics

Bonhoeffer’s critique of ethics results in a picture of an Aristotelian ethic that is Christological in expression, i.e., it shares much in common with a character-oriented morality, and at the same time it rests firmly on his Christology. For Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behavior is how the reality of the world and how the reality of God are reconciled in the reality of Christ (Ethics, p. 198). To share in Christ’s reality is to become a responsible person, a person who performs actions in accordance with reality and the fulfilled will of God (Ethics, p.224). There are two guides for determining the will of God in any concrete situation: 1) the need of one’s neighbor, and 2) the model of Jesus of Nazareth. There are no other guides, since Bonhoeffer denies that we can have knowledge of good and evil (Ethics, p.231). There is no moral certainty in this world. There is no justification in advance for our conduct. Ultimately all actions must be delivered up to God for judgment, and no one can escape reliance upon God’s mercy and grace. “Before God self-justification is quite simply sin” (Ethics, p.167).

Responsible action, in other words, is a highly risky venture. It makes no claims to objectivity or certainty. It is a free venture that cannot be justified in advance (Ethics, p.249). But, nevertheless, it is how we participate in the reality of Christ, i.e., it is how we act in accordance with the will of God. The demand for responsible action in history is a demand no Christian can ignore. We are, accordingly, faced with the following dilemma: when assaulted by evil, we must oppose it directly. We have no other option. The failure to act is simply to condone evil. But it is also clear that we have no justification for preferring one response to evil over another. We seemingly could do anything with equal justification. Nevertheless, for Bonhoeffer, the reality of a demand for action without any (a priori) justification is just the moral reality we must face, if we want to be responsible people.

There are four facets to Bonhoeffer’s critique of ethics that should be noted immediately. First, ethical decisions make up a much smaller part of the social world for Bonhoeffer than they do for (say) Kant or Mill. Principally he is interested only in those decisions that deal directly with the presence of vicious behavior, and often involve questions of life and death. Second, Bonhoeffer’s own life serves as a case study for the viability of his views. Bonhoeffer is unique in this regard. His work on ethics began while he was actively involved in the German resistance to National Socialism and ended with his arrest in 1943. He fully expected that others would see his work in the conspiracy as intrinsically related to the plausibility of his ethical views. When it comes to ethics, Bonhoeffer noted, “(i)t is not only what is said that matters, but also the man who says it” (Ethics, p.267).

Third, like Aristotle, Bonhoeffer stays as close to the actual phenomenon of making moral choices as possible. What we experience, when faced with a moral choice, is a highly concrete and unique situation. It may share much with other situations, but it is, nevertheless, a distinct situation involving its own particulars and peculiarities, not excluding the fact that we are making the decisions, and not Socrates or Joan of Ark.

And finally, again like Aristotle, Bonhoeffer sees judgments of character and not action as fundamental to moral evaluation. Evil actions should be avoided, of course, but what needs to be avoided at all costs is the disposition to do evil as part of our character. “What is worse than doing evil,” Bonhoeffer notes, “is being evil” (Ethics, p.67). To lie is wrong, but what is worse than the lie is the liar, for the liar contaminates everything he says, because everything he says is meant to further a cause that is false. The liar as liar has endorsed a world of falsehood and deception, and to focus only on the truth or falsity of his particular statements is to miss the danger of being caught up in his twisted world. This is why, as Bonhoeffer says, that “(i)t is worse for a liar to tell the truth than for a lover of truth to lie” (Ethics, p.67). A falling away from righteousness is far worse that a failure of righteousness. To focus exclusively on the lie and not on the liar is a failure to confront evil.

Nevertheless, the central concern of traditional ethics remains: What is right conduct? What justifies doing one thing over another? For Bonhoeffer, there is no justification of actions in advance without criteria for good and evil, and this is not available (Ethics, p.231). Neither future consequences nor past motives by themselves are sufficient to determine the moral value of actions. Consequences have the awkward consequence of continuing indefinitely into the future. If left unattended, this feature would make all moral judgments temporary or probationary, since none are immune to radical revision in the future. What makes a consequence relevant to making an action right is something other than the fact that it is a consequence. The same is true for past motives. One motive or mental attitude surely lies behind another. What makes one mental state and not an earlier state the ultimate ethical phenomenon is something other than the fact that it is a mental state. Since neither motives nor consequences have a fixed stopping point, both are doomed to failure as moral criteria. “On both sides,” Bonhoeffer notes, “there are no fixed frontiers and nothing justifies us in calling a halt at some point which we ourselves have arbitrarily determined so that we may at last form a definite judgement” (Ethics, p.190). Without a reason for the relevance of specific motives or consequences, all moral judgments become hopelessly tentative and eternally incomplete.

What is more, general principles have a tendency to reduce all behavior to ethical behavior. To act only for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or to act only so that the maxim of an action can become a principle of legislation, become as relevant to haircuts as they do to manslaughter. All behavior becomes moral behavior, which drains all spontaneity and joy from life, since the smallest misstep now links your behavior with the worst crimes of your race, gender, or culture. Ethics cannot be reduced to a search for general principles without reducing all of the problems of life to a bleak, pedantic, and monotonous uniformity. The “abundant fullness of life,” is denied and with it “the very essence of the ethical itself” (Ethics, p.263).

Reliance on theory, in other words, is destructive to ethics, because it interferes with our ability to deal effectively with evil. Bonhoeffer asks us to consider six strategies, six postures people often strike or adopt when attempting to deal with real ethical situations involving evil and vicious people. Any of these postures or orientations could employ principles, laws, or duties from ethical theory. But, in the end, it makes little difference what principles they invoke. The ethical postures themselves are what make responsible action impossible. A resort to the dictates of reason, for example, demands that we be fair to all the details, facts, and people involved in any concrete moral situation (Ethics, p.67). The reasonable person acts like a court of law, trying to be just to both sides of any dispute. In doing so, he or she ignores all questions of character, since all people are equal before the law, and it makes no difference who does what to whom. Thus, whenever it is in the interest of an evil person to tell the truth, the person of reason must reward him for doing so. The person of reason is helpless to do otherwise, and in the end is rejected by all, the good and the evil, and achieves nothing.

Likewise, Bonhoeffer argues, the enthusiasm of the moral fanatic or dogmatist is also ineffective for a similar reason. The fanatic believes that he or she can oppose the power of evil by a purity of will and a devotion to principles that forbid certain actions. Again, the concern is exclusively on action, and judgments of character are seen as secondary and derivative. But the richness and variety of actual, concrete situations generates questions upon questions for the application of any principle. Sooner or later, Bonhoeffer notes, the fanatic becomes entangled in non-essentials and petty details, and becomes prone to simple manipulation in the hands of evil (Ethics, p.68).

The man or woman of conscience presents an even stranger case. When faced with an inescapable ethical situation that demands action, the person of conscience experiences great turmoil and uncertainty. What the person of conscience is really seeking is peace of mind, or a return to the way things were, before everything erupted into moral chaos. Resolving the tensions is as important as doing the right thing. In fact, doing the right thing should resolve the conflicts and tensions or it is not the right thing. Consequently, people of conscience become prey to quick solutions, to actions of convenience, and to deception, because feeling good about themselves and their world is what matters ultimately. They fail completely to see, as Bonhoeffer notes, that a bad conscience, that disappointment and frustration over one’s action, may be a much healthier and stronger state for their souls to experience than peace of mind and feelings of well being (Ethics, p.68).

An emphasis on freedom and private virtuousness are even less capable of dealing effectively with evil. What Bonhoeffer means by freedom is not coextensive with the theoretical freedom of the existential either/or, where it makes no difference what we do, since we are all going to get it in the end anyway; nor is it the freedom of the positivist’s personal preference or emotivism. No, freedom here means the freedom to make exceptions to general rules or principles. The free person is the person who has the where-with-all to ignore conscience, reputation, facts, and anything else in order to make the best arrangement possible under the circumstances. This is the freedom to act in any way necessary, even to do what is wrong, in order to avoid what is worse, e.g., avoiding war by being unjust to large numbers of people, and consequently failing to see that what he thinks is worse, may still be the better, failing to see that evil can never be satiated (Ethics, p. 69).

On the other hand, the escape to a domain of private virtue is, perhaps, of all temptations the most dangerous to the Christian. This is a pulling back from the petty and vulgar affairs of the world in order to avoid being contaminated by evil. This monastic urge is rejected by Bonhoeffer, because for him there is no such thing as escaping your responsibility to act. When faced with evil, there is no middle path. You either oppose the persecution of the innocent or you share in it. No one can preserve his or her private virtue by turning away from the world (Ethics, p.69).

Bonhoeffer’s last category, duty, is perhaps the most important to him, because it is the most easily co-opted by evil; and again it makes no difference what laws we introduce to determine our duty. If a devotion to duty does not discriminate in terms of character, it will end up serving evil. “The man of duty,” Bonhoeffer observes, “will end by having to fulfill his obligations even to the devil” (Ethics, p.69).

Bonhoeffer replaces philosophical ethics and its pursuit of criteria to justify action in advance with an ethics grounded in the emergence of Christ as reconciler. The cornerstone of Bonhoeffer’s ethical world is a social/moral realism. In any given context there is always a right thing to do. This reality is a direct result of his Christology. The reality of the sensible world, with all its variety, multiplicity, and concreteness, has been reconciled with the spiritual reality of God. These two radically divorced worlds have now been made compatible and consistent in the reality of Christ (Ethics, p.195). Through Jesus the reality of God has entered the world (Ethics, p.192). If an action is to have meaning, it must correspond to what is real. Since there is only the reality of Christ, Christ is the foundation of ethics. Any Christian who attempts to avoid falsehoods and meaninglessness in his or her life must act in accordance with this reality.

Furthermore, the sole guide for acting in accordance with this reality is the model of Jesus’ selfless behavior in the New Testament. There are numerous dimensions to this model. First and foremost, your action can in no way be intended to reflect back on you, your character, or your reputation. You must, for the sake of the moment, unreservedly surrender all self-directed wishes and desires (Ethics, p.232). It is the other, another person, that is the focus of attention, and not yourself. In ethical action, the left hand really must be unaware of what the right hand is doing if the right hand is to do anything ethical. If not, your so-called good action becomes contaminated and its moral nature altered.

Bonhoeffer illustrates this notion of selfless action by contrasting the behavior of Jesus in the New Testament to that of the Pharisee. The Pharisee “…is the man to whom only the knowledge of good and evil has come to be of importance in his entire life…”(Ethics, p.30). Every moment of his life is a moment where he must choose between good and evil (Ethics, p.30). Every action, every judgment, no matter how small, is permeated with the choice of good and evil. He can confront no person without evaluating that person in terms of good and evil (Ethics, p.31). For him, all judgments are moral judgments. No gesture is immune to moral condemnation.

Jesus refuses to see the world in these terms. He lightly, almost cavalierly, casts aside many of the legal distinctions the Pharisee labors to maintain. He bids his disciples to eat on the Sabbath, even though starvation is hardly in question. He heals a woman on the Sabbath, although after eighteen years of illness she could seemingly wait a few more hours. Jesus exhibits a freedom from the law in everything he does, but nothing he does suggests all things are possible. There is nothing arbitrary about his behavior. There is, however, a simplicity and clarity. Unlike the Pharisee, he is unconcerned with the goodness or badness of those he helps, unconcerned with the personal moral worth of those he meets, talks to, dines with, or heals. He is concerned solely and entirely with the well being of another. He exhibits no other concern. He is the paradigm of selfless action, and the exact opposite of the Pharisee, whose every gesture is fundamentally self-reflective.

The responsible person is, thus, a selfless person, who does God’s will by serving the spiritual and material needs of another, since “…what is nearest to God is precisely the need of one’s neighbor” (Ethics, p.136). The selfless model of Jesus is his or her only guide to responsible action. And second, the responsible person must not hesitate to act for fear of sin. Any attempt to avoid personal guilt, any attempt to preserve moral purity by withdrawing from conflicts is morally irresponsible. For Bonhoeffer, no one who lives in this world can remain disentangled and morally pure and free of guilt (Ethics, p.244). We must not refuse to act on our neighbor’s behalf, even violently, for fear of sin. To refuse to accept guilt and bear it for the sake of another has nothing to do with Christ or Christianity. “(I)f I refuse to bear guilt for charity’s sake,” Bonhoeffer argues, “then my action is in contradiction to my responsibility which has its foundation in reality” (Ethics, p.241). The risk of guilt generated by responsible action is great and cannot be mitigated in advance by self-justifying principles. There is no certainty in a world come of age. No one, in other words, can escape a complete dependency on the mercy and grace of God.

3. References and Further Reading

All quotes from: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, (New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., Touchstone Edition, 1995).

Works by Bonhoeffer:

  • Sanctorum Communio (The Communion of Saints)
  • Act and Being
  • The Cost of Discipleship
  • Life Together
  • Ethics
  • Letters and Papers from Prison
  • Gesammelte Schriften, 4 vols.

Author Information

Douglas Huff
Email: dhuff@gac.edu
Gustavus Adolphus College

Mark is the Associate Professor of Bible at Manhattan Christian College. Mark and the college just hosted the Fourth Annual Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars.  I had a wonderful time in Manhattan.  Thank you Mark and to everyone who helped put this conference on.

Check out Mark’s blog.

I do not consider myself a professor or a scholar!  This evening I am scheduled to present my DMin thesis on Dietrich Bonhoeffer!

2009 WFPS Conference
October 16 – 17

Dr. Ben Witherington IIIThe Fourth Annual Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars will be held in Manhattan, Kansas, on October 16-17, 2009, Friday afternoon through Saturday noon. In cooperation of the history department of KSU, we will be bringing internationally known author and speaker Dr. Ben Witherington III, of Asbury Seminary, to serve as our keynote speaker.

Last years conference ended with a great deal of enthusiasm. This year we are hoping to build on that. With an increase in enrollment, we hope to be large enough to have parallel sessions this year. If that is the case, we will have space for 8-12 papers, in addition to the plenary session with Dr. Witherington.

The purpose of the conference is to encourage fellowship, discussion, and research among scholars from various academic backgrounds. This years theme is “Eschatology and Worship.”

As usual, papers will be accepted on a wide range of topics that have a bearing on the practice and understanding of the Christian faith, whether they are closely related to the conference theme or not. Works-in-progress and interdisciplinary projects are welcome. Papers dealing with technical matters should be presented in a way that is accessible to an educated and interested audience who may not have specialized training in technical fields.

See the weekend schedule and print the registration form here! Please contact Mark Alterman (see picture) with questions.

Konza Prairie

I am preparing to present my thesis at the Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars in Manhattan, Kansas tomorrow.  In doing so, I realized that I have never (I don’t think) posted chapter one of my DMin thesis.  It is an introduction of the theme that Dietrich Bonhoeffer can influence twenty-first century preachers and preaching…

THE IMPACT OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER ON TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY PREACHERS AND PREACHING

INTRODUCTION

The subject of this paper is to show the impact Dietrich Bonhoeffer can have on twenty-first century preacher’s view of the cost of discipleship and how that view influences their preaching. Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family writes that 1,500 pastors in America leave the ministry every week because of burnout, conflict or moral failure.[1] That statistic indicates that the call to costly discipleship needs to be revisited. Bonhoeffer was a man who understood and truly lived a costly discipleship.

Bonhoeffer was born on February 6, 1906, in Breslau, Germany. He was a theologian, pastor, spiritual writer, and one of the key figures in the Protestant church’s resistance against Nazism.

To many people, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a spiritual hero. Two of his most popular works, The Cost of Discipleship (written in 1937) and Life Together (written in 1938) have been read and cherished by people for decades.

People are also challenged by the fact that Bonhoeffer, a Christian, was executed by the Nazis because he was part of an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But people are mainly attracted to him of his emphasis on total devotion to Jesus. For example, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship he wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[2] That familiar phrase is a reminder that being a follower of Jesus means that he demands all my heart and soul and mind and strength. There is no room for a compromising faith which Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace.”[3]

My thesis will focus on the Impact that Bonhoeffer can have on preachers and preaching in the 21st century. That is a valid quest even though there already is a wealth of published information about both the man and his works. According to the International Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society, there have been 18 publications about Bonhoeffer since 1990 and seven translated works of Bonhoeffer since 1997.[4]

The abundance of resources indicates not only our interest in him, but also the profound impact Bonhoeffer has already had on the church and world since his execution over 60 years ago. The life and works of Bonhoeffer have influenced both Christians and non-Christians. Countless pastors, Christian leaders and followers of Jesus would testify that Dietrich Bonhoeffer has impacted their lives and ministries. He already is a model for us. So is there room for another work about Bonhoeffer?

I believe there is an important need for a work that will specifically focus on the influence that Bonhoeffer can have on contemporary preachers’ understanding of what discipleship costs. That influence on preachers will have a subsequent impact on the church through their preaching. There are six reasons why Bonhoeffer can impact preachers today.

First, Bonhoeffer placed a high premium on the discipline of meditating on the Scriptures. He believed that when a preacher or teacher meditated on the Word of God, it not only benefited the preacher but also the congregation. In Life Together he wrote

In our meditation we ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us this day and for our Christian life, that it is not only God’s Word for the Church, but also God’s Word for us individually. We expose ourselves to the specific word until it addresses us personally…”[5]

Second, he stressed the importance of Christian fellowship (or life in the Body of Jesus). To Bonhoeffer, we cannot be a follower of Jesus unless there is a devotion to one another in a fellowship of believers. A pastor is more than a preacher. He is also a member of the local body of Jesus.

Third is what he referred to as “costly grace”.[6] Bonhoeffer wrote that the greatest enemy of the church is “cheap grace”[7] which is the very opposite of “costly grace.” Certainly, modern-day preachers must not only model a non-compromising faith, but they must also faithfully proclaim that theme from the pulpit.

Fourth is the importance of calling God’s people to stand against evil in society. When Bonhoeffer’s fellow church leaders in Nazi Germany rallied to support Hitler and the Third Reich, he took a stand against Hitler. He also worked to get Jews out of the country. The “evils” we face are certainly different, but Bonhoeffer’s example still lives. As preachers, we can sometimes shrink away from the hard issues of the day, like abortion. Bonhoeffer’s example can encourage us to face these issues head–on. This courage will also mean that there will be more sermons that call God’s people to be the salt and the light in a dark world.

Fifth, he exemplifies what it means to serve Jesus even in the severest of trials. Bonhoeffer took a stand for Jesus in a society that wanted to be great without acknowledging God. Even when he had opportunities to escape Germany for a safer place, Bonhoeffer decided to remain.

In 1939, his American friends got Bonhoeffer out of Germany, and they urged him to stay and wait out the war in America. But he refused. He could not comprehend rebuilding the church in Germany after the war unless he suffered along with his brothers and sisters in Jesus during the war. Bonhoeffer’s fire-tested faith is an example for preachers today, regardless of the various trials we face. The fire-tested faith of a preacher will, no doubt, carry over into the pulpit.

A sixth reason why Dietrich Bonhoeffer can impact 21st century preachers and preaching is his grace of living well and dying well. He did more than write about the cost that is involved in following Jesus. He lived it. Even as he risked his life opposing Nazi tyranny, he was characterized by a Christ-like character. He cared more for other people than himself. In prison, waiting for his execution, he was calm. He knew at this point that his days were numbered. Yet, one fellow prisoner remarked “Bonhoeffer was all humility and sweetness.”[8] Another reported that “his eyes were quite unnatural.”[9] As a prisoner, Bonhoeffer often ministered to and encouraged those who were distraught.[10]

On April 9, 1945, he was put to death by the S.S. Black Guard at the Flossenburg concentration camp. The day before, he led a worship service for his fellow prisoners, and according to one officer, Bonhoeffer said just the right words to encourage their hearts. He died the next day with dignity and calmness. Thus, to the very end, he lived for the glory of the Lord Jesus.

These are six of the many reasons why Dietrich Bonhoeffer can impact preachers and preaching in this century. One may wonder whether or not the Nazi Germany context of Dietrich Bonhoeffer can relate to our own context in the 21st century. Can Bonhoeffer really make a difference in the life and ministry of a pastor in America where there is a much safer context to proclaim the Word of God? I believe that theses six reasons speak louder because of the historical context of Bonhoeffer. He realized that even before Hitler took power, Germany was on her way towards a society that would eventually focus more on man than God. A similar principle of self-sufficiency exists today in America. A call for a costly discipleship is just as important today as it was in Germany in the 1930’s.

Bonhoeffer’s relevance for 21st century preachers and preaching is strengthened, I believe, by the ability he possessed to clearly see how the church can be weakened by compromise. The church in Germany allowed herself to be eroded by National Socialism. As the church became weak in faith and in character, Bonhoeffer would not be fooled. There was no room for the followers of Jesus to possess a “cheap grace” because it was the greatest enemy of the church. The cross of Jesus Christ demands a costly grace in his followers. Grace is “costly” because it cost men and women their very lives. And it is “grace” because grace is vital for Christ’s followers to live for him.

The message of “costly” grace is timeless and appropriate for all generations whether or not there is tyranny in society. Because the church in America needs to hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer this thesis will attempt to bring his writings closer to hearts and minds of 21st century preachers.

This will be accomplished through the exploration of the writings, sermons and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.


[1] James C. Dobson, “The Titanic. The Church. What They Have in Common,” Focus on the Family, 1998, http://www2.focusonthefamily.com/docstudy/newsletters/A000000803.cfm (accessed April 5, 2009).

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 89.

[3] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 43.

[4] International Bonhoeffer Society, “Welcome,” Dbonhoeffer.org, 2009 http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/node/2 (accessed April 5, 2009).

[5] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), 90.

[6] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 45.

[7] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 43.

[8] S. Payne Best, The Venlo Incident (London: Hutchison and Co., LTD, 1950), 180.

[9] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship with a Memoir by G. Leibholz, 21.

[10] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 18-19.

Bonhoeffer wrote on ethics mostly at home in Berlin, even though in 1938 he had been banned from staying in the city.  His father, however, had obtained permission for him to be allowed to visit his parents in Berlin, where he was the only one of his unmarried siblings who still had a room in his parents’ home.

…In order to write, Bonhoeffer also spent long periods in the Bavarian monastery at Ettal and time and again had some quieter days in Pomerania

(Renate Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life, 60-61)

Etta Monastery

Etta Monastery

In addition to all his political and church tasks and activities in the resistance against the National Socialist regime, Bonhoeffer‘s theological work remained important to him.

He began his Ethics, in which he grappled with questions concerning responsibility in both political and private arenas.


He was unable, however, to complete the book.  After the war, Eberhard Bethge published the work as he believed Bonhoeffer would have put it together, at the request of Bonhoeffer’s parents.

(Renate Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life, 59)

Dietrich (Bonhoeffer) had heard in Switzerland that Karl Barth thought it was “somewhat uncanny” that Bonhoeffer had a passport and could repeatedly travel abroad at a time when only members of the National Socialist government and its representatives were allowed to travel.

So he wrote to Barth on May 17, 1942:

Dear Professor!

Please excuse me if what I now write is nonsense and

not worth saying.  But I have to ask you because the

matter concerns me very much: what I heard last week

in Zurich for the first time that “you mistrusted my stay

here because of my mission,” I just laughed. …Now

I’ve heard the same thinh a second time here in Geneva,

and after having thought about it for a couple of days,

I just want to tell you that…at a time when so much

must be based simply on personal trust, everything is

finished when mistrust emerges.

Karl Barth

The answer was very positive, so Dietrich then actually did visit Barth.

(Renate Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life, 57-58)

Abwehr: Encyclopedia – Abwehr

The Abwehr was a German intelligence organization from 1921 to 1944. The verb abwehren means “to ward off”, implying counterespionage; this term was used as a concession to Allied demands that Germany’s post-World War I intelligence activities be for “defensive” purposes only. After February 4, 1938, its name in full was Amt Ausland/Abwehr im Oberkommando der Wehrmacht…

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