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Even before Adolf Hitler was put into power, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was concerned about the direction of Germany…

In a letter to his brother in 1931, Klaus Bonhoeffer lamented that Germans were “flirting with fascism.”  Within eighteen months the flirtation would become a fatal embrace (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 29).

My guess is different from the scholars.  I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer was truly converted  to Jesus when he was still in New York and was active at Abyssinian Baptist Church.  But here is what the scholars say…

Both the timing of this “great liberation” and its exact nature are exclusive.  Bethge traces the change to 1931-1932 and links it to Bonhoeffer’s dilemma regarding whether a theologian could be a Christian.

Clifford Green locates it in the summer of 1932 and believes it represents the outcome of Bonhoeffer’s struggle with the ego that seeks to dominate others, a battle with personal ambition he had waged since 1927 and that is analyzed in his dissertations.  What we know for certain is that this “great liberation” left a lasting imprint on Bonhoeffer’s thought and behavior and prepared him him for the challenges that lay before him (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 24).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer somewhat described his spiritual “conversion” in a letter in 1936…

I…plunged into work in a very unchristian way.  An…ambition that many noticed in me made my life difficult.

Then something happened, something that has changed and transformed my life to the present day.  For the first time I discovered the Bible…I had often preached, I have seen a great deal of the church, spoken and preached about it–But I had not yet become a Christian (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 23-24).

More on this tomorrow

“In his personal life,” Bethge writes of Bonhoeffer after his return from New York, “something occurred during those months that is hard for us to perceive fully, though its effects are plain.  He himself would never have called it a conversion.  But a change occurred in him.”

Bonhoeffer himself later described this change as a turn from “the phraseological to the real.”

Its manifestations were quite visible to those who knew him: more regular church attendance, scriptural meditation, prayer, oral confession, and a pacifist interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount…

(Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 23).

I finally hung up my Doctor of Ministry diploma in my office..

Harvard Library Gets Bonhoeffer Letter Collection

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED
Published: Monday, November 27, 1967

The former fiancee of martyred German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has given 38 of his letters to Harvard’s Houghton Library.

The letters, written from a German prison camp and smuggled out by a friendly guard, show Bonhoeffer’s more personal side–“a new level of intimacy”–according to the Reverend Paul Lehman of the Union Seminary, a close friend of Bonhoeffer’s.

Excerpts from eight of the letters are printed in an article on Bonhoeffer that Mrs. Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, his fiancee, wrote for the newest issue of the Union Seminary Quarterly Review. The remaining letters are so personal that Mrs. von Wedemeyer-Weller has stipulated that no one may look at them without her express permission.

Bonhoeffer was 37, and Maria von Wedemeyer 19, when they were engaged in 1943. Bonhoeffer had come back to Nazi Germany from America voluntarily to join the resistance movement. A few months after their engagement Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned.

Hope

At first Bonhoeffer was in an ordinary prison, and his fiancee was able to visit him. At this time that he wrote a series of letters to her expressing his great loneliness and discouragement. In her article, Mrs. von Wedemeyer-Weller said the letters reflect his hope that he would some day be released and be able to marry her.

Bonhoeffer was transferred to a maximum securtiy Gestapo prison in 1944, when his involvement in a plot against Hitler–“the 20th of July Movement”–was discovered. He was able to write one last letter to his fiancee in December, 1944; he died in 1945.

Bonhoeffer has had a great influence on modern theological thought, Harvey G. Cox, associate professor of Church and Society in the Divinity School said yesterday, because of his affirmative view of the secular elements of society. He tantalizes present-day theologians because he died before he was able to explain some of his phrases, such as “religionless Christianity.”

Cox said that Bonhoeffer is the model for many “involved” ministers and priests. Many theologians claim Bonhoeffer inspired the “death of God” theory, but Cox said this is still a subject of controversy.

Though Dietrich Bonhoeffer wasn’t impressed with the depth of theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he still was influenced by his friends there…

In addition to Frank Fisher, three New York friends–Paul Lehmann, Erwin Sutz, and Jean Lasserre–had a lasting impact on Bonhoeffer.

Sutz, the Swiss national with whom he traveled to Cuba at Christmastime would introduce Dietrich to Karl Barth in the summer of 1931.

Lasserre, the French pacifist who became his companion on a cross-country trip to Mexico, challenged Bonhoeffer with a perspective on the Sermon on the mount that made Jesus’ peace commandment inescapable.

Lehmann was a tutor in systematic theology at Union who understood Bonhoeffer better than any American he encountered and, with his wife Marion, formed a surrogate family for the foreign student (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 22).

Bonhoeffer in Harlem
a man was lynched today
Emmet Till whistled, white
woman claimed at her, dare
he, hang him, holocaust
widespread, rights under rugs
people poisoned, prisoned
Walt Whitman great white shark.

Bonhoeffer returns to
Berlin, sympathizing
with genocided, tried,
plots to bomb Hitler while
entertaining girlfriend
and his guests giggling
in waterfall mist while
Jewish girls gasp last breaths

As you may or may not know, this blog site was developed to help me complete my Doctor of Ministry degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  I graduated in May 9, 2009.  On May 10, my wife, Lois, and I attended a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.  I have been a Red Sox fan since I was a little boy.   My congregation at Harvey Oaks Baptist Church is fully aware that I love my team.

So it is no surprise that I received a very nice picture to put in my office…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s connection with Harlem was enhanced in Reinhold Niebuhr’s course “Ethical Viewpoints in Modern Literature” and strengthened through reading black literature and listening to recordings of Negro spirituals.

Thus in less than a year Bonhoeffer experienced more of “Negro” culture than most American whites did in a lifetime.  With (fellow student, Albert Frank) Fischer he suffered the indignity of being refused service in a New York restaurant and felt the vicarious pride of visiting Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Traveling by train through the South during the Christmas holidays, he witnessed segregation firsthand.  He judged American apartheid to be a contradiction of the nation’s ideals and commented that “the way the southerners talked about the Negroes is simply repugnant” (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 22).

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