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by COLLIN HANSEN
Every year Halloween seems to grow in popularity. Bigger decorations, better candy, badder costumes. And every year Christians wonder how to handle this strange event that brings neighbors together over ghoulish scenes of death and unhealthy piles of chocolate. Should we steer death-defying teenagers toward Hell Houses to consider the eternal state of their souls? Should we lock ourselves in our living rooms with the lights turned off? Or should we embrace the fun and enjoy the company of neighbors who only emerge this one holiday each year? In short, do we flee from Halloween or seek to redeem the day?
In the latest Going Deeper with TGC podcast, Mark Mellinger and I talk with Timothy George, author of the recent article “The Gospel of Ghoul” and founding dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. We discussed our culture’s fascination with zombies and vampires and the meaning of All Saints Day. He also explained how we should we can “tweak the Devil” on Halloween. Listen to the whole discussion for his answer to questions of which Protestant reformer he’d want to dress up as and whether we speak too much, not enough, or just the right amount about hell.
As the podcast continues, The Gospel Project managing editor Trevin Wax talks with Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, about enduring trials and facing genuine persecution. He shares his testimony about how God bore him through trials while growing up in a Muslim home and standing with Jesus against his father.
For the rest of the article…
Red Sox knock off Cards in 6 games
David Ortiz, Shane Victorino and the Boston Red Sox closed in on yet another World Series championship, battering October ace Michael Wacha and taking a 6-0 lead through six innings Wednesday night in Game 6.
Fenway Park was rollicking, with the crowd standing from the very first pitch. Slumping Shane Victorino lined a three-run double off the Green Monster in the third, and the cheers, chants and singing only got louder after that.
Many fans paid over $1,000 per ticket for this night, knowing what was at stake — holding a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven matchup, Boston was hoping to celebrate a championship on its own field for the first time since 1918.
Ortiz drew walks his first three times up, along with thunderous cries of “MVP! MVP!” He also scored twice, having reached base a whopping 18 times in 23 plate appearances.
Boston was aiming for its third title in 10 years. Lackey was trying to become the first pitcher to start and win a World Series clincher for two different teams, having led the Angels past Barry Bonds and the Giants in Game 7 in 2002 as a rookie.
Stephen Drew hit a solo home run that someone in a Red Sox jacket caught in the bullpen. Mike Napoli, back in the lineup with Ortiz returning to the DH slot, hit an RBI single into the “B Strong” cutout in the grass that pays tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The control of the Church by German Christians was not all that disturbed men like Bonhoeffer. It was becoming clear that Hitler intended to bend the Church to his purposes, or cripple it if it to bend. Pastors were discouraged from speaking out against early Nazi abuses; the government abetted ecclesiastical authorities who were sympathetic with the nationalist fervor of the regime.
Eventually churchman like Pastor Schneider who voiced serious disapproval with the government were sent to prison camps or moved to rural parishes.
(William Kuhns, In Pursuit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 48-49).
Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a Would-Be Assassin?
We’re in the middle of another Dietrich Bonhoeffer renaissance. A new wave of interest in the German theologian is being lifted by new biographies and examinations of his theology. Everyone seems to want to claim Bonhoeffer for their own causes. This was the case, of course, in the 1960s when radical theologians such as John Robinson and Harvey Cox attempted to appropriate him for secular theologies. And it has happened every few years since.
I was surprised to learn, when studying theology in Germany in the 1980s, that there, in Germany, he’s generally not considered one of the “giants” of twentieth century theology alongside Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, Tillich or even Niebuhr. There his legacy is tied to his role in the Confessing Church movement and his participation in a plot to overthrow the Hitler regime. I sometimes wonder if it weren’t for the latter, including his execution by the Nazis, and his enigmatic sayings in Letters and Papers from Prison whether he would be as well remembered and widely discussed as has been the case.
Years ago I read Eberhard Bethge’s magisterial biography of Bonhoeffer entitledDietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (1967, ET 1977). Bethge was, of course, one of Bonhoeffer’s closest friends and confidantes. He was his student and they lived together in the “underground seminary” that Bonhoeffer led for the Confessing Church movement. Eventually, Bethge moved into Bonhoeffer’s family home in Berlin and married his mentor’s niece. After the war and after Bonhoeffer’s execution Bethge took it upon himself, with the support of the Bonhoeffer family, to collect Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s papers and publish them. Throughout the 1950s through the 1970s he became the expert on Bonhoeffer. His biography is 841 pages long in English translation (not including the index).
I think it’s fairly safe to say that if it were not for Bethge, Bonhoeffer would largely be forgotten. I have trusted Bethge about Bonhoeffer implicitly, as have most others. Bethge was a scholar and member of the Bonhoeffer family and does not seem to have had any axe to grind that would cause us to consider his accounts unreliable.
A few days ago a new book arrived: Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel (Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas) (BakerAcademic, 2013). The “myth” referred to in the title is that Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. That is clearly expressed and argued (viz., that it is a myth) in Chapter 3, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Assassin?” (pp. 71-97). The authors’ thesis is expressed in several ways, but I find this passage especially concise: “There is no evidence that Bonhoeffer was ‘involved in the plots to kill Hitler.’ Hopefully we have also shown that there is no real evidence that Bonhoeffer himself affirmed the killing of Hitler.” (p. 93).
The authors of Bonhoeffer the Assassin? argue for continuity between Bonhoeffer’s pacifist theology, as expressed in writings such as The Cost of Discipleship (or just “Discipleship” depending on the edition) and his life in the Abwehr—the German military intelligence agency that was the breeding ground for some of the plots to overthrow Hitler and the Nazi regime. They furthermore argue that there is no evidence that Bonhoeffer ever actually participated in any conspiracy to kill Hitler even though his ecumenical contacts on behalf of the conspirators to overthrow Hitler (in Switzerland and Sweden) involved him indirectly in the resistance to the Hitler regime. According to them, Bonhoeffer remained a pacifist throughout his adult life and never encouraged killing anyone.
The authors admit that Bonhoeffer knew some of the plotters, even those who were conspiring to kill Hitler and others, very well and had personal conversations with them. His brother and brother-in-law were members of the conspiracy and almost certainly had few, if any, qualms about killing Hitler (after a certain point when simply overthrowing him did not seem feasible). They are right, however, to point out, as Bethge does, that Bonhoeffer’s own actual role in the Abwehr conspiracy was remote. It was confined largely to traveling to neutral countries (mentioned earlier) to meet with religious leaders (mostly British) to talk about German surrender and cessation of war should the conspiracy (either to overthrow Hitler or kill him) succeed. A few remnants of those conversations remain in letters and memories (later written).
If we are to agree with Nation, Siegrist, and Umbel, that Bonhoeffer never advocated, condoned or participated in an actual plot to kill Hitler (or anyone else), we have to question Bethge’s testimony which is clear. And the authors do question it. They suggest his memory of Bonhoeffer’s own sayings to him and to others was faulty. (pp. 92-93)
But let’s look again at Bethge’s own recorded memories in Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And let’s remember that much of the material in that biography was not first “remembered” by Bethge in 1967 when he wrote it. He had been deeply involved in Bonhoeffer scholarship for over a decade then—collecting, compiling, interviewing, reviewing, writing. So we should not picture Bethge, at age fifty-something (we don’t know exactly when he wrote the parts of the biography but only when it was published) for the first time sitting down to write about these events and conversations and striving to remember them.
The relevant section of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is “Section Two: Conspiracy” of “Part Three: Sharing Germany’s Destiny.” It comprises pages 627-702 of the 1977 Harper & Row paperback edition. Bethge there leaves no doubt that he believed Bonhoeffer at least tentatively gave up his pacifism in a “boundary situation,” namely, the extremity of having to end the war and the holocaust.
Bethge opens this section of his biography with a quotation attributed to Bonhoeffer by one of his ecumenical contacts, Bishop Bell with whom Bonhoeffer met in Sweden in 1942. According to Bell, Bonhoeffer told him that he once responded to fellow resistance members who proposed ceasing subversive activities that could result in Hitler’s death, thus making him a martyr, “If we claim to be Christians, there is no room for expediency. Hitler is the Antichrist. Therefore we must go on with our work and eliminate him whether he be successful for not.” (pp. 626-627) Bell published this quote from Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer quoting himself to Bell) in 1945—two to three years after the fact (assuming it happened at all). Bethge did not doubt anythingexcept that Bonhoeffer called Hitler the “Antichrist” (p. 627) and Nation, et al., call on this doubt to cast doubt on the whole quotation. What’s interesting, though, is that Bethge wrote about Bell’s account (of what Bonhoeffer said he said to his fellow resisters) that it “contains accurate and improbable parts.” (p. 627) The only “improbable part,” according to Bethge, who knew Bonhoeffer very well throughout this whole time, is Bonhoeffer’s calling Hitler the Antichrist. He did not call Bonhoeffer’s calling for Hitler’s “elimination” into question. In fact, in effect, he called it “accurate.” After wrestling with whether Bonhoeffer would have called Hitler the Antichrist for an entire page (p. 627) Bethge concludes thus: “If that rather crude theological expression [viz., Hitler as the Antichrist] could really have encouraged his friends, Bonhoeffer might perhaps have used it verbally.”
Bethge’s chapter argues convincingly for “Bonhoeffer’s actual complicity in the plot against Hitler.” (p. 628) And by that he clearly did not mean some kind of remote knowledge of the plot. According to Bethge Bonhoeffer was remembered, after the war, as saying things like “You can rely on it, we shall overthrow Hitler!” to his ecumenical contacts and others during his trips to Switzerland and Sweden. (p. 632)
Bethge nailed down what he meant by Bonhoeffer’s complicity with a saying he remembered Bonhoeffer uttering in September, 1941 at Sakrow, where Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, a major player in the plot lived then. First, notice the time and place. Clearly Bethge was not merely going by (faulty) memory. Here is what he recorded Bonhoeffer as saying then and there: “That if it fell to him to carry out the deed [viz., killing Hitler], he was ready to do so, but that he must first resign, formally and officially, from his Church….” (p. 656)
Nation, et al., cast doubt on Bethge’s “decades old memory” (pp. 92-93). I find that rather cavalier given Bethge’s naming the month, year and place where the conversation took place.
Bethge left us no doubt what he thought. On page 659 he recollects from conversations with Bonhoeffer about other, non-violent resisters, that “Bonhoeffer…was already pleading the need for assassination.” This is specifically in contrast to resistance leader Helmuth von Moltke of the “Kreisau Circle” who urged non-violent resistance to Hitler. Nation, et al., make much of Moltke at the beginning of their book and hold him up as a model of non-violent resistence to Hitler. Bethge clearly thought, from personal conversations with Bonhoeffer, that Bonhoeffer thought the Krisau Circle, von Moltke, and non-violent resistance to Hitler was useless.
Bethge opened his final section (of the chapter) entitled “The ‘Boundary Situation’” thus: “Today, in more orderly times, some people are reluctant to call Bonhoeffer a ‘conspirator’, and to give primary importance to such an originally degrading term. The further we are from the events, the more we hesitate to use the term. But it seems as if all attempts to tone it down fail to see the exceptional reality that Bonhoeffer faced, and merely cover up what is shown to us here.” (p. 696) I suspect if Bethge were alive today he would say the same about Nation’s, Siegrist’s, Umbel’s, and Hauerwas’s reluctance to identify Bonhoeffer as a conspirator to kill Hitler. Nobody calls Bonhoeffer an “assassin,” so the book’s title is a bit misleading. There is no “myth” of Bonhoeffer “the assassin” (that I’m aware of). “Participating in a plot to assassinate” would be a better, more descriptive term for what many, including Bethge, believe about Bonhoeffer. But Nation, et al., also deny that.
Bethge did not use the nearly worn out phrase “teleological suspension of the ethical” (often attributed to Kierkegaard) to describe Bonhoeffer’s own sense of justification for his involvement in the conspiracy to overthrow and then to kill Hitler. However, this entire final section of the chapter amounts to that. For Bethge, Bonhoeffer found himself in a “boundary situation” where he had to act contrary to his own best ethical principles and throw himself on the mercy of God. Bethge quoted (p. 700) from a sermon of Bonhoeffer’s in which he prophecied a time “when martyrdom would be called for” but in which “this blood…will not be so innocent and clear as that of the first who testified. On our blood a great guilt would lie….” Clearly Bethge believed that Bonhoeffer foresaw a glimpse of his own fate.
“Being a Christan is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”
I am praying and writing in my journal and meditating on Hebrews 3:13…
“But exhort one one another every day, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Oh yeah, in the background on TV is the World Series! My team, the Red Sox are playing the Cardinals.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer stressed the value of meditating on God’s Word when he was the Director of the underground seminary at Finkenwalde. Students were required to meditate 30 minutes per day on a passage selected by Bonhoeffer.
Today, I have focused on Lamentations 3:26…
“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (ESV).
With the pressures of ministry, I found peace when I waited quietly (No phone, no Facebook, no TV, etc.) on the Lord through prayer and meditation.
How is your meditation coming? I still have a long ways to go!
Lois and I attended the Release Ministries Annual Banquet this evening. Did you know that God began that wonderful ministry through two Harvey Oaks Baptist Church members? Back in 1994, God called Bill Ellett and Al Doney begin ministering to the youth at the Douglas County Youth Center!
God has used Release Ministries to transform the lives of hundreds of teenagers since then!
Let us pray that God will continue to reach incarcerated youth through the Release Ministries!
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
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.”
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.