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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a powerful man. He inherited his tall statue from his mother’s side, the Hases and the large-limbed Kalckreuths, and his supple strength from the Bonhoeffers. His movements were short and brisk. He didn’t like leisurely walks. A successful jumper and sprinter in his schooldays, he still competed with his students when he was a university lecturer.
He was impatient with illnesses and tried to shorten their duration through the copious uses of medicines. During periods of stress he did not hesitate to take pills in order to sleep.
He bought good material for his clothes and wore suits appropriate to the country and climate in which he lived, although he did not dress to impress others. He like to eat well and knew the specialties of many different regions. he was annoyed when the mushrooms or berries he had collected himself were badly prepared.
…His hair became thin early in life, and he wore rimless glasses because of near sightedness.
From the beginning, then, I was associated with Bonhoeffer’s training of ministers for the Confessing church. A close friendship resulted, and I accompanied him wherever he lived and worked. In 1940 I followed him him to Berlin, where I often stayed at his parents’ house, and in 1943 I married Renate Schleicher, the daughter of Bonhoeffer’s sister Ursula, who lived next door. Finally, he and I conducted an illegal correspondence that began after Bonhoeffer had survived the first dangerous series of interrogations in Tegel military prison. Eventually, this correspondence led to worldwide discussion. I also saw him several times in Tegel prison, until our contact was finally broken off as a result of my own arrest in October 1944. The Gestapo explored my relation with the Schleicher family, but neglected to investigate my ties to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Thus, I survived!
A man suffered shipwreck in, with, and because of his country. He saw his church and its claim collapse in ruins. The theological writings he left consisted of barely accessible fragments. In 1945 only a handful of friends and enemies knew who this young man had been; the names of other Christians in Germany were more in the limelight. When his name did emerge from the anonymity of his death, the response from the world of academic theology and the churches was tentative and restrained.
Stephen was the first Christian martyr: right? Well it depends what you mean by martyr. Stephen’s death is described in the Acts of the Apostles. In verse 58 of chapter 7 it says:
“….and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
So according to this account it’s those who watched the stoning of Stephen who were the martyrs. The Greek word means simply ‘witness’. Gradually the word came to be applied only to those whose witness to their faith caused their death. As us Christians move towards Easter in our liturgical calendar we enter a fortnight known as Passiontide. So let me introduce you to three ‘martyrs’ – two Dutch women (one a Jew) and a German man. Two were killed for their commitment to the truth as they understood it. One survived into old age.
Etty Hillesum (1914 – September 1943) was…
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BY PETER DAHL
Live one day at a time. Plan for the long-term, but the best-laid plans can be laid to ruin if we fail to do the right things every day. Instead, live life with daily diligence, an ethic or lifestyle that, for this article, I will call epiousios, the Greek word for “daily bread.”
I have been learning this in my own meditations in the recent months, and I made the serious connection to sports when the Miami Heat, after trading for Goran Dragic, saw their plans fall through when doctors discovered Chris Bosh had blood clots in his lungs. It turns out that the sobering truths of epiousios are ubiquitous in sports.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ plan is entirely based on their long-term potential, but if they don’t do the right things every day, no amount of losing for lottery picks will ever work. They still have…
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Bonhoeffer’s experiences with the African American community underscored an idea that was developing in his mind: the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering . Somehow he had seen something more in those churches and in those Christians, something that the world of academic theology— even when it was at its best, as in Berlin— did not touch very much.
Metaxas, Eric (2010-04-20). Bonhoeffer: A Biography (pp. 110-111). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
If you’re a little behind this will be a great chance to catch up. We are currently in chapter 7 and will take a break during Holy Week. Be ready to jump into chapter 8!
Dietrich is in America now while Hitler and his followers…
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Today’s guest post is by Prayson Daniel. Prayson, who blogs at With All I Am, has been using Faithlife Groups since 2012, and created the Natural Theology group. Prayson is from Tanzania, and he earned his BA at Harvest Bible College. He is currently pursuing his graduate studies at Aalborg University in Denmark. Prayson’s greatest desire is to inspire others to admire God through critical thinking.
“What keeps gnawing at me is the question, what is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today? The age when we could tell people that with words—whether with theological or with pious words—is past, as is the age of inwardness and of conscience, and that means the age of religion altogether. We are approaching a completely religionless age; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ aren’t really practicing that at all; they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We have approached a “religionless” age. Some call it a post-Christian world. Ethics and politics are no longer directly influenced by religious beliefs. For many self-describing Christians, their lives show no visible difference from unbelievers.
“What is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today?” was the question that persistently bedeviled Bonhoeffer during his solitary confinement ward at Berlin-Tegel Military Detention Center. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for his participation in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. Tegel was where he spent his last eighteen months in the world he saw coming of age. He was executed on April 8th, 1945.
During his time in Berlin-Tegel, Bonhoeffer wrote his final letters to those closest to him, and explored the most pressing questions in his final days. These writings are available to us as Letters and Papers from Prison. In his letters and notes, the question arose, what is Christianity today? In his correspondence with his best friend, Eberhard Bethge (April-July 1944), Bonhoeffer offered some of the most bewildering and exciting questions and ideas to help Christians faithfully engage with a “post-Christian” world.
Bonhoeffer asked, “How can Christ become Lord of the religionless as well?” and, “Is there such a thing as a religionless Christian?” He answered these questions with “the nonreligious interpretation of biblical concepts.”
What is religionless Christianity?
The pastor who is not praying is playing.
The people who are not praying are straying.
We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few prayers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters.
Failing here, we fail everywhere.”
He was all of these things, and more. The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides us with an amazingly clear glimpse into the mind of a Christian who was faced with an impossible decision: to whom is loyalty due, Fuhrer or Christ?
Bonhoeffer watched as fellow pastors and theologians bent their knees and proclaimed absolute loyalty to Adolph Hitler, and as the resistance of the church to the Reich in Germany gradually eroded, Bonhoeffer realized he could not stand by and do nothing. Given the opportunity by a brother-in-law who was an officer of the German military intelligence, the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer agreed to participate in the conspiracy that attempted multiple assassination and coup plots against Hitler.
Ultimately, Bonhoeffer never attempted to justify his actions or the violence that the conspiracy planned. Instead, he accepted that his actions were condemned and only the grace of God could ever undue their power. He accepted the possibility of his own damnation in the hopes that millions could be spared the wrath of the mad dictator at the helm of his country.
In the end, the plots failed and Bonhoeffer was imprisoned. For two and a half years he stayed in a series of Gestapo prisons and concentration camps awaiting the final verdict until that fateful April morning when he was marched naked to the gallows and executed.
Bonhoeffer was many things, but his legacy continues to this day. His life and theology unlocks a dimension of Christianity that many assumed had been forgotten to the ancient past: martyrdom. Yet he was not simply a passive martyr that unquestioningly accepted his fate; he stood up for what he felt was right even though he could not justify his own actions.
Charles Marsh is a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia and director of the Project on Lived Theology. He is the author of several other books including Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology. Marsh was a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009 and the 2010 Ellen Maria Gorrissen Berlin Prize fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin.
It doesn’t take much effort to notice the recent rise in popularity of the study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While he has been the subject of much study and discussion for decades, his work is being discovered by a new generation. In some ways, this popularity could be due to Eric Metaxas’ 2011 biography of him, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Wheaton College focused their annual Theology Conference on Bonhoeffer in 2012, at which Charles Marsh spoke and read a portion of the now complete Strange…
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