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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian most known for his book The Cost of Discipleship and his involvement in the plot to assassinate Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, suffered a great deal at the hands of the Nazis, including his eventual execution. In the summer of 1937, just as the Gestapo was arresting Bonhoeffer’s friends, the pastor preached about God’s judgment in Psalm 58 — but he didn’t say what a modern American might expect.

“The wicked are perverse from the womb; liars go astray from their birth. … O God, break their teeth in their mouths; pull the fangs of the young lions, O LORD. Let them vanish like water that runs off; let the arrows they aim break in two. … The righteous will be glad when they see the vengeance; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. And they will say, ‘Surely, there is a reward for the righteous, surely, there is a God who rules in the earth'” (Psalm 58:3, 6-7, 10-11).

So how did Bonhoeffer, a Christian who lost his life trying to assassinate Hitler, apply this verse to his own life? Did he rail against Hitler’s evil? Not exactly. (For the full letter, read Meditating on the Word, a compilation of Bonhoeffer’s works compiled and translated by David McI. Gracie.)

“Is this fearful psalm of vengeance to be our prayer? May we pray in this way? Certainly not! We bear much guilt of our own for the action of any enemies who cause us suffering,” Bonhoeffer declared in a sermon on July 11, 1937

This message is powerful, given what had happened to Bonhoeffer in the months — and even days — before. In January 1936, he lost his grandmother — who defied a Nazi boycott of Jews by shoving through brownshirts to buy strawberries from a Jew. Throughout 1937, the Gestapo carried out interrogations, house searches, confiscations, and arrests against Bonhoeffer’s seminary students. Ten days before this sermon, they arrested his friend and fellow pastor Martin Niemöller (the man famous for the “first they came for the Jews …” poem).

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“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Among my favorite books in our library are those written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I never tire of re-reading them.

He was one of the most influential Christian theologians in the world.

So pervasive is his influence that church historian Martin Marty once suggested dividing the theological world into two groups: those who admit their debt to Bonhoeffer and those who borrow his ideas without acknowledgment.

Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau in 1906. Educated in Germany and the U.S., he early earned a reputation as a brilliant theologian. During World War II, he was imprisoned for resistance activities against the German government. For his part in a plot to kill Hitler, he was executed at Flossenburg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, a few days before it was liberated by allied troops.

Of his writings, the most impressive to me is The Cost of Discipleship. In this monumentally important book, Bonhoeffer discusses the difference between cheap and costly grace,

In theological terms, grace is understood as the free and unmerited love and favor of God. Bonhoeffer argues that churches are giving away grace at too low a cost. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves — the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”

He argues that cheap grace is disastrous to our spiritual lives. Instead of pursuing a life that requires discipline, obedience and sacrifice, we accept a deceptive gospel that makes us feel strong when, in fact, we are weak and misguided. Instead of opening up our lives to Christ it (cheap grace) has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience.

For Bonhoeffer, “Costly grace is the gospel that must be sought again and again, the gift that must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. It is costly because it causes us to follow , , , and because it costs a man his life. It is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Perhaps the concept of costly grace can be understood by recounting a small part of Bonhoeffer’s life. In June 1939, American friends got him out of Germany. Soon, however, it became clear to them that Bonhoeffer could and would not remain with them. His heart belonged to the German people who were suffering oppression and persecution under Hitler’s policies.

Since he felt he could not desert them at a time when they needed him most, he returned to Germany.

Before leaving the U.S., Bonhoeffer wrote to his colleague, Reinhold Niebuhr, these words: “I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of those alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security.”

His life personified service, commitment and costly grace. In fact, the day before he was executed, he counseled widows of those who were executed for plotting the death of Hitler, He felt that he could ease their debilitating depression and anxiety.

And his message for all of us — not just Christians — should be reaffirmed.

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“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church
by Wendy McElroy

A destructive myth haunts World War II. It is that a flaw within the German character allowed the rise of Hitler and Nazism. How else can you explain the Holocaust coming from one of the world’s most cultured nations? Oddly, no one seems to consider Mussolini to indicate a flaw within Italians or view Stalin as proof of a Russian defect.

The ‘German character flaw’ is a destructive myth because it deflects attention from the crucial task of analyzing the dynamics that allowed Nazism to rise. It permits other nations to believe “it could never happen here.” But totalitarianism can happen anywhere, to any nationality. Understanding the evolution of totalitarianism involves institutional analysis, especially of the interrelation between institutions that were active or complicit in creating tyranny.

Two institutions are commonplace and powerful around the globe: the state and the church. In Hitler’s Germany, most churches went along with the Nazis. Some did so reluctantly, many were enthusiastic. But there was also dramatic resistance by churches and religious leaders who opposed Hitler at great personal risk. For example, the German Protestant Church became a battleground between the majority who supported the Nazis, either explicitly or implicitly, and a minority who resisted them. At the core of the conflict was the question of how the church should respond to the “Jewish question.”

No man spoke more eloquently on behalf of the civil liberties of Jews than the Protestant pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He became a prominent voice in ‘the Confessing Church’ that was founded when approximately 3,000 Protestant pastors broke off from the main religious body in protest.(Konfession is German for denomination.) Bonhoeffer reminds us that there are people of conscience and moral courage in every nation. He is also a window into the institutional dynamics of church and state that both facilitated and hindered Hitler.

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Trump is far from a Hitler, but an interesting read anyway ~ Bryan

Americans today might do well to heed Bonhoeffer’s warning.

Although he was in power for only a handful of years, Hitler and his Nazi government slaughtered millions. One of the more well-known victims of that slaughter was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed on April 9th, 1945, a few short weeks before Hitler’s own death.

Unlike many of Hitler’s victims, Bonhoeffer was not a Jew, but a Lutheran minister, scholar, and theologian who boldly spoke against Hitler’s policies. Bonhoeffer landed a position in the German government during WWII and subsequently used that position as cover for assassination attempts against Hitler.

While awaiting execution, Bonhoeffer recorded a number of his thoughts in a work we now know as Letters and Papers from Prison. One of these essays, entitled On Stupidity, records some of the problems which Bonhoeffer likely saw at work in Hitler’s rise to power:

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“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.”

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”

by Wendy Murray | 14 Feb 2017 

Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging, at age 39, in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. He and a small but fierce contingent of devoted Protestants actively resisted the Nazi encroachment on both church and state.

His writings have influenced subsequent generations who struggle with the role of Christian devotion in a hostile culture. “The Cost of Discipleship,” a modern classic, is widely known for Bonhoeffer’s haunting statement: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”

What is not as readily known is that he possessed an amorous side, loving a woman named Maria von Wedemeyer to whom he became engaged in January 1943, when Bonhoeffer was 36 years old (and von Wedemeyer 18). He would be arrested by the Gestapo three months later.

During the two short years of his engagement to von Wedemeyer, and what ended up being the last two years of his life (1943-1945), the two exchanged letters that were both amorous and wrenching. Published for the first time in 1995 as “Love Letters from Cell 92” and edited by Ruth-Alice von Bismarck and Ulrich Kabitz (Abingdon), this intimate correspondence revealed a side of Bonhoeffer that is generally not known:

“Wait with me, I beg you! Let me embrace you long and tenderly, let me kiss you and love you and stroke the sorrow from your brow.”

These sentiments — and more sentiments like them — highlight the little-known, amorous side of Bonhoeffer’s testimony. He loved this young woman and longed for her, and she for him. The tenderness and optimism behind this collection of letters causes the reader to languish with the pair as week after week, into months, into years, the couple anticipates the time when they will sit together on the couch at Patzig (her family’s estate) and hold hands.

The reader also knows the tragic ending to this tale, while the writers themselves do not. (Bonhoeffer would be executed in April 1945, only weeks before Hitler killed himself and the Germans surrendered.) A constant theme echoes throughout: “Don’t get tired and depressed, my dearest Dietrich, it won’t be much longer now.”

Maria von Wedemeyer entrusted this collection of letters to her sister, Ruth-Alice von Bismarck, just before her death in 1977. For years before that, von Wedemeyer would not allow the letters to be published. Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s close friend and biographer, wrote in the postscript: “I had resigned myself to never seeing this correspondence.”

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An interesting read that goes to show that DB and his teachings can be interpreted differently. BG 

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer mit Schülern im Frühjahr 1932.” On this day in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was sent to the camp where he would be executed. What is his legacy today?Wikimedia Commons

The German pastor and theologian is famous for his rich, profound, provocative writings, and the challenge his own life presents as the pacifist who was killed for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

On this day, February 7, 1945, Bonhoeffer was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, where the Nazis tortured, experimented on and killed tens of thousands of its prisoners. Three months later Bonhoeffer was executed there, just days before the war ended and the Allies liberated the camp. The sombre anniversary provokes a reflection on the legacy of Bonhoeffer for the Church and the world.

As a hero who stood firm for his faith in a time of crisis, Bonhoeffer has often been used as a guide for the political present. Conservative evangelical writer Eric Metaxas authored the Bonhoeffer biography Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy but received criticism for his depiction of the theologian as a close ally of American conservative evangelicals. In the 2016 election, Metaxas implored Christians to vote for Donald Trump, calling the choice a ‘Bonhoeffer moment’ of grave moral significance, and likening Hilary Clinton to Adolf Hitler.

Metaxas was excoriated by Bonhoeffer scholar Charles Marsh, who explained why Metaxas’ appropriation of Bonhoeffer as a “white evangelical family values Republican” was inappropriate and delusional.

As experts on the man and his message, the International Bonhoeffer Society is well placed to explore the relevance of the German theologian to today. Last week the group issued a statement relating Bonhoeffer’s legacy to current political events in the United States. It emphasised that the best way to relate Bonhoeffer to today is not to draw direct political analogies, but to consider Bonfoeffer’s self-understanding “as a citizen in his own times” and draw on that.

Resistance to Trump

“We speak noting that Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself taught the profound relatedness of all human persons and, indeed, of peoples and nations. We therefore feel called to raise our voices in support of justice and peace, and in resistance to every form of unjust discrimination and aggressive nationalism,” the statement began.

“The United States has undergone an unusually contentious, bitter, and ugly election that has brought us to an equally contentious, bitter, and ugly beginning of the presidency of Donald J Trump.” The statement added that “we are gravely concerned by the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening in respectful public discourse” and warned: “Some of the institutions that have traditionally protected our freedoms are under threat.”

Life for others

The society highlight the maligning of minorities in America as a key concern: “This election has made the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of colour, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, the poor, and the marginally employed and the unemployed, feel even more vulnerable and disempowered.”

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