You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘dietrich bonhoeffer’ category.
The Bonhoeffers had immigrated from Holland (van den Boenhoff from Nimwegen) in 1513 and settled as goldsmiths in Schwäbisch Hall. After the seventeenth century they became pastors, doctors, city council members and mayors.
~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 9.
Posted: February 17, 2017
In 1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned some extreme words: “When Christ calls a person, he bids him come and die.” Unfortunately, those words were personally prophetic. In April 1943, the Gestapo arrested Bonhoeffer. He spent the next two years in prison and concentration camps. By special order of Heinrich Himmler and with probable direct knowledge of Hitler himself, two primarily responsible for the Holocaust, the Nazis tragically hung Pastor Bonhoeffer at a camp in Flossenburg, Germany.
Afterward, they burned his body in a pile because the crematorium was inoperative. Just a few days later, the Allies liberated the camp.
Practically, what do Bonhoeffer’s words in his fine work, “The Cost of Discipleship,” mean for us? Similar to alarming images used by Jesus and other authentic faith teachers, Bonhoeffer’s striking language at heart means that true religious faith must make a real life difference. Practical and noticeable change in how we live day-to-day is the point of Christian or any other faith-related “calling” or vocation.
Bonhoeffer’s notion of a Christian being radically obedient to the teachings of Jesus has everything to do with love and respectful expression. Notice that the price has to do with one’s own life. In contrast, radical manifestations of alleged faith rooted in violence, hatred and exclusion are dead wrong.
The cost of discipleship is not in the lives or well-being of others, such as someone killing or hurting someone else, allegedly in the name of God. In vivid contrast to such delusion, genuine expressions of faith benefit others by caring for them and meeting their needs. Lives are enhanced, not lost or harmed.
Outside of the New Testament, the first chapter of “The Cost of Discipleship” might be one of the most important writings for Christians in any era or at any age. Further, prioritizing a transformed life of thanksgiving applies across faith lines.
For his Christian readers, Bonhoeffer distinguishes between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Essentially, cheap grace is the perception that God’s acceptance, forgiveness and favor results from some easy mental assent to a doctrine or belief without any impact on a person’s life. It is “grace without discipleship,” without actually endeavoring to follow the teachings and model of Jesus.
In contrast, God’s actual grace is life-altering. Acknowledging God’s grace is a beginning, not an end in itself. Experiencing and responding to God’s grace is a daily and life-long process involving hard work. Accepting such true grace is a choice. The consequence should be discipline toward a changed life, one that is focused on practical acts of love and caring.
Bonhoeffer is one who has “standing” to provide an opinion about bona fide religious faith. He lived in a time when his beloved German homeland deteriorated into a fanatical and isolationist nationalism fueled by hatred and led by a demagogue. Bonhoeffer was troubled by the general silence of the institutional church of his time, which the Nazis attempted to co-opt with some success.
In “Bonhoeffer: Pastor. Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” Eric Metaxas cites a chilling birthday tribute to Hitler from an April 1939 official publication of the nationalistic German Reich Church: “[We celebrate] with jubilation our Fuhrer’s fiftieth birthday. In him God has given the German people a real miracle worker.” What an abomination. The fascist government, with complicity of the so-called church, worked to silence faithful, authentically Christian critics of the regime, such as Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was a gentle and peaceful man who loved his country. Nevertheless, he actively and strongly opposed the extreme tyranny, outrageous prejudice and ecclesiastical hypocrisy of his day. He was part of a significant movement that opposed all that Hitler and his extreme brand of nationalism stood for and represented.
In 1939 and with help from American friends, Bonhoeffer was in the United States, far away from his imperiled country. He was teaching at Union Seminary in New York. By that time, he was well-known and well-liked in many international circles as a rising theological mind and author.
The situation in Germany by 1939, six years after Hitler came to power, was beyond dangerous. Friends begged him to stay in the United States, where he was making a difference then and potentially into the future. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer chose instead to return to his home. His selfless choice was an act of true love rooted in faith for his misdirected country and its people.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
After his death (Grandfather Karl Alfred von Hase), Hans von Hase (1873-1958), the elder brother of Bonhoeffer’s mother, officiated as family pastor as occasions like weddings and baptisms. The parsonages where he lived, first in Silesia and then in the eastern countryside of Brandenburg, the so-called Mark-Brandenburg, now part of Poland, made the church and its ministry come alive for young Dietrich. Because of the numerous cousins and its farm, the rural parsonage was a paradise for holidays during and after the First World War.
~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 8.