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Earlier this month, I post that on June 17, 1940 (the day France surrendered to Germany), Dietrich Bonhoeffer was with his close friend Eberhard Bethge “in the Baltic village of Memel. They were relaxing in an “open-air café when suddenly a special announcement came over the loudspeaker that France had surrendered. Bethge wrote:
The people around the tables could hardly contain themselves; they jumped up, and some even climbed on the chairs. With outstretched arms, they sang “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles” and the Horse Wessel song. We stood up, too Bonhoeffer raised his arm in the regulation Hitler salute, while I stood there dazed. “Raise your arm! Are you crazy?” he whispered to me, and later: “We shall have to run risks for very different things now, but not for that salute!”
This was a turning point for DB! Bethge “asserts that Bonhoeffer’s ‘double life’ truly began. This Confessing Church pastor and theologian became deeply involved in the resistance movement against Hitler and the Nazis.”
Wow! I have had numerous discussions with people over the years about why a Christian like Bonhoeffer could take an active role in the resistance. Many are troubled because Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43).
I have struggled other it was well. Yet, we were not there. DB was! And somehow, he joined the resistance to stop a mad-man from murdering innocent people. Somehow, DB reconciled being a disciple of Jesus and plotting to kill Hitler.
Five Timeless Quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Who’s the most quotable Christian writer you’ve encountered? Last year, I nominated C.S. Lewis and Charles Spurgeon as candidates and shared five memorable quotes from each as evidence.But since then, I’ve been forced to acknowledge another candidate: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous World War 2 pastor and martyr. Bonhoeffers’ writing style doesn’t lend itself to punchy quips like those of Lewis and Spurgeon, but he had a remarkable gift drawing practical advice out of complex or potentially vague subjects.
Here are five of my favorite Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes, drawn from the 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoefferdevotional.
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Discipleship
“Those who follow Jesus’ commandment entirely, who let Jesus’ yoke rest on them without resistance, will find the burden they must bear to be light. In the gentle pressure of this yoke they will receive the strength to walk the right path without becoming weary.…Where will the call to discipleship lead those who follow it? What decisions and painful separations will it entail? We must take this question to him who alone knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows where the path will lead. But we know that it will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. Discipleship is joy.”
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Intercessory Prayer
“A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed. I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner. That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others. As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day.”
3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Virtue of Listening
“We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening.”
4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Worry
“Do not worry! Earthly goods deceive the human heart into believing that they give it security and freedom from worry. But in truth, they are what cause anxiety. The heart which clings to goods receives with them the choking burden of worry. Worry collects treasures, and treasures produce more worries. We desire to secure our lives with earthly goods; we want our worrying to make us worry-free, but the truth is the opposite. The chains which bind us to earthly goods, the clutches which hold the goods tight, are themselves worries.”
Bucket List Books: Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a controversial figure on many counts. I wrote a research paper on him one semester in college hoping to come to a conclusion. The only conclusion I came to was that, while I wasn’t sure what I thought about all of his theology and actions, there was one thing I respected greatly about him: Bonhoeffer decided what he believed about something and then acted on it without reserve, regardless of the cost.
It is on this backdrop that his book The Cost of Discipleship becomes even more powerful.
As a book it stands easily on its own merits. The book essentially takes on the format of a sermon, moving passage by passage through the Sermon on the Mount and drawing Christian living principles from it.
As one might expect from a character such as Bonhoeffer, he wastes no words and stands firmly on his points. In the very first chapter he makes his distinction between the “cheap grace” he sees as a significant problem in the church and the “costly grace” that is consistent with the Bible.
“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate,” Bonhoeffer wrote. “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has … such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it call us to follow Jesus Christ.”
Bonhoeffer presents some controversial ideas, and it is certainly a book that will make you think. I read it with a notebook on one side and a Bible on the other, following along with his logic and writing down quotes. Some were marked with an all-capital “THIS” and others with question marks and concerns. Some stand on their own. All that to say, the book is well worth your time.
In the new volume of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works, Vol. 14: Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-37, there are some very interesting (to me) observations made by Jürgen Henkys in the “Editor’s Afterward to the German Edition”.
In particular, I note five particularly interesting observations Henkys’s makes about what emerges from the present collection.
(1) Finkenwalde was a protest and a prophetic discipleship against and in relationship to the dramatic take over of the German Church by the Nazis and the response of the Confessing Church. The Preachers Seminary was founded in response to the Confessing synods of Barmen and Dahlem in 1934. As the Seminary opened with its second of five sessions it was declared illegal by the state in a statement called the Fifth Implementation Decree published on 12/2/1935. The seminary opened its doors in April 1935 and was closed in September 1937 by the Gestapo.
(2) The Bible was the primary resource for Bonhoeffer in the Finkenwalde years. Particularly as everything was being reconsidered by the Confessing Church in response to the challenge of the Third Reich.
It is no accident that the Bible stands at the beginning and the end of this enumeration . . . Everything that had to be justified anew here—with respect to pastoral care, ecclesiastical politics, ecumenical and dogmatic issues—could not be addressed adequately at the level of traditional academic theological deduction (975).
(3) But the Bible is read anew in light of the present experience. There is an important hermeneutical approach Bonhoeffer takes as evidenced in his lectures and sermons. He sees that there is a need for something in addition to historical-critical exegesis. The Church Struggle becomes a hermeneutical lens for reading the Bible aright.
His writing, teaching, proclamation, and admonitions were all guided now by a new manner of reading the Bible, a manner with which not even he had much familiarity yet; the Bible was now to be read with an eye on the decisions—both imminent and past—that affected the church’s concrete present (975).
Bonhoeffer allowed the contemporary theological and ecclesiastical conflicts to shape the lecture’s task (984) Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutics pointed him in the direction of exegesis substantively shaped by the church’s own contemporary experience rather than exegesis somehow removed from time. As he reminded his candidates, academic theological departments were not the ones carrying the Church Struggle and were thus unaware of this question regarding the space of the church; those carrying that struggle were instead the pastors and congregations themselves. Bonhoeffer concludes, ‘the theology and question of the church develops from within the church’s own empirical experience and encounters. It receives blows and realizes: the body of the church must take this or that particular path. (985)
In the Bible study (“The Reconstruction of Jerusalem according to Ezra and Nehemiah”), the path to a contemporary statement or position does not emerge from any comprehensive examination of the biblical textual material nor from any enumeration of the results of historical scholarship regarding that material. What moves the exegete instead is the urgent question already on the table, concerning the church dispute and the theological assessment he has already made about this issue. The edifying elements and orientation solicited from the text itself emerge not by way of exegetical derivation and historical considerations. Rather, it is discovered, recognized anew, welcomed as confirming challenge by an exegete who reads Scripture with the assurance of the truth of the struggling church itself, which has already decided in favor of the understanding of its confession required by the contemporary situation (998).
(4) The New Testament was the primary textbook for the training of the seminarians.
The most distinctive feature of Bonhoeffer’s teaching at Finkenwalde is his exegesis of the New Testament in session after session (982).
According to Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale in their book, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, writes that there are five themes that bind Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works together…
1) Christ existing as community
2) Costly grace
3) Stellvertretung (“vicarious representative action”)
4) Ethics as formation
5) Religionless Christianity
Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 1) (Hardcover)
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