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I stated a couple of days ago that this blog was created to introduce six areas of impact that Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer can have on twenty-first century preachers and preaching. This blog is part of my thesis-project for my Doctor of Minsitry degree through Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Today, I am posting the first chapter to my thesis-project. This first chapter introduces the reasons why it is important to explore the impact of Bonhoeffer on the twenty-first century. Thank you in advance for reading this. If you have any questions or comments, please post them or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The subject of this thesis-project is to show the impact Dietrich Bonhoeffer can have on twenty-first century preacher’s view of the cost of discipleship and how that view influences their preaching. Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries writes that 1,500 pastors in America leave the ministry every week because of burnout, conflict or moral failure. That statistic indicates that the call to costly discipleship needs to be revisited. Bonhoeffer was a man who understood and truly lived a costly discipleship.
Bonhoeffer was born on February 6, 1906, in Breslau, Germany. He was a theologian, pastor, spiritual writer, and one of the key figures in the Protestant church’s resistance against Nazism. To many people, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a spiritual hero. Two of his most popular works, The Cost of Discipleship (written in 1937) and Life Together (written in 1938) have been read and cherished by people for decades.
People are also challenged by the fact that Bonhoeffer, a Christian, was executed by the Nazis because he was part of an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But people are mainly attracted to him of his emphasis on total devotion to Jesus. For example, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship he wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That familiar phrase is a reminder that being a follower of Jesus means that he demands all my heart and soul and mind and strength. There is no room for a compromising faith which Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace.”
My thesis will focus on the impact that Bonhoeffer can have on preachers and preaching in the twenty-first century. That is a valid quest even though there already is a wealth of published information about both the man and his works. According to the International Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society, there have been 18 publications about Bonhoeffer since 1990 and seven translated works of Bonhoeffer since 1997.
The abundance of resources indicates not only our interest in him, but also the profound impact Bonhoeffer has already had on the church and world since his execution over 60 years ago. The life and works of Bonhoeffer have influenced both Christians and non-Christians. Countless pastors, Christian leaders and followers of Jesus would testify that Dietrich Bonhoeffer has impacted their lives and ministries. He already is a model for us. So is there room for another work about Bonhoeffer?
I believe there is an important need for a work that will specifically focus on the influence that Bonhoeffer can have on contemporary preachers’ understanding of what discipleship costs. That influence on preachers will have a subsequent impact on the church through their preaching. There are six reasons why Bonhoeffer can impact preachers today.
First, Bonhoeffer placed a high premium on the discipline of meditating on the Scriptures. He believed that when a preacher or teacher meditated on the Word of God, it not only benefited the preacher but also the congregation. In Life Together he wrote:
“In our meditation we ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us this day and for our Christian life, that it is not only God’s Word for the Church, but also God’s Word for us individually. We expose ourselves to the specific word until it addresses us personally…”
Second, he stressed the importance of Christian fellowship (or life in the Body of Jesus). To Bonhoeffer, we cannot be a follower of Jesus unless there is a devotion to one another in a fellowship of believers. A pastor is more than a preacher. He is also a member of the local body of Jesus.
Third is what he referred to as “costly grace”. Bonhoeffer wrote that the greatest enemy of the church is “cheap grace” which is the very opposite of “costly grace.” Certainly, modern-day preachers must not only model a non-compromising faith, but they must also faithfully proclaim that theme from the pulpit.
Fourth is the importance of calling God’s people to stand against evil in society. When Bonhoeffer’s fellow church leaders in Nazi Germany rallied to support Hitler and the Third Reich, he took a stand against Hitler. He also worked to get Jews out of the country. The “evils” we face are certainly different, but Bonhoeffer’s example still lives. As preachers, we can sometimes shrink away from the hard issues of the day, like abortion. Bonhoeffer’s example can encourage us to face these issues head-on. This courage will also mean that there will be more sermons that call God’s people to be the salt and the light in a dark world.
Fifth, he exemplifies what it means to serve Jesus even in the severest of trials. Bonhoeffer took a stand for Jesus in a society that wanted to be great without acknowledging God. Even when he had opportunities to escape Germany for a safer place, Bonhoeffer decided to remain.
In 1939, his American friends got Bonhoeffer out of Germany, and they urged him to stay and wait out the war in America. But he refused. He could not comprehend rebuilding the church in Germany after the war unless he suffered along with his brothers and sisters in Jesus during the war. Bonhoeffer’s fire-tested faith is an example for preachers today, regardless of the various trials we face. The fire-tested faith of a preacher will, no doubt, carry over into the pulpit.
A sixth reason why Dietrich Bonhoeffer can impact twenty-first century preachers and preaching is his grace of living well and dying well. He did more than write about the cost that is involved in following Jesus. He lived it. Even as he risked his life opposing Nazi tyranny, he was characterized by a Christ-like character. He cared more for other people than himself. In prison, waiting for his execution, he was calm. He knew at this point that his days were numbered. Yet, one fellow prisoner remarked “Bonhoeffer was all humility and sweetness.” Another reported that “his eyes were quite unnatural.” As a prisoner, Bonhoeffer often ministered to and encouraged those who were distraught.
On April 9, 1945, he was put to death by the S.S. Black Guard at the Flossenburg concentration camp. The day before, he led a worship service for his fellow prisoners, and according to one officer, Bonhoeffer said just the right words to encourage their hearts. He died the next day with dignity and calmness. Thus, to the very end, he lived for the glory of the Lord Jesus.
These are six of the many reasons why Dietrich Bonhoeffer can impact preachers and preaching in this century. One may wonder whether or not the Nazi Germany context of Dietrich Bonhoeffer can relate to our own context in the Twenty-first century. Can he really make a difference in the life and ministry of a pastor in America where there is a much safer context to proclaim the Word of God? I believe that theses six reasons speak louder because of the historical context of Bonhoeffer. He realized that even before Hitler took power, Germany was on her way towards a society that would eventually focus more on man than God. A similar principle of self-sufficiency exists today in America. A call for a costly discipleship is just as important today as it was in Germany in the 1930’s.
Bonhoeffer’s relevance for twenty-first century preachers and preaching is strengthened, I believe, by the ability he possessed to clearly see how the church can be weakened by compromise. The church in Germany allowed herself to be eroded by National Socialism. As the church became weak in faith and in character, Bonhoeffer would not be fooled. There was no room for the followers of Jesus to possess a “cheap grace” because it was the greatest enemy of the church. The cross of Jesus Christ demands a costly grace in his followers. Grace is “costly” because it cost men and women their very lives. And it is “grace” because grace is vital for Christ’s followers to live for him.
The message of “costly” grace is timeless and appropriate for all generations whether or not there is tyranny in society. Because the church in America needs to hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer this thesis will attempt to bring his writings closer to hearts and minds of twenty-first century preachers.”
 https://bookstore.peacemaker.net/html/artic50.htm  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 89.  Ibid., 43. http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/node/2
 Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 45.
 S. Payne Best, The Venlo Incident (London: Hutchison and Co., LTD, 1950), 180.