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In an era of intense polarization, as liberals and conservatives argue over the meaning of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work, a Bonhoeffer scholar considers what it means to be a disciple in the age of Trump.

Scholars and theologians across the spectrum have long argued over the meaning of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work, but in recent years, those disagreements have intensified, spreading beyond the church and academy and into the political world, says Stephen R. Haynes.

“Basically everybody with an opinion who’s even heard of Bonhoeffer wants to use him to strengthen their case about whatever issue is under consideration,” said Haynes, the author of “The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump,” to be released this month by Eerdmans.

Since 9/11, and especially in the past few years, as America has become increasingly polarized, so too has Bonhoeffer’s legacy.

“People want to use him in a liberal way or a conservative way,” said Haynes, the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis. “They want to use him in a way that speaks not only for what they believe but against what they’re against.”

The politicization of Bonhoeffer became most apparent in the 2016 presidential election, Haynes said, when Eric Metaxas, author of a best-selling Bonhoeffer biography, and other conservative evangelicals cited Bonhoeffer in urging evangelicals to vote for then-candidate Donald Trump.

“For the first time, people are using Bonhoeffer to say specifically, ‘We need to support this candidate in order to salvage our democracy,’” Haynes said.

In his book, Haynes takes issue with Metaxas, who he said “normalized” Trump in a way that many Christians find “difficult to imagine.”

As one who grew up in the evangelical tradition, Haynes said he is trying to speak to evangelicals who support Trump.

“I’m talking to people I know and respect who are committed to Trump, to try to think outside the box, outside the voices that they hear all the time, and reconsider what they’re doing,” Haynes said.

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Jim Gray: The Best Book I Read Last Year

I have just finished reading “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas. The book is superb. It is about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a pastor of the “Church of Luther” during the rise and reign of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

This man of Christ conducted a principled fight against what Hitler and the corrupted Church of Germany were doing, and eventually was imprisoned and executed for his efforts and beliefs. But he was unafraid, because he was doing what knew his God wanted him to do. Regardless of our religious faith or beliefs, how many of us can genuinely say that we are standing up for our principles and Liberty for ourselves and others anywhere near to this degree? This is an inspirational book, and I strongly recommend it to anyone.

There are many lessons from the book for liberty lovers

Many insightful comments permeate the book, which all people who treasure Liberty should be aware of – today and every day. Here are some of them:

  • For Hitler, ruthlessness was a great virtue, and mercy, a great sin. This was Christianity’s chief difficulty, that it advocated meekness. (Meekness has its place but, as stated in the musical Camelot: “I find humility means to be hurt.  It’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt.”)
  • Bonhoeffer believed it was the role of the church to “speak for those who could not speak.” (Thus he saw Jesus Christ as a “man for others.”)
  • One of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts was “Absolute seriousness is never without a dash of humor.“ (We should never lose the ability to laugh at ourselves.)
  • The Nazi regime always cast their aggressions as defensive responses to actions against them and the German people. (Virtually always the justification for war.)
  • Bonhoeffer was the principal point of connection between his new “Confessing Church” and the Ecumenical movement, seeing the best and the worst in both. But each saw the best in itself and the worst in the other.  (Is this not how the various politically “warring groups” see themselves and others in our country today?)

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The Plot to Kill Hitler; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia McCormick; HarperCollins, 192 pages, $18.99. Ages 8 and up.

28594377Patricia McCormick, a two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the fascinating true story of the German pastor and theologian who was executed for his role in the plot to kill Hitler in this suspenseful, beautifully written and meticulously researched book. McCormick paints a vivid picture of “a big rambunctious family,” a happy household of eight children, in a home in Breslau, the family’s pet goat with free run of the house. Dietrich was the dreamer in a family of overachievers (his father was a psychiatrist, his oldest brother a genius at physics).

The death of his brother Walter in World War I was the driving force in Dietrich’s interest in theology and big questions about Christianity and the meaning of life. McCormick offers a clear explanation of Bonhoeffer’s theology and his belief that the church was not a building or a dead institution but a living force for good in the world, a belief that would later involve him – despite his pacifist beliefs – in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.

McCormick brilliantly combines the “big picture” historic and political backdrop with the anecdotal, as Bonhoeffer struggles in vain to convince his fellow Lutheran pastors of the threat posed by Adolf Hitler and then his role in establishing the breakaway Confessing Church. A particularly interesting chapter documents Bonhoeffer’s study at Union Theological Seminary in New York and his friendship with African-American classmate Frank Fisher, who took the young German to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. (McCormick notes that Winston Churchill, alerted to the possibility of an effective plot against Hitler, dismissed Bonhoeffer with “I see no reason whatever to encourage this pestilent priest.”)

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Summary:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer died a martyr’s death at the age of 39 but remains one of the most influential and challenging theologians of our time. His writings teach us the value of cross-centered theology, and his courageous actions against the Nazi regime compel us to consider the cost of discipleship.

To purchase the book…

I…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 (Eberhard married Renate Schleicher, the daughter of Bonhoeffer’s sister, Ursula), but neglected to investigate my ties to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Thus I survived. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Preface to the First English Edition (1970), xv.

Perhaps it is the consistency and credibility of his admirable understanding of his cultural and church traditions, and the way in which he accepted the shaking of these foundations, while he lived and conceived a new Christianity for the future. Perhaps part of our sense of his conviction comes from the incompleteness of the of the man and his answers–because he presents us, not with a finished doctrine, but with an active process of learning. Perhaps it was a strong identity he preserved, even as he wrestled with a complexity of themes, answers, and problems. Perhaps we are fascinated by his utterly unfashionable renunciation of publicity. Perhaps, too, it was the triumph of his humanity over its betrayal by the means he was forced to use. To explain the widespread attention that has been given to his theological contentions, Christian testimony, and actions, we must look along all these lines. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Preface to the First English Edition (1970), xiii.

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Post by Diane Reynolds:

The people closest to Dietrich Bonhoeffer weren’t there when he died at Flossenbürg concentration camp, but one he was probably thinking of was his twin sister Sabine.

Bonhoeffer, who would become famous for both his theological writings and his life resisting Hitler, had a very wide acquaintance and many friends. He was part of the interwar trans-European elite and knew almost everybody. He had by all accounts, a self-assurance and a perfect command of manners that made him welcome in the highest echelons of society. He performed the role of a man in charge.

Yet what surprised me as I researched Bonhoeffer was the extent to which women populated his innermost circle of intimacy. For example, in a letter to Bethge, Bonhoeffer wrote that Bethge and Sabine, his twin, were the two to whom he felt, “in contrast to . . . other people … a remarkable sense of closeness.

I discovered (common, I learned in the German biographical tradition) that a male perspective on Bonhoeffer dominates the discourse, best typified by Eberhard Bethge’s mammoth biography. Thus, I began my book on Bonhoeffer and women, called The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to reinsert women more fully back into Bonhoeffer’s life story. In a very real sense, I wrote the book that wasn’t in my library. (For details on a drawing for a free copy of the book, see above.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 12.09.55 PMWomen have often been downplayed in Bonhoeffer’s story. Not entirely, of course, but strange omissions occur. For example, there is no published photo of Elisabeth Zinn, who more than one writer, including Eric Metaxas in his bestselling Bonhoeffer biography, calls Bonhoeffer’s fiancée. (I have a photo of her in my book thanks to the generosity of Zinn’s daughter, Aleida Assman.) And, in another example, the story of his relationship with his fiancée, Maria von Wedermeyer, has been routinely misrepresented: Maria’s story has become part of what filmmaker Laura Pointras calls a “locked narrative:” a somewhat distorted story that has been told so often it attains the status of truth.

My book tells—or tries to tell—the true story of the women closest to Bonhoeffer. This seemed important because it was in dialogue with women (as well as men) that Bonhoeffer hammered out his theology. Further, this man for whom the personal was always the theological and the theological always the personal, built up through these women the layers of experience—all-important to him– that helped form his theology.

For this book, I used the letters and memoirs of some of the women in Bonhoeffer’s life. These sources were a species of women’s writing, often with a strong emphasis on the domestic. In my book, I aimed to capture some of the domestic flavor of the women’s writing—and, through narrative nonfiction also to provide a sensory context for life in Weimar and Nazi Germany.

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Bonhoeffer for Today: A Q&A with Biographer Eric Metaxas

posted by Jana Riess
FINAL cover - hi res Bonhoeffer.jpgFlunking Sainthood is delighted to talk today with author Eric Metaxas, whose study of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer sets a new standard for popular biography. It’s well-written! It’s fascinating! And it’s large enough to insulate your home!

Eric, when Thomas Nelson sent me your book, I thought there must be two or three books in the package, it was so thick. Then I opened it to find a single doorstopper. Wow! How long did it take to research and write this biography?

Yes, it’s a big book, much longer than the one I thought I would write. But I’m extremely happy to report that a huge number of people all have said they were initially daunted by its size, but once they started it they just couldn’t put it down. Publishers Weekly even called it “riveting”! It’s in extremely bad taste for an author to quote his own reviews, but when you’ve written a long book, it means everything that so many people are really enjoying it. The previous big biography, by Eberhard Bethge, is actually twice as long and weighs five pounds, so compared to that, my book is a dime-store paperback… I wanted my book to be definitive, but also accessible, and I hope I’ve succeeded in both of those things.

I wrote it during a period of the most concentrated effort I’ve ever made in my life. It was as if I were sprinting a marathon and praying that God would give me the strength not to collapse. He did; so I didn’t.

Why did you want to write a life story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the first major biography to be published in 40 years? How does his life speak to you?

I first heard the story of Bonhoeffer in 1988 and was simply staggered. The idea that a devout Christian in Germany would stand up to Hitler and get involved in the plot to kill Hitler and be killed in a concentration camp was just amazing. My mother grew up in Germany during those awful years and my grandfather was killed in the war (I dedicate the book to him), so that period of history has always haunted me. Still, I never thought I would write a biography on Bonhoeffer. But after the success of Amazing Grace, my biography of Wilberforce, everyone kept asking whom I would write about next. There’s only one person whose life captivates me as much as Wilberforce’s life did, and that man is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He’s about as authentic a person as I’ve ever encountered and I know that his life speaks powerfully to us in a number of ways. He’s sort of the ultimate hero and his story is so inspiring I just had to tell it to a new generation of readers.

One of the coolest things about your biography is that you’re drawing on letters and journal entries that have never been published before. What were some of these, and what do they add to the story you’re telling?

There is an extraordinary 16-volume series of Bonhoeffer’s works published by Augsburg Fortress Press. It contains every letter and journal entry and everything else he ever wrote and most of the volumes have finally been translated into English, so I had access to everything.

Read more: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/flunkingsainthood/2010/07/bonhoeffer-for-today-a-qa-with-biographer-eric-metaxas.html#ixzz3kcp5Xyh4

He inherited the sensitive mouth and the full, sharply curved lips of his father. Dietrich’s smile was very friendly and warm, but it was obvious at times that he enjoyed poking fun! 

~ Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, xvii.

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. 

~ Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, xvii.

 

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