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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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by Stanley Hauerwas

Bonhoeffer For Us?

“Yet one may wonder how Bonhoeffer should be read by those in the ministry in our time. The challenges he faced are so different from the everyday tasks incumbent on those in the ministry in our day. Bonhoeffer confronted the Nazis and Hitler – it is hard to imagine a more dramatic conflict. Dangerous though it may have been, those confronted by the Nazi’s knew what sides they needed to be on. We seldom enjoy such clarity. The result is often a stark divide between activities associated with pastoral care and the social witness of the church.

Those in the ministry today must negotiate a very different world than the world Bonhoeffer encountered. We are unsure who our enemy is, or even if we have an enemy. We lack the clarity Bonhoeffer enjoyed – which, of course, is not a bad thing. But it leaves us confused about how to discern in the world in which we live what the primary challenge facing the church may be. Bonhoeffer saw quite early who the enemy was, though he was surrounded by many who did not see what he saw in the Nazis. Indeed, one of the interesting questions for Bonhoeffer’s relevance for pastors in our time is what enabled him to see the threat Hitler represented.”

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And so, next Tuesday the United States will elect a new president. Our choices this year are abysmal, but still, we have to choose. Amongst those of us whom you most read here, I am American, and I will vote for Trump. Why? To be sure, for me, it has been a long and very […]

via Bonhoeffer’s Dirty Hands and the Election — All Along the Watchtower

Justin Brierley finds out why popular author and broadcaster Eric Metaxas is backing Donald Trump

Eric Metaxas is dressed down in a T-shirt on the day I meet him. The trademark round-rimmed spectacles are firmly in place, but he has forgone his usual outfit: a suit with a pocket handkerchief.

I am similarly attired, as New York, where Metaxas lives and works, is experiencing an unprecedented summer heatwave. The air-conditioned studio on Wall Street in downtown Manhattan – where he records his daily show, syndicated nationally across 300 Christian radio stations – provides welcome relief from the blistering heat outside.

THAT’S THE NATURE OF TRUTH. IT’S WILD AND ALL OVER THE PLACE

This radio role is fairly new. Until recently, Metaxas was primarily known as the witty and intellectual evangelical author of popular William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer biographies. His Socrates in the City events in New York and Oxford, during which he interviews Christian thinkers, have also reached many people.

Yet Metaxas’ interests lie beyond the purely highbrow. His past writing credits include children’s books and scripts for Christian cartoon series Veggie Tales. He also enjoys exploring the experiential dimension of faith alongside the intellectual. His conversion took place when he was 25 and was sparked by an extraordinary dream; a story he tells alongside many other supernatural accounts in his 2015 book, Miracles (Hodder & Stoughton).

Commencing his weekday radio show 18 months ago has given him a fresh outlet for his funny side. The guests he interviews are diverse, but the listeners keep coming back for Metaxas’ gregarious personality and engaging style.

The author’s profile reached a new peak in 2012 when he gave the opening address at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Obama seated next to him. Obama’s policies on abortion and religious liberty had long been anathema to many evangelicals, including Metaxas. That he was able to make Obama laugh while delivering pointed criticisms of the president’s administration is a testament to Metaxas’ rhetorical ability (whatever you make of his politics). He even made sure the POTUS left with a copy of his Bonhoeffer work in hand.

The title of Metaxas’ latest book, If You Can Keep It (Viking), is a reference to Benjamin Franklin’s response to a woman who asked him, as he left the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “Dr Franklin, what have you given us, a monarchy or a republic?” He answered, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

Metaxas fervently believes that America is on the edge of losing that ability to govern itself unless it returns to the common values of freedom and liberty on which the republic was founded. He admits that the current

presidential race represents a “terrible choice”, but he has (along with a handful of other high-profile US evangelicals) chosen to publicly back Trump, believing Clinton will send America teetering over the edge of the precipice.

He acknowledges that it is a messy business and one for which he has drawn criticism, (Metaxas stridently criticised Trump during the nomination process) but, like so many of his evangelical contemporaries, Metaxas believes that loyalty to his country, and the Christian values it was founded upon, means that compromises have to be made for the greater good. Religion and politics are a combustible mixture in the US, and for Metaxas and his fellow countrymen, this year’s election is proving to be no exception.

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 30 September 2016 | Ronald Osborn

In the final two years of his life, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote several letters from Tegel prison to his friend Eberhard Bethge in which he spoke of the need for what he referred to as a “religionless Christianity.” “I shall not come out of here a homo religiosus!,” he declared vehemently in a note dated November 21, 1943.  “My fear and distrust of ‘religiosity’ have become greater than ever here.  The fact that the Israelites never uttered the name of God always makes me think, and I can understand it better as I go on.”  On April 30, 1944, Bonhoeffer offered one of his most famous and controversial statements on the meaning of discipleship in what he elsewhere called a “world come of age.”  “What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today,” he wrote. “We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore.”

Piety and religiosity had not vanished from German society in Bonhoeffer’s day (any more than they have from American society in the present, confounding the secularization theories of several generations of sociologists of religion).  Yet this very fact, Bonhoeffer concluded, was itself ironically symptomatic of the irrelevance of religion to the problems facing most men and women. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it,” he wrote, “and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’” Under these circumstances, what did it mean to be a follower of Christ?  In the aftermath of the failure of the institutionalized churches and self-professing believers in Europe to withstand the onslaught of totalitarian ideologies—indeed, in the light of the church’s own authoritarianism and its ability to carry on uninterrupted even as the ground fell out from under it, with hymns being sung and sermons preached without pause amid the march to war—the question that now confronted Christians was one of first things.

Did the very language of spiritual inwardness, of evangelism, of apologetics, and of churchly authority that had marked Western Christianity from its beginning still make any sense? Was it the task of believers to somehow refill the vessels of a failed Christendom project that had been thoroughly corrupted by political evil with lost or forgotten meanings?  Or were believers now called to bear witness to Christ in a secular age in radically new ways, and not as “religious” persons at all?  Did “religion” itself need to be left behind as a historical stage, a human construct and sociological phenomenon, that was in no sense synonymous with the presence of the living Christ in the world and in history?  But if so, what would such a “religionless Christianity” even begin to look like?

“Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world,” Bonhoeffer wrote to Bethge on July 18, 1944.  Three days later, after learning of the failure of the Officer’s Plot to assassinate Hitler—a plot in which he had been complicit and for which he would be executed at the age of 39 when his role was uncovered by the Gestapo—Bonhoeffer wrote of the “this-worldliness” of the Christian faith:

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

We do not know how Bonhoeffer might have developed these highly allusive ideas had his life not been cut short. His enigmatic and provocative words have often been pressed into the service of agendas Bonhoeffer himself would have resisted, from liberal death-of-God theologies to highly conservative forms of evangelical Protestantism. Yet there are perhaps a few lessons we can learn from Bonhoeffer’s witness as we face the abuses of power, the smallness of heart and mind, and the betrayals of leadership that have led to mounting crises in our own day—both inside and outside of the church.

How can we be faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of unsettling new realities, in which by faith we trust that God is still at work? How can we be certain of Christ and speak meaning into the lives of our fellow human beings when we can no longer put our trust in church officialdom or attach our confidence in the Holy Spirit to the outworn habits of religious thinking and speech that mark our church structures?  How can we testify to the living Christ when “religion” itself turns the Word of God into a dead letter and takes on the marks of dehumanizing “kingly authority”?

For Bonhoeffer, the answers to these questions lie not in any nostalgic retreat to the past.  He ultimately refused the path of shoring up decaying institutions and exhausted forms of piety.  Rather, Bonhoeffer insisted, believers must now repent of the power and control game that they have been playing for far too long.  They must instead enter with fear and trembling into the dangerous drama of Christ’s kenosis—his self-emptying and co-suffering identification with all of humankind.

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By Decision Magazine   •   September 20, 2016 

Best-selling author and commentator Eric Metaxas has written a new book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. He discussed the premise of the book and the state of our nation in a recent interview with Decision.
Best-selling author and commentator Eric Metaxas has written a new book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. He discussed the premise of the book and the state of our nation in a recent interview with Decision.

Interviewed by Jim Dailey, Executive Editor

Q: In what ways do you believe “American exceptionalism” has defined our country? 

A: It’s all quite shocking when you think of it. America was the first country in the history of the world that was based on an idea: liberty for all. It was also the first country in history to say that people could govern themselves. These ideas have become so common that we no longer clearly see them as wild and unprecedented and daring.

As a result of these ideas we have been a beacon of liberty to the whole world and have spread out ideas of freedom beyond our borders so that many people around the world enjoy religious liberty and economic freedom. There is simply no nation in history that has done these things, and in many ways we have been a missionary country, one that felt it had a mission beyond its borders, and one that believed we were chosen by God to do these things. To the extent that we’ve lost that view of ourselves, we have ceased to be that, and I’ve written my latest book with the intention of helping us rediscover that vision of who we are.

Q: The moral descent of our culture has accelerated at a rapid pace over the past decade—e.g., same-sex marriage rulings, the transgender agenda, the decline of millennial participation in religion, and a worldview that is increasingly hostile to traditional Christianity. What has led to the quickened pace?

A: The reasons are many. At some point around the 1960s, a number of things happened. For one thing, a widespread misunderstanding took hold about the separation of church and state. Instead of the founders’ idea that the state should stay out of the business of the churches, some pushed the false idea that churches should cease to have influence in the public square. This profound misunderstanding has been tragic. It led to our abolishing prayer in schools, among other things, which sent a signal that America was a secular idea, which was never true. American freedoms can never flourish in a secular environment, and to the extent that we’ve turned away from faith we have seen them falter. Technology also helped the downward spiral because the birth control pill made it possible to divorce sex from childbirth. This was a fatal breach in a holistic view of human beings and it played a major role in destroying marriages and families, which have always been at the center of our healthy culture.

Q: The premise of your latest book, If You Can Keep It, is taken from a conversation with Benjamin Franklin following the Second Continental Congress. What must our nation do to keep the freedoms that we have been so generously blessed with throughout our unique history?

A: That is precisely why I wrote this book, because the most important thing to do right now is to educate ourselves about what America is and what the founders gave us. In the book I talk about all of those things and about some of the stories of our history, stories about the heroes who sacrificed their lives and much else, so that we could have what we have. These things have not been taught in schools for the last 40 years, so we desperately need to revisit them, and that’s precisely why I put all of them in this book, so that you could just say to someone, “Here, read this and then let’s discuss it.” I want to start a national conversation on these things. We desperately need that right now.

Q: How can a culture that is growing decidedly unmoored from Biblical values promote true freedom and make the course corrections needed to preserve our union? And if virtue is necessary to liberty, from where might that virtue rise? 

A: Again, we need first of all to teach about these ideas. We need to explain this crucial idea that virtue and freedom are connected, that the kinds of freedoms we have in this country simply cannot exist without virtue. That’s why I devoted a chapter to the “Golden Triangle of Freedom.” Every American desperately needs to know that. So first we need to talk about it and we need to let people know that it cannot work any other way. If we don’t see this connection between virtue and liberty, we will never feel the need to promote virtue.

So yes, I wrote this book hoping to reignite a conversation in America about virtue and the importance of it in our way of life. And out of that conversation I sincerely hope we could begin encouraging virtue. The most important thing is that we understand that without God, we are lost. He is the one who inspires us to virtue, and He is the only one who can help our country rediscover its virtue. This is not optional. It’s at the heart of who we have been as a nation, and it’s unavoidable. I included a chapter on George Whitefield which makes that clear.

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First of all let me state clearly that I have been a lifelong Republican. I know that there are many Republicans, even if they do not support Trump, they believe they must vote for him because to do otherwise would be to vote for Clinton. Perhaps they are correct, but I suggest the following should be considered.

It is a relatively accepted fact that both Clinton and Trump are disliked by over 50 percent of the prospective voters. While not comparing either Clinton or Trump to Stalin or Hitler, I believe that it is fair to compare this election as having a choice between Stalin or Hitler. Which is the lesser of the two evils? When confronted by such a dilemma, the only possible choice that I can see is to stand up for a choice other than the one with which we are presented.

The 20th century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, had come to the U.S. as guest lecturer, and was encouraged to stay in America in order to protect himself from persecution by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer wrote the following to his friend Reinhold Niebuhr, “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 at this time with my people.” Bonhoeffer stood up for what he believed in and returned to Germany. He was subsequently in imprisoned for two years, and executed in April 1945.

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Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Director of Cross-Cultural & Interfaith Programs at Claremont Lincoln University; Interfaith educator, writer, leader

Vladimir Godnik via Getty Images

“Are we still of any use?”

Bonhoeffer asks this question as he considers the Holocaust—looking back at both human depravity and the complicity that keeps “good humans” from acting. What turns all of us into bystanders and benefactors, safe in our homes, content not to rock the boat?

In the face of such staggering human loss, what can we say? Why do we humans harm each other, again and again? And is it possible to prevent atrocity and complicity?

For the week of July 27 through August 1, I participated in the 2016 Annual Seminar on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Good, Evil, and the Grey Zone: Religion’s Role in Genocide from the Holocaust to ISIS.”

Alexander Hinton, author of Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide and the forthcoming Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer in Cambodia, and Timothy Longman, author of Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda, and the forthcoming Memory and Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda, co-taught the course, which included examination of intersections of religion and genocide and the profound moral implications of the Holocaust.

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“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quote

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