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It was a family tradition that the Bonhoeffer children should first attend the University of Tübingen, their father’s alma mater. Their grandmother still lived there. After returning from the front, Karl-Fredrich had begun studying natural science there in 1919, and Klaus followed him for his first semester of law. During the summer semester of 1922 Sabine enjoyed staying with her grandmother. Christine was in Tübingen studying Dietrich began his theology studies. 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter Two: Student Years: 1923-1927, 47

In 1946, a man named Ernst Lohmeyer disappeared from East Germany. It took me three decades to piece together his story.

The Bonhoeffer That History Overlooked
Image: Illustration by Rick Szuecs

I had never heard of Ernst Lohmeyer until I was in my late 20s. I came across his name in the same way I came across many names at the time—as another scholar whom I needed to consult in doctoral research.

Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer

In the mid-1970s, I was writing my dissertation on the Gospel of Mark in the McAlister Library at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A premier commentary on Mark at the time was Ernst Lohmeyer’s Evangelium des Markus (Gospel of Mark), published in the acclaimed Meyer Commentary Series in Germany. Lohmeyer first published the commentary in 1936 when he was professor of New Testament at the University of Greifswald in Germany. The edition I was using, however, was published in 1967 and accompanied by a supplementary booklet. It carried the name Gerhard Sass, was dated 1950, and mentioned “how continuously [Lohmeyer had] labored to improve and expand his book, until a higher power carried him off to a still-unresolved fate.”

The melancholy of Sass’s preface haunted me. Why, after all these years, was the mystery still unsolved? The note about Lohmeyer’s mysterious disappearance stayed with me by the sheer power of its intrigue. But I did not pursue it. I was married at the time. My wife, Jane, and I had two young children, and my work as youth minister at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs was a full-time-plus call. In addition, my PhD work at Fuller entailed flying to Pasadena three times a year to research assiduously in the library for two weeks. I had no leisure to pursue the lead.

In June 1979, however, his name came up again. I was translating for a Berlin Fellowship team in Greifswald, East Germany. We were in our final meeting, enjoying Kaffee und Kuchen—coffee and cake—in dicke Maria—“Fat St. Mary”— as the rather squat-looking church was affectionately called. The church basement was filled to capacity with people interested in hearing and talking with American visitors. Those who attended did so at some risk to themselves, for the Stasi—secret police—disapproved of public gatherings that were not controlled by the state. During a pause in the discussion, I suddenly interjected. “Is not Greifswald where Ernst Lohmeyer taught? Does anyone know what happened to him?”

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Community Church to Host Public Lecture on Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • Mon Jun 17th, 2019

On Saturday, June 22, at 4 p.m., Orcas Island Community Church will present a public lecture titled “The Life and Witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

This lecture will be given by Rev. Dr. Bryan Burton, ordained in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. Burton received a Ph.D. in theology from Queen’s University in Belfast, focusing on the theology of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For the past 30 years, Burton has been teaching classes in both seminaries and churches on these theologians. He has pastored churches in Southern California, the Twin Cities, Belfast, New Jersey, Seattle and now Florida. He has been teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students at Queen’s University, Drew and Princeton, Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent College and The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.

Burton was first drawn to Bonhoeffer in high school.

“Shortly after becoming a Christian, I had a youth pastor who encouraged me to read C.S. Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’ and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship and Life Together,’” Burton said.

He refers to Bonhoeffer as a pastor and a theologian who knew how to communicate Christianity in the church and in the wider culture.

Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was martyred for his faith and political stance against the Nazi regime.

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“Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering.”

When he went to the university at the age of seventeen, Bonhoeffer left home for the first time. The world of independent thought and action opened before him; he greedily absorbed what the philosophers and the theologians had to offer. His parents wholeheartedly supported his goals. 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter Two: Student Years: 1923-1927, 45.

Bonhoeffer’s path to theology began–despite the Christian foundation of his parent’s home–in a “secular” atmosphere. First came the “call,” in his youthful vanity, to do something special in life. Then he plunged with intellectual curiosity into theology as a branch of knowledge. Only later did the church enter his field of vision. Unlike theologians who came from families that were active in the church and theology, and discovered the existence of the “world” only later. Bonhoeffer embarked on his journey and eventually discovered the church.

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 44.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on church

These are the reported last words of German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp over seventy years ago.

Bonhoeffer didn’t only write about costly discipleship and grace. His life fully reflected his work and Scripture. It was a life he surrendered into the hands of Jesus, not just on the day he died, but years before that. As a pastor in Nazi Germany, he worked tirelessly to encourage the church to stand up for issues of social justice and human dignity.

Even now, Bonhoeffer’s works and ideas challenge church views of Jesus, grace and the Christian walk. May these quotes encourage those who minister to remember the purpose of the church: to preach and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Bonhoeffer_Pray_Quote

“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.  We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.”

“The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians.”

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A stamp printed in Germany shows Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Protestant theologian, participant of German resistance movement against Nazism and executed in April 1945.

If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.

Posted by | Apr 13, 2019

Eighty years ago, a 33-year-old Christian theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to his native Germany after a short stay in the United States. He would not live to see his 40th birthday.

The Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, as well as other religious bodies worldwide, recently commemorated the annual remembrance of German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and resister of Nazi totalitarianism and terrorism. On April 9, 1945, after being in held prisoner for two years, Bonhoeffer was hanged for his association with others who resisted Hitler and the atrocities his party committed against Jews, Germans, among others.

Evidence showed the group he worked with also plotted to assassinate Hitler. A week later the Allies liberated that very POW Camp. As he was being led away to what all knew would be his death, Bonhoeffer said, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer wrote a book “The Cost of Discipleship,” that is now a classic. He compares “cheap grace,” which is like a head nod or an “atta boy” to the ethics of following Jesus, without actually getting in the water and risking a swim – with “costly grace,” that throws people into the deep end because they are formed by and live out the ethics of Jesus.

This is not a church and state issue. It is the involvement of a person of faith, regardless of religion, using politics, political action, and involvement to change the world for the poor, needy, oppressed, voiceless and powerless. Such costly grace brought Bonhoeffer into the resistance movement against the Nazis.

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