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Virtue and Vice on Display

Even with all of our modern devotion to moral relativism, people still know virtue—and vice—when they see it.

Chuck Colson liked to quote Karl Barth’s observation that Christians should do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Now I’m not sure what Chuck would have thought of podcasts, but Barth’s quote came to mind while listening to a recent episode of the Tony Kornheiser Show.

In the final segment, Kornheiser and his guests talked about two stories in the news. The first was an article in the Washington Post about Tim Tebow playing in baseball’s Single-A minor league after his stint in sports limelight.

Tebow was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida. And while his NFL career wasn’t nearly as successful, he still had great moments.

But what has long set Tebow apart, of course, is his Christian faith. It’s drawn millions of people to love him. It’s also why he has been the object of what George Weigel called “irrational hatred,” despite his many charitable efforts and the fact that he doesn’t force his faith on anyone.

Recently, the Post’s Barry Svrluga spent a day in Hagerstown, Maryland, watching Tebow in action. And he admitted that his initial skepticism (maybe even cynicism) quickly changed when he saw Tebow interact with fans, some of whom had driven hundreds of miles to see him. He talked about Tebow’s “prom experience for kids with special needs” called “Night to Shine.”

Svrluga had this to say to those who are cynical or dismissive about Tebow’s decision to now play minor league baseball and to question his motives: Before you form your opinion about Tim Tebow, “Talk to the people who made the pilgrimage here,” he said, “and look at the smiles in right field in the early evening.”

Everyone on the show agreed. Kornheiser, who’s Jewish, even joked that if he had spent a few more minutes with Tebow he might have ended up converting. He and his guests could not say enough good things about Tim Tebow.

Then the conversation turned to a very different subject: Harvard’s rescinding of at least ten offers of admission to members of its incoming freshman class. Harvard took this highly unusual step because of a Facebook group created by members of that class.

Their posts contained “offensive jokes about school shootings, the Holocaust, [sexual perversion] and the death of children and minorities.” And these are just the ones we can mention on this commentary.

All the guests on the Kornheiser show agreed—and so do I: Harvard did the right thing.

But it’s the juxtaposition of the Harvard story with Tebow that brought to mind what C.S. Lewis said in “The Abolition of Man”: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

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The Barmen Declaration

karl_barth

The Barmen Declaration of 1934 was a call to resistance against the theological claims of the German Christian movement. The German Evangelical Church had given its support to the Nazi state following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. In opposition to the pro Nazi Evangelicals, the Confessing Church movement was born with the Barmen Declaration as their founding document. Written primarily by Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration was grounded in Barth’s theological conviction that God cannot be made to serve nationalistic interests, God can only rule the nations. Among the original signers of the Barmen Declaration were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. Of the 18,000 Protestant pastors in Nazi Germany, 3,000 became members of the Confessing Church.

BZ

Barmen Declaration

In view of the errors of the “German Christians” and of the present Reich Church Administration, which are ravaging the Church and at the same time also shattering the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

1. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” John 10:1, 9

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God’s revelation.

2. “Jesus Christ has been made wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us by God.” 1 Corinthians 1:30

As Jesus Christ is God’s comforting pronouncement of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, with equal seriousness, he is also God’s vigorous announcement of his claim upon our whole life. Through him there comes to us joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

3. “Let us, however, speak the truth in love, and in every respect grow into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together.” Ephesians 4:15-16

The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and Sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.

4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to have authority over you must be your servant.” Matthew 20:25-26

The various offices in the Church do not provide a basis for some to exercise authority over others but for the ministry (service) with which the whole community has been entrusted and charged to be carried out.

We reject the false doctrine that, apart from this ministry, the Church could, and could have permission to, give itself or allow itself to be given special leaders [Führer] vested with ruling authority.

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Logos Bible Software

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of history’s most influential Christian martyrs, bequeathed to humanity a legacy of theological depth and influence that continues to inspire people from a variety of backgrounds, from broadly evangelical to confessionally reformed, from protestant to Catholic. The church continues to discover treasures from Bonhoeffer’s life and work. The T&T Clark Studies on Bonhoeffer collection presents some of this significant figure’s most recent gleanings. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906–1945, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen takes a lifetime of scholarship and presents a new standard in Bonhoeffer biography. Because of its definitive nature, comprehensive scope, and incorporation of never-before-available documents, letters, and photos, scholars are already praising it as “the best,” “without peer,” and “one of the most important resources for taking us forward in dialogue with Bonhoeffer.” In Who Am I?: Bonhoeffer’s Theology through His Poetry, Bernd Wannenwetsch and a team of international scholars present Bonheoffer’s prison poems, shedding light on his life and the development of his thought. Tom Greggs, in Theology against Religion, gives an analysis of Bonhoeffer and Barth, two of the most influential figures in modern Christianity, and argues that they had essentially the same trajectory in terms of their theological approaches to religion.

The Logos Bible Software editions of these volumes are designed to streamline and enhance your study and understanding of the life and thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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The Journey of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

BonhoefferTegelThere are a number of very important biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, none more complete or significant than the one by Bonhoeffer’s friend, Eberhard Bethge (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography). Bethge’s biography is complete though not exhaustive (even if at times a bit exhausting) and takes serious commitment to finish. The prose is not captivating. Alongside Bethge is F. Schlingensiepen’s solid and recent biography (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Those two describe a similar journey for Bonhoeffer (see below) while Eric Metaxas (Bonhoeffer) told a different story, a more evangelical one, which is why so many evangelicals have found Bonhoeffer in the last five years. Mark Thiessen Nation provides in his study (Bonhoeffer the Assassin?) a different journey for Bonhoeffer.

But the best written description of Bonhoeffer’s journey is now by Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Why use the word “journey”? Because people have made meaning out of Bonhoeffer’s life and theological development according to the scheme they find in his story. The fork in the road or the place of decision is right here: When Bonhoeffer returned to Germany after that aborted visit to Union Theological Seminary in the summer of 1939, did his theology shift from a pacifist Discipleship and Life Together direction toward a more Niebuhrian realism/responsibility vision? That is, did he enter into the Abwehr (double agent) in Hitler’s National Socialist party as one who was seeking the downfall, assassination and replacement of Hitler or was his life as a double agent a ruse for his continued life in the ministry of the ecumenical movement?

The standard journey is the journey from a rather naive and optimistic hope for church renewal through intense commitment to discipleship toward a more realistic, even compromising, assumption of responsibility (this term is big in this discussion and must be connected to Reinhold Niebuhr at Union) all reshaped in his decision that the best way to act as a responsible Christian under Hitler was to assume the guilt of the nation and seek his country’s collapse. Maybe the best way of all to frame this is to say Bonhoeffer took leave of Discipleship by the time he was writing Ethics. That, at any rate, is the most common journey told of Bonhoeffer’s theological development. I have already covered Mark Thiessen Nation’s proposal and this post is about Marsh’s study, but it appears to me Bonhoeffer’s pacifism can remain in tact in spite of his realism since he saw entrance into the resistance as guilt (personal and national).

Bonhoeffer did come by his ecclesial faith naturally: his father was not a believer, his mother was and led family devotions in the evening, the family did not attend church frequently though he went through confirmation and was both spiritually and theologically curious when young, most of his siblings were not Christians, and even having completed his theology degree at Berlin (where as a liberal he encountered Barth) Bonhoeffer still was not much a church goer. His position as assistant pastor in Barcelona engaged him for the first time in serious church work. After his return to Germany he was committed to the church — but as much to the ecumenical church, to conferences, as he was to local parish ministry.

Bonhoeffer embraced Barth’s theology deeply and this is one reason for Marsh’s general approach to Bonhoeffer’s journey: Barth is present in his dissertation on the communion of the saints, in his habilitation on German philosophical history (Marsh thinks this book was “one of the great theological achievements of the twentieth century”), but it is profoundly present in Ethics. The first “chapter” of that book could be taken from Barth’s theory of revelation in dialectical thinking (and unfortunately dialectical method in writing!) in its unifocal concentration on God in Christ as the true revelation by which all things are measured — including the world. Furthermore, Bonhoeffer here has embraced some of Barth’s universalism for the thematic center of that first chapter is about the reconciliation (ontologically) of the world in Christ already. Marsh keeps Barth before the readers of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Bonhoeffer’s twin sister, Sabine, married a Jewish man (who had been baptized).  That fact opens up a window that tosses light deep into Bonhoeffer’s theology: he was deeply committed to the brotherhood and sisterhood of the church and Judaism, of Christians and Jews, and therefore of Jews and Germans. When most were circling the wagons or wondering what was really going on, DB saw through to the heart of what Hitler and the National Socialists were setting up to accomplish in Germany and beyond. If he was anything, he was highly principled and so he refused to budge or surrender an inch to the National Socialists. Bonhoeffer’s balking at both The Bethel Confession and The Barmen Declaration, the former he had an early hand in, concerned their lack of commitment to solidarity with Jews — believers or not. Seemingly ahead of everyone else in theological circles, including Barth, Bonhoeffer saw the Jewish Question as the Christian Problem. He helped his sister and brother in law escape from Germany to England through Switzerland. They survived the war Dietrich didn’t. Marsh’s Bonhoeffer is probing pluralism in affirmative terms, and Marsh is accurate.

Marsh has exceptional sections on Bonhoeffer in the USA fascinated by African Americans, their theology and spirituality (and songs), and this experience (at Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem) shaped Bonhoeffer’s thinking about what it takes to be a gospel Christian and what racism does to a people and nation. He not only introduced his students in Zingst and Finkenwalde to Negro spirituals, but he saw racism in Germany more intensively than others because of his time in NYC. No one is more attuned to racism’s impact on theology and the need to combat it than Charles Marsh, so his sections here are more sensitive and insightful than other sketches of Bonhoeffer.

Marsh, in my view, downplays Discipleship and Life Together because, again in my view, he sees a different journey for Bonhoeffer: it is one that sees the highlight years in DB’s life not in the outside-the-system seminary (they weren’t underground until the end) writings and spirituality but in the more “responsible” political theology of the Ethics and his Letters and Papers from Prison. His sketches of DB’s theology after his return to Germany and while in prison were a highlight for me.

In fact, Marsh has all but convinced me of the Christian realism move of Bonhoeffer. But before I will go on board officially I want to re-read Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison, which I’m doing now. One thing has become clear to me: the conspirators were profoundly naive in planning to be those who would run Germany when Hitler was removed. Profoundly naive, if not delusional. I need to read more on this plot but that’s how it strikes me.

Marsh has complete control of the sources of Bonhoeffer’s life: he has obviously read them in German as well as in English (in fact I saw one or two mistakes in footnotes because he was referring to the German editions and not the English translations). Detail after details is pressed from the original sources, in a historically chronological manner, and for this reason alone Marsh’s Strange Glory stands among the best of Bonhoeffer biographies.

I must mention one feature of this book because if I don’t it will emerge in the comments and this short explanation allows me a bit of more accurate expression. Marsh’s biography is undoubtedly the best biography to read (though nothing can replace Bethge’s fullness) but it will be remembered as the biography that suggested Bonhoeffer was gay or was romantically attracted to Eberhard Bethge. There is no explicit evidence; the relationship remained chaste; Bethge was engaged and then married and Bonhoeffer himself was engaged; there is Hitler’s extermination system that included homosexuals. There are suggestions according to Marsh: they shared a bank account, they shared Christmas presents, they spent constant time together, Bonhoeffer’s (not Bethge’s) endearing language in letters, Bonhoeffer’s getting engaged not long after Bethge got engaged, and Bonhoeffer’s obsessiveness with Bethge. OK, but it’s all suggestion, and this is complicated by Bonhoeffer’s obsession with clothing and appearance. [For a Marsh interview, see this.] Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t, but  it seems their relationship could at least be explored in another context: male friendships among German intellectuals of this era, which maybe needs the reminder that friendships have been between same sexes for most of Western history. I quote here from Wesley Hill’s exceptional post on this topic about DB:

But, second, it also seems to me there’s an opposite danger that, in our effort to articulate and defend the existence of something like “close, non-sexual friendships between men” in past eras, we may overlook the importance of homosexual feelings in shaping those friendships. Yes, of course, “homosexuality” as we know it didn’t exist as a social construct until relatively recently, but that doesn’t mean the reality of persistent, predominant same-sex sexual desire didn’t exist and that it didn’t have a friendship-deepening effect for those who experienced it. Sure, Bonhoeffer wasn’t “gay” in our post-Stonewall sense. But what Marsh’s biography tries to explore is whether Bonhoeffer may have experienced same-sex attractions and how those attractions may have led him to look for ways to love his friend Bethge. Bonhoeffer evidently didn’t—and maybe didn’t even wantto—have sex with Bethge (and presumably Bethge himself wouldn’t have consented anyway). But did Bonhoeffer’s romantic feelings for his friend, if indeed they existed (as Marsh believes they did), lead him into a pursuit of emotional and spiritual intimacy with Bethge that he wouldn’t otherwise have sought? I think there’s a danger in avoiding that question, too, even as there’s a danger in jumping to the conclusion “Bonhoeffer was gay.” [Wes has a very good review of Marsh’s biography in the most recent edition of Books & Culture.]

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/09/01/the-journey-of-dietrich-bonhoeffer/#ixzz3ESv8xgSJ

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/09/01/the-journey-of-dietrich-bonhoeffer/#ixzz3ESuMYfGR

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1924. CreditArt Resource, N.Y.

Coming to terms with the genocidal century just past, especially the unvarnished evil of Nazi Germany, has prompted theologians and philosophers to adjust and recalibrate much of what they thought they knew. Writers as diverse as Reinhold Niebuhr, John Pawlikowski, Richard Rubenstein and Elie Wiesel — some more successfully than others — have all struggled to reconcile the existence of the divine with unspeakable atrocities, many of them carried out in the name of God.

Few theologians witnessed the juggernaut of Nazi depravity at closer range than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In “Strange Glory,” Charles Marsh, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, renders Bonhoeffer’s life and thought in exquisite detail and with sympathetic understanding, and in the course of more than 500 pages, we see Bonhoeffer’s transformation from pampered scion and theological dilettante to energetic churchman and Christian martyr, all against the backdrop of cataclysmic changes in Germany.

Born the sixth of eight children in Breslau, Prussia, in 1906 to a psychiatrist and his wife, Bonhoeffer grew up in a privileged environment but one that was not especially religious. When Dietrich announced at age 13 his intention to become a theologian, his siblings questioned and even belittled his choice, arguing that the church was hopelessly irrelevant. “In that case,” the undeterred teenager replied, “I shall reform it!”

After his family moved to Berlin, Bonhoeffer attended the Grunewald Gymnasium, graduating at the precocious age of 17, and in 1923 settled in for a year of study at Tübingen University, while the Weimar Republic continued its downward economic spiral. Insulated by his family’s wealth, Bonhoeffer barely noticed. The following year, he set off on an aesthetic summer in Italy. Whereas Martin Luther had been repulsed by the opulence and corruption he witnessed on his visit to Rome four centuries earlier, Bonhoeffer was rather enchanted with the Eternal City and even, in Marsh’s telling, lured by the “beauty, exuberance and grandeur” of Roman Catholicism.

Bonhoeffer’s theological training began in earnest under the tutelage of Karl Holl, Reinhold Seeberg and Adolf von Harnack at Friedrich Wilhelms University in 1924. These were tempestuous times, not only politically but theologically. Although the eminent theologian Karl Barth had also studied with Harnack, he rejected what he saw as Harnack’s enervated liberalism, tethered as it was to nationalism and reduced to social utility. Barth sought a fresh understanding of divine transcendence.

Bonhoeffer was entranced, and in ensuing years he would seek to embellish Barth’s insights by emphasizing the ethical and communal ramifications of doctrine, insisting that the Christian Gospel unfolds most authentically within community, “not through individual social or ethical experience.” Bonhoeffer was searching, Marsh writes, “for a more embodied, vital and dynamic Protestantism.” The danger in Bonhoeffer’s ideas, as Marsh acknowledges, is that his notion of the kingdom of God, in the context of rising nationalism, could be commandeered in the service of Germany, especially when the German theological establishment “presumed the providential blessings of the warrior God.”

Bonhoeffer’s brief stint as an assistant pastor to the German Lutheran congregation in Barcelona provided a respite from the growing crisis in Germany and also exposed him to those less fortunate (although he continued to live comfortably). Even more formative was his year in the United States for postgraduate study in 1930. Although he was underwhelmed by his courses at Union Theological Seminary — and found that among his fellow students everyone “just blabs away so frightfully” — he responded to the Gospel he heard at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, where he became a pastoral assistant. And a road and rail trip through the South and into Mexico allowed him to see firsthand the effects of poverty and racism. Bonhoeffer came to admire the social conscience of Union students, although he found no more sustenance in the preaching of liberal Protestants in the United States than he had in Germany. “The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events,” he lamented.

Back in Berlin in 1931, Bonhoeffer continued his engagement with the poor in parish work, but the Lutheran church in Germany was quickly capitulating to Hitler’s regime. Nazi banners ornamented the churches; one minister declared, “Christ has come to us through Adolf Hitler.” Bonhoeffer’s initial protest centered on the so-called Aryan paragraph, passed by the Reichstag on April 7, 1933. It mandated the removal of all Jews, even baptized Jews, from civil service, which included the churches.

The protests were unavailing. As a leader of what would become the Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer organized a school for dissident seminarians at Finkenwalde, near the Baltic Sea. Until it was closed down by the Gestapo in 1937, Finkenwalde immersed Bonhoeffer in Christian community, a place where, in his words, “the pure doctrine, the Sermon on the Mount, and worship are taken seriously.” It was also where Bonhoeffer developed a lifelong, homoerotic relationship with a student, Eberhard Bethge, although Marsh insists it was chaste.

Marsh is a bit less persuasive in making the case that Bonhoeffer in no way cooperated with the Nazi regime. An avowed pacifist, Bonhoeffer secured an appointment with German military intelligence, which allowed him remarkable freedom to travel both in and out of Germany. His complicity in a plot to assassinate Hitler, however, sealed his fate, although his principal involvement lay in providing moral justification for tyrannicide.

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When Karl Barth finally finished his formal education in the first decade of the 20th century, he, like many other rookie theologians, had trouble finding an academic post (some things never change). Unsurprisingly, Barth was in the upper echelon of the Western European liberal theological community, yet still struggled to find a teaching gig. Although he was Swiss, Barth was trained in German Protestant liberalism and was positioned to be the next big thing in the scholastic movement. That is, until he graduated.

As Barth backed away from high philosophies and high theorizing, he let the Word loose, changing him and his congregation forever.

Upon completing his training, Barth took his academic achievements into a job that was available: he became a pastor at a rural Reformed church in the village of Safenwil, in Switzerland. He began the regular pastoral duties of preaching and teaching in this small, simple congregation. He philosophized and theologized with grandiose word pictures and complicated strands of thought each Sunday only to watch his congregation’s eyes glaze over. All of the theology that seemed to work in the academic world of Germany seemed to fall flat in rural Switzerland. He could not connect the word of God to the villagers. What was he doing wrong?

It was only in Barth’s preaching through the book of Romans that he began to discover just how far he had been led astray while in school. Barth became somewhat famous for disagreeing with most of his academic mentors back in Germany as he began to watch the simplicity and power of the gospel take hold of his congregation through Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. As Barth backed away from high philosophies and high theorizing, he let the Word loose, changing him and his congregation forever.

About 15-20 years later, as Barth moved on and became a professor, he also turned into an academic idol for a young Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had just accepted a Sloan Fellowship to study theology at New York’s Union Theological Seminary. In New York, Bonhoeffer would encounter a similar struggle as Barth in American pastors. Much like Barth, they couldn’t seem to get the power of the gospel on the ground to their congregations. Bonhoeffer became bitterly disappointed in the churches in New York for their theological gymnastics that ended far outside of gospel of Jesus. “In New York,” Bonhoeffer famously said, “they preach about virtually everything except … the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

As highlighted in Charles Marsh’s excellent new biography on the man, it wasn’t until Bonhoeffer joined Abyssinian Baptist Church in the ghetto of Harlem that he would say he “heard the gospel preached” for the first time. All through the large, well-known churches of New York City, there was little good news being proclaimed. From Bonhoeffer’s view, it was in the “Negro churches” of the ghettos and the poor rural landscapes in the great American South that the gospel was alive and well. He was transfixed by the preaching in the black churches during the struggle for civil rights and often wrote about the “ecstatic joy ‘in the soul of the Negro.'” Bonhoeffer found the joy of the gospel of Jesus, but only in what he called, “the church of the outcasts in America.”

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Giving Thanks in Hitler’s Reich
by Timothy George    |   November 19, 2013

George__4Timothy George is dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and chairman of the Colson Center’s Board of Governors that oversees the Worldview Church.

Paul Robert Schneider (1897-1939) was the first Protestant pastor to die in a concentration camp at the hands of the Nazis. His story is one of unmitigated courage, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom. Only in recent years has he begun to receive some of the recognition he deserves.

Schneider was not a theologian of first rank like Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, nor a hero like the Polish friar Maximillian Kolbe, who sheltered thousands of Jews and eventually exchanged his own life for one of his Auschwitz cellmates. Nor did Schneider live in a large urban center like Martin Niemöller, the Confessing Church leader in Berlin or the Catholic bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, the “Lion of Münster.” Paul Schneider, rather, was an obscure village pastor who could have escaped persecution completely had he simply been willing to keep his mouth shut.

The son of a German Reformed pastor, Schneider followed in his father’s footsteps, succeeding him in 1926 as leader of the Protestant church in the small town of Hochelheim. By that time, his early flirtation with liberal theology had given way to a more vigorous biblical and Christocentric faith, influenced in part by his teacher Adolf Schlatter. In 1933, the year of Hitler’s assumption of power, Schneider ran afoul of local Nazi leaders in his community who forced his transfer to the even more remote village of Dickenschied.

Schneider had been there hardly a month when he was asked to preside at the funeral of a seventeen-year-old member of the Hitler Youth named Karl Moog. Before the benediction had been pronounced, the local Nazi district leader, Heinrich Nadig, interrupted the service to declare that young Karl had now crossed over into the heavenly storm troop of Horst Wessel, to which Schneider replied: “I do not know if there is a storm of Horst Wessel in eternity, but may the Lord God bless your departure from time and your entry into eternity.”

Schneider_Paul

Sturmführer Horst Wessel was a Nazi party activist and author of the popular Nazi hymn “The Flag on High” (also called the Horst-Wessel-Lied). After his violent death in 1930, he was elevated as a hero in the Nazi pantheon. The Wessel story was incorporated into the pagan mythology the Nazis were seeking to revive. Alfred Rosenberg, the master of Nazi ideology, claimed that Wessel had not really died but now led a celestial storm troop. Those who died in the service of the Nazis, like young Karl Moog, were summoned to join the Wessel storm troop above. Just six months prior to the funeral incident, the Nazi bimonthly Der Brunnen declared: “How high Horst Wessel towers over that Jesus of Nazareth—that Jesus who pleaded that the bitter cup be taken from him. How unattainably high all Horst Wessels stand above Jesus!”

Pastor Schneider refused to subordinate the Christian Gospel to such a pagan myth. When Nadig repeated his graveside claim about Horst Wessel, Schneider said: “I protest. This is a church ceremony, and as a Protestant pastor, I am responsible for the pure teaching of the Holy Scriptures.”

After this confrontation, Schneider was placed in prison for five days, but he did not back down. In a letter to the Nazi leader he explained his position:

In a Protestant church ceremony God’s voice has to be clearly heard from the Holy Scriptures. Our church people are liberalized enough, so it is no longer appropriate to allow just any opinion to be expressed in the church. There can no longer be any place for this because especially at a church funeral the seriousness of eternity does not tolerate being measured by human standards. Therefore, not everyone who does his duty in the Hitler Youth or the SA fairly well can be beatified. I will certainly accept the earthly storm of Horst Wessel, but that does not mean by a long shot that God will allow him to march straight into eternal salvation. That is perhaps “German faith,” but it is not biblically based Christian faith that takes seriously the full reality of sin that is so deeply rooted in the heart and life of man.

Over the next four years there were more conflicts and more imprisonments for Pastor Schneider. His wife Margarete—he called her Gretel—supported him with her love, prayers, and correspondence. On one occasion, he wrote back to her from prison: “And now, today, the laundry arrived together with the Heidelberg Catechism, your letter, butter, and chocolate.” To his six children, ages one to ten, he wrote these words: “Keep on praying that God in his love and mercy may bring your father back and that we may all remain in Dickenschied. Even if God keeps us waiting awhile for the fulfilment of our prayers, we must not think that he does not hear us, and we must not tire because it takes so long. Though God helps not in every deed/He’s there in every hour of need.”

Later, he was officially deported from the Rhineland by the Gestapo and warned never to preach again in his church. Schneider ripped up the deportation order in the presence of the Gestapo official and wrote a personal letter to Hitler declaring that he could not in good conscience obey it. The consequences of such defiance were not hard to guess, nor long in coming,

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May 2, 2013 @ 0:11 By  

Those Americans who know Bonhoeffer tend to think about the church and theology under Hitler through Bonhoeffer’s experience. That is, harassed, spied upon, arrested, secretly tried, and eventually murdered. Bonhoeffer’s experience was not the norm for German theologians and pastors though neither was it atypical. Other kinds of experiences are known:

Some capitulated to National Socialism, to racism, to German culture as a relentless machine of superiority, to technology as the future, to human life as utilitarian, economic success regardless of its implications, shutting down alternative voices, and the destruction of nature. Some turned their theology into a tool for the National Socialists, led by the “German Christians” (Deutsche Christen, and some turned their academic work into the same (Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, Emanuel Hirsch). On this read R.P. Ericksen,Theologians under Hitler and S. Heschel, The Aryan Jesus.

Some capitulated by refusing to withstand and so became complicit. Some later confessed complicity; some didn’t.

Some resisted and died, like Bonhoeffer. Some resisted and escaped, like Karl Barth. Some were stained by sins under Hitler and then resisted and were imprisoned but confessed, like Martin Niemöller, while others were stained and survived, but never confessed, like Martin Heidegger. On philosophers under Hitler, see Hitler’s Philosophers by Yvonne Sherratt, a book I have not yet read.

Others resisted and survived. It is perhaps my ignorance of all the machinations or my familiarity of the stories of Bonhoeffer and Niemöller but I have always wondered how anyone could survive under Hitler without complicity in National Socialism. The story of Rudolf Bultmann is one such story, and Konrad Hammann’s full biographical study of the development of Bultmann’s theology is a singularly important achievement. The book is called Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography.

Do you read Bultmann? What do you think his seminal contributions were?

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What did Bonhoeffer think of this century’s most influential theologian?
Dr. John D. Godsey is professor emeritus of systematic theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and author of The Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Westminster, 1960). | posted 10/01/1991 12:00AM

Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968) rocked the world of theology when he published his commentary on Romans in 1919. His focus on God as truly God and his return to Scripture “destroyed the older liberalism,” in one scholar’s words. Later, Barth helped draft the Barmen Declaration (1934) that declared the true German church could never give ultimate allegiance to the Nazi state.

How much did Barth influence Bonhoeffer, who was twenty years younger?

Bonhoeffer studied theology at the great liberal faculties of Tübingen and Berlin. At the University of Berlin, he was especially stimulated by his study of Martin Luther. But the greatest theological influence on Bonhoeffer came from the writings of a Swiss theologian who was then teaching in Germany—Karl Barth.

Bonhoeffer never studied with Barth, but he devoured his writings. Barth led the new “dialectical theology” movement that was rediscovering the great themes of the Reformation and the “strange new world” within the Bible.

Like Barth, Bonhoeffer rejected the nineteenth century’s liberal theology, with its focus on human religion. He embraced Barth’s theology of grace revealed in Jesus Christ as the Word of God, attested by Scripture and proclaimed by the church. Barth’s battle cry, “Revelation, not religion!” would remain a fundament of Bonhoeffer’s theology to the end. (But, like Luther, Bonhoeffer would stress that God’s revelation is deeply hidden “in the likeness of sinful flesh.”)

Bonhoeffer finally met Barth in the summer of 1931. “I was even more impressed by his discussion than by his writings and lectures,” Bonhoeffer said. The two remained friends, and they became allies, especially in the struggle against the “German Christian” theology that tried to amalgamate Christianity and Nazism.

But Bonhoeffer was an independent thinker. Quite early he criticized Barth for interpreting God’s freedom as more a freedom from the world than a freedom for the world.

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