Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I couldn’t leave the latest work of Eric Metaxas (author of best-selling Amazing Grace) on the shelf after reading this intriguing statement. Metaxas combines a comprehensive (and interesting!) history lesson with the eloquent telling of Bonhoeffer’s story and theology. He delves deep into Bonhoeffer’s personal letters and writings to find the heart of the man – a single-minded pursuit of a deep relationship with Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer the pastor had one of the most impressive academic, theological, cultural and social heritages of early 20th century Germany. He learned to think critically and discuss ideas from an early age and at 21 graduated from his theological studies, his doctoral thesis identifying ‘church as neither a historical entity nor an institution, but as “Christ existing as church-community”’. In contrast to other theologians at the time, Bonhoeffer sought relationship with Christ. He is the author of two of the most well read books in Christian literature today, ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ and ‘Life Together’.

During Hitler’s climb to power, Bonhoeffer the prophet spoke about against the rise of nationalism in Germany. “The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority…we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands upon man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him” He spoke truth into the German church situation and broke away from the national church when they deviated so far from the gospel he could no longer stand with them. ‘German Christians’ would eventually ‘(bend) themselves into pretzels’ trying to align themselves with the state. The new Reich bishop ‘declared that the “love” of the German Christians had a “hard, warrior-like face. It hates everything soft and weak because it knows all life can only then remain healthy and fit for life when everything antagonistic to life, the rotten and the indecent, is cleared out of the way and destroyed”’.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer the spy seemed to live a double life, acting for a German intelligence agency while plotting against the country’s leaders. In fact his life was simple – to act as one who is made ‘fully human’ through his relationship with Christ. Once WWII had started in earnest Bonhoeffer became convinced that “mere confession (of the true gospel), no matter how courageous, inescapably meant complicity with the murderers” and joined the conspiracy to kill Hitler.

He was imprisoned near the end of the war and, just three weeks before Hitler would end his own life, Bonhoeffer the martyr was executed in a concentration camp.

I was inspired and challenged in my personal walk with God – by Bonhoeffer’s suffering, by his teaching, by his refusal to succumb to fear in the face of great evil, by his deeds through faith.

I learnt a lot – of history, of big words (including some German!), of scripture and its application/meaning.

I was made to think a lot – about the human condition and the consequences of seemingly insignificant idols – if the German church was led astray by their idol of national pride, what could we/are we being led astray by in our society today? In our own personal lives? About ethics – how does a Christian become deeply involved in an assassination plot and believe so deeply that this is God’s will he is willing to die for it? What threatened horrors would drive men to commit suicide in order to protect their own loved ones?

I’m sure there is much more to be gleaned from this book and I plan to. At another time and level of maturity. In the meantime I’ll leave you with some more quotes:

“Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness.”

“It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murder, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so much at odds with praying as vanity”

“The religion of Christ is not a titbit after one’s bread, on the contrary it is the bread or it is nothing. People should at least concede this if they call themselves Christian”

“If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction”.

“The proclamation of grace has its limits. Grace may not be proclaimed to anyone who does not recognise or distinguish or desire it…The world upon whom grace is thrust as a bargain will grow tired of it, and will not only trample upon the Holy, but will also tear apart those who force it upon them”


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