Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life by Renate Bethge, K. C. Hanson (Augsburg Fortress Publishers) His life became a symbol of Christian resistance to Hitler. His thought ushered in a new era of worldly Christianity. His personal struggle for authentic moral and religious stance became a beacon for a distracted world. Accompanied by family photos, the dramatic life, evolving thought, and perilous times of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906—1945) are sketched in this short volume, which also features short excerpts from his writing.
This slim volume captures in a compelling and personal way the religious and political odyssey of one of the last century’s great religious beacons.
A life found and lost
"All over the world people who are trying to find meaning
and joy in life, despite the disorder of the world, are listening attentively to
what (Bonhoeffer) says, because he was granted the great opportunity of
confirming his message through his life and death."
—W. A. Visser t'Hooft
"The prophets still walk among us...The way of Dietrich,
which led him from the university into the Confessing Church and then into the
Resistance, was undoubtedly a prophetic way."
Nearly sixty years after his death in a concentration camp, the life, thought, and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) continue to attract and engage Christians around the world. In this helpful picture of Bonhoeffer's life, his niece Renate Bethge sketches the familial roots and development of Bonhoeffer's convictions, his tireless work in the Nazi period for a church of resistance, and his fateful involvement in a plot to stop the Nazi regime.
"Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the one German theologian who will
lead us into the third millnnium."
About the Author
Renate Bethge, an author and editor, is a niece of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and widow of Bonhoeffer’s close friend Eberhard Bethge, who initiated the widespread publication of Bonhoeffer’s writings after his death and authored the definitive biography.
— K. C. Hanson (translator) has taught biblical studies at Episcopal Theological School and the School of Theology at Claremont, Creighton University, and St. Olaf College. He is author of numerous scholarly articles and two volumes in the Proclamation series. K. C. Hanson is the biblical studies editor at Fortress Press. His published works include Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts
Bonhoffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resister a Documentary Film by Martin Doblmeir (DVD) (First Run Features) This is a compelling documentary about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a prominent Christian theologian. Bonhoeffer, who lived in Germany during the time of Nazi Germany, ultimately gave his life in an effort to stop Hitler's tyrannical rule and oppression of the Jewish race.
The documentary explores the concept of Christian ethics,
and shows how Bonhoeffer was able to reconcile seemingly contradicting beliefs
of the sanctity of life and justice - to the point that he was willing to
participate in the resistance's attempts to assassinate Hitler.
The documentary uses phenomenal footage of Hitler's reign, interviews with Bonhoeffer's friends, family, and students, and analysis from historians to vividly tell this story. The story has direct relevance to the world we live in today
The film is mostly primary sources, those close to Dietrich, several of whom passed away shortly after its filming. Bonhoeffer is one of the most compelling theologians of the twentieth century and this is the best window into his life available. Costly grace, ethical constructs of good versus good and the world come of age are all paradigm shifting ideas - but the locus of their authority rests in the details of his life and risks taken in the name of bold action in service of God.
If you are interested in an uplifitng account of how God can use one ordinary man to make a difference, then this movie is for you. Or, if you simply want to watch an amazingly well told documentary about an important era in German history (without feeling preached at), then this film also is for you. It certainly makes you think about our current world politics from a fresh point of view.
Bonhoeffer As Martyr: Social Responsibility and Modern Christian Commitment by Craig J. Slane (Brazos Press) provides a thorough and nuanced view into the life of an inspiring man in whom there was little difference between belief and action. I was especially interested in the life-altering effect the Sermon on the Mount had on Bonhoeffer's view of social responsibility. Throughout the central theme threads are woven among a rich collection of friends, philosophers, theologians, and many others, all of whom add color to the larger fabric of a life lived under the sign of the cross.
When I first encountered the "real" Bonhoeffer, I was smitten, provoked, and held captive by the riddle: is it possible for someone who planned treasonous and murderous acts to be honored as a martyr? Over time, it became evident that I was opening a staggering set of issues that would require of me historical competence, interpretive imagination, and nuanced theological reflection. To be blunt, if Bonhoeffer is a martyr, he is not an easy one! Bonhoeffer—with his colleagues in the resistance movement—did not succeed in bringing down Hitler's rule by violent means. But he tried. Had he succeeded, we would likely know him as an "assassin." It offends the conscience of many to try to legitimate Bonhoeffer's activities on a Christian basis, let alone praise them with the accolade "martyr." The Bible certainly provides no clear grounds for tyrannicide, although later prominent Christian voices have justified it. Sometimes, under carefully prescribed circumstances, it has even been considered an offering to God (for example, by Philipp Melanchthon). If God establishes the ruling authorities for the public good, and if those authorities then turn tyrannical against their subjects, the subjects have the right to remove them. For the tyrant has abdicated responsibility both to humanity and to God. So runs the argument.
Most of us would not be unhappy to learn that someone else had taken on such responsibilities in a time of grave injustice, even if that someone gave her life for the cause. We abhor violence, but when an unpleasant thing needs doing, someone has to do it. Cultures generally honor those who make the supreme sacrifice of their lives for just causes. Citizens operating from overt Christian convictions may show public restraint, inquiring to see whether every option for a more peaceful solution had been deployed. Nevertheless, of all people, Christians understand acts of conscience. Even those bound in conscience by their pacifist convictions find sympathies for Bonhoeffer and his course, whether or not they can endorse it. The problem comes when we try to name him a martyr. Why?
Perhaps because we have been marinating our theologies of martyrdom exclusively in "religion." Among its many consequences, secularization in Western culture has opened a rift between public and private life. Usually politics belongs to the public sphere while religion belongs in the private sphere of "the circle of Christian community," or even "one's own heart." I find it helpful to think spatially here. When one acts in the public sphere out of Christian conviction, this amounts, culturally speaking, to a departure from one reality in order to arrive at another. We have difficulty seeing both the religious dimensions of political action and the political dimensions of Christian existence. Assuming martyrs' actions must be either religious or political, we won-der about their "true motives." Often we find ourselves at an impasse, imprisoned in our own categories.
The categories exist for a reason, no doubt. We cannot obliterate the distinction between politics and religion. We can learn, however, to see them both against the comprehensive reality of God's created order. Martyrs do exactly that. Understanding the totality of God's claim on human life, they perform their religious commitments openly.
As part of the audience, I find myself enamored by their moral courage and earnestness. In an age of asymmetry in belief and behavior, they spawn hope that I might yet weave my own life into a unity of word and deed. I am finding that the esoteric eddies of my personal intrigue yearn for release into a mightier stream where great currents of historical development are flowing. Indeed, if martyrdom is a river, I imagine it to be cutting its channel deeper into the earth. That is, martyrdom is a phenomenon whose connections to the created order—political, social, and ethical—are being illumined as never before. For many recent martyrs, their "giving all" for Christ became also their fullest expression of love for the neighbor, and in the neighbor, God's creation. At the surface, these newer martyrs of the church seem to die for reasons only loosely connected to the Christian faith. But what faith is it that can love God and not tend to the least in God's family (Matt. 25: 40)? The lives and deaths of these newer martyrs call for a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of martyrdom and its relation to social responsibility and Christian commitment. This insight is relatively new. However, amid the swirl of postmodern reflection, a consensus is growing that someday will likely yield a full-scale revision in our understanding of martyrdom. My work, I hope, is a contribution toward that end.
As in any study, personal experiences and commitments figure prominently in this exploration. Yet I have tried not to permit my experiential and theological idiosyncrasies to set the terms for my work. I choose to understand theology as a response to the living, active God, and I am confident that my experiences are therefore part of the matrix of human response to something prior and greater. For God himself has established life amidst death in the work of Jesus Christ, and it is he who acts both in and through the lives of both Christian martyrs and those who wonder about them. As such, Christian martyrdom is a theological phenomenon in the most direct sense imaginable.
Chapters 1-6 of this book represent my attempt to solve the Bonhoeffer riddle. I examine Bonhoeffer's life and death in the context of the early Christian martyr tradition, taking into consideration also some key evolutionary developments in the idea of martyrdom itself. Chapters 7-8 investigate the inherent interpretive powers of martyrdom to sum up Christian existence. In them I propose martyrdom as a hermeneutic key for interpreting Bonhoeffer's life and thought. Chapters 9-12 contain my interpretation of Bonhoeffer's life and theology from the perspective of martyrdom. Though theological interpretations of Bonhoeffer abound, to my knowledge none has moved the theological datum of martyrdom itself to the fore. As a result, the term martyr has, in Bonhoeffer's case at least, functioned more as a kind of moral epitaph on a theologian's life than as a theological epitaph on a life lived toward death. I aspire to make Bonhoeffer's martyr epitaph a theological one. In so doing I hope his life might open to us in fresh ways. Perhaps that alone constitutes the uniqueness of this book. For the Bonhoeffer materials have been diligently quarried and hewn by two generations of scholars before me.
As near as I can now discern, my earlier engagement with the thought of Alfred North Whitehead and Wolfhart Pannenberg created the structural possibility for the dawning of the idea of a martyrological interpretation of Bonhoeffer. Granted, neither of these figures has written pointedly of martyrdom. But I found Pannenberg's term prolepsis to unpack a cornucopia of possibilities, especially in regard to the con-figuration of temporality along theological-biblical lines. Whitehead's concept of "concrescence," which Donald Sherburne aptly described as "the growing together of a many into the unity of the one," is similar in its capacity to evoke wonder concerning God's guidance in the creation. This may have contributed to my teleological reading of Bonhoeffer's works in the final chapters, where I test the hermeneutic of martyrdom in its power to illumine the deathward curvature of Bonhoeffer's life by closely examining his Christology and ethics and the so-called Finkenwalde experiment. As ideas gradually become one's own, it is increasingly difficult to sort out origins with precision. But I am confident that these two ideas lie at or near the roots of my thesis.
Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Geffrey B. Kelly. John D. Godsey translated by Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, volume. 4, Fortress Press) Freshly translated from the German critical edition, Discipleship provides a more accurate rendering of the text and extensive aids and commentary to clarify the meaning, context, and reception of this work and its attempt to resist the Nazi ideology then infecting German Christian churches.
With that sharp warning to his own church, which was engaged in bitter conflict with the official nazified state church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his book Discipleship (formerly entitled The Cost of Discipleship). Originally published in 1937, it soon became a classic exposition of what it means to follow Christ in a modern world beset by a dangerous and criminal government. At its center stands an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount: what Jesus demanded of his followers--and how the life of discipleship is to be continued in all ages of the post-resurrection church. :Every call of Jesus is a call to death,” Bonhoeffer wrote. His own life ended in martyrdom on April 9, 1945.
ACT AND BEING:
Transcendental Philosophy and Ontology in Systematic Theology
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
edited by Hans-Richard Reuter, Wayne Whitson Floyd, Jr.
translated by H. Martin Rumscheidt
$30.00, cloth; 237 pages, notes, index
LIFE TOGETHER & PRAYERBOOK OF THE BIBLE
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
edited by Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Albrecht Schonherr, Geggery B. Kelly
translated by Daniel W. Bloesch, James H. Burtness
$30.00, cloth; 237 pages , notes, index
In many ways Dietrich Bonhoeffer has become a modern saint in the new German Church. He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was imprisoned at Buchenwald and executed on Apr. 9, 1945. His renown rests less on his achievements as a theologian than on his life, which illustrated his belief that Christian discipleship means costly involvement in modern secular society. Bonhoeffer studied theology at Berlin, but under the influence of Karl Barth he rebelled against the academic type of theology that he found there. As this proposed 16 volume collection of his collected works shows his theological sophistication is really more fresh and innovative than what we have been led to expect. ACT AND BEING is his second dissertation upon the nature of conscience and consciousness. Written in 1929-1930 a Dietrich Bonhoeffer's second dissertation, this book deals with the questions of consciousness and conscience in theology fro the perspective of the Reformation insight about the origin of human sinfulness in the heart turned in upon neither to the revelation of God nor to the encounter with the neighbor. It offers important reflections on the ethical nature of theological inquiry. The beginnings of his ministry coincided with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Bonhoeffer joined the "Confessing Church," those elements in the church opposed to Hitler. He taught theology first in Berlin and then in the unofficial seminaries of the Confessing church. Life together deals with the social vision of the Christian life in community. PRAYERBOOK OF THE BIBLE is an introduction to the spirituality of the psalms. It is a classic of Christian spirituality. Arrested in 1943, he was hanged shortly before the downfall of Hitler. His best-known works to date in English are The Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison. It is hoped that these provocative theological works will continue to inspire Christians with his astounding social vision.
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