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Part I — Clarion v. 55, n. 20 (29 September 2006), pp.



DIETRICH BONHOEFFER – PASTOR, DISCIPLE, MARTYR 1906-1945 F.G. Oosterhoff In February it was a hundred years ago that the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born. That centennial inspired a large number of articles, books, and conferences in remembrance of the life and work of this remarkable man. I think it is fitting that our magazine joins the world in remembering him, even if it is done somewhat belatedly. Bonhoeffer was not a Reformed theologian. A Lutheran by birth, he received his theological education in the Bible-critical tradition, and was subsequently influenced by Karl Barth and other members of the neo-orthodox school. The effect of these strains is noticeable in his theology. It has caused some of the post-war “progressive” and “death-of-God” theologians to claim Bonhoeffer as the father of their movements – although by now it is widely admitted that they misinterpreted and exploited him. The fact remains, however, that Bible-critical influences are clearly evident in his theology. Surprising as it may seem, there is also overwhelming evidence of Bonhoeffer’s submission to the Scriptures and of his absolute trust in the certainty of God’s promises. It was this third strain that dominated his life, characterized his pastoral and ecclesiastical work, and determined his political stance. It enabled him to join the struggle against both an apostate church and an anti-christian political system, and to continue that struggle until death. It is because of Bonhoeffer’s authentic, uncompromising, biblically-founded discipleship that he can still serve as an example and guide. I can put it more strongly: Reformed Christians cannot afford to ignore him and his work. Youth and schooling I hope to deal with some of Bonhoeffer’s writings in a later article. The present one presents a brief biography. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, the sixth of eight children in an uppermiddleclass family. When he was six years old, the family moved to Berlin, where his father was appointed professor of psychiatry and neurology. Dietrich’s ancestry on both his father’s and mother’s side included an array of lawyers, scientists, musicians, artists, and some well-known theologians. The family was deeply cultured and upheld, like so many upper-bourgeois families of the time, high moral ideals. That ingrained sense of noblesse oblige existed quite apart from church-membership. Although belonging to the Lutheran community, Dietrich’s parents, especially his father, were religiously liberal and the family did not normally attend church services. Such religious instruction as the young Dietrich received in his youth came mainly from his mother, who in her youth had spent time at Herrnhut with the Moravian Brethren and adopted some of their ideals. The children’s governess from 1906-1923, Maria Horn, was a member of the Moravian brotherhood. Dietrich studied theology first at Tübingen and then at the University of Berlin, where one of his teachers was the famous liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack. In 1927, at age 21, he concluded his studies with a doctoral dissertation entitled Sanctorum Communio (The Communion of Saints). Although too young to be ordained, he did preach, spending a year as an assistant pastor with a German congregation in Spain. In 1930, he submitted a postdoctoral

He had left Germany because he expected to be called up for military service and knew that he could not and would not fight in Hitler’s armies. The Cost of Discipleship (original title. which had the support of a majority of its members. near Stettin in Pomerania (now Poland). This opposition transformed itself into the “Confessing Church” during the Barmen Synod of 1934. there was also a group that opposed the Nazification of the church.” When Barmen was adopted. n. For some years Bonhoeffer continued the seminary’s work by means of secret visits to the remaining students and graduates. Another work dating from this period was Life Together. but the lawful continuation of the German Evangelical church. It was here also that he wrote what became his most popular and influential work. He worked especially closely with George Bell. From the beginning. The most radical among them formed the pro-Nazi “German Christian” movement in the German Evangelical Church. an account of the life and work of the Finkenwalde community. confessing that Jesus Christ is the church’s owner and only ruler. Throughout he maintained that this was not a new church alongside the apostate one. Anglican Bishop of Chichester. Bonhoeffer supported the Barmen declaration and became one of the leaders in the Confessing Church. Some did so quite willingly. These were organized to prepare graduates of regular seminaries for their work in the Confessing Church (for not a single university faculty of theology had joined the Confessing Church). Bonhoeffer’s seminary soon moved further inland to Finkenwalde. 20 (29 September 2006).” Many churches and church members surrendered. To the consternation of many. arriving in Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War II. 482-485 2 dissertation and earned the licentiate for university teaching. For some years he had already been involved in the ecumenical movement and while in England he strengthened the foreign contacts that he would appeal to in his struggle against the Nazification of the German church. pp. It was at Finkenwalde that Bonhoeffer did some of his most important work for the church. He held a lectureship at the University of Berlin until 1936. and after only a few weeks he went back. Hitler began to pressure the German churches to get in line with his ideology. when the Nazi government revoked his licence to teach.) Bonhoeffer also continued to make trips abroad on behalf of the ecumenical movement. Barmen rejected Hitler’s attempts to subject the church to the state. In 1939 he travelled to the United States where he was offered a position at Union Theological Seminary in New York. (Eventually practically all of them would be forced to join the army and more than half would be killed in action. most of whom were working illegally in small parishes. First located on the Baltic. he realized that he had made a mistake in leaving his country. however. Bonhoeffer was still in England. he would even write that “whoever knowingly separates himself from the Confessing Church separates himself from salvation. but in 1935 his church called him home to lead one of its illegal seminaries. The road of resistance Soon after his rise to power in January 1933. 55. however. As soon as he arrived in New York. Meanwhile he had taken an eighteen-month leave of absence (1933-35) in order to take charge of two German congregations in London. Nachfolge). who became a trusted friend. In September 1937 the government closed Finkenwalde and arrested 27 of its former students. informing foreign churches of the challenges the German brotherhood faced and asking for support.Part I — Clarion v. They had to follow his racist program by expelling Jewish Christians from the ordained ministry and were also told to centralize church government in accordance with the “Führer principle. This is how he explained his decision to his American mentor and friend Reinhold Niebuhr: “I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian .

Hitler’s astounding political successes of the late 1930s – the conquest of the Sudetenland and soon of the rest of Czechoslovakia. he had to engage in battle with the force that did the persecuting. When he was reminded of the biblical warning that those who take up the sword perish by the sword. This was among the reasons for his arrest in April 1943. His major qualification for joining the Military Intelligence had been that thanks to his ecumenical work he had established valuable foreign connections. he believed. 1945. …Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive. he was kept in the military section of Tegel prison in Berlin. Bonhoeffer continued to work for his former students – by means of collective pastorates. At the same time he engaged in various tasks for the resistance movement. Hans von Dohnanyi.” He never regretted his decision and later wrote from prison: “I am sure of God’s hand and guidance…. he answered that that consequence had to be accepted. While ostensibly working for the government’s official secret service. and correspondence. and even to visit Berlin on work-related matters. And so. he was able to communicate with these foreign contacts on behalf of the resistance. making secret inquiries about peace aims among the allies and providing information about the planned military coup. Resistance. Opposition was a Christian duty. it was not just his task to look after the victims of madmen who drove a motorcar into a crowded street. I know which of these alternatives I must choose. these contacts were made mainly in neutral Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries. was involved and asked for Dietrich’s participation. After his return from America. however. preach. although forbidden by the Gestapo to teach. My past life is abundantly full of God’s mercy. he was able to continue his work on behalf of both the church and the resistance movement. while the police stood by. After the outbreak of war. and above all sin stands the forgiving love of the Crucified. both at home and abroad. You must never doubt that I am thankful and glad to go the way which I am being led. In his own words. At the time there was no evidence yet of his work with the resistance movement. Bonhoeffer now reached the conclusion that rather than restricting himself to simply helping the persecuted. n. had to be a matter of spiritual warfare. which had always been characterized by strict obedience to the civil authorities. pp. the annexation of Austria – caused him to reconsider. 20 (29 September 2006). 482-485 3 life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. he could avoid joining the army. formed a resistance movement with as goal the removal of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. 1938. which officially declared him indispensable so that. One of Dietrich’s brothers-in-law. As a member of the Evangelical Church. or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. Bonhoeffer and some of his associates were also involved in efforts to help Jews escape into Switzerland. but Bonhoeffer’s case dragged on and his imprisonment would last until his death in April. Another important reason was the Kristallnacht of November 9. Conditions were at first very . Dietrich at first refused. 55. not of violence and the force of arms.” Imprisonment As early as the 1930s a number of influential Germans. but to do all in his power to stop that motorcar itself. He was placed on the staff of the Military Intelligence. publish. visits. when German mobs across the country destroyed Jewish stores and burned down synagogues. the Münich conference. For the first year and a half. although drafted. from both within and outside the military establishment. but I cannot make this choice in security.Part I — Clarion v.

482-485 4 bad. he was able to extend his outreach. but compassionate neighbours came to the rescue. but before long some of the guards he had befriended smuggled uncensored letter with coded secret messages into and out of his cell. He spent a good deal of time with Wasily Wasiliew Kokorin… who was a delightful young man. Death The resistance movement planned a final attack on Hitler for July 20. “…by his stripes we were healed. but the situation improved when prison authorities and guards became aware of his connections with leading members of the Berlin government and of the German army. The possibilities of contact with the outside world were now severely limited. He was friendly and appeared totally at ease in prison. signified the end of his hopes for release. and his fellow-prisoners asked Bonhoeffer to lead a worship service. There was no food. He spent seven weeks in one of the camp bunkers. it failed miserably. and who wrote in connection with Bonhoeffer’s stay in Buchenwald. Afraid of offending non-protestants and the atheist Kokorin. an English intelligence officer who had been captured in 1939. whatever the circumstances. an extermination camp. A fellow-prisoner later wrote to Dietrich’s twin sister that Dietrich “did a great deal to keep some of the weaker brethren from depression and anxiety. where he was kept five months behind bars. The new arrivals were taken to a classroom on the first floor. Fellow prisoners who survived the war have chronicled this period. He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom his God was real and ever close to him.Part I — Clarion v.” The day after their arrival. 55. shortly before the liberation of the camp (the American artillery could already be heard in Buchenwald). Like previous ones. but time was running out. he at first declined. a small village in Bavaria. where family members of resistance leaders were already imprisoned. I think your brother divided his time with him between instilling the foundations of Christianity and learning Russian. Somehow their vehicle was sidetracked and ended up in Schönberg. He was allowed to act as an informal chaplain to those who were sentenced to death or needed encouragement for other reasons and to assist in administering first aid to the wounded in the frequent bombardments. n. The letters that were officially allowed were censured. and the discovery of incriminating papers the following September. although an atheist. but when all insisted he agreed and preached on the text of Isaiah 53. Among them was Payne Best. of joy in every smallest event in life…. 1944. he always seemed to diffuse an atmosphere of happiness. April 8. Bonhoeffer and a number of other prisoners were sent on a transport to Flossenbürg.” In the first week of April 1945. and Bonhoeffer was moved to the concentration camp of Buchenwald. In February 1945 the prison was destroyed in a bombardment. pp. was a Sunday. In October 1944 he was transferred to the dreaded Gestapo prison in Berlin. containing men from practical every corner of Europe. Becoming popular among inmates and guards both. including Payne Best and a Russian air force officer by the name of Kokorin. Bonhoeffer’s group was a diverse one. He was then granted freedom to correspond with his parents and others and to receive visitors Bonhoeffer’s attitude toward his guards and fellow-inmates also helped. It was a very pleasant place with clean beds and the opportunity to congregate. “Bonhoeffer was all humility and sweetness.” The women hoped to smuggle him yet into their part of the building so that he could repeat his message. 20 (29 September 2006). A selection of his prison writings was later published and appears in English translation under the title Letters and Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer and his fellowpassengers spent the night in a boarding school. and Bonhoeffer knew that this failure. a nephew of Molotov. He had barely .

“When Christ calls a man. n. so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. While leaving. 482-485 5 finished his service when two men. Communication with Berlin was difficult. he sealed that profession with his life.” and asking him to deliver a message. He was then transported to Flossenbürg. they heard an English voice saying: “We are gathered here in the presence of God to make thankful remembrance of the life and work of His servant Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer had written. to the Bishop of Chichester. brave and composed. “Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer. “This is the end. if he could. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor. The concentration camp physician. pp. I was most deeply moved by the way this remarkably lovable man prayed. Listening to the BBC on July 27. before taking off his prison garb.” In his book The Cost of Discipleship. and was hanged at dawn the next morning together with other members of the resistance movement. Bonhoeffer had time to say goodbye to the members of his group. Three other members of his immediate family were executed in the same month. which was published in 1937. who gave his life in faith and obedience to His holy word…. walked in saying. members of the Gestapo. and his parents would not hear of Dietrich’s death until July 1945. He wrote later. His death ensued in a few seconds. he drew the Englishman aside.’ This type of summons meant one thing only – death. 55. . “Prisoner Bonhoeffer. make ready and come with us. I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” Less than ten years later. who was present at the execution. for me the beginning of life.” Bonhoeffer was 39 years old when he died. he bids him come and die. At the place of execution. he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows. kneeling on the floor in fervent prayer to his God. 20 (29 September 2006).Part I — Clarion v. testifies that Bonhoeffer remained steadfast to the end. saying to him. namely his brother Klaus and his brothers-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi and Rüdiger Schleicher.

both professionally and personally. he puts great emphasis on the fact that in the Christian faith we do not meet with a mere set of ideas or a mere system of doctrine. Oosterhoff Much of Bonhoeffer’s work was collected and edited by his close friend Eberhard Bethge. his pastorate in London. 24 (24 November 2006). In these years he also introduced the ideas that would later be used to claim him as the father of various “progressive” theologies. where he experienced a conversion. the Son of God incarnate.Part II — Clarion v. who was crucified and rose from the death. and the organization of the Finkenwalde seminary as a religious community. Martin Niemöller. giving special attention to his view of Scripture. Back to the sources Bonhoeffer cherished his work at Finkenwalde. It was characterized by his participation in the church struggle (together with Karl Barth. G. and the seminary enabled him to prepare young men for service in the beleaguered Confessing Church. when Bonhoeffer studied in New York. a former student and the author of the definitive Bonhoeffer biography. which contained his New Testament teachings at the seminary. rather than personal commitment. and the “man of his times. . During this period he published his two most popular writings. Bethge writes that Bonhoeffer’s adult life can be divided into three phases: that of the theologian. 55. namely with the living Christ. his work at the seminary. In this article I focus on the second period. however. The second continued through the 1930s. This is what the rich young ruler had to learn. At Finkenwalde he found the type of work to which he could give himself whole-heartedly. which remained unfinished at the time of his death. It also allowed him to put into practice his conviction that education for the pastorate should focus not only on the teaching of theological knowledge and preaching skills. and his work at the illegal Finkenwalde seminary. and his book on discipleship. Two characteristics that stand out in Bonhoeffer’s writings are his Christology and his submission to the authority of the Bible. n. The third phase began around 1940 and lasted until his death in April 1945. at the end of the first term. His concern continued to be with the church struggle. and all those who came to Jesus. 583-586 1 DIETRICH BONHOEFFER (2) – THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP F. and the repentant publicans.” The first period lasted until 1930/31. In 1935. Important means of realizing that ideal were his New Testament course on the Sermon on the Mount and discipleship. a concrete following of the person Jesus Christ. With respect to the first. pp. In view of the Nazification of the universities. we meet with a person. and others). he wrote to his students that the months spent with them had constituted the fullest time of his life. but also on spiritual training. In Christianity. The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. His major work now was the Ethics. Ideas and doctrinal systems require only intellectual assent. Christology therefore demands personal commitment. he had already given up on the academic life and decided to concentrate on the practical work of pastoring. the Christian.

55. It also means that we let God determine the place where he is to be found. the second deals with the Sermon on the Mount. But if not formally abandoning this theoretical stance. the third with the sending of Jesus’ disciples to preach the gospel in Israel. and that this Word is reliable. Bonhoeffer asks his brother-inlaw: Is it…intelligible to you if I say I am not at any point willing to sacrifice the Bible as this strange word of God. owes its style and momentum to that Sermon. Bonhoeffer’s interest in the Sermon on the Mount predated his appointment at the seminary. as the Sermon on the Mount demands. Although only one part concerns itself with the Sermon on the Mount proper. 24 (24 November 2006). however. And so he could welcome even the biblecritical work of a man like Bultmann. even though he made clear that he disagreed with Bultmann’s conclusions. pp. he had still explained it in the conventional manner. It tells us that we are sinners who can be saved only because of Christ’s sacrifice. 583-586 2 The second characteristic is Bonhoeffer’s conviction that in the Bible we are given the actual Word of God. that Bonhoeffer did his work at Finkenwalde.Part II — Clarion v. The Sermon on the Mount The Cost of Discipleship consists of four parts. is “strange” and contrary to our natural desires. and we must be humble because God requires submission to his Word. yet it is the only answer to our questions. the entire book. who wondered how one could possibly live the Christian life in the twentieth-century world. The first is about Jesus’ call to his disciples and the implications of that call. he thought. Bonhoeffer in practice turned away from it. You wouldn’t believe how happy one is to find the way back from the wrong track of some theologies to this elemental thing. According to this interpretation. which remained with him for the rest of his life. as Bethge writes. Noteworthy in this connection is a letter of April 1936 to his brother-in-law Rüdiger Schleicher. including his work on discipleship. He had already dealt with it during his pastorate in Spain in the late 1920s. We have to be persistent in our prayer because God answers us only when we ask. This message. that on the contrary. I ask with all my strength what God is trying to say to us through it? Every other place outside the Bible has become too uncertain for me…. Acceptance of it. It was with this conviction. in short. This means that we are to read the Bible not as a human document but indeed receive it as God’s Word to us. which took the sting out of it. the Sermon described a life of sanctification that no mortal could attain and was therefore not to be applied in a literal . and the fourth with church and discipleship as described in Paul’s letters. Bonhoeffer answered that the Bible alone is the answer to our questions. n. and that we need to ask “persistently and humbly” in order to receive that answer. That place is not at all pleasing to the natural man – for it is the place of the cross of Christ. Since I have learned to read the Bible this way – which has not been long at all – it becomes more wonderful for me with each day…. It also tells us that those who want to find God must themselves take up the cross. At that time. was a matter of academic honesty. It is evident in his writings of this period. It is true that he did not formally reject the historical-critical tradition of his training.

its failure to give public support to those who were oppressed and persecuted – Jews and others – .… It is the kingly rule of Christ. After his conversion.” Opposed to this is the costly grace the Bible teaches. established itself in the medieval church. This was true for both the individual believer and the church. Bonhoeffer rejected this interpretation. had to result in a life of discipleship. still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…. Nor was it to say that that one would be justified by holding the right doctrine – any more than one would be justified by works. 24 (24 November 2006). but also. then. it was always on its own behalf. although our Church is orthodox as far as her doctrine of grace is concerned. and to express the conviction that the Sermon on the Mount was to be taken literally. Costly grace is “the treasure hidden in the field.” while at the same time the Christian message was secularized. and the fact that whenever it did speak up. But this was not to say that the two could be separated. for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. was lacking among many who called themselves Christians. He defined cheap grace as grace that is taught as a mere principle. It was under the preaching of cheap grace that the world was “Christianized. The effect of the teaching of cheap grace became obvious in the collapse of the Evangelical Church under Hitler. pp. Bonhoeffer did not elevate the Christian life above doctrinal faithfulness. cheap grace teaches that those who give intellectual assent to the doctrine of forgiveness automatically receive remission of sins. Making forgiveness into a general truth.” Such grace is the grace of discipleship. All Christ intended was to convince Christians of their inability to keep God’s law and so teach them that they had to rely on grace alone. and especially. but the Lutheran church soon forgot his message and example. was the preaching of cheap grace. 55. Bonhoeffer feared.” Costly grace The cause of the church’s apostasy. however. Bonhoeffer writes. n. “we are no longer sure that we are members of a Church which follows the Lord. To do so would be legalistic.” he wrote. Both had to follow Christ not only in their words. Especially distressing to him were the church’s hesitation in openly denouncing the lies and abuses of Hitler’s regime. Bonhoeffer compares the three thousand Saxons Charlemagne put to death in his attempt to spread the gospel with the millions who have . Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. And this. He now began to stress the relationship between faith. it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Bonhoeffer supported that church throughout his life. obedience. Doctrine was more important than life. 583-586 3 sense. Cheap grace. Neither is the fact that we are members of a Church which has a right confession a claim to God’s favour…. the grace that costs a man his life but that at the same time gives him the only true life.” Doctrinal orthodoxy. but whether we have done his will. Bonhoeffer believed. It was with this topic that he opened The Cost of Discipleship. God will not ask us in that day whether we were good Protestants. In a church that preaches cheap grace “the world finds a cheap covering for its sins. in their deeds. “We confess that. At the time of the Reformation Luther returned to the gospel of costly grace. “We can never appeal to our confession or be saved simply on the ground that we have made it. no contrition is required.Part II — Clarion v. It was lacking even within the Confessing Church. and discipleship. for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. but he found it increasingly necessary to speak out against its shortcomings.

24 (24 November 2006). But he adds that it is not possible to make a chronological distinction between them. he bids him come and die.” . rather than acts of obedience. which is also another word for damnation. justification and sanctification are inseparable. such a step might be the precise opposite of obedience to Jesus. and sanctification is the preservation and protection of that person until the day of Jesus Christ. Discipleship and obedience Bonhoeffer devotes two separate chapters to the call to discipleship and. faith and obedience. and are gifts of grace. Cross-bearing begins with severing the ties that bind a person to this world. Thus it begins. “As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death – we give over our lives to death. for instance. sola fide and sola gratia – by faith alone and by grace alone? Bonhoeffer agrees that faith must be placed before obedience. Because the believer is “in Christ.Part II — Clarion v. which is another word for damnation. The step into the situation where faith is possible is not an offer which we can make to Jesus.” Discipleship and the cross The final aspect of Bonhoeffer’s book to have our attention is the relationship between discipleship and the cross. that act is not in itself the obedience he demands. The two go together. If. For cheap grace means disobedience. but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. but it is also its presupposition and condition. for we might then be choosing a way of life for ourselves. we give away all our possessions. to the relationship between faith and obedience. “If the first half of the proposition stands alone. faith and then perhaps obedience. Bonhoeffer warns. Simple obedience does not imply a doctrine of human merit. and one is a disciple only by sharing in his rejection and cross. remains. for Jesus was a despised Messiah. and the two propositions must therefore always be placed alongside each other: obedience to the call of Christ is the consequence of faith. If the second half stands alone. for it is faith that justifies. 583-586 4 become “spiritual corpses” because of the message of cheap grace. When Christ calls a man. some Christian ideal. sola gratia.” he shares in Christ’s suffering. the believer is exposed to the danger of cheap grace. or some ideal of Franciscan poverty….” This statement surprised his students who had been taught. but always his gracious offer to us. That suffering implies rejection. in connection therewith. In fact. and disobedience is the enemy of faith. pp. “Obedience to the call of Jesus never lies within our own power.” The truth of sola fide. and only he who is obedient believes. They are inextricably linked. in Bethge’s words. n.” As the work of Christ in the believer. faith. the believer is exposed to the danger of salvation through works. It is the dying of the old nature. and concludes that that message has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.” Wasn’t Bonhoeffer denying the two great principles of the Reformation. 55. to distinguish between faith and obedience: ‘First comes faith. It is here that he makes the well-known statement that “only he who believes is obedient. “Justification is the new creation of the new person. at his inability to believe if there is a part of his life where he consciously resists or disobeys Jesus’ command. the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life. No one should therefore be surprised.

n. suffering is not surprising. Under his yoke we are certain of his nearness and communion. . therefore. discipleship under the cross is “peace and refreshment for the soul. nor is it an unbearable burden. But Jesus invites all who travail and are heavy laden to throw off their own yoke and take his yoke upon them – and his yoke is easy. It is he whom the disciple finds as he lifts up his cross.” Since it is a result of the believer’s allegiance to Christ. We can. and his burden is light…. in the case of Luther it began by leaving the safety of the monastery and preaching the gospel in a hostile world. .but only to find that we have a still heavier burden to carry – a yoke of our own choosing. it is the highest joy. And the dying continues for the Christian. the yoke of our self. refuse to bear it. 583-586 5 That death can take many forms. 24 (24 November 2006).” .Part II — Clarion v. Bonhoeffer writes. “Every day he encounters new temptations. In the case of the first disciples it began by leaving their homes and work in order to follow Jesus. pp. . and every day he must suffer anew for Jesus Christ’s sake. 55. Rather than being misery and desperation.

not only to give a more balanced picture of the man. according to which the Old Testament as the book of the Jews was unworthy of the Christian’s attention. however. and the Old and New Testament together are the book of Christ. Ever since his conversion he had given much attention to the Book of Psalms. pp. Studies have appeared showing the extent to which liberal theologians have misinterpreted and indeed exploited the Bonhoeffer of the later years.” and especially the “weakness and suffering of God” – that disturbed orthodox believers and were. Since the 1980s and ‘90s. Evangelicals distanced themselves from Bonhoeffer. it is therefore necessary to speak of the later writings. Bonhoeffer introduced ideas – such as “this-worldliness.” We have paid attention to the second period. In the first place there is his conviction that God is the one God of the entire Bible. Oosterhoff Bonhoeffer’s friend and biographer Eberhard Bethge. as he did himself in his private devotions. To avoid one-sidedness. other books of the Old Testament had his attention as well in the earlier years. 613-616 1 DIETRICH BONHOEFFER (3) – THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP F. the Christian. They have not. even in the controversial writings we find insights of enduring value. succeeded in presenting him as a Reformed theologian.1 For some decades their interpretation was widely accepted. however. At this time.Part III — Clarion v. G. the situation has changed again. Reclaiming the Old Testament Among the differences with the earlier period is the stress Bonhoeffer places in these later years on the Christian’s life in the world. This means that the Old Testament has an authority that is binding on the interpretation of the New. to reclaim the Old Testament as book of the Christian church. which he saw as the book of Christ and the prayer book of the church. It is not so that in his early writings and teachings he ignored that part of the Bible. namely that of the theologian. however. of the Old Testament as much as the New. the man whom many evangelicals considered as one of them. used by liberal theologians to claim him as the father of their “progressive” and “death-of-God” movements. Nor was his concern only with the psalms. These are the years of the “orthodox” Bonhoeffer. At the Finkenwalde seminary his students were taught to pray the psalms. in turn. and “the man of his times. The influences of his liberal training are more evident in these final years than they were in the second period. it is true. including Karl Barth. The attack provided a strong impetus for Bonhoeffer and other theologians. This development is connected with his growing interest in the Old Testament.” “religionless Christianity. His interest in the Old Testament increased. which lasted through the 1930s. just as the . we saw last time. with time. Such was not the case with the Bonhoeffer of the third period. We will look here at two aspects of Bonhoeffer’s view of the Old Testament. As I hope to show. and especially during the prison years. distinguishes three periods in Bonhoeffer’s adult life. He is the Father of Jesus Christ.2 These studies have gone a long way in restoring his image as a man who in word and deed sought to be guided by God’s Word. that of the 1940s. Year End Issue (December 2006). 55.3 This was in part a result of the Nazi ideology. I am doing this.

From this position we anticipate the ultimate. “that . the universe itself will be redeemed. and the Christian hope of resurrection speaks of life on an earth that. The Christian hope of resurrection and the new earth can only be properly experienced by those who share the Old Testament love of the earth and believe in the renewal of God’s entire creation. The gospel is not just about the salvation of man. although purified and renewed. For him the word refers in the first place to an overriding concern with the salvation of the individual soul. however. only by ignoring much of the rest of his writings. Bonhoeffer does not want us to spiritualise such teachings. “Are we not really under the impression. natural life. from which Bonhoeffer never departed.).Part III — Clarion v. Religionless Christianity His Old Testament studies not only influenced Bonhoeffer’s view of Christian this-worldliness. Bonhoeffer liked to use the metaphor of polyphony in music. To clarify his idea of the relationship between the present world and the world to come. and redemption in the Old Testament – from Egypt and from the Babylonian exile – is historical redemption. We live in the present. earthly. namely that which comes before the last things. Year End Issue (December 2006). That confession was not initially based on exegesis but was a presupposition. a statement of faith. but as the enemy of biblical faith. but as a kind of cantus firmus to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint. Bonhoeffer believes. In the Old Testament God’s blessings often take the form of earthly goods. they also played a part in his demand for a “religionless Christianity. The ultimate claims our final allegiance. that is the resurrection of the dead and the world to come. Biblical this-worldliness must therefore be seen. the importance of the earthly life is a biblical given. On the contrary. as a condition of the Christian faith.” His use of this term has caused questions among the orthodox and was explained by liberal theologians as referring to a Christianity without Christ and without the supernatural. 1944: God requires that we should love him eternally with our whole hearts. 55. Earthly affection is one of these contrapuntal themes…. even when other theologians accused him of a “naïve biblicism. 613-616 2 New Testament illumines the message of the Old. But this does not mean that we are to disregard the penultimate.” he writes. Where the ground bass is firm and clear. is nevertheless this present earth. pp.” Christian this-worldliness His intensive reading of the Old Testament caused him in the second place to stress the importance of the present. yet not so as to compromise or diminish our earthly affections. He writes on May 20. They could do so. Bonhoeffer defined the “religion” he rejected not as the essence. Jesus himself healed people of bodily infirmities. in what he called the penultimate. between penultimate and ultimate. there is nothing to stop the counterpoint from being developed to the utmost of its limits (99f. The Christian hope of the resurrection does not allow for a renunciation of a world that God created and declared to be very good. The resurrection hope “sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way which is even more sharply defined than it is in the Old Testament” (112). taking place on this side of death (111-113).

God creates in us praise for himself. our ‘rod and staff.” and the church must follow his example. Moreover. Righteousness and the Kingdom of God on this earth are central there. he still remains Lord of the earth and still preserves his Church. but that to receive these gifts the believer has to ask for them – “lest we rely on ourselves and not on him alone. not in weakness but in strength. a few weeks after the failure of the conspiracy. but he does fulfil all his promises. in man’s suffering and death but in his life and prosperity” (93). he wants to speak of God “not on the borders of life but at its centre. but our helper. a tendency to build walls around the church in an effort to protect it against a hostile world. hearing our prayers and leading us along the best and straightest road to himself. In this connection he issued a criticism of his book The Cost of Discipleship. when he knew that a death sentence was a near-certainty. he wrote: God does not give us everything we want.” On August 10. but more than bothering about it)” (94). i. 55. he added: “One thing is certain: we must always live close to the presence of God. Instead of opposing the anti-Christians policies of the Hitler regime and defending the oppressed. “we can be rescued from dangers. nor did he deny that God is a present help in times of need. Although he stood behind the general message of that . He was convinced that God’s promise to give strength and encouragement is sure. Bonhoeffer’s experiences with the Confessing Church played a role here. therefore. in Bethge’s words. he is Lord of our entire life.e. Bonhoeffer did not imply a disparagement of Christian prayer. But Christ. for that is newness of life. They are still central today. He also points out that a concern with the saving of one’s soul is not known in the Old Testament. Similarly. the gospel speaks of the redemption of not only the believer. it implies a seeking of him simply as a “God of the gaps” and as a crutch in times of suffering. Shortly later.’ even in ‘the valley of the shadow of death’” (Huntemann. Year End Issue (December 2006). that God is not a deus ex machina – a means whereby. the church spoke up only when its own status and safety were at stake. however. Bonhoeffer makes clear. on August 21. Yet a third negative connotation that the word religion has for Bonhoeffer is the nurturing of a Christian fortress mentality. is “the man for others. and hear our questions answered. not. In stating that God is not to be sought as a crutch in times of suffering. Bonhoeffer points out. constantly renewing our faith and not laying on us more than we can bear. but of all creation. (129). 1944. and he thanked others for their intercessory prayer. p. Christ’s office is not simply to fulfil our religious needs. gladdening us with his nearness and help. 1944. for Bonhoeffer God is not “a stopgap for our fleshly thirst for miracles. His entire life makes such a negative interpretation impossible.” As he writes on April 30. He himself prayed constantly. pp. In short. The word religion refers for Bonhoeffer also to a turning to God only in times of human weakness. 613-616 3 there are more important things than bothering about such a matter? (Perhaps not more important than the matter itself. as already mentioned.Part III — Clarion v. have our mysteries solved. and then nothing is impossible for all things are possible with God” (130). In this way. 153).

182-4). however. in Christian deeds – “in praying for and doing right by our fellow men” (160). As Reformed theologian B. but ultimately in man.Part III — Clarion v. in his prison letter of July 16. And it was not only the psalmists who pondered this mystery. Bonhoeffer’s speaking of God’s apparent powerlessness and absence must be understood in light of his conviction that the Christian life is not a life of worldly . the rod of his anger (Isa. Kamphuis remarks. Old Testament prophets also spoke of a God who concealed his omnipotence in apparent powerlessness. so that Christ’s resurrection power may also become manifest. But he also knew of God’s apparent absence. 55. The Bible however directs him to the powerlessness and suffering of God. Religionless Christianity. Bonhoeffer fails to do justice to the doctrine of the Trinity by ignoring the difference between Father and Son. It also served to express his thoughts about the mysteries of divine providence. when it seemed that God indeed allowed himself to be pushed to the sidelines. And it speaks of a discipleship that finds its strength not just in teaching and preaching. then. but also. Year End Issue (December 2006). he uses God as a Deus ex machina. is for Bonhoeffer a Christianity wherein the believer lives out his faith in the midst of the world. and through Nebuchadnezzar. however. his servant (Jer. “then this will influence the doctrine about God himself: God then appears in Christ in his powerlessness. For one thing. The “weakness of God” More questionable than the foregoing is Bonhoeffer’s speaking about a God who is weak and who suffers.” (Kamphuis. His situation was similar to that of Old Testament believers who experienced times when evil flourished and the righteous were oppressed. It therefore implies a complete conversion – a dying of the old nature and a coming to life of the new. the prophets saw the action of God who judges his people through the Assyrians. and especially. so that whatever can be said about Christ’s being more than man must nevertheless be explained with reference to his humanity. 27:6)” (Kuske. for example. These prophets addressed those who failed to recognize God in present events because these events “seemed to reveal the power of the Assyrian and Babylonian gods. He knew that “the weakness of God is stronger than man”. The God of the Bible…conquers power and space in the world by his weakness” (122). “Een andere Bonhoeffer?”. and it demands solidarity with a humanity lost in sin. in speaking about God’s suffering instead of Christ’s. it is at this point that the effects of Bonhoeffer’s bible-critical education come to the fore. another element in Bonhoeffer’s speaking of the weakness of God. There is. 1944. Even there. p. He speaks like this. Kamphuis sees here also the consequences of a view (which he says Bonhoeffer shared to some extent) according to which the origin of revelation is not to be sought in God.” he writes. where he writes: “Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world. pp. 613-616 4 book. it demands of the believer that he take up his cross. pp. Theology of the cross Finally. only a suffering God can help…. he now felt that he should have given more attention to the believer’s task with respect to the world. 151). “If in speaking of Christ’s divinity we take our starting point in his weakness as man. It speaks of a following of Christ by being there for others. 10:5).his entire life gives evidence of that conviction.

instead. who gives. but by preaching the gospel of the cross that the church fulfills that task. For Bonhoeffer’s interest in and interpretation of the Old Testament I have relied especially on Martin Kuske. and it therefore means that the disciple must die with him in order that he may also be raised with him. The Old Testament as the Book of Christ: An Appraisal of Bonhoeffer’s Interpretation. 1993 (date of original German version: 1989). Dr. for example. the study by the Reformed German theologian Georg Huntemann. 11f). 3 . Kampen. It is. and that this would continue until Christ’s return. In this respect also. This theology of the cross relates to the Christian’s task with respect to the world. It is not by miracles and displays of power.Part III — Clarion v. But I do not think that these constitute the real problems and give rise to the deepest disagreements. a more critical assessment of Bonhoeffer’s writings than does Huntemann. a life of following Christ the crucified. titled (in the English translation) The Other Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Reassessment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. but in our present world that power is still hidden. and so on. “Christus in het midden. Kamphuis (to turn to him once more) has related it to current discussions among Reformed and evangelical Christians about the gifts of the Spirit. Of course. Kamphuis. B. it is about being “in Christ” the crucified and risen one. the hidden-ness of Christ’s power needed to be proclaimed. NOTES Many of these ideas are to be found in Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. Christ has indeed been given all power in heaven and on earth. the task of proclaiming the message of salvation. 2 1 See. Year End Issue (December 2006). and therefore of crossbearing. living Lord. there are all sorts of other topics of interest in the discussions: the question whether we may still expect special spiritual gifts…. however. Bonhoeffer tells us. questions about the relationship between Christ and the Spirit and between Word and Spirit. Here we come once more to the essence of Bonhoeffer’s teaching from The Cost of Discipleship to the last of the prison letters: Christianity is not first of all a system of doctrine. power ministry. Unless it does so. 55. one which now already possesses and is able to demonstrate the victory of Christ. References to this book will be given in the text by page number(s) only. 1976. He writes: I think it is very important that in these discussions we give attention to Bonhoeffer’s speaking about Christ who stands at the centre as the crucified. There are other Reformed theologians who have expressed sympathy with much of what Bonhoeffer wrote. But where is then Christ’s cross? The crucified one is the resurrected and present. Christians had to be reminded that the church of Christ was still a church under the cross. In a country like Hitler’s Germany.” pp. it will fail in its God-given mission with respect to a lost world. Only in this manner can I speak rightly of the great things which God does in his congregation (Kamphuis. professor of systematic theology at the Theological University. But he is present among us only as the crucified. faith healing. pp. Among them is Dr. What I fear especially is a theology of glory. 613-616 5 triumph. Bonhoeffer’s teaching continues to be relevant. where worldly success was worshiped even by many church members. edited by Eberhard Bethge.