2009 - Vol. 27
of Faith: The Witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
Bonhoeffer was born into a family of seven children in Breslau, Germany.
He grew up in Berlin, where his father worked as a prominent professor
of psychiatry and neurology; his mother was one of the few women of her
generation to obtain a university degree. At the age of 14 he decided he
would become a Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was the first of the
German theologians to speak out clearly against the persecution of the
Jews. He was 39 years old when he was taken out of his prison and hanged
as a Nazi traitor in 1945. As he left his cell he said to his companion,
"This is the end –
but for me, the beginning of life."
only way to overcome our enemy is by loving him.
The Cost of Discipleship
Bonhoeffer in the courtyard of Tegel prison, summer of
source: Christian Kaiser Verlag
by Donald Bloesch
no other century has the church seen so many confessors and martyrs to
the faith as in this one. Countless Christians have placed their lives
on the line for the gospel. Most of these witnesses to the passion and
victory of Christ are relatively unknown, but some have become public signs
of God's kingdom. I have in mind a number of candidates for sainthood in
the new religious situation in which we find ourselves – people who have
refused to bow the knee to Baal and whose stories have increasing significance
for our time.
[In the 1930s]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a then relatively unknown German Lutheran pastor and
theologian, aroused the ire of the Nazis by his radio address attacking
the Nazi leadership principle and also by his open support of the Confessing
Church movement. Having founded what soon became an underground seminary
at Finkenwalde in Pomerania, he demonstrated in his own life what he had
urged on others - that fidelity to the kingdom of God takes precedence
over all other loyalties, including that which we owe to our nation. By
the late 1930s, Bonhoeffer's activities were greatly restricted by the
Gestapo. Two of his former professors at Union Theological Seminary in
New York succeeded in bringing him safely to America but he could not allow
himself to remain in refuge, detached from the sufferings of his people.
Against his teachers' advice, he boldly decided to return to Germany, even
though by this time he was a marked man.
After the war
began, Bonhoeffer, despite his pacifist convictions, was led to participate
in a resistance group that eventually plotted to assassinate Hitler. In
April 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel in Berlin.
While in prison, he had an opportunity to escape, but he called off the
escape plans for fear of reprisals against his family. Although often tempted
to despair, he radiated a joy and peace that were a constant source of
inspiration to his fellow prisoners. He was hanged on the gallows
in the Flossenburg prison camp in April 1945.
was arrested because of his illegal activities in the resistance movement.
Bonhoeffer has been hailed by secular and political theologians as an outstanding
example of political involvement on behalf of the oppressed. What they
have not sufficiently discerned is that Bonhoeffer's political acts were
motivated by a deep religious faith in the God of the Bible, by an unequivocal
commitment to the gospel of reconciliation and redemption. Bonhoeffer will
come to be appreciated in this new age of persecution for his devotion
to Jesus Christ and not simply for his political heroism.
from the book, Crumbling Foundations, by Donald Bloesch (c) 1984
by The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used with permission.
Bloesch is a noted American evangelical theologian. He has written numerous
Wellsprings of Renewal: Promise in Christian Communal
Life, Crumbling Foundations: Death and Rebirth in an Age of Upheaval, The
Battle for the Trinity: The Debate Over Inclusive God-language, A Theology
Of Word & Spirit: Authority & Method In Theology. He was raised
in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, in which his father and both his
grandfathers were also ordained ministers. From 1957 until his retirement
in 1992, he was a professor of theology at the University of Dubuque Theological
Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, USA, where he continues as a professor-emeritus.
|Bonhoeffer's cell in Tegel Prison
Christian Kaiser Verlag
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly
grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments,
the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away
at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury,
from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions
or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence
of grace we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and,
because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the
cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite.
What would grace be if it were not cheap?
grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness
of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian
‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be
of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds
the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in
that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins;
no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from
sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God,
in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.
Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as
it was before. … Well, then let the Christian live like the rest of the
world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of
life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace
from his old life under sin. … That is what we mean by cheap grace, the
grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification
of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs.
Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the
toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism
without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without
personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without
the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will
gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy
which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ,
for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble,
it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and
grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which
must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because
it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man
his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It
is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
Above all, it is costly because it costs God the life of His Son: ‘ye were
bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price
to pay for our life, but deliver him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation
grace is the santuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and
not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God,
which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious
call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit
and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit
to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My
yoke is easy and My burden is light.’
from The Cost of Discipleship, by Dieterich Bonhoeffer. 2nd edition, revised
and enlarged, SCM Press Ltd, 1959. pp 35-37.)