Following is a blog post written by our new intern, Rebekah, about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a twentieth-century theologian whose writing still impacts many Christians today. Leafwood has published two books which provide a contemporary and more accessible view of Bonhoeffer’s writings: Costly Grace and In Visible Fellowship, available now.
The first time I heard about Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in an edition of “The Gnome News,” a newsletter my boss sends out every week. I was amazed to learn that not only did he work as a pastor and theologian, but also as a double agent during WWI. Already this guy was racking up some serious cool points in my book. But after further research on Bonhoeffer’s life and work, what started out as mere appreciation turned into deep respect for the bold and passionate way this man lived out his faith. Along with my burgeoning interest, Bonhoeffer has recently received growing attention from the public especially since Eric Metaxas’ book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy has become a NYTimes bestseller.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Germany on February 4, 1906 with his twin sister Sabine. At the age of 17 he began theological study at Tubingen University and was ordained at St. Matthias Church in Berlin eight years later in 1931. Along with being a pastor, Bonhoeffer also began gaining recognition as a lecturer and author whose writings covered several theological topics such as creation and the fall. But when Hitler ascended to power in 1933, his writings began to take a different, more controversial turn. In the days following the boycott of Jewish business, Bonhoeffer completed an essay entitled “The Church and the Jewish Question” that questioned the role of the church in responding to the growing persecution of the Jewish people.
Despite the danger of such controversial writing, Bonhoeffer refused to remain silent. This experience no doubt inspired his belief that “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.” Bonhoeffer was banned from lecturing at the University of Berlin and eventually forbidden to print or publish his writing. In 1939 he joined Abwehr, a German military intelligence organization that also functioned as the covert center of the anti-Hitler resistance. He was instrumental as a courier of anti-German intelligence and in aiding German Jews escape to Switzerland.
After the discovery of compromising documents, Bonhoeffer was arrested and taken to the Tegal Prison in Berlin and later moved to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp where he was executed at the age of 39 along with several other members of Abwehr after the full extent of their operations were discovered.
During his lifetime, Bonhoeffer published several works including The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together and Letters and Papers from Prison, a compilation of his writings during his two years of imprisonment. But Bonhoeffer’s influence did not end there; his tireless efforts and martyrdom inspired important leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Desmond Tutu. Bonhoeffer believed that the church “had to share in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world” and should strive for the implementation of justice – a belief that he clearly modeled in his own life.
What do you think? Have you read any of Bonhoeffer’s writings? Why do you think his writings continue to have an impact nearly 70 years after his death?