May 8, 2010

"OR NOT TOO LATE":

Bonhoeffer Stood Fast: Martyred German pastor showed theology has consequences. (Collin Hansen, 5/04/2010, Christianity Today)

Last month marked 65 years since the doomed Nazi regime hanged German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer on April 9, 1945. Christians across the theological spectrum continue to revere him. Some remember his advocacy for Jews, others his teaching on "costly grace," and still more his aid to officers plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

But his legacy has been disputed over time. Some have championed him as a post-Christian prophet of ethics that transcend confession. Pacifists claim Bonhoeffer because he expressed scruples about war and his help with killing a head of state, even one so evil as Hitler. Many evangelicals revere him as an opponent of "cheap grace," champion of Life Together, and model of The Cost of Discipleship.

Eric Metaxas clears up many misconceptions, giving priority to Bonhoeffer's own words and actions, in a massive and masterful new biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. [...]

"Who stands fast?" Bonhoeffer asked. "Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tried to make his whole life an answer to the call of God."

MORE:
Belief In Action: In Hitler's Germany, a Lutheran pastor chooses resistance and pays with his life (JOSEPH LOCONTE, 4/23/10, WSJ)

In April 1933, during the early months of Nazi rule in Germany, the "Aryan Paragraph," as it came to be called, went into effect. A new law banned anyone of Jewish descent from government employment. Hitler's assault on the Jews—already so evidently under way in his toxic rhetoric and in the ideological imperatives of his party—was moving into a crushing legal phase. German churches, which relied on state support, now faced a choice: preserve their subsidies by dismissing their pastors and employees with Jewish blood—or resist. Most Protestant and Catholic leaders fell into line, visibly currying favor with the regime or quietly complying with its edict.

Such ready capitulation makes the views of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran theologian in Hitler's Germany, all the more remarkable. Within days of the new law's promulgation, the 27-year-old pastor published an essay titled "The Church and the Jewish Question," in which he challenged the legitimacy of a regime that contravened the tenets of Christianity. The churches of Germany, he wrote, shared "an unconditional obligation" to help the victims of an unjust state "even if they [the victims] do not belong to the Christian community." He went further: Christians might be called upon not only to "bandage the victims under the wheel" of oppression but "to put a spoke in the wheel itself." Before the decade was out, Bonhoeffer would join a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and pay for such action with his life.

In "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," Eric Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with passion and theological sophistication, often challenging revisionist accounts that make Bonhoeffer out to be a "humanist" or ethicist for whom religious doctrine was easily disposable. In "Bonhoeffer" we meet a complex, provocative figure: an orthodox Christian who, at a grave historical moment, rejected what he called "cheap grace"—belief without bold and sacrificial action.


Eric Metaxas on "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" from Socrates in the City on Vimeo.



Posted by Orrin Judd at May 8, 2010 5:39 PM
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