Friday, October 23, 2015

Bonhoeffer today

I finished Charles Marsh's biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer which came out last year.  I have read a few Bonhoeffer bios and several of Bonhoeffer's books. Life Together and Cost of Discipleship are favorites. I tried Ethics and I didn't get it, seemed too ethereal to me which is funny because it was probably his most human, down to earth book. I want to go back and read it now after I finished Strange Glory, Marsh's book.

In the past couple weeks the President of Israel sounded like he was saying Hitler was not such a bad guy he just got some bad advice from a Palestinian who planted the idea in his head to exterminate the Jews. Ben Carson seemed to say there never would have been a Holocaust if the Jews had fought back. If their views are widespread, Marsh's book needs to be required reading.

Bonhoeffer has been claimed as a Christian hero for his resistance to the Nazi's attempt to take over the church in Germany for it's own ends. Bonhoeffer spent a year and a half in prison and then was killed. That's the story many Christians know but there is much more to it. Bonhoeffer grew up in an upper middle class home where his parents and siblings were well educated. His father did not care about religion while his mother made sure the children had a Lutheran religious foundation. They went to church on the main Church holy days but Bonhoeffer decided he wanted to become a theologian when he was 12. He had solid theological training and an early friendship with Karl Barth. He started a small seminary for pastors in training for the confessing church (those who did not believe the Reich Church was a true church). He mentored many pastors who tried to follow their calling outside the state church. He wrote theology. Life Together and Cost of Discipleship were early books which his later thinking went beyond. What challenged and changed his thinking was coming to terms with how his church - the Lutheran State Church- could abide the great evil taking place in his country and do nothing, in fact, even support it.

Ethics grew out of this struggle and he wrote much of it while in prison. It is a reworking of theology - what he knew about God. How the God of the Bible was at work in his day. It seemed as if God had abandoned the church or it had abandoned him. God was no longer in the church (the confessing church was a failure too). So Bonhoeffer, the trained Lutheran theologian, for whom Christ was the center of the church now saw the church had no center. Christ was missing. Where was he?

Facing a crisis that caused many in Germany to lose their faith, including some in Bonhoeffer's family (his mother had a breakdown), Bonhoeffer found Christ in the world, in the poor and suffering and found his faith strengthened through prayer and quiet and living a righteous life as much as he could.

Bonhoeffer's faith in the church died but his faith in God did not. God was not in his state leadership and he was not in his state church but he was in the gifts of every day in the midst of this horrific tragedy Bonhoeffer was living through. Christ shows us how to be truly human. He is revealed in our humanness. Often in the poverty of it.

In our day when the church is confused about what it is and what it's mission is, Bonhoeffer warrants a close study.

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