Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today is the 66th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — a dissident German pastor, theologian who opposed the Third Reich’s hold on Christianity during World War II. He was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, at age 39, just three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin. This is a picture of Bonhoeffer with a group of confirmation students that he was instructing. I don’t know why, but it always affirms my passion for youth ministry that great minds like Bonhoeffer did things like confirmation as well.

Bonhoeffer’s theology has been incredibly influential to me as I’ve gone through undergrad and into seminary. This post is simply meant to celebrate Bonhoeffer and his contribution to the world of theology. I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes from him and reflect on them a bit.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids them to come and die.” – from Cost of Discipleship

Discipleship was the first book of Bonhoeffer’s I read, certainly no easy task. But this quote always stuck out to me. It seemed so counterintuitive to the popular Christianity. It stands in direct contradiction to the “Live your best life now” theologies that are all around us today. It reminds all of us that the true cost of discipleship is confronting the tragedy of death head on. Only then can we experience the communion that Christianity was intended to be.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” – from Letters & Papers from Prison

This quote totally re-framed how I see church. We have such a moralistic way of looking at things that we constantly keep tabs on what people do or do not do. Instead we have to remember that everyone is fighting a battle and everyone suffers some burden, most in the silence of their own minds. If we view everyone as being in some sort of suffering, it promotes a community that then expresses itself out of that suffering and opens up a hope for true community with and for one another.

“There is no part of the world, no matter how lost, no matter how godless, that has not been accepted by God in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God.” – from Ethics

Ethics was the most recent of Bonhoeffer’s works that I’ve read. I took a class on it last semester and worked through a good amount of it. This quote gave the other two resolution. What does our suffering look like to God? What does it matter if we’re all suffering? What sort of resolution is brought about by God in our suffering? It is Bonhoeffer stating that through Christ, all parts of the world are reconciled back to God, that even our deepest suffering is reconciled into the heart of God through the suffering and death of Christ. This is my favorite quote of Bonhoeffer’s because it anticipates the endgame of the theology of the cross. It says that, through the crucifixion and resurrection, all of the lost and suffering in the world has been met, accepted by and reconciled back to God. What a great message.

So, thanks to pastor Bonhoeffer for all the ideas that have and continue to influence me in my formation as a pastor and theologian. And for keeping me motivated to love confirmation.

Cheers,
Eric

** For the both of you who are enthralled by my Church in the Present Tense blogs, I’ll be back tomorrow with probably my favorite section of the book, the Worship section.

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