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Bonhoeffer the Assassin?
Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call the Peacemaking 

by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist
and Daniel P. Umbel

Foreword By Stanley Hauerwas

A Book Review

By Steve Hickey, University of Aberdeen

An intentionally controversial book, as the subtitle suggests, Bonhoeffer the Assassin? by Nation, Siegrist and Umbel is an attempt to challenge what the authors view as an unfortunate but pervasive myth; that by the end of his life Dietrich Bonhoeffer had retreated from his earlier held pacifist convictions in participating directly in plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. As Bonhoeffer scholars from within the Mennonite tradition, and each deeply committed to pacifism, it could be assumed this book is another biased attempt by yet another group to hijack the Bonhoeffer legacy and turn him into an endorser of their own ideals. Though there is the uncomfortable suspicion of such a subjective vantage point, and some truth to it, the book does challenge long-assumed claims of a compromised Bonhoeffer with some measure of good reason and scholarship.

Siegrist and Umbel are former students of Mark Nation and have each contributed two chapters in the second half of the book devoted to development of Bonhoeffer’s ethic. Nation begins the book himself with three biographical chapters providing a general orientation to the movements, associations and involvements of Bonhoeffer in the Church Struggle. Even more importantly this biographical section provides a closer look at what we actually know and do not know about Bonhoeffer’s time working for the Abwehr, and his remote connections to any conspiracies to stop Hitler, or assassinate him.

The more ill-informed of Bonhoeffer fans today may think any and all working for the Abwehr were resisters however Nation documents that of the 13,000 who worked at the Abwehr, only fifty were known to be connected to the resistance, barely four percent (p. 74). And of the known forty-two separate plots to kill Hitler, only five could have had any possible connection to Bonhoeffer. In taking time to review those five, Nation documents that there were only two of which Bonhoeffer may have been even aware. Drawing from Dramm’s Bonhoeffer and the Resistance, anyone who includes Bonhoeffer in these efforts “greatly exaggerates Bonhoeffer’s role and importance in the resistance.” Nation says “I believe this is Dramm’s way of saying there is not a shred of evidence that Bonhoeffer was linked in any way to these attempts of Hitler’s life” (p. 86).

Bonhoeffer is presented as a chaplain of sorts to the resistance, a spiritual advisor and pastoral counselor providing mental support, not so much moral support or justification (p. 82). In other words, he was in no way an assassin or even an accomplice of one. We are reminded his arrest was because of the role he played in the rescue of fourteen Jews, not because of any connection to assassination attempts. Regardless of the position one takes on the bias of this book, it importantly underscores the point that we are not as sure as we thought we were how directly Bonhoeffer was involved.

Perhaps it could be said that a person who only reads one book on a subject knows only a dangerous little about it. If this is the only book one reads on the matter of Bonhoeffer and pacifism, at least know that what is contained therein is contested strongly by Bonhoeffer scholars who are much closer to Bonhoeffer’s associations, students and his friends than the authors here. Particularly Clifford Green reviews this book expressing obvious agitation over what is conveniently left out of the book. But more so his angst is fuelled by how Nation builds his thesis by dismissing Bethge’s decades-later memories of informal conversations as unreliable, and even perhaps a deliberate attempt to give the world a Bonhoeffer different than the one he actually knew:

Perhaps Bethge desperately wanted his close friend to be perceived as a “Political” activist in the midst of the worst years of the Hitler regime. Bonhoeffer, so Bethge wants us to believe, was one of the Germans who directly tried to stop the massive slaughter that became the Holocaust of the Jews… (p.94)

For Nation, stunningly, Bethge is an unreliable source. Understandably, Green, who knew Bethge personally over several decades finds these insinuations outrageous. All that having been said, the first three chapters remain a generally informative and succinct, though a selective summary of the biographical unfolding of what transpired.

The second half of the book offers an helpful overview of Bonhoeffer’s theological ethic and development. The thesis of the book is that from 1932-1945, Bonhoeffer held a consistent pacifist ethic and did not (as others suggest) repudiate Discipleship by the time he wrote Ethics. There is really no debate that in his 1929 Barcelona lectures, Bonhoeffer was solidly an advocate of just war theory. And there is no debate that around 1932, through his friendship at Union Seminary with Jean Lassarre – a French Tolstoyian pacifist committed to the simple obedience of the Sermon on the Mount –  that Bonhoeffer’s thinking on the matter dramatically changed and was the catalyst behind the later writing of Discipleship. The claim of this book is that between Discipleship (1937) and Ethics (1943) there is no repudiation of a strong pacifist ethic for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This rather than being a repudiation of Discipleship either in its parts or as a whole, Ethics is a confirmation, as it is its continuation, amendment, clarification and culmination (p. 158).

Using JW for just war, P for pacifist, and upper and lower case for a soft or strong ethic, the basic claims in this book can be depicted as following. The pervasive “myth” in the development of Bonhoeffer’s life and thought could be pictured as:

       JW    –    p     –   jw
1929      1937      1943
  Barcelona               Ethics
               Discipleship

Nation, Siegrist and Umbel challenge this and propose a more accurate reading would be:

JW    –    P     –   p
1929    1937     1943

The four chapters in the second section of the book hit the major themes we find in Discipleship and Ethics; cheap grace, simple and paradoxical obedience, the ultimate and penultimate, the this-worldliness of Christianity and, guilt and responsibility. The analysis of the writings of Bonhoeffer show “that Bonhoeffer in no way checked his rigorous ethics at the door of World War II or his involvement in the resistance. Bonhoeffer held to an ethic centered on Christ– uncompromised, though not unaffected, by his circumstances” (p. 209). Readers are encouraged to consider how, to date, Bonhoeffer’s development of thought has been viewed primarily through a Niebuhrian-tainted lens in that loving enemies is an impossibility– “unrealistic and, in a vicious world, is even harmful” (p. 218). The contention is this, in part, is what has been driving significant misreadings of Bonhoeffer’s later work.

Book titles are intended to be catchy and provocative enough to sell books and start conversations but one wonders how Bonhoeffer would react to the use of the term assassin here in the title?  Perhaps this important book might be better titled A Pacifist Rereading of Bonhoeffer or A Pacifists Guide to Bonhoeffer. In his conclusion Nation recites Larry Rasmussen’s standard work on the subject, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance, to bolster his own thesis: “All the twisting possible cannot make the author of The Cost of Discipleship a volunteer for even assassinating Adolf Hitler” (p. 222).

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This is a repost of an article I did for the Justice House of Prayer in Washington, D.C.

Today we call it a global prayer movement. For centuries it was referred to as monasticism. Today we call them Houses of Prayer, or HOPs. For centuries they have been called monasteries. We call ourselves intercessory missionaries. For centuries our types were known as monks. At every point and place where Christianity came into crisis or compromise, God raised up a prayer movement, a new monasticism or faithful praying remnant to ensure that discipleship, grace and the Gospel were kept pure.

Most notably in the third century when Christianity became easy, grace cheap and the path wide, holy men and women went out into the dry places and deserts to die to self, stay pure, to encounter God, to learn to love him and obey, radically obey. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire into the Medieval Period it was the monks of Ireland who literally saved civilization (Good read: How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill).

Hung by his neck in a German concentration camp, pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s vision of “a new monasticism” also suffered an early martyrdom of sorts. Eight years earlier Bonhoeffer was leading an underground seminary in a chilly remote place called Finkenwalde. There he taught what we we know today as his Cost of Discipleship, much of which is a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. There he and his students lived in community the daily rhythms of life and prayer which is spelled out for us in his short book Life Together.

finkenwalde

Dietrich Bonhoeffer with students at Finkenwalde Seminary

In a earlier letter to his brother Karl-Friedrick, he made a very prophetic and important statement that many of us have adopted today as our guiding charge.

The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time people banded together to do this. (14th of January, 1935)

For Bonhoeffer, the Finkenwalde rule included life together in authentic Christian community, or in his words, banding together. In a 1936 letter to the Finkenwalde community, Bonhoeffer noted that it also included “assembling together every day in the old way to pray, to read the Bible, and to praise our God…” This illegal seminary at Finkenwalde was both a school of prayer and a singing seminary; the daily prayer rhythms and worship life of ancient monastic orders he revived in fresh form. The foundation of the curriculum was “The Discipleship of Christ” as given in the Sermon on the Mount.

The next generation of pastors, these days, ought to be trained entirely in church-monastic schools where pure doctrine, the Sermon on the Mount, and worship are taken seriously–none of which are at the university and cannot be under the present circumstances. (DBWE 13, 1/147, 217)

Bonhoeffer became captivated by and fascinated with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as the expectation Christ had of his followers. Bonhoeffer saw “these words of mine” in Matthew 5-7 as foundational for the Christian life and putting them into practice to be the key to successfully weathering the storms to come. The Sermon on the Mount ethic of enemy love was to Bonhoeffer the summit of the mount and his seminary at Finkenwalde was a training outpost for Christ-like passive resistors. He trained his students to use spiritual weapons and not take up the world’s weapons of war.

The crucible of political hostility and societal animosity toward Christians is definitely on the rise in the world and it tends to produce a more pure discipleship. And even though it only existed for two years before being shut down by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer’s illegal seminary at Finkenwalde was a snapshot of Bonhoeffer’s prophetic vision of the essence of discipleship training within the context of a new monasticism resulting in the renewal of the Church.

In our day when church leaders more resemble CEO’s and celebrities than self-denying devotees of Jesus, and in our day when religious liberties are increasingly in peril again, Bonhoeffer’s model at Finkenwalde is truly a call back to the fundamentals of Christian discipleship, Christian community, a daily rhythm of prayer, Sermon on the Mount lifestyles and ethics.

CLICK HERE TO SEE JHOP DC’S DAILY PRAYER SCHEDULE

A book I’ve been recommending to those in our house of prayer is the book, Punkmonk, by Andy Freeman and Pete Greig. The title conveys how today’s monks in 24/7 prayer/furnace rooms in the major cities of the world look more like a pierced and tattooed generation of youth. The monks of the earlier centuries looked different too. It’s no different than what our friend Lou Engle is calling us to with the Nazirite vow. It is my intention here to open our eyes to the breadth of what the prayer movement looks like in the world today. It spans all the traditions.

To keep the discipline and perseverance required to pray continually means that you begin to experience different styles and types of prayer: New models, ancient disciplines, silence, liturgy, open prayer, prophetic prayer. Our prayer flows in rhythms. (Punk Monk, 127)

I want to reawaken the contemplative you if the contemplative you isn’t already awake. There are daily rhythms of prayer and communion and encounter with God that we must never step out of. Far back into Judaism, and far back into Christian history, the faithful had set times for prayer and set prayers for those times – and there was a unison chorus.

Spirituality is very varied and there is a time and place for all kinds of praying and expression. Many reading this are no doubt fluent in things like authoritative and warfare prayer, healing prayer, intercession, declarations, binding and loosing and so on.  But the ancient spiritual disciplines need to be reawakened too; Meditation, Fasting, Study, Simplicity, Silence, Solitude, Submission, Service, Confession, Worship.

Our spirituality needs to wider and deeper.  It will take a deep root in God to withstand the days to come!


A native of Kansas City, Steve Hickey is pastor emeritus of Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls, SD and a former South Dakota Legislator. He and Kristen live in Scotland where he is doing post-graduate work at the University of Aberdeen on Bonhoeffer, the Forerunner at Finkenwalde. He’s written several books including Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and The Fall Away Factor.

Sixty-five years ago today (April 9, 1945), German pastor/theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung in the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp for his participation in an assassination plot against Hitler. With this anniversary in mind today, Thomas Nelson Publishers released the first new biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years — Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.

(((If you missed it, click here for my earlier post/pics on my recent visit to the Bonhoeffer home in Berlin.)))

Fox News did a story today on this newest Bonhoeffer book:

“There were many German churchgoers, whether they were Christians or not I don’t know, but they went to church and somehow they made peace with the Nazis,” Metaxas says. “They thought there was nothing wrong. Bonhoeffer had such a devoted faith he knew without any question that the Nazis were anti-Christian and they were evil, and if he didn’t stand against them he would have to answer to God.”  Bonhoeffer believed he was called by God to help those who wanted to assassinate Hitler. “Bonhoeffer was not a pacifist,” Metaxas says. “And that will be news to a lot of people who think of Bonhoeffer as their hero, as some kind of pacifist.” He was willing to be involved in a plot to kill Hitler. “He wasn’t helpful as a gunman; he was helpful with contacts all around Europe,” Metaxas says. “He had the ability because he had ecumenical church contacts to work as a double agent, and that is what he was, he was a double agent.”

Read that first sentence again, the part about church-going “Christians” making peace with evil. Bonhoeffer was a prophetic voice to a church paralyzed by false grace, cheap grace.  Metaxas writes:

What was left in its wake was the murder of 6 million Jews and a legacy that has tarnished the Christian faith in Europe. But the legacy that Bonhoeffer leaves future generations is of the untold dangers of idolizing politicians as messianic figures. Not just in the 1930s and ’40s, but today as well. “It’s a deep temptation within us,” says Metaxas. “We need to guard against it and we need to know that it can lead to our ruin. Germany was led over the cliff, and there were many good people who were totally deluded.” Bonhoeffer, says Metaxas, was a prophet. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. He was God’s voice at a time when almost no one was speaking out against the evil of the Nazis.

Good church-going people in Germany were deluded and led over a cliff,,,, by four hundred years of a Lutheran theology of non-engagement with society. As I say in my earlier post:

Bonhoeffer criticized Luther for two things; 1) focusing the Reformation only on the church (whereas Zwingli sought to influence – salt and light – all of society). Bonhoeffer believed Luther’s views on this set the stage for the German Church of the 1930’s to stay out of Hitler’s business. In the 1000+ plus pages of Reformation history I’ve read this month, I’ve had the sense that had Zwingli been in Germany and not in Switzerland, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. Bonhoeffer also was one of the earliest voices in the German Lutheran Church to renounce 2) the anti-Semitism and treatment of the Jews.

Wow– this week my blog has really turned into more of a slideshow of my pictures rather than my commentary. But, there are still more things to say and show.

Many times I’ve mentioned the privilege I had to study for three years under one of the world’s leading Bonhoeffer scholars – Dr. F. Burton Nelson. Burton died in 2004, he was a personal friend of the Bonhoeffer family. He challenged me to pick a theological companion to walk through life with, so I picked Bonhoeffer. What a treat for me to visit Bonhoeffer’s home (actually his parents home) in Berlin a few weeks ago and be given a private tour. Thank you Knut Hämmerling for that treat.  Here we are in front of the home at Marienburger Allee 43.

Bonhoeffer's home

For those of us who’ve seen this address written in his own script, even walking up to the home is pretty cool. A couple days before he was stripped naked and hung in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg,  he wrote that script in the front of a book that he wanted returned to his parents. His body was cremated with thousands of others in the ovens and his family didn’t learn for certain of his death until months later. Bonhoeffer was killed on April 9, 1945. Hitler committed suicide twenty days later. Germany surrendered on May 7.

For a couple of hours Knut downloaded details of Bonhoeffer’s life for me and my family. I won’t take up space here introducing you to Bonhoeffer if his name is new to you. Take a couple moments and read about him here.  Here I am in Bonhoeffer’s bedroom/study. (One of the things I’ve given much thought to here is my new home office – I am borrowing a couple ideas from his here – one is the big window which I plan to install when I get home.)

Bonhoeffer's chair

At this desk he wrote what was to be his life work Ethics. He was arrested by the Gestapo in this house and did not complete Ethics. Pages of it were found ten years after his death hidden in the rafters of this home. His good friend Eberhard Bethge compiled them and that is the version of Ethics that is readily available today. Also in this house conspiratorial discussions took place which included Bonhoeffer, other family members and leaders of the resistance movement – plots to assassinate Hitler were discussed here. 

As a Sermon on the Mount junkie, I’ve always been quite dialed in on how Bonhoeffer held to the high pacifist ideal in his writings (turn the other cheek, love enemies), but compromised (and justifiably so in my view) that ideal by participating in a secret assassination plot on Hitler. His (and Karl Barth’s) view of the myth of the separation of church and state very much appeals to me. Separating the spheres, Bonhoeffer insisted, is a denial of God’s having reconciled the whole world to himself in Christ. He said the Church wasn’t just to tend the victims of society run over by the wheel, the Church has a God-mandated responsibility to shove a spoke in the wheel and stop the victimization. He said the church may not keep out of politics if the state abrogates basic human rights. He demanded the church be prepared for political resistance and he was very much alone in that opinion.

Bonhoeffer criticized Luther for two things; 1) focusing the Reformation only on the church (whereas Zwingli sought to influence – salt and light – all of society). Bonhoeffer believed Luther’s views on this set the stage for the German Church of the 1930’s to stay out of Hitler’s business. In the 1000+ plus pages of Reformation history I’ve read this month, I’ve had the sense that had Zwingli been in Germany and not in Switzerland, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. Bonhoeffer also was one of the earliest voices in the German Lutheran Church to renounce 2) the anti-Semitism and treatment of the Jews.

In the years prior to his arrest he organized pastor strikes, signature drives, etc. and was very much political. As the Reich/State increasing silenced pastors, even friends distanced themselves from Bonhoeffer. He experienced the loneliness of the loss of friends and reputation. Honestly, I can really relate. Had I been called to trumpet the HIVAIDS issue I would be celebrated, but those of us who recognize the humanity of the unborn and the injustice of abortion and walk in a clear call from God to stop the shedding of judicially innocent blood — we are vilified. But, to quote one of Bonhoeffer’s more famous lines… “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Recently I was told I cut the target of those I’m called to reach in half when I get political. Hmm, half. If I was a pastor in Alabama in the 60’s I’d be marching across the bridge with my black brothers and sisters even if it meant 99% of the white folks in my town spit me out. Today we don’t question the humanity of blacks – previous Supreme Court decisions denying blacks full humanity have been reversed. Science now confirms separate and unique living human beings are the product of conception. It’s a human rights issue, a justice issue.  And, who does God have on the earth to be his “spoke” in the wheel that is running over the most vulnerable and helpless members of human society? Is it any wonder I’m the only pastor in our state to receive numerous death threats this year? I vote we apply a little Sermon on the Mount to our treatment of the unborn… let’s do to them what we’d want done to us – did you know they feel pain at 8 weeks? Wow– yet they have no voice and they use no anesthesia to dismember them while they are yet living.

For those of you interested to dive into Bonhoeffer a bit – first, buy two books. 1) Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel by Renate Wind. Kristen, Caleb and I read this together a few weeks ago and that made for great discussion just prior to our visit to the Bonhoeffer Haus – it’s an easy 182 pages. Next read 2) Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer. This is now universally considered a Christian Classic – this is where you’ll read his ideas about “cheap grace” and the entire middle section is his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.

After that I recommend my professor Burton Nelson’s book – really a compilation of Bonhoeffer writings – 3) A Testament to Freedom and I also recommend Bonhoeffer’s best friends biography of his life 4) Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer’s other works and letters are all readily available. If you are not much of a reader and just want a DVD version of his life I recommend – Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resistor– which we show during the Omega Course. Those who are hard-core can join the International Bonhoeffer Society. Hope all that is helpful to somebody.

Bonhoeffer home

Earlier I posted on what, to me, is “art” that has no place anywhere near the House of God. My earlier comment on skulls on altars was something to the effect that at best it’s a distraction, at worst it’s a defilement.

Check out what I spotted near the eaves of the SW exterior wall of town church in Wittenberg. (Luther did not nail his 95 Theses on the door of this church– the 95 Theses were nailed on the door of the Castle Church is just down the street.) But this town church was there in Luther’s time and he would have certainly be aware of what you are about to see;

Anti-Semitic pic in Wittenberg

Obviously you are looking at a pig. But there is more to point out in this disquieting image. Also clearly visible is a Jewish rabbi looking into the rear of the pig. (I can’t make out the Latin script except the prominent word “Rabini”.) Jewish children can be seen sucking on its breasts. (You can see a pigeon built a nest behind the rabbi’s head.)

It is well-known that Luther had nothing kind to say about the Jews – he condemned them for killing Jesus.  To be precise, in his early writings he sought to persuade them and win them to Christ. Later when his preaching and persuasion failed to convince Jews, his heart hardened and he wrote a 65,000 word treatise called “The Jews and their Lies” where he called them, among many other things, “a base, whoring people.” Sadly, he advocated concrete, violent action against the Jews.

Luther wrote that the Jews should be shown no mercy or kindness and afforded no protection under law. He wrote these “poisonous envenomed worms” should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. He referred to the synagogue as an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut” and that synagogues and Jewish schools should be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated.

His anti-Semitism was embraced and celebrated by the German Christian (Nazi) churches a few centuries later. Spend a few moments on the googles and you’ll be able to see pics of Reich church meetings where the Reformed and Lutheran nazi churches and nazi leaders are embracing Luther as a forerunner for their hatred of Jews. Here Thomas and I are at Luther’s burial spot in the Castle Church.

Luther's grave

I read here in one of my Bonhoeffer books that right here at this spot, in 1933, Joachim Hossenfelder, the Reich Leader of the German Christians (Nazi) stood to attention and called out over Luther’s tomb… “My Reich Bishop, I greet you.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was present for that occasion and his friend, Franz Hildebrandt, whispered to him… “I now believe in the doctrine of the real rotation of Luther’s bones in his grave.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel, Renate Wind, page 75)

That made me chuckle but honestly, from the anti-Semitism of Luther, some of which I’ve noted above, I’m not sure he would have protested. When I saw this dark anti-Seminitic pig in Wittenberg I had the thought that the real anti-Semitic pig in Wittenberg was Luther.  I found this line in some literature available at this town church;

This hateful, anti-Jewish portrayal was there long before Luther, but the pig and its affront were given life by some of Luther’s words, and by the words of others, over the centuries.

To be fair to this church, I must mention that on the sidewalk directly below this dark pig is “a new monument pushing up from the earth to make its protest and to call to remembrance all of the 6 million Jews, God’s chosen people, murdered by hatred. The new monument marks out a Cross, reminding one of the darkness and death faced by God’s Chosen One.” Here’s a pic we took of this monument pushing up from the earth…

Holocaust monument in Wittenberg

In Wittenberg, I also spotted this curious depiction of a little boy clutching a skull. It doesn’t depict any anti-Semitism but I put it here because, to me, it belongs with the other things I’ve pointed out that seem very ill-fitting for church decor.

baby clutching skull

The Latin above it reads: HODIE MICHI CRAS TIBI which translates “it is my lot today, yours tomorrow.”  The frequently returning plagues and mortality were such daily realities that much of the artwork from the fifteen and sixteenth centuries was of death, fear of disease and hell.

The dictionary says a hero is one who we admire for their achievements and qualities. These are people who inspire us to greatness and chart a course for us to follow. Again, I’m not unveiling the heroes on my list in any discernable order. Yesterday I held up a hero in the today’s culture war. But heroes in a variety of arena’s have caught my attention – war heroes, missionary heroes, moral heroes, and of course, Biblical heroes. Among other things, I’m drawn to courage, culture warriors, single-mindedness, long-haul resolve and faith. There are heroes we have heard of and heroes we haven’t. Being widely known is irrelevant to heroism. Many of God’s giants go unnamed.

Many have heard of my featured hero for today – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian and martyr. Bonhoeffer was among the few clergy who stood against, and spoke against, Hitler in Nazi Germany. For this he was executed in a death camp in 1945. Fortunate for me, in seminary, I had numerous courses with Dr. H. Burton Nelson (now deceased) who was one of the world’s leading Bonhoeffer scholars. Me and my buddy Jon painted Burton’s house in Chicago and his wife was from South Dakota so he took a real interest in me planting a church here and we stayed in touch until his death. Burton knew Bonhoeffers family and wrote and taught extensively on him. I drank it all up. Burton told me he didn’t care who it was but that I should pick a “theological companion” – someone living or dead and read all they said and thought about God. I picked Bonhoeffer.

Why is he a hero? Anyone who is deeply committed to the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle is a model for me. Bonheoffer’s middle section of his famous Cost of Discipleship is a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. But he lived it and wrestled with its application. Though drawn to non-violence, he ultimately participated in a secret assassination attempt on Hitler right near the end of his life. The tension of the difficulty living the Sermon on the Mount in today world became his testimony. He engaged political and death spirits operating in his age while the rest of the “church” and “clergy” became bedfellows with it or even worse, disengaged. Even the picture above shows the clergy of that time buttering up to evil Adolf.

Before I sign off I’d be amiss to not mention Bonhoeffer’s critique of “cheap grace.” CATG’rs frequently hear me motor on about the gooey grace of evangelicalism today – “God loves me so I don’t have to live any different...” It’s a false grace and a key deception of the End Times. Bonhoeffer called it what it was.

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