Today, in 1945, one of the saints of the 20th century was martyred. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, theologian, writer, and revolutionary was hanged at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp just weeks before it was liberated by the Allies. If you are not familiar with Bonhoeffer, let me simply say that he is one of the most important Christian figures of the 20th century.
He lived out a bold and courageous faith especially in the face of one of the greatest evils in world history – that of the Nazi regime in Germany. He struggled greatly with his role in resisting this evil – would it be better to be a voice on the outside speaking against it while he was safe in New York. Or, as he eventually chose, would it be better to be in his home country actively resisting – as he eventually chose.
He and others created an underground seminary, training pastors in how to stay faithful to the gospel while resisting the Nazi evil. He eventually also became part of one of the plots to assassinate Hitler – a choice he did not come to lightly but eventually feeling that committing the sin of murdering one man was necessary to stop the greater sins of oppression and genocide and unjust war.
For more about his life click here.
But it was not only his actions that stand out. His writings are also some of the greatest Christian writings in the 20th century. While they are not the easiest to get through, they are more than worth the investment of time and effort and energy. He writes of how the Christian community can live together in faithful ways in his book, Life Together. His book, The Cost of Discipleship, is simply one of the greatest books about the challenge and the call of what it means to be a Christian. The collected book after his death, Letters and Papers From Prison, is a very personal glimpse into his life and into his own wrestlings with the choices that he made. These are in addition to several others that he wrote during his life.
There’ve also been several excellent biographies written about Bon Hoffer’s life which I commend to you as well.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge is probably the definitive biography of his life.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is a more recent biography and is excellent as well.
There have also been several excellent biographical movies made of Bon Hoffer’s life.
On this day where remember his death, it is more important to of course remember his life and what God sought to work in and through him. We remember the courage to stand boldly in the face of evil. We remember one who had a heart to build up true Christian community. We remember one who continues to inspire and encourage us long after his martyrdom.
A few quotes from his writings to close…
Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong. Sermon on II Cor. 12:9
There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. Address at Fano
The followers of Christ have been called to peace. . . . And they must not only have peace but also make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. . . . His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they over-come evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate. The Cost of Discipleship</blockquote>