Theologian Thursday: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

This is the last post in my Month of Martyrs series. I hope you enjoyed it!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Germany to a prominent family--his mother was a countess and his father was a well-known neurologist. He was one of eight children, and he was actually a twin!

When he was 17, Bonhoeffer began studying theology at Tubingen University, and a year later entered the University of Berlin. This began his struggle between the liberal theology popular at the time (and taught by his professors, which included Harnack--who at one point was the director of the Royal Library in Berlin) and the neo-orthodoxy espoused by Karl Barth, to which he had taken a liking.

Bonhoeffer also studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and did much work with churches in Harlem. This created in him a deep, abiding love for African American hymns and spirituals.

After various teaching and ministering positions around Europe, when the Nazis came to power in 1933, he became an immediate enemy of the regime, speaking out against Hitler's grab for power, the persecution of the Jews, and the Nazis' effect on the German church.

Bonhoeffer became an integral part of the Confessing Church, and was eventually barred from teaching in German universities or print or publish anything. The Confessing Church was also made illegal in Germany, and many of its pastors were imprisoned. He then began the underground Finkenwalde Seminary, to continue teaching in resistance to the Nazis.

He joined the Abwehr, which was a German intelligence organization that developed multiple plots to assassinate Hitler. His involvement in the organization and their failed assassination attempts is what eventually got him arrested, and after two years of imprisonment he was hanged on April 9 1945 at Flossenburg concentration camp.

Bonhoeffer's prophetic voice and focus on a practical, worldly theology and his emphasis on Christians (of all kinds) living out the gospel of the cross of Christ is what makes him still relevant today. Furthermore, his intolerance for injustice and his bravery in the face of outright evil is something we can all admire.

If you're interested in learning more, I highly recommend the documentary Bonhoeffer. It's on Netflix instant stream!

What you should read:

  • The Cost of Discipleship
  • Letters & Papers from Prison
(To read more about my Theologian Rating System, click HERE)
Gender Equality:
Bonhoeffer taught both men and women at Finkenwalde Seminary, and I'm sure he felt that women had just as much business living the Christian life and following the way of Jesus than men.
Environmental Sensibility:
I think with the influence of liberal theology, Bonhoeffer had a fairly positive notion of the redemption of all creation.
Heretical Tendencies: 
Even though the German "Church" anathemized Bonhoeffer and the rest of the Confessing Church, I think it's pretty clear who the real heretics were.
General Badassery: 
It's hard to do justice to how completely badass Dietrich Bonhoeffer is. He is a true hero of the faith and gave his life resisting real evil in the world.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”