January 17, 2019
Associate Pastor for Calling & Connecting at First Presbyterian Church
When Christ calls a man, He bids Him come and die. That is probably the most famous line from what is likely Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most famous book, The Cost of Discipleship. This young German pastor and theologian eventually joined an anti-Nazi conspiracy that tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler and end World War Two. That involvement cost him his freedom and, in the end, it cost him his life: he was executed by the Gestapo in April 1945 just days before his prison camp was liberated by the Allies. But his writings continue to inspire and challenge many Christians to this day.
It is always inspiring and challenging to encounter someone so deeply faithful to their convictions that they will not surrender or compromise those convictions no matter what it costs. But Discipleship is only a small part of the many books and articles and lectures that Bonhoeffer wrote before and during the war. The breadth of Bonhoeffer’s thinking over the course of almost twenty years of writing and speaking and pastoring provides a rich banquet of food for thought.
Born into a life of comfort and privilege, this young pastor’s experiences during the rise of Nazism and the church’s tragic response to that reality, shaped in profound ways his thinking about the role of the church in the world. In the year of his arrest by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer wrote about “the incomparable value” of viewing life “from below”—i.e., from the perspective of the oppressed and suffering. In his letters and writings from prison, and in his final (and unfinished) book, he was deeply insistent about the mandate of Christ to consider “the least of these” (Matthew 25). But he had deep doubts about the ability of the church in its traditional form to fulfill its calling, writing wat one point about the need for a “religionless Christianity” to develop if the church was going to effectively serve in the world that was coming.
As we consider this and many other ideas of this inspiring 20th-century pastor and theologian, my hope is that in our time together we will discover rich resources for our own 21st-century journey of faith in our ever-changing and ever-challenging world.
Editors Note: Steve will speak on Dietrich Bonhoeffer at 11am on Sunday in Spellman Hall. Come hear more about this theologian.