Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Christless Christianity?

Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship,

and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R.H. Fuller, rev. by Irmgard Booth (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 64.

Who is he? Short version

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was involved in plots planned by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned, and eventually hanged just before the end of the World War II in Europe.

Longer version

Though he was initially expected to follow his father into the field of psychology, Dietrich decided at an early age to become a religious minister. His parents supported his decision. He attended college in Tübingen, where he received his doctorate in theology from the University of Berlin. As Dietrich was just 24 at this time, he was unable to be ordained [one must be 25 by church regulations]. This, however, gave Dietrich the opportunity to go abroad.

He then spent a post-graduate year abroad studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1931, where he lectured on theology in Berlin and wrote several books.

A strong opponent of Nazism, he was involved, together with Martin Niemöller, Karl Barth and others, in establishing the Confessing Church. Between late 1933 and 1935, he served as pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London: St. Paul's and Sydenham.

He returned to Germany to head a seminary for Confessing Church pastors which had been made illegal by the Nazi regime, first in Finkenwalde and then at the von Blumenthal estate of Gross Schlönwitz, which was closed at the outbreak of World War II. The Gestapo also banned him from preaching; then teaching; and finally any kind of public speaking. During this time, Bonhoeffer worked closely with numerous opponents of Adolf Hitler.

During World War II, Bonhoeffer played a key leadership role in the Confessing Church, which opposed the anti-semitic policies of Adolf Hitler. He was among those who called for wider church resistance to Hitler's treatment of the Jews. While the Confessing Church was not large, it represented a major source of Christian opposition to the Nazi government in Germany.

In 1939, Bonhoeffer joined a hidden group of high-ranking military officers based in the Abwehr, or Military intelligence Office, who wanted to overthrow the National Socialist regime by killing Hitler.

He was arrested in April 1943 after money used to help Jews escape to Switzerland was traced to him. He was charged with conspiracy and imprisoned in Berlin for a year and a half. After the unsuccessful July 20 Plot in 1944, Bonhoeffer's connections to the conspirators were discovered.

He was moved to a series of prisons and concentration camps ending at Flossenbürg. Here, he was executed by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just three weeks before the liberation of the city.

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