Bonhoeffer’s Last Words, Before He Was Hanged (74 Years Ago Today)

 

Source: German Federal Archive
Source: German Federal Archive

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the U.S. military came to liberate it.

John W. de Gruchy describes the lead-up to that day in his Editor’s Introduction to Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, volume 8):

On October 8 [of 1944], Bonhoeffer was taken to the cellar of the Gestapo prison on Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, where he stayed until February 7, 1945. From then on, all correspondence came to an end, and contact between Bonhoeffer and the family and [Eberhard] Bethge was broken. From there Bonhoeffer was taken first to Buchenwald and then, via the village of Schönberg in Bavaria, to the Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he arrived on April 8. That evening he was tried by a hastily rigged court and condemned to death. Early the next morning Bonhoeffer was executed along with several other coconspirators.

He was hanged April 9. His family would not learn about it for several months.

The July before he had written to his trusted friend (and later biographer) Eberhard Bethge, one day after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He wrote:

How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world? You understand what I mean even when I put it so briefly. I am grateful that I have been allowed this insight, and I know that it is only on the path that I have finally taken that I was able to learn this. So I am thinking gratefully and with peace of mind about past as well as present things. …

May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to himself.

His final recorded words before his hanging are especially appropriate in these days that lead up to Easter Sunday:

This is the end–for me the beginning of life.

 


 

This post is adapted from a post I wrote around this time five years ago, as part of the “Tuesdays in Lent with Bonhoeffer” I was doing. See other gathered posts here.

Wise Words from Bonhoeffer for These Troubled Times: “The Tyrannical Despiser of Humanity”

Read it carefully, read it well. From Bonhoeffer’s Ethics:

The message of God’s becoming human attacks the heart of an era when contempt for humanity or idolization of humanity is the height of all wisdom, among bad people as well as good.

The weaknesses of human nature appear more clearly in a storm than in the quiet flow of calmer times. Among the overwhelming majority of people, anxiety, greed, lack of independence, and brutality show themselves to be the mainspring of behavior in the face of unsuspected chance and threats. At such a time the tyrannical despiser of humanity easily makes use of the meanness of the human heart by nourishing it and giving it other names. Anxiety is called responsibility; greed is called industriousness; lack of independence becomes solidarity; brutality becomes masterfulness. By this ingratiating treatment of human weaknesses, what is base and mean is generated and increased ever anew. The basest contempt for humanity carries on its sinister business under the most holy assertions of love for humanity. The meaner the baseness becomes, the more willing and pliant a tool it is in the hand of the tyrant.

The small number of upright people will be smeared with mud. Their courage is called revolt, their discipline Pharisaism, their independence arbitrariness, and their masterfulness arrogance. For the tyrannical despiser of humanity, popularity is a sign of the greatest love for humanity. He hides his secret profound distrust of all people behind the stolen words of true community. While he declares himself before the masses to be one of them, he praises himself with repulsive vanity and despises the rights of every individual. He considers the people stupid, and they become stupid; he considers them weak, and they become weak; he considers them criminal, and they become criminal. His most holy seriousness is frivolous play; his conventional protestations of solicitude for people are bare–faced cynicism. In his deep contempt for humanity, the more he seeks the favor of those he despises, the more certainly he arouses the masses to declare him a god.

SOURCE: Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Ethics. Vol. 6 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Accordance electronic ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009. [Paragraph divisions mine]

Available here (Fortress Press) and here (Accordance).

New Bonhoeffer Title: Engaging Bonhoeffer

Engaging Bonhoeffer

 

I learned today of a new Bonhoeffer studies title releasing (in days!) from Fortress Press. It’s called Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought. Here’s the blurb:

Engaging Bonhoeffer documents the extraordinary impact of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and writing on later thought. Despite his lasting legacy, little substantial scholarship has been conducted in this area. In this magisterial collection, leading international scholars fill this striking gap and critically demonstrate the ways in which Bonhoeffer has been one of the most original, inspirational, and provocative writers of the twentieth century.

Bonhoeffer’s work has proved foundational for a wide variety of thinkers and movements across such areas as ecclesiology, Christology, spirituality, ethics, hermeneutics, phenomenology, epistemology, and systematic theology more generally. Whether one considers his writings to have been faithfully interpreted, critically adopted or justifiably rejected, Engaging Bonhoeffer describes those who have engaged with Bonhoeffer’s work, been inspired by his actions, and found a way to express and explain their own ideas through interacting with his life and thought. In addition to shedding light on the different theological trajectories that Bonhoeffer’s work may forge, this challenging volume offers a critical window through which to view and appreciate the ideas of many leading voices of modern theology.

There are 15 essays in all, the titles of which are all here. The ones I’m particularly interested in are:

1. A Tale of Two Bonhoeffers?—Keith W. Clements
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Death of God Theologians—Eleanor McLaughlin
7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Liberation Theologies—Geffrey B. Kelly and Matthew D. Kirkpatrick
14. On the Phenomenology of CreationJohn Panteleimon Manoussakis
15. “Let your light so shine”Medi Ann Volpe and Jennifer Moberly

Kudos to Fortress Press for keeping the Bonhoeffer goodness coming! Last fall they published reader’s editions of four classic Bonhoeffer titles. Kudos also to Fortress for publishing a Bonhoeffer book with a fresh photo of the man! Looks like a young Bonhoeffer, probably when he was a teenager getting ready to fire off a couple of dissertations.

If/as I learn more about Engaging Bonhoeffer, I’ll post again here. In the meantime, the publisher’s book page is here. It’s on Amazon here.

Bonhoeffer’s Last Words, Before He Was Hanged (71 Years Ago Today)

 

Source: German Federal Archive
Source: German Federal Archive

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the U.S. military came to liberate it.

John W. de Gruchy describes the lead-up to that day in his Editor’s Introduction to Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, volume 8):

On October 8 [of 1944], Bonhoeffer was taken to the cellar of the Gestapo prison on Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, where he stayed until February 7, 1945. From then on, all correspondence came to an end, and contact between Bonhoeffer and the family and [Eberhard] Bethge was broken. From there Bonhoeffer was taken first to Buchenwald and then, via the village of Schönberg in Bavaria, to the Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he arrived on April 8. That evening he was tried by a hastily rigged court and condemned to death. Early the next morning Bonhoeffer was executed along with several other coconspirators.

He was hanged April 9. His family would not learn about it for several months.

The July before he had written to his trusted friend (and later biographer) Eberhard Bethge, one day after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He wrote:

How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world? You understand what I mean even when I put it so briefly. I am grateful that I have been allowed this insight, and I know that it is only on the path that I have finally taken that I was able to learn this. So I am thinking gratefully and with peace of mind about past as well as present things. …

May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to himself.

His final recorded words before his hanging are especially appropriate in these days that follow Easter Sunday:

This is the end–for me the beginning of life.

 


 

This post is adapted from a post I wrote around this time two years ago, as part of the “Tuesdays in Lent with Bonhoeffer” I was doing. See other gathered posts here.

Preaching at the Crossroads (of Postmodernism, Secularism, and Pluralism)

Preaching at CrossroadsDavid J. Lose, in his Preaching at the Crossroads (Fortress Press, 2013), helps preachers respond to three significant cultural trends: postmodernism, secularism, and pluralism. Postmodernism, according to Lose, asks an epistemological question: “How do we know for certain whether anything is true?” Competing metanarratives mean that the Christian story has become one among many.

A second related trend, secularism, is “marked first and foremost by a loss of transcendence.” Long says, “[I]f postmodernity challenges us to explore the possibility for claiming the Christian story is true, secularism demands to know how Christianity is relevant.” Faith is still important to people, to be sure, but it “no longer plays as meaningful a role as it did for our parents in helping us navigate our day-to-day lives in a secular world.”

Third, Lose addresses pluralism, noting that we are more than ever “faced with a plethora of religious and spiritual options,” many of which are just a click, tap, or scroll away from us. He notes one estimate that on a daily basis everyone is “subjected to more new information than a person in the Middle Ages was in his or her entire lifetime.” Even so-called digital natives “yearn for the sense of stability that tradition lends.” But when seeking wisdom or making decisions, “even those that are rife with ethical consequences, we are far more likely to consult our iPhone than the teaching of our denomination or even our pastor.”

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Postmodernism, secularism, and pluralism are not problems to be fixed, per se. Or if they are, Lose focuses more on how the preacher can envision them as opportunities to reimagine preaching, rather than as challenges for which preachers need to seek a new panacea. Sure, preachers could reach for better use of multimedia or development of new homiletical techniques. But the cultural shifts in front of us, Lose argues, require more than just tinkering from the pulpit. They call for a paradigm shift:

The choice is before us. We are at a crossroads—one where not only the outcome is unclear, but also the primary challenge and perhaps even the alternatives. We can either continue adapting and refining established techniques or be willing to call into question our fundamental practices by leaning into and listening carefully to the world in front of us.

Lose is as engaging a writer as I imagine he must be a preacher. He sweeps the reader up in a compelling childhood narrative at the book’s beginning. He speaks as one who knows and loves the culture around him, but who is not afraid of it. He writes as one who loves preachers and is faithful to the Gospel, but is not afraid to freshly envision creative contextualizations. I can’t remember the last thing I read that got me this excited about preaching in the 21st century—even while the cultural challenges Lose presents were not lost on me.

Much of Lose’s analysis was sobering to me as a pastor. It’s not that I haven’t observed postmodernism, secularism, and pluralism having an effect on the congregation (myself included). And I knew that the days of pastor-as-assumed-authority were gone. But to read (again) that the pastor is no longer the assumed spiritual authority was an important reminder (even if I find this cultural trend short-sighted). Mileage varies, of course–how congregants view the pastor differs according perhaps to generations and a number of other factors. And we preachers do speak to the authority that is really found in the Word of God (and not in ourselves). But preachers, if Lose is right, will have to be ready to work from the pulpit to gain a hearing with a congregation listening to a million other voices and Tweets in a given week.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Preaching at the Crossroads is short (124 pages) but inspiring. It has already given me action steps and sermon illustrations that I’ve started in on—and this was true even before I had finished the book! He quotes from a W.H. Auden Christmas poem, which, it turns out, provided the perfect perspective for me to preach about resurrection on the Second Sunday of Easter. He recommends asking congregants this difficult but brilliant question (which I plan to do): “What biblical stories provide you with comfort or courage when you are struggling with a problem at home or work?” And he reminds preachers of our rightful place, and how we can pray: “Our job is to testify; it is up to God to make that testimony potent.”

The whole book is great, but chapter 4 (“Preaching the Grandeur of God in the Everyday”) was a real highlight and gift to me. He calls for preachers to help congregants connect their Sunday church-going worlds to their Monday morning work-going worlds. He wants preachers to go to parishioners’ workplaces and ask them things like “where they see God in this place.” But, he wisely offers, “be prepared to help with an answer, as we have not trained our people to look for God anywhere outside of church.”

Lose is convicting throughout his book, but never without also encouraging the preacher and giving her or him practical ways forward. Especially good is Lose’s focus on how preachers can equip the congregation for the work of ministry, where ministry is much more than just what happens on Sunday morning. He paints an inspiring picture:

Over time… your congregation may grow from being a place where the word is preached more fully into a community of the word where all the members take some responsibility for sharing the news of God’s ongoing work to love, bless, and save the world.

In the end, Lose draws on the Internet’s shift to “Web 2.0” (more interactive, socially networked, and user-focused) as a metaphor to envision the sermon as the locus of not passive but “active identity construction.” His closing suggestion is:

If we can imagine making a leap similar to that made by users and programmers who left the static world of Web 1.0 to inhabit the more dynamic and interactive world of Web 2.0, we might be able to offer the sermon as, indeed, a “transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity [between God’s word and God’s people] happens.”

I don’t read many books twice, but I’ll be back for more of this one.

Find Preaching at the Crossroads on Amazon here, and check out the publisher’s product page here, which includes link to some .pdf samples.

 


 

Thanks to the book’s publicist for a review copy, sent to me so I could review it, but with no expectation as the the review’s content.

Bonhoeffer Reader’s Editions: Now Published, and a Look Inside

Bonhoeffer Reader's Editions
They’re here!

 

The Bonhoeffer Reader’s Editions are now available for public edification. Check out the details here.

The set covers four classics: Discipleship, Life Together, Ethics, and Letters and Papers from Prison.

Here is the full publisher’s description:

Using the acclaimed Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English translation and adapted to a more accessible format, these new editions of Discipleship, Ethics, Letters and Papers from Prison, and Life Together feature the latest translations of Bonhoeffer’s works, supplemental material from Victoria J. Barnett, and insightful introductions by Geffrey B. Kelly, Clifford J. Green, and John W. de Gruchy.

Originally published in 1937, Discipleship soon became a classic exposition of what it means to follow Christ in a modern world beset by a dangerous and criminal government.

Life Together gathers Bonhoeffer’s 1938 reflections on the character of Christian community, based on the common life experienced at the Finkenwalde Seminary and in the “Brother’s House” there.

Ethics embodies the culmination of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological and personal odyssey and is one of the most important works of Christian ethics of the last century.

Letters and Papers from Prison presents the full array of Bonhoeffer’s 1943–1945 prison letters and theological writings, introducing his novel ideas of religionless Christianity, his theological appraisal of Christian doctrines, and his sturdy faith in the face of uncertainty and doubt.

This four-volume set of Bonhoeffer’s classic works allows all readers to appreciate the cogency and relevance of his vision.

If you’re new to Bonhoeffer, I’ve got a collection of posts gathered here. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works is already a well-done series; the idea of an even more accessible, annotated Bonhoeffer is also appealing.

Check out more here, and when you click on the individual book images on the right side of the page, you can read samples from each of the volumes.

And Now… Bonhoeffer *Reader’s Editions*

Bonhoeffer Reader's Editions
Super-sweet image via Fortress Press (click to enlarge)

 

Big news for Bonhoeffer aficionados/as: Fortress Press, publishers of the 17-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (English edition), has just announced the Fall 2015 publication of Reader’s Edition volumes of DiscipleshipLife TogetherEthics, and Letters and Papers from Prison.

I haven’t seen a ton of information yet, but here’s the publisher’s description:

Featuring the acclaimed DBWE translation and adapted for a more accessible format, the new Reader’s Edition volumes include supplemental material from DBWE general editor, Victoria J. Barnett, as well as insightful introductions by Bonhoeffer scholars which clarify the theological meaning and importance of his work.

New to Bonhoeffer? I collected some reflections on his writings after spending much of one Lent reading him. All my Bonhoeffer posts are gathered here. I reviewed the amazing Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (DBWE 5) here.

It’s hard to imagine how the editors of the DBWE set could offer anything to improve upon those exceptional volumes, but I do like the idea of a more accessible, annotated Bonhoeffer. Check it all out here.