Guilty Deputyship: Bonhoeffer’s Justification for Trying to Kill Hitler

One of the abiding questions about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is: How did a theologian with pacifist leanings choose to join a conspiratorial effort to kill Adolf Hitler? How could he justify his action, let alone feel compelled to seek the life of another human?

Larry L. Rasmussen explores the question in his amazing book Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance. (See my earlier book note here.)

In the section I’ve been reading recently, Rasmussen draws on two key concepts for Bonhoeffer: deputyship and guilt.

Deputyship is “the master mark of responsibility” (38). It is vicarious being and action. As Rasmussen puts it, “Man is not man [sic] in and by himself but only in responsibility to and for another” (38). And Jesus Christ is “the Responsible Man par excellence” (51), the ultimate “deputy” through his sacrifice-for-others on the cross.

Then there is guilt. Rasmussen writes:

If deputyship is the master mark of responsibility, acceptance of guilt (Schulduebernahme) is the heart of deputyship. …Jesus did not seek first of all to be good or to preserve his innocence. Rather, he freely took upon himself the guilt of others. (51)

Rasmussen concludes, “Responsible men should do the same.”

230113_1_ftcYou can see where this is going: the concepts of deputyship and guilt have a great deal of explanatory power when it comes to Bonhoeffer’s attempt to take Hitler’s life.

I love this idea of Bonhoeffer’s that Rasmussen describes, namely, that preservation of our sinlessness, innocence, or purity is not to be our primary motivation in acting in the world. Rather, our deputyship (responsibility for the other) should drive us. This means for Bonhoeffer that we may need to get our hands dirty if a tyrant is threatening the well-being of the “others” on whose behalf we act.

But this notion of guilt is difficult for me to fully grasp, and I wonder how we can still leave room for the fact that Jesus, even if not seeking to preserve his innocence, did preserve his innocence.

1 Peter 2:22 quotes Isaiah 53:9 when it says, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” The verse before even says that Christ’s suffering for us in this way leaves us “an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Specifically in 1 Peter the example we are to follow is Jesus’s suffering for doing good and enduring it (1 Peter 2:20). But Jesus also suffered innocently and is lauded for so doing. 1 Peter 2:23 says:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

Are we called to follow Jesus’s example in patient suffering on behalf of others (Bonhoeffer’s deputyship) and in emulating Jesus’s innocence when we suffer on behalf of others?

Yet we will never be like Jesus who “committed no sin.” Should we cut our losses and leave room for our guilt—as Rasmussen seems to read Bonhoeffer—when it comes to suffering for others?

(If so, it could be important to distinguish between the guilt Jesus took on through the crucifixion (not a direct consequence of his own impure action) and any guilt a co-conspirator has (presumably a direct consequence of the “impurity” of conspiratorial involvement)).

Bonhoeffer’s idea of deputyship, and acceptance of any guilt deputyship entails, leads Rasmussen to this utterly astounding summary of Bonhoeffer’s thought:

To maintain one’s innocence in a setting such as that of the Third Reich, even to the point of not plotting Hitler’s death, would be irresponsible action. (51)

It’s as if Bonhoeffer thought one could not resist in Nazi Germany in a sinless, innocent, or pure way. This was no longer the non-violent resistance in The Cost of Discipleship. Again: “To maintain one’s innocence in a setting such as that of the Third Reich, even to the point of not plotting Hitler’s death, would be irresponsible action” (51).

If that’s not enough, here’s where Rasmussen, describing Bonhoeffer, gets really intense. (How’s this for a take on martyrdom?)

To refuse to stand with others trying desperately to topple the perpetrators of mass crimes, to refuse to engage oneself in the demands of necessità [where necessity transcends law], would be the selfish act of one who cared for his own innocence, who cared for his own guiltlessness, more than he cared for his guilty brothers. It would be a rejection of deputyship as the form of the responsible life and of acceptance of guilt as the heart of deputyship. If responsible men have no choice but to infiltrate Hitler’s war machinery, the Christian does not forsake them but joins them. And if in the process he becomes a martyr he will not be a saintly martyr but a guilty one. He may have to forfeit every taint of perfectionism in his pacifism. He may have to join the grotesque, evil enterprises of his very enemy. He may even have to consider and carry out tyrannicide, or actively support those who do. He will bear his colleagues’ burdens and share their sinfulness even when they are not related directly to his own actions. And he will do so as an extraordinary form of the imitatio Christ in a demonic society. (52)

Amazing. I’m still trying to work through all this. It at least helps shed light on how Bonhoeffer could actively join efforts to take Hitler’s life. And a step further: Rasmussen suggests Bonhoeffer saw his conspiracy to murder as not just permissible, but as a Christian duty of sorts: deputyship with guilt.

OT and NT Library from Westminster John Knox, Now in Accordance

This week Accordance Bible Software has released a massive 68-volume bundle from Westminster John Knox Press: the Old Testament Library and New Testament Library.

The whole bundle, which is also available in component parts, includes a full set of 31 Old Testament commentaries, a series of 15 New Testament commentaries, and topical monographs for both Testaments. Here’s an article from Accordance on the release. In this post I interact with the bundle, as well as provide a short video demonstration of how to smartly search the modules via different search fields.


Sample Passage: Mark 12:13-17 (Among Others)


Nothing against commentaries that draw on an established translation, but I appreciate commentaries (like this one) where the author offers an original translation with explanatory footnotes.

Here’s Mark 12:13-17 in Eugene M. Boring’s original translation:

12:13 And they are sending some of the Pharisees and Herodians to him, to set a verbal trap for him. 14 And they come and say to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and answer without regard to what people may think, for you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it right to pay the poll tax to the emperor, or not? Should we pay it, or should we not?” 15 But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and show it to me.” 16 And they brought one. And he says to them, “Whose image is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give back to the emperor the things that belong to the emperor, and to God the things that belong to God.” And they were utterly astounded at him.

This section reads well enough. Note that Boring translates the beginning of the verse

Καὶ ἀποστέλλουσιν πρὸς αὐτόν τινας τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ τῶν Ἡρῳδιανῶν


And they are sending some of the Pharisees and Herodians to him….

The “and” is translated (better, I think) in other versions as “then” (NRSV) and “later” (NIV). And I don’t find compelling reason in an English translation to preserve Greek’s “historical present” (ἀποστέλλουσιν) as “they are sending,” when the passage is describing a past narrative event. Formal English narrative prose wouldn’t be expected to use historical present. So, too, with verse 14’s, “And they come and say to him….” But that doesn’t overshadow Boring’s exegetical prowess!

For the second part of verse 13, ἵνα αὐτὸν ἀγρεύσωσιν λόγῳ, Boring provides a nice explanatory footnote:

The dative / instrumental logō, without preposition or pronoun, can refer either to what the inquirers say, “with a question,” or what they try to get Jesus to say, “in what he said.”

The translations throughout the OT and NT Library are strong in this regard—the authors highlight other options and why they chose what they did, focusing on lexical and grammatical challenges as they arise.

OTL and NTL are full of historical background:

While in the Markan story line the whole scene is part of the effort to find grounds on which Jesus may be arrested, the question itself, and Jesus’ response to it, is also inherently important for Mark. It was a live issue in his own time, in which the relation of Christians to the demands of the Roman government was not an abstract problem.

And more:

The denarius was a Roman coin, bearing the image of the emperor and an inscription declaring him to be divine and pontifex maximus (high priest). Not only the image, but the inscription, would be offensive to Jewish sensibilities.

In addition to focus on grammatical-historical detail, the series is refreshingly theological in a way that keeps the wider biblical witness in view for a given passage. Here’s more of Boring on this passage in Mark:

There is no paralleling of Caesar and God. God is God and Caesar is not God, in direct opposition to the image and title on the coin. The world is not divided into two parallel kingdoms. There is no encouragement in this text for dividing the world into “secular” and “sacred,” with Caesar ruling the one and God the other, nor is there any “balancing” of civic obligation to the state and religious obligation to God. Obligation to God overbalances all else (cf. 12:44, which concludes this section). Caesar is relative and God is absolute, so the two statements are not on the same plane; the second relativizes the first. Even the conjunction kai that joins them is not coordinating but adversative (as, e.g., Rom 1:13). Caesar does have a kingdom, and Jesus’ followers live in it, but God is the creator of all, and God’s kingdom embraces all, including that of Caesar. Thus while the saying itself calls on Jesus’ hearers to give both Caesar and God their due, it is not directed to those situations in which one must choose between God and Caesar as Lord. When those situations arise, devotion to God must clearly take precedence over Caesar; God demands all (12:29–30; cf. Acts 5:29). But the saying does not tell the hearer in advance how to discern what those situations are.

(His honesty and humility are refreshing!)

Again, the attention given to the passage in its wider literary-biblical context is a hallmark of the series. Here is Stephen E. Fowl on Ephesians 4:1 (“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”):

Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians is that they walk in a manner worthy of their calling. The use of the term “to walk” to characterize a way of life already appeared in 2:2, to refer to the Ephesians’ moribund way of life outside of Christ. In 2:10 it is used to speak of the manner of life that God has prepared for believers, further connecting chapters 1–3 and 4–6. Here in chapter 4 the initial admonition to the Ephesians is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” The standard to which the Ephesians’ common life should conform is the “calling with which they have been called.” This calling is first mentioned in 1:18, but it is really in 2:1–10 and 11–22 where the shape of this calling is developed. Recall that in chapter 2 the Ephesians learn of their deathly state in God’s purview and outside of Christ, yet also of how God has graciously delivered them from death into life in Christ so that they may walk in the good works that God has prepared for them. Hence, Paul is not setting some new standard for them. Rather, he is reminding them of what God has already done on their behalf.

When it comes to critical issues like authorship, the volumes I’ve interacted with take a balanced approach. Here’s Fowl, again, on Ephesians:

The overwhelming majority of people read Ephesians for broadly theological reasons. That is, they read Ephesians because it is indisputably a part of Christian Scripture, and Christians by virtue of their identity are called to a lifelong engagement with Scripture as part of their ongoing struggle to live and worship faithfully before the triune God. Christians read Scripture in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts to deepen their love of God and love of neighbor. Given the ends for which Christians engage Scripture theologically, the issue of authorship is not particularly relevant. Ephesians plays the role it does in the life and worship of Christians because it is part of the canon, not because it is written by Paul or not written by Paul. The text is canonical, Paul is not.

There are some real standouts in the series: Gerhard von Rad on Genesis, Brevard S. Childs on Exodus and Isaiah, Leslie C. Allen on Jeremiah, Adele Berlin on Lamentations, Luke Timothy Johnson on Hebrews, and more. I wish I’d had this Berlin volume as I preached through Lamentations last Lent! (I did access some pages via Google Books preview.)


VIDEO: Using Search Fields in Accordance


How about the OT/NT Library in Accordance specifically? In April I made a 12-minute screencast (just for fun… and for free!) that explains how to read a book in Accordance. I highlight four features that you won’t find on Kindle or that aren’t possible in print. (Here’s the link.) All that I highlight in that video is true of just about any tool in Accordance.

In the below video, I take a shorter time (if you don’t have 12 minutes) to highlight just one feature that sets Accordance apart from other software: search fields.



Where to Get It


For a few more days, the OT/NT Library is on sale through Accordance.

The OT/NT Library is also available as individual commentaries, if you want to pick up just the volume covering whatever book you’re studying or preaching on now.

You can read more about the new release here, which includes hyperlinks to the full bundle, the smaller bundles, and individual volumes. And be sure to check out Wes Allen’s review here!



Thanks to the PTB at Accordance for providing me with free access to the OT/NT Library in exchange for a review. This provision did not influence my assessment of the series! See my other Accordance posts (there are many) gathered here. I recorded the video using the app Capto.

How to Read a Book in Accordance (Screencast)

I’ve recorded a 12-minute screencast on how to read a book in Accordance Bible Software.

I highlight four features:

  1. Hyperlinks, hyperlinks, hyperlinks!
  2. The expandable/collapsible Table of Contents sidebar
  3. Search Fields to better focus your search
  4. Advanced: Amplify/Research to get from the book you’re reading to the rest of your library

You’ll never read or study a work of theology or biblical studies the same way again. Accordance makes Kindle look like a codex.

Here’s the video:



I mention these resources:

And there are Interpretation Bible studies. More about these exciting new additions to Accordance can be found here.

Thanks for watching!



Thanks to Accordance for access to the Interpretation modules shown in this screencast review. See my other Accordance posts (there are many) gathered here. I recorded the tutorial using the app Capto.

Bonhoeffer on How to Answer the “What Should We Do?” Question

I’m reading this book that I absolutely love so far (even if only 10 pages in):



It is dense but wonderful. I love Bonhoeffer’s idea of answering, “What am I to do?” by answering, “How is Christ taking form in the world?”

The author of this book, Larry L. Rasmussen, says:

With this methodology moral action is action that conforms to Christ’s form in the world (that accords with reality); immoral action is action that deviates from Christ’s form in the world (from reality).

Such a measuring stick is completely apropos even in a secular democracy, since, as Rasmussen says:

The striking advantage of this method consists in its potential applicability for both the Christian and the non-Christian….

Here’s a whole page, all of which looks to be laying important groundwork for the rest of the book:



More to come.

The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Reviewed

Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms


The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014) is a succinct compendium of key theological words and concepts.

One obvious advantage to the book is its portability. It’s less than 400 pages and easy to carry around in a satchel… though since receiving it, I’ve kept it on my desk with a few other works I reference a lot.

What sorts of “theological terms” does this dictionary cover? The publisher’s product page notes:

This second edition of The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms provides a comprehensive guide to nearly 7,000 theological terms—1,000 more terms than the first edition. McKim’s succinct definitions cover a broad range of theological studies and related disciplines: contemporary theologies, biblical studies, church history, ethics, feminist theology, global theologies, hermeneutics, liberation theology, liturgy, ministry, philosophy, philosophy of religion, postcolonial theology, social sciences, spiritually, worship, and Protestant, Reformed, and Roman Catholic theologies.

There is also a short annotated bibliography, list of works consulted, and set of abbreviations at the back of the book. The “Major Topics and Distinctive Terms and Concepts” section at the beginning gives the reader a framework of overarching topics into which the dictionary’s terms will fit. (E.g., “Bible,” “theology,” “worship,” “ethics and moral theology,” and so on.)

McKim himself has overseen much larger dictionaries. An initial point of skepticism for me was whether a theological dictionary this small and short could still be substantive. Definitions are somewhere in the 15-75 word range, depending on the term.

Yet as a quick-reference guide, it does well. Consider McKim’s definition of feminist criticism:

A critical approach to reading the Bible that focuses on the political, social, and economic rights of women. Diverse goals and methods are employed, with a common recognition that all texts are gendered. This implies not only that they reflect sexual differences between males and females, but also that they involve power. Feminist criticism seeks to make clear culturally based presuppositions found in texts.

Here’s another example, the entry for “agrapha,” a term one finds shortly after delving into studies of the Gospels:

(Gr. “unwritten sayings”) Sayings attributed to Jesus that circulated as traditions during the period of the early church. Also those sayings attributed to Jesus found outside the canonical Gospels.

The reader will also find terms like “Griesbach hypothesis,” “haggadah,” “Muratorian Canon,” perspectivalism,” “cuneiform,” “body-soul dualism,” “Trisagion,” “interiority,” “rechte Lehre” (German for “right teaching on doctrine”), and many more.

McKim’s goal was to provide a “wider, synthetic work that gives short, identifying definitions over a more comprehensive range of theological disciplines,” as opposed to something more “specialized” and “extensive.” The beginning theological students that McKim seeks to reach will find such a dictionary an especially useful entry point into the large and growing world of biblical and theological studies. McKim seeks to be more “broad” than “deep”; in this he succeeds, but the definitions are still plenty substantive to be useful to students at various stages.

The annotated bibliography is just five pages and glosses over important works (e.g., the commentaries section lists Anchor but omits Hermeneia). It does include a good page on Web-based resources for theological studies. The abbreviations include a couple pages of textual criticism abbreviations (including Latin), which will save the new reader of the Hebrew Bible from having to look most terms up elsewhere.

One feature I felt to be missing was a lengthier set of introductory essays on the nature and methods of theological study. I’m assuming Dr. McKim didn’t include this because it might exceed the intended scope of the work, but perhaps future editions could include–as many dictionaries do–at least two or three introductory essays to further orient the reader to theological study.

I’ve had the dictionary at my desk all summer, and each time I’ve looked up a word or phrase, I’ve found what I was looking for (with the exception of dereliction or “cry of dereliction”).

Especially for its price and accessibility, The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms is an excellent starting point for seminary students or for pastors who want to stay up-to-date on theological terminology.

Many thanks to WJK Press for the review copy, given to me with no expectation as to the content of my review. You can find the dictionary here on Amazon (affiliate link), or here at WJK Press.

Accept the Incompleteness of Your Work

28102-Sabbath in the City_pYesterday I preached on Sabbath-keeping and what I think is the real reason it’s so hard for us to engage such a life-giving practice. As I’m reflecting further this week on cultivating a Sabbath-oriented mindset throughout my days, I remembered a book I read a few years ago that nourished me. It’s called Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence.

Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfteich wrote this short yet compelling book on “what constitutes pastoral excellence in the urban context” and “what sustains it.” The authors use results from their project, “Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence,” which piloted a program of rest and renewal for 96 urban pastors across the country. According to Stone and Wolfteich, there are four primary activities or modes of being that make up pastoral excellence (which they also refer to as “virtue”):

  1. The cultivation of holy, life-giving friendships, particularly with other pastors;
  2. Regular Sabbath practices of rest that allow for acts of both creation and liberation;
  3. A renewal of the spirit through disciplines like prayer, reading Scripture, and silence;
  4. Study and reflection on the theology and practice of ministry (the authors tie this in with the above activity, renewal of the spirit).

While the authors note that pastoral excellence thus constituted is applicable to other, non-urban settings, they emphasize the uniqueness of the urban context and how it can challenge and fatigue urban pastors. They describe the city as “a place of distractions, busyness, and frenzied activity.” In contradistinction to more affluent suburban parishes, the urban church is likely to function as a full-service institution that addresses the variegated needs of the city in which it resides. The authors follow the group of 96 participants and show how the four practices listed above helped them to cultivate and sustain pastoral excellence.

Reading the book was itself an act of refreshment. Two aspects were most helpful to me:

First, the authors highlight the importance to pastors of cultivating holy, God-focused friendships. They write, “Friendships, then, are not simply a means of supporting a more healthy spiritual life. As some of the pastors in our project put it, ‘They are our spiritual life.’” The old African proverb is apropos here:

If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.

Second, Sabbath-keeping is easier idealized than practiced. Stone and Wolfteich write,

[The] advice to accept the incompleteness of our work may be difficult to enact.

Though I didn’t have Sabbath in the City in mind at the time, the sermon I’ll post later this week interacts at length with this idea, i.e., why it is that we don’t take the Sabbath we know we want to take.

The book is intended for pastors in an urban setting, but even a suburban-dweller who is not involved in pastoral ministry will find rest and hope in Sabbath in the City.

You can find it on Amazon here and at Westminster John Knox Books here.

“O God, is this any way to run a world?”

Psalms of Lament

Whether it’s another school shooting, a cancer diagnosis, an unjust imprisonment, violence perpetrated against the peaceful, or an unkind word that brings tears to the eyes of the one who received it… there’s a lot to lament in this world–too much.

A year-and-a-half ago I read a fantastic book called Psalms of Lament by Ann Weems (see more here). I continue to come back to her modern-day lament psalms from time to time. Of course, it’s hard to top the lament psalms in the biblical book of Psalms, so really Weems and David go together. I appreciate the freshness with which Weems approaches the important practice of lament.

Weems tragically lost her son just after his 21st birthday. It is out of that sense of loss and grieving that she writes many of her lament psalms. She says:

This book is not for everyone. It is for those who weep and for those who weep with those who weep. It is for those whose souls struggle with the dailiness of faithkeeping in the midst of life’s assaults and obscenities. This book is for those who are living with scalding tears running down their cheeks.

So if you are weeping right now, or weeping with someone who is weeping… or if you feel like maybe you should be weeping but can’t, or don’t know how… here is Weems’s Lament Psalm Thirty-two (posted with publisher’s permission), which can help to give shape and voice to a heartfelt prayer of lament:

O God, explain to me
the cruelty of your world!
Make sense of those
who make no sense!
Tell me why the innocent die,
and evil people live
to kill again!
Tell me why the faithful
are shunned,
and the self-righteous
point their fingers!
Tell me why the wounded
are wounded,
and sorrow falls
on the shoulder of sorrow!
Tell me why the abused
are abused,
and the victims
Tell me why the rains
come to the drowning,
and aftershocks
follow earthquakes.
O God, is this any way
to run a world?
O Merciful One, let us rest
between tragedies!

Speak to us
for we are your people.
Speak to us of hope
for the hopeless
and love for the unloved
and homes for the homeless
and dignity for the dying
and respect for the disdained.

Speak to us, O God,
of the Resurrected One!
Speak to us of hope,
for in spite of
the tidal wave of tears,
we remember your story
of new life!

Tell the world again,
O God of creation!
Tell us that winter will fade,
and spring will wash us new,
and the world will green again,
and we will be new creations
in the garden of our God.
Free us from these tentacles
of sorrow,
and we will fall on our faces
and worship you,
O God of goodness,
O God of a new green world!