Some thoughts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer

FRIDAY, 28 JULY 2017

I recently read an article entitled “The Troubling Truth About Bonhoeffer’s Theology” by Richard Weikart, on the ideas and statements of the well-known German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). The idea I got about Bonhoeffer is of someone who inherited a ton of apples from an uncle who suddenly died. Not one to waste a good inheritance, the guy thinks: “These are good apples. Woe to me if I let them go to waste. I’ll just have to get creative.”

For example, Bonhoeffer wrote in 1925 that if Biblical critics proved that the person Jesus was unhistoric in an empirical sense, it would not affect the content of God’s revelation, seeing that his truth was revealed even through fallible words as written or uttered by human instruments, like the apostles. He further wrote that it didn’t matter if specific miracles did not really take place, that people shouldn’t regard it as irrelevant, but should rather interpret it as evidence of God’s revelation.

It sounds to me like an honest man who grew up with a certain religious tradition, felt intimately attracted to this tradition, who started doubting its real truth as he grew older and learned more about the world, but decided there was no way that this rich 2000-year-old tradition that had such a huge impact on European culture and civilisation, and cultures and civilisations around the world, should be rejected just because it could be proved that God did not really say something, or that miracles did not really happen.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian active from the 1920s to the early 1940s. He was an outspoken opponent of National Socialism on both moral and theological grounds. As a leading figure of the Confessing Church he was arrested in April 1943. He was detained for two years in military facilities and concentration camps. One month before the surrender of Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer was executed in the Flossenbürg concentration camp. His ideas received renewed attention after the war and had some influence on the “God is dead” theology of the 1950s and 1960s.


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