Monday, September 16, 2013

Bonhoeffer, his life and ministry...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born February 6, 1906 in Berlin, Germany and many books have been written about him, his life, and ministry. We cannot forget him, and we should not. A new book called Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life, from the Cross, for the world, was written by Stephen J. Nichols, professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania. Published by Crossway,, this is the third book in Crossway’s series called Theologians on the Christian Life, the first two being on Francis Schaeffer, written by William Edgar, and B.B.Warfield, by Fred G. Zaspel.

This one begins with reminders of Bonhoeffer’s first trip to America, to Union Seminary in New York City, where he studied American theological developments and made many friends here, before returning home to begin a faculty position in Berlin. In 1939, he came again to the U.S., 33 years old and with a bright career ahead. But, author Nichols writes that “the moment he stepped off the ship he knew he had made a mistake.” Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend R. Niebuhr, “I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany, ” and to another friend, “I must be with my brothers when things become serious.” And they were getting very serious. Hitler was becoming more powerful in Germany.

Bonhoeffer influenced both clergy and lay in church and community. He commended “the cross-centered life” saying that Christian living flows from the cross. Reading and obeying Scripture are essential, along with praying and practicing our theology. He quoted “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness,” an idea from Paul (2 Cor. 12:9) that carried Bonhoeffer through difficult times. Essential in his teaching was how to pray, and how to read the Bible. He believed that when we have faith in the incarnate, crucified, resurrected Christ, which God gives to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, along with it comes faith, love, and hope.

It’s a challenge to follow author Nichols through the mix of all that happened to Bonhoeffer, as well as through the details of his beliefs and teachings, and his attempts to live the Christian life in the midst of all that he and the people of Germany were experiencing during the late 1930s–1945. There are two appendices that help: One is a time line of Bonhoeffer’s life and another is a summary called Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life. The concluding section on Reading Bonhoeffer offers information on books by and about him, as well as a list of movies available on his life. And Nichols advises that if you are ever on a desert-island, take these, his “Top Five” on Bonhoeffer, with you. You’ll be glad you did.

—Lois Sibley