Intro to Bonhoeffer Series:
Starting tomorrow, we will be posting a series of blogs that I wrote some years ago about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
These blogs first appeared on websites curated by Duke Divinity School, Huffington Post, and Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. The blogs, which appeared in 2015-16, originated in articles and lectures I had done on Bonhoeffer, some of which date to the last century (it’s fun to say that!).
As a historical theologian I am accustomed to being interested in people and periods of history that others are not, but interest in Bonhoeffer is widespread and never wanes. In some ways, interest in him has only grown. And, it has grown among Christians of virtually every stripe, from Conservative and Evangelical to Catholic and Liberal Protestant. Even among non-religious people Bonhoeffer holds a kind of position as a saint.
Like many of you, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was a particular privilege over two decades ago to co-teach a seminar at Austin Presbyterian Seminary on Bonhoeffer and the church’s public role with my friend and colleague Dr. David Jensen. David and I co-taught this seminar several times. Each time my appreciation for Bonhoeffer’s genius and courage deepened. It was around this time that I was asked to write an article on the relationship between Bonhoeffer’s spiritual life and his political involvement for a denominational journal. The blogs drew from these research and teaching experiences.
My writing on Bonhoeffer has spanned the terms of four American Presidents, two from each party. And every time the articles and blogs have been published someone has claimed that I was “using” Bonhoeffer to serve my own partisan political stance. Over these past twenty-five years, almost every time I have told Bonhoeffer’s story and provided a description of Bonhoeffer’s Germany, I have been confronted by a red-faced and furious student or reader who is sure I am critiquing their favorite political figure or party. All I can say is that Bonhoeffer has a way of staying current.
It has become clear to me why Bonhoeffer remains relevant, and controversial. While he was a deeply patriotic man, he refused to allow any power or authority under heaven to receive his ultimate loyalty. God alone commanded his allegiance and worship. He had a gift for seeing the idolatry that hid under the disguises of nationalism and even religion.
Bonhoeffer was a person with extraordinary intellectual gifts, who in another time would simply have been a very popular and beloved professor of theology as well as life-long spiritual seeker (at the time of his death he wanted to work with Mohandas Gandhi). But, placed as he was at a hinge of history, his life assumes a significance he certainly would never have anticipated nor desired.
Bonhoeffer wears well. And I hope you will find the five blogs on him and his time to be of some value.