Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why Outcome Theology, like Outcome Politics, Betrays One's Faith

The church of Jesus Christ is [seemingly] absent in its season of Advent supposedly
proclaiming to the world Jesus' incarnate resurrectedness into humanity and all
 creation. A season we know as Christmas. But a season that is anything but
incarnate or ressurected. - re slater, 12.1.15

Faith's Old World

Lately I have been struggling with all the absurdity I have been listening to from the church in this season of American presidential politics (Fall 2015). The faith of Jesus I hold so precious is being blasted by many a Christian voice proclaiming distrust, fear, and protectionism from radical Islam as it rages to new heights known as Islamophobia. A height so great as to close America's borders to all immigrants seeking refuge and respite from hardship and evil while at the same time beating the war drum of vengeance upon all its self-proclaimed enemies.

An untenable plight causing us to ask ourselves, "Where is the church of Jesus Christ" who came to minister, heal, serve, and love the stranger, the despised, the outcast, even His enemy? As taken from the political rhetoric I have been listening to this kind of church of Christ is absent in its season of Advent supposedly proclaiming to the world Jesus' incarnate resurrectedness into humanity and all creation. A season we know as Christmas. But a season that is anything but incarnate or resurrected.

If incarnate, than the followers of Christ would act and speak differently than what I have been hearing. And if resurrected, there would be another kind of attitude - one of hope, healing, power, and strength - coming from within the church based upon its confidence in its Redeemer. But in its place I instead listen to the church's dream and deep-seated hope for Christ's coming as a bloody Conqueror to the world of sinful mankind in end-time expectation. An expectation that does no justice at all to the Jesus' present-time Sermon on the Mount. A Sermon preaching peace, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, not destruction and warfare.

Bad theologies, like bad dogmas, are prime motivators for why the world is as much at war now as it has been through the ages. Whether Jesus comes to kill, or to grant forgiveness, to the damned in the book Revelation is moot when held to the veracities of preaching grace and peace in the church now as shown to us through the Gospels of Christ. To read Revelation so literally as to wait in hope for its mythic language to leap from its pages is a grave error both ecclesiastically as well as eschatologically re the presentness of God's Kingdom now through Christ. Perhaps, we might consider Revelation's language as more that of "man's ancient struggle with sin within his own heart depicting a divine war between the Ancient of Days (Yahweh) for man's graceless hearts and prideful vengeance?" Nonetheless, it matters not what our eschatology is in the face of Christ's example of ministry and service in the gospels. If it will be so than it will be so. Till then we work by following our Lord into the throes of social justice, mercy, and grace to all, even our enemies.

Moreover, we reset our priorities and agendas to "work and speak and act" towards one another as real human beings in "solidarity with humankind" working towards the divine graces of peace and goodwill. To speak up against social injustices. To advocate for the despised and hated. To appreciate the needful distance between church and state. And to respect the civil rights of all men whoever they be. The Constitutional of the United States has all this goodness and appeal within it. A constitution partly built on the non-mainline church's oppressive experiences with the mainline churches of the Old World, and partly built upon its aspirations and dreams for a greater colony/society lived to the highest maxims of peace and goodwill, of tolerance and helpfulness to one another. This is no mistake. It was built upon hardship, religious oppression, exclusionary doctrines, and bad dogmas from the Old Europe. Let us not repeat this mistake and take an "Old World" view of our present situations today.

But if so, then the culmination of man's endless wars with each other is annihilation and doom caused by bad theology + bad politics. This would be the rightful equation for ungodly despair whether held by sinner or saint. A despair that is unnecessary if Christianity would pragmatically heed Jesus' call to grace and peace.

Or, even listen to the serious attempts by the moral parts of this world wishing to make peace with one another regardless of religion, faith, or doctrine. In the world's eyes, religion but seemingly adds gas to the fires of the ignobility of mankind when held to the lower standards of strife and  pride.

Faith's New World

So then, let us examine the several ways which orthodox Christianity might elevate its speech and doctrines. One comes from listening to one another. Another way comes from examining our beliefs and motives. And yet a third by repenting to God as seeking the light of His glory in our walks of life. Let's first begin with an introduction and then examine Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a prime candidate of a Christian caught between the crossfires of faith and reality:

"We wish to rupture the faith of the land. To disturb it, stir it, apply it, and
re-examine it at every level of our thought and being, actions and attitudes.
Even as the Lord Himself did during the times of His ministry to the lost
generations of both believers and unbelievers alike." - re slater, 10.16.14

At Relevancy22 we follow many of the trends within Christianity - whether from a radical anti-Christian viewpoint (aka Radical Christianity), or from a deeply convicted liberal view (aka biblical hermeneutics et al), or as a conservative traditionalist (mainstream (neo-)evangelicalism and postfundamentalism  - with a flavoring of Christian "common sense realism" that might be applied to each group's grasp of the truth as they wish to see it and purvey it. Similar to a cluster of blind scientists trying to describe an elephant - one thinking the animal is all nose, the other all hide, and the third large ears, missing the animal itself, so too Bonhoeffer is caricatured in this way by all theologic parties involved.

So that, when coming to Radical Theology, we will admit to that aspect of Christianity that can (and should be) religionless realizing that our cultures can never attain this aspect, only aspire within its religions and denominations.

That when coming to Liberal Christianity we should pay attention to liberal scholarship's observations and statements of the Bible as scholars in their own right of academia just so long as they do not loose the tradition of the historic orthodox Christian faith in Christ Jesus. An orthodox faith which we here at Relevancy22 have intentionally been elevating and re-describing within today's postmodern, post-secular, post-Christian contexts (heretofore described as emergent Christianity or postmodern Christianity but now as progressive Christianity). Contexts that neither deny Jesus nor refuse to listen to the newer discoveries and observations made of the Christian faith and its religious foundations. A difficult tightrope to walk... but nonetheless we walk it without collapsing into a loss of faith in the God who loves. And loves us through His Son as the ultimate expression of His grace and truth.

And finally, when coming to conservative Christianity - one which this writer here (myself) was birthed within and from the depths of its bowels - we seek its truths. But also wish to display its foibles, its bad theology, and fallacious dogmas. We would do the historic Christian faith no justice if we were not to examine all its foundations, its philosophies, its directions and bearing, lest we loose that precious faith itself to the false prophets of our day. Whether they be in the pulpits of the church or at the dais of the university lecture rooms. All who pretend to examine Jesus must proclaim Him Lord and King, Savior and God. Suffering Servant and loving Humanitarian.

Jesus is the conundrum of faith even as He can be all things to Radicals, Liberals, or Conservatives. Each group, each direction, each organization of thought has its own philosophical and religious lenses through which it chooses to see Jesus and the Christian faith. No less we here at Relevancy22 using a combination of all the above approaches without losing sight of the Lord's calling to be the mustard seed, the new wine, the lost coin of the Kingdom realm. Even the found faith of our days and times, years and appointments.

We wish to rupture the faith of the land. To disturb it, stir it, apply it, and re-examine it at every level of our thought and being, actions and attitudes. Even as the Lord Himself did during the times of His ministry to the lost generations of both believers and unbelievers alike. So be ye then salt, and light, and new wine, in the name of the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

R.E. Slater
October 16, 2014
revised December 19, 2014

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Eric Metaxas and the Egregious Misuse of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

by Scott R. Paeth
Associate Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. He works in the fields of Christian Social Ethics and Public Theology.

March 20, 2014

I could have as easily titled this post "The Egregious Eric Metaxas's misuse of Dietrich Bonhoeffer," because, make no mistake, Metaxas is egregious, and the cottage industry he has cultivated in selling right wing Christian self-righteousness under the banner of comparing their moral sclerosis to the genuine courage and moral risk taken by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is disgusting and offensive. And the fact that he has done it through a biographical hatchet job that has become successful by flattering the delusions of American evangelicals that they are embroiled in a struggle for the soul of America that is in some way equivalent to that of the German Confessing Church just piles offense on offense.

So, when I read that, once more, Metaxas is peddling evangelical victimology under the cover of Bonhoeffer, I am both unsurprised and appalled. His latest comes in the form of an interview on a conservative Christian radio show, where he states, while comparing the struggles of Bonhoeffer (who, as a reminder, was murdered by the Nazis for his involvement in a conspiracy against the Reich):

"I’m talking about the theological liberals in the mainstream church that is just getting off in a whole other direction where they are just failing to teach biblical orthodoxy, failing to teach the Bible as the word of God and yet they still think of themselves as the church,” he said. “We see that obviously happening in issues of sexuality, but how can you say that most mainline denominations in America today are profoundly Christian when they have given up the ghost on all of these fundamentals of the faith? You had the exact same thing happening in Germany. It’s just setting things up so that when evil comes, where do people turn?"

So, just to be clear: Metaxas is hijacking the legacy and reputation of a man who, in a state of great moral and spiritual conflict, chose to resist what is commonly understood to be the most evil and despicable regime of the 20th century - a regime that corralled and murdered, among many others, homosexuals - and using that legacy to argue that the welcome extended by liberal churches to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is somehow "the exact same thing" as the complacent acceptance of Nazism by German Christians in the 1930s.

I'm sorry, but this is a crime against history and an offense against Christianity. It's bad theology, bad biblical criticism, and bad ethics. There is simply no basis for anyone to grant Eric Metaxas any credibility as an historian or as a commentator on Bonhoeffer, let alone a spokesperson for what constitutes "biblical orthodoxy" (a term I want to come back to in a moment). But of course, we've known this for a long time. One of the first -- and best -- reviews of Metaxas's Bonhoeffer biography was written by Clifford Green in The Christian Century and it completely and utterly dismantles the book. A small sample of that review:

"Two aspects of Bonhoeffer are so disturbing to Metaxas that he has to deny them outright or try to explain them away. Bonhoeffer, he insists, was not a pacifist. While pacifism as usually understood is not a good word to describe Bonhoeffer's position, his Christian peace ethic was rooted in the core doctrines of his theology—his Christology and his understanding of discipleship, his interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and his doctrine of the church. He did not abandon his peace ethic while working to kill Hitler and end the Nazi regime. Just one sign of this stance is the fact that even during the war Bonhoeffer wrote in his Ethics and spoke to his fiancée in support of conscientious objection. These matters of theology and ethics are too subtle for Metaxas; consequently his treatment of the Lasserre-Bonhoeffer friendship in New York falsifies the sources and wallows in sentimentality.

"Worse, if possible, is Metaxas's embarrassment about Bonhoeffer's writing in Letters and Papers from Prison about "religionless Christianity." In a Trinity Forum interview he even stated that Bonhoeffer "never really said it," but then had to retract that because, well, Bonhoeffer did say it. But, Metaxas continues, he wrote it privately in a letter to Bethge and never intended anyone to see it because it was "utterly out of keeping with the rest of Bonhoeffer's life." He calls Bonhoeffer's theological prison reflections a "few bone fragments . . . set upon by famished kites and less noble birds, many of whose descendants gnaw them still.""

Green concludes that "Given all this, the most descriptive and honest title for Metaxas's book would perhaps beBonhoeffer Co-opted. Or better: Bonhoeffer Hijacked." But, here, because he completely deserves it, let me pile on a bit from another review:

"The result is a terrible oversimplification and at times misinterpretation of Bonhoeffer’s thought, the theological and ecclesial world of his times, and the history of Nazi Germany. There are numerous errors, some small, some rather stunning. The most glaring errors occur in his account of the church struggle, which is portrayed as the battle between the Nazi-controlled German Christians against Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who here leads the Confessing Church together with Martin Niemoeller. In Metaxas’ version, the Barmen declaration repudiates Nazi anti-Semitism, the Confessing Church breaks away from the Reich Church, and the neutral or intact churches are completely absent from the scene (there are not even index entries for Bishops Wurm, Marahrens, or Meiser, the last of whom is referred to but not named). Bonhoeffer of course leads the way, both in the name of true Christianity and on behalf of the Jews. This oversimplification of the battle lines and the complexities of the church struggle (and of Bonhoeffer himself) characterizes the portrayal of the entire period. National Socialism and its leaders are of course unambiguously anti-Christian. Most of the generals in the resistance against Hitler, we learn, are “serious Christians”. Luther’s anti-Semitism is attributed to his digestive troubles, and Metaxas does not address how anti-Semitism, whatever its source, had permeated the mindset of German Protestantism and the wider culture. ... In some places it is offensive, as when Metaxas argues that supporters of the Aryan paragraph were not really anti-Semitic: “Some believed that an ethnically Jewish person who was honestly converted to Christian faith should be part of a church composed of other converted Jews. Many sincere white American Christians felt that way about Christians of other races until just a few decades ago.” (Why, some of their best friends …). Along the way Metaxas inserts shorthand summaries that range from the silly (Luther as “the Catholic monk who invented Protestantism”) to the bizarre (the difference between Barth and Harnack is compared to contemporary debates “between strict Darwinian evolutionists and advocates of so-called Intelligent Design”)."

There is only one reason that Metaxas hasn't been completely laughed out of any and all serious conversation about Bonhoeffer, and that is because he flatters the self-conception of conservative evangelicals.

I should probably just end there, but it is worth noting a couple of the underlying problems in Metaxas's whole approach, particularly in this interview. First is his insistence that the dividing line between his evangelical cohort of followers and "liberal Christianity" is over this idea of "Biblical orthodoxy," which is of course another way of saying "Liberal Christians don't go out of their way to condemn homosexuality," a topic that occupies all of about five verses in the entire Bible. "Biblical orthodoxy" never seems to attend such [(gay)] issues as, for example, nonviolence, which was central to Jesus' teaching, or charging interest on loans (known in the Bible as usury, but known in the United States as "the engine of our economy").

But then again, evangelicals of the kind who like to be flattered by Metaxas's historical distortions aren't really all that concerned with war or economic injustice, both of which are much more central to the moral concerns of the Bible than any issues of "sexual orthodoxy." It's passing strange when your conception of what constitutes orthodoxy of any sort revolves around the isolated focus on such a minuscule aspect of the Biblical text. It's even stranger when your conception of orthodoxy focuses, not on questions of God's nature, Christ's incarnation, the nature of his sacrifice or the possibilities of salvation, but instead on one question that was culturally marginal at the time the Bible was written and has become crucial today only because a subset of the human family has decided that it would very much like to be treated as fully human thank-you-very-much. If that's orthdoxy, I'll take heresy any day of the week.

In fact, it's worth noting that, if we were looking for any group who was acting "just like" the Nazis with regard to gays and lesbians, we'd be far more likely to be successful if we looked to those conservative evangelicals who have been hard at work in Uganda over the past several years trying, ultimately successfully, to get legislation passed to declare homosexuality a crime and to put gays and lesbians in prison. These are the same brand of conservative evangelicals, it should be noted, that seem to conform to what Metaxas means by "biblical orthodoxy." So please, Eric, be careful where you are swinging your Nazi comparisons.

Of course, the whole evangelical hermeneutic could best be described as "interpreting the Bible while pretending we're not interpreting it. It would be more honest to say that conservatives of the Metaxas strain and liberals have different interpretations of the Bible, and then inquiry as to which interpretation best comports with what we can say of about God's will based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. But that approach would lead inevitably to the conclusion that the conservative obsession with other people's sex lives is utterly ridiculous and anti-Christian, and they can't have that.

But finally, I think a word has to be said on behalf of Bonhoeffer. Insofar as Metaxas has set himself up as the go-to contemporary interpreter of Bonhoeffer, he has done a huge disservice to the complexity and ambiguity inherent in Bonhoeffer's thought. Evangelicals have an understandable attachment to earlier works like Discipleship and Life Together, while liberals are often fascinated by the fragmentary material collected in Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison. The earlier books have a strong emphasis on obedience to God and personal Christian commitment, ideas that have a strong resonance in evangelical circles, while the latter books point to the difficulties of discerning God's will in ambiguous circumstances, and imagine the possibilities of a "religionless Christianity" that approaches things from the perspective of those on the margins of society

The unfortunate truth is that, because he was murdered, we have no way of knowing what direction Bonhoeffer's thought might have taken after the war. It's therefore worth displaying a bit of humility in attempting to assert with confidence what Bohoeffer "really" thought near the end of his life. However, if we were looking for an interpreter on that front, Eberhard Bethge would be a far better choice than Eric Metaxas, as Bethge was the editor of Bonhoeffer's prison writings, the compiler of the Ethics, and one of Bonhoeffer's most frequent prison correspondents. Bethge himself seemed content to let Bonhoeffer's words and action speak for themselves, without filtering them through the anachronistic lenses of contemporary disputes. The truth is that there is something in Bonhoeffer for those on the political and theological left as well as those on the right. Metaxas is not totally wrong when he sees those elements in Bonhoeffer that are attractive to conservatives. But his utter dishonesty in his presentation of those issues, his shoddy scholarship, and his repulsive comparisons of liberals to Nazis should be enough to render everything else he has to say irrelevant.

So now, let us finally be done with Eric Metaxas. May I never have to hear his name or discuss his "work" ever again.

Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace - Religionless Christianity

A scene from movie 'Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace' - "Lamb among wolves."
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great pacifist theologian speaks of
a religionless Christianity centered around Jesus and the suffering of mankind.

Amazon Link

Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging The Myth.
Recovering His Call To Peacemaking by Nation.
Mark Thiessen ( 2013 ) Paperback

This careful examination questions the assumption that Bonhoeffer was involved in plots to assassinate Hitler and reveals Bonhoeffer's consistent commitment to peace.

Related Links to Mark Theissen Nation @ Relevancy22

  • “There is no evidence that Bonhoeffer was ‘involved in the plots to kill Hitler.’ Hopefully we have also shown that there is no real evidence that Bonhoeffer himself affirmed the killing of Hitler.” (p. 93).
  • But, according to Bethege, there is no doubt that he believed Bonhoeffer at least tentatively gave up his pacifism in a “boundary situation,” namely, the extremity of having to end the war and the holocaust.
  • Bethge clearly thought, from personal conversations with Bonhoeffer, that Bonhoeffer thought the Krisau Circle, von Moltke, and non-violent resistance to Hitler was useless.
  • My conclusion is that the authors of Bonhoeffer the Assassin? (and Foreword author Hauerwas) fail to give us a strong enough statement of Bethge’s proximity to Bonhoeffer throughout the time of his involvement in the resistance against Hitler and unjustly cast doubt on his veracity about Bonhoeffer’s role in it. Anyone who reads the book must also read Bethge’s biography of Bonhoeffer, or at least the portion of it dealing with the conspiracy, and then make up their own mind. Believing Nation, et al., will require more than doubting Bethge. And if Bethge could be wrong about this, he must not [then] be considered as a "reliable" witness to the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

  • There is tension here between his “this-worldliness” and his earlier Discipleship. That he has to say he still stands by the early work is a telling concession that emerged in his thinking as a result of his participation in the conspiracy.
  • Bonhoeffer’s own journey is the struggle the church has always had with how to live out the Sermon on the Mount.
  • The most important element of this scheme was that Bonhoeffer changed his mind from being a pacifist to being a (Niebuhrian) realist
  • Mark Thiessen Nation, along with Anthony G. Siegrist and Daniel P. Umbel, have now published their work: Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2013). They ask if Bonhoeffer was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. They conclude he was not. In part two of this review I will sketch their views and respond to their proposal.
  • What this book does in the middle chapters, chapters harder to read than the others, is to demonstrate that there is a decisive break between Barcelona and Discipleship, one in which Bonhoeffer shifts from anti-pacifism to pacifism on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ teachings.
  • I no longer think Bonhoeffer made a tragic mistake in entering into the conspiracy and so shifted from his pacifism because I’m not convinced he entered into the conspiracy. Bonhoeffer may well have sustained his pacifism.

  • Eric Metaxas (Bonhoeffer) told a different story, a more evangelical one, which is why so many evangelicals have found Bonhoeffer in the last five years. Mark Thiessen Nation provides in his study (Bonhoeffer the Assassin?) a different journey for Bonhoeffer (see reviews by Scot McKnight and Roger Olson).
    Amazon Link
  • But the best written description of Bonhoeffer’s journey is now byCharles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Why use the word “journey”? Because people have made meaning out of Bonhoeffer’s life and theological development according to the scheme they find in his story. The fork in the road or the place of decision is right here: When Bonhoeffer returned to Germany after that aborted visit to Union Theological Seminary in the summer of 1939, did his theology shift from a pacifist Discipleship and Life Together direction toward a more Niebuhrianrealism/responsibility vision? That is, did he enter into the Abwehr (double agent) in Hitler’s National Socialist party as one who was seeking the downfall, assassination, and replacement of Hitler, or was his life as a double agent a ruse for his continued life in the ministry of the ecumenical movement?
  • ...the best way to act as a responsible Christian under Hitler was to assume the guilt of the nation and seek his country’s collapse. Maybe the best way of all to frame this is to say Bonhoeffer took leave of Discipleship by the time he was writing Ethics. That, at any rate, is the most common journey told of Bonhoeffer’s theological development. I have already covered Mark Thiessen Nation’s proposal and this post is about Marsh’s study, but it appears to me Bonhoeffer’s pacifism can remain in tact in spite of his realism since he saw entrance into the resistance as guilt (personal and national).
  • Seemingly ahead of everyone else in theological circles, including Barth, Bonhoeffer saw the Jewish Question as the Christian Problem. He helped his sister and brother in law escape from Germany to England through Switzerland. They survived the war, Dietrich did not. Marsh’s Bonhoeffer is probing pluralism in affirmative terms, and Marsh is accurate.
  • Marsh, in my view, downplays Discipleship and Life Together because, again in my view, he sees a different journey for Bonhoeffer: it is one that sees the highlight years in DB’s life not in the outside-the-system seminary (they weren’t underground until the end) writings and spirituality but in the more “responsible” political theology of the Ethics and his Letters and Papers from Prison. His sketches of DB’s theology after his return to Germany and while in prison were a highlight for me.

  • Will the real DB stand up? Is he a radical (anti-)Christian seeking a religionless Christianity (sic, Peter Rollins)? Is he a deeply convicted liberal advocating for social justice, Christian resistance to both the conservative church and against mainstream political fascism of Germany? Or, is he a conservative traditionalist as Metaxas advocates who left his childhood faith for another kind of Christianity altogether (noting the difference in his theologic life between his writings on Discipleship to that of Ethics)?

Scot McKnight - Taking Sides in Theological Disputes (last article in link)

  • For DB, taking sides was as much about attitude as it was about correctness. He could appreciate a Rudolf Bultmann for his theologic work though differing from RB as well. But when listening to the conservative church react to RB as against theologic anti-intellectualism, Dietrich faulted the attitude of the conservative church for its failings to truly listen to the struggle of the times Rudolf was working both with and against. That this foster attitude upon the church by self-proclaimed leaders of its evangelical faith was dangerous to listen to, absorb, and act upon. - abridged: re slater

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No, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Didn’t Try To Kill Adolf Hitler

by Benjamin L. Corey
December 19, 2014

It seems quite often when I discuss the theology of Christian Nonviolence, some folks are quick to drop the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer for many has become a “trump card” in discussions on nonviolence when one wants to give an example of someone who used violence to confront evil, as he has the reputation of being an attempted assassin of Adolph Hitler. Unfortunately, Bonhoeffer is a poor example of the desired point as there is no evidence that was actively involved in planning or attempting to assassinate Hitler -  a basic fact accepted by the academy but seemingly missing from common internet discussions on Bonhoeffer.

To address this issue on the blog, I decided to sit down with Dr. Joseph McGarry, a Bonhoeffer scholar, and ask him to briefly explain in simple terms why thinking of Bonhoeffer as an assassin is probably not the best way to view the historical evidence.

Dr. McGarry was awarded his PhD in systematic theology from the University of Aberdeen in 2013, writing on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology of formation in Christ. His doctoral thesis has been accepted for publication by Fortress Press under the title Christ Among a Band of People: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Formation in Christ. He has been published in Theology Today, The Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, and The Bonhoeffer Legacy: Australasian Journal of Bonhoeffer Studies. He has also contributed numerous lectures for the Evangelical Theological Society, the American Academy of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Theology. Furthermore, he is a diehard fan of the Buffalo Bills (who can’t seem to beat the New England Patriots).


BLC: Dr. McGarry, it seems that it is a popular assumption in today’s culture that Bonhoeffer was a Christian theologian from Germany who was executed because he tried to assassinate Hitler. However, having attended several Bonhoeffer presentations by scholars at the American Academy of Religion, it seems to me that no serious Bonhoeffer scholar sees him as an assassin or even as a direct accomplice to any assassination attempt. Which version of history is correct? And, if Bonhoeffer wasn’t actually involved in an assassination attempt, where did this myth come from?

Dr. McGarry: Yeah, there’s a somewhat prevalent misnomer, and I’d imagine the myth stems from a series of logical deductions and some assumptions along the way. When people think about the Bonhoeffer’s life and involvement in the resistence, the flow of logic goes something like this:

  • a) Dietrich Bonhoeffer worked for the Abwehr, and was recruited there by his brother in law, Hans von Dohnányi;
  • b) Members of the Abwehr’s leadership (specifically Hans Oster, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and Dohnányi) actively planned attempts on Hitler’s life;
  • c) When the “Zossen files” were discovered in September 1944 (after the failure of the 20 July plot) von Dohnányi was clearly implicated in assassination planning, and the rest of the Abwehr by extension.
  • Therefore, everyone associated with these files was executed for treason against the Reich. Generally, it is then assumed that— because Bonhoeffer was executed with these other people who actively planned Hitler’s assassination—Bonhoeffer himself was actively involved as well.

Unfortunately, it is this assumption that scholars have again and again called an overstatement of the evidence. Something closer to reality is that Bonhoeffer was (at least) one level removed from the active planning. He was part of the organization but not part of the core. He was surely knowledgeable that *something* was being planned, but he was not part of the inner circle and it is likely he didn’t know what that *something* was.

Rather, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a courier, passing messages—particularly to England through his friend Bishop George Bell—and trying to get assurances from the Allied forces that they would stop bombing Germany when Hitler’s regime was overthrown. Bonhoeffer’s job was to try to find a way to convince England to stop destroying Germany. He was a messenger, not an assassination planner. He likely provided a measure of theological justification for what others were doing (as can be seen in his Christmas 1942 letter “After 10 Years”), but he himself was—at best—a bit player in the overall scheme of things. When we think of Bonhoeffer and Hitler’s assassination, it’s probably better to think of his role as “message boy” and not “core leader”.

Now, there is a current stream of interpretation that says that Bonhoeffer had actually no knowledge whatsoever that the Abwehr leadership was planning an assassination, but this seems to me to be a bit of an overstatement from the other side.

Either way, the general consensus of scholarship is that Bonhoeffer himself was neither a core member of the resistance, nor was he central to any of the planning that the Abwer did.


BLC: If Bonhoeffer’s connection with the role of assassin is an overstatement of the evidence, how did we get here? Was he even focused on finding a way to destroy Hitler’s power?

Dr. McGarry: I think we get to this point from some very well intentioned people who have been truly impacted by Bonhoeffer’s amazing biography. It’s compelling, it’s dramatic. A man who forsakes all in the way he did, especially with how he returned from New York in 1939, believing that he needed to be with his nation if he were to have any right to rebuilt it…..it’s powerful stuff.

I think there’s also a tendency for us to look for heroes of the Christian faith–people who encourage us and who give us something to aspire toward. Surely Dietrich Bonhoeffer is that kind of person–a man of conviction who did what he felt was right, what was difficult, and ended up dying for how he lived his faith. I mean, let’s be honest, that was a significant factor in my own study of his work. But, in the midst of telling that type of story, there’s a temptation to overplay the hand, so to speak. It’s easy to forget that a very significant portion of his employment with the Abwehr had to do with his desire to escape the front lines. He wasn’t going to fight for the Reich. First, he tried to escape active combat by becoming a chaplain, but he was denied. His only other option would have been to come forward as a conscientious objector, but that would have earned him a one way ticket to a concentration camp. He ended up going to New York on a theological fellowship in 1939 as a way to escape, but he was overcome with guilt and returned just a few weeks later. So he returns to Germany, certain to be sent into combat, and he was trying to find a way out. And then, he found a way into the Abwehr. A way to escape the war. Though he was very sympathetic to the resistance movement, the main reason he joined the Abwehr wasn’t to be part of the resistance so much as to avoid military service (Bonhoeffer was originally imprisoned as a draft dodger, and it wasn’t until late 1944 that it was revealed that he worked in the same section of the Abwehr as those who planned the assassination plot). Though he was executed for his association with people who planned the assassination, he was put in prison for avoiding conscription.

I think that’s what often happens when we look at Bonhoeffer’s life: we focus on the stuff that shapes the heroic story of David standing up against Goliath–standing for the Gospel. And it’s not as if it’s wrong, it’s just only half of the picture. The other half (which we can’t put to the side) is the well connected pastor from a family who had political connections that could give him an exemption from combat service. It just so happened they worked for the Abwehr and that was his ticket out. If they worked as janitors in a steel factory, then he would have been doing that instead.


The short summary of the whole is this: Bonhoeffer did not want to die in a concentration camp, and he didn’t want to be sent off to fight either. Thus, he used family connections to find a way out of both scenarios: joining the Abwehr. While he was there, some members of the Abwehr did plan an overthrow of Hitler, but the evidence shows Bonhoeffer was at least one step removed from the circle of people who did that. However, because he was likely aware that *something* was being discussed (without knowing what that was), he did use personal friendships to ask the Allies to stop bombing and killing his family and friends (an attempt at peacemaking, not violence) which they declined. In the end, he was executed not because he was part of an assassination attempt, but simply because he was associated with people who were.

Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite people in history, as perhaps he is yours. However, to claim that he was a would-be assassin, is simply an overstatement of the historical facts.