Bonhoeffer the Heretic!

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Irishcat922, Feb 5, 2005.

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  1. Irishcat922

    Irishcat922 Puritan Board Sophomore

    I recently saw a documentary about Bonhoffer, It was more historical, having to do with his Anti-Nazi leanings, but it brought up some things having to do with his theology that definitely raised some red flags in my mind. I found this article very interesting.
  2. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer is close to Barth’s theological view, but is often critical of it. Bonhoeffer’s theology is rather tied up in the crisis of his own life as one who stood against the oppression of Hitler during World War II and was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. From that prison he wrote his Letters, which demonstrate a remarkable coherence of belief, action, and thought in association with his theological understanding of Jesus Christ and God, and ultimately led him to become a martyr. His posthumous influence was more impacting than his life in that his Letters, and the work The Cost of Discipleship, have become classics of liberal theology. He does, though, stress true grace over cheap grace. It is unfortunate that his theology was infected with modernity, rather than harnessing these concepts around traditional formulations of orthodox dogma.
  3. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor

    I've always liked Bonhoeffer and gave a glowing review of Cost of Discipleship... I realized he had ties to Barth and certain neo-orthodox liberals, but I was not aware of his pronounced theological liberalism as this article hints at. The Cost of Discipleship is not perfect, but it is very well written and erudite work. Bonhoeffer's dichotomy between cheap grace and costly grace is nothing short of amazing and is clarion call for true discipleship and being salt and light to an unbelieving world. I was awe inspired by the book and it elicited tears... only other book is the Bible, which has done that for me.

    I do think Dr. McMahon makes a good point about his ethics should be construed in light of the backdrop of his internal struggles and outward struggles as part of the resistance in Nazi Germany... He wrestled with the right and wrong of advocating violent overthrow of Hitler. He was only loosely implicated in the Abwehr conspiracy. Ultimately, he eschewed resistance and all the while recognized that the allied destruction of Germany was vital to its revival and saving Christianity and Europe from barbarism. I can't help but to think amidst all the struggles, God drew Bonhoeffer and gave him an involiable faith in the end and did away with those many doubts that theological liberalism spurned.

    [Edited on 2-14-2005 by Puritanhead]
  4. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    The article about Bonhoeffer was indeed eye-opening. I will be interested to explore those citations and references for myself. I have always appreciated Bonhoeffer's emphasis on the cost of discipleship and grace that is not cheap, as well as his resistance to Hitler's tyranny and the compromises of the German church with Nazism. But I have been wary of his liberal ecumenical theology for some time. His story is remarkable and I think we should be charitable to him but not naive.

    He was born 99 years ago this week (February 4, 1906).

    On February 7, 1945 he was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp.

    [Edited on 7-2-2005 by VirginiaHuguenot]
  5. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    I think Paul's point is a good one. I personally am charitable to some historical theologians such as Bonhoeffer and Pascal that obviously have much error associated with their doctrine. Bonhoeffer was loosely associated with the Reformed Church, but Pascal was a Jansenist. I am still learning about the errors of Wilson and Shepherd, et al., so I won't comment about them specifically, but as a general observation, when evaluating modern or historical theologians I try to use the rule "to whom much is given, much is required." I also try to remember that with every man's theology, including my own, there is wheat and chaff, which must be separated and gleaned. That said, I also apply what Luther said, which may be relevant to the modern church controversies: "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every part of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all battlefields besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."
  6. VanVos

    VanVos Puritan Board Sophomore

    I agree and I expect to see BB Warfield, Boenhoffer, C.S. Lewis in heaven.


    P.S. B.B.Warfield and Theistic evolution, totally didn't know that man.
  7. Irishcat922

    Irishcat922 Puritan Board Sophomore

    I thought Warfield was simply a day-age guy, although that view in my opinion could easily lead into Theistic-evolution.
  8. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    Regardless of his downfalls, Bonhoeffers's book on Ethics is the best I have read.
  9. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor

    I like Bonhoeffer's trenchent pen and his exhortation to lukewarm Lutherans---- were Lutherans to "leave the following of Christ to the Calvinists and legalists...?"

    I note some theological errors in the Cost of Discipleship... but it is an amazing book.

    [Edited on 2-8-2005 by Puritanhead]
  10. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist


    I've been doing some reading of works by and about Bonhoeffer. I've familiarized myself with most of what is known about his activities with the Abwehr (kind of like the nazi FBI) although there is still much shrouded in mystery.

    His theology seems rather unsystematic, and when Barth said that he "might have seen something while peeking around the corner" I take it that his work isn't really taken seriously. Trying to make sense of his insistance on the centrality of "Christ's weakness" and his goal of removing God from the world, seems way out in left field.

    It's hard to pin him down as to whether he ever came out clearly and said that he denies the Virgin Birth, or the bodily ressurection of Christ, but I think he, at best, thought things like this weren't important.

    From what I've seen, I get the impression of a left wing social humanist, with some trappings of orthodox Christianity.

    I'd be grateful for any comments by those of you who have studied him.

  11. daveb

    daveb Puritan Board Sophomore

  12. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    From the link in the first post

    "While, Dietrich Bonhoffer and Martin Niemoller both held what some believe to be Church-inspired antisemitic positions, they did not progress to the next stage along the antisemitic continuum but instead risked their lives during the Holocaust to defend Jews and they courageously and actively opposed Nazism. His arrest in 1943, however, arose from his direct involvement in smuggling fourteen Jews to Switzerland."

    This is a red flag showing that the author is either totally ignorant of the subject or being tricky. There isn't any fact in the first sentence, and in the second that particular charge was used because the Gestapo knew he was part of a plot to assassinate a duely elected leader during a time of war, a treasonable offence anywhere, but they didn't have enough proof at that time.

    I would frankly not put too much faith in the accuracy of the whole article.
  13. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Here is some background information about his involvement in nazi espionage, from a friend of mine who was a family friend of his brother in law.

    At this point, I am interested if anyone can show where he denied specifically the Virgin Birth and the Bodily resurrection.

    His official rank and duties with the Abwehr are shrouded in mystery. During his investigation Bonhoeffer claimed to have been an agent of Amt Ausland/Abwehr since September 1, 1939, and a collator of information on internal and ecclesiastical affairs. However, although his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, who was chief of Abwehr Abteilung ZB [foreign policy reports], had arranged for Bonhoeffer to be exempt from conscription from any other branch of the armed services as indispensable to the Abwehr, he was not listed in the card index of agents, nor had he sworn the required oath of secrecy, nor did the Abwehr files contain any reports from him as agent or otherwise. See Hans Höhne, Canaris: Hitler's Master Spy (Doubleday & Co. 1979) at 519.

    The reason for Dietrich Bonhoeffer's arrest are somewhat complicated. The whole story is told in detail in Höhne, supra at 497- 528. In brief, the Gestapo caught a Munich Abwehr agent engaged in smuggling foreign currency and valuables out of Germany, but who claimed he was operating at the instruction of Hans von Dohnanyi, an Abwehr Sonderführer (Major) and head of Abteilung ZB. The operation involved securing immunity from Nazi racial laws for several of Dohnanyi's Jewish acquaintances, some of which were Canaris friends, by enrolling them in the Abwehr and sending them to Switzerland, and by smuggling in $100,000 foreign currency to help them get to the U.S. The operation had as its code name V7, because there were originally 7 persons involved, but this later increased to 12. The Gestapo investigation dragged on for several months, disrupted from time to time by bureaucratic delays and jurisdictional disputes between the Wehrmacht and SS, but eventually led to the issuance of a warrant for the Gestapo to arrest von Dohnanyi and search his office. During the search von Dohnanyi tried to remove some papers from a file lying on his desk, one of which turned out to be a document which recommended that a prominent Protestant minister be sent to Rome to discuss with the Vatican how the war could be ended and a just and lasting peace based on Christian principles. This obviously suggested that the Abwehr and Bonhoeffer himself were involved in a treasonable plot and he and his twin sister Christine, the wife of von Dohnanyi, were promptly arrested the same day. See also Peter Hoffman, The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945 (The MIT Press, 1977) at 293-4.

    However, despite the resistance of the Gestapo chief investigator, the treasonable aspects of the investigation were eventually dropped, due to lack of concrete evidence and - surprisingly enough - the intervention of Himmler, and von Dohnanyi was ultimately charged with malfeasance, currency offenses and undermining the war effort, and Bonhoeffer only with evading military service. Höhne, supra at 529.

    Christine von Dohnanyi was released from arrest after a brief interrogation, but her husband and Bonhoeffer were kept in prison awaiting trial, which was continually postponed on one grounds or another until the discovery of massive Abwehr files kept in a safe at the General Staff headquarters at Zossen conclusively demonstrated that the accused were guilty of high treason. On April 9, 1945 after a totally illegal drum head "trial" by three SS officers Bonhoeffer, along with Canaris and his aide-de-camp Oster, were convicted of treason, hanged and creamated.

    As an aside,I find it interesting that so many of the persons involved in the resistance were directly or indirectly related to Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

    His older brother Klaus, who was in-house General Legal Counsel for Lufthansa, was as early as 1938 an active participant in a number of plots against Hitler. He was convicted of participation in the July 20 plot and was shot on April 23, 1945.

    His brother-in-law Johannes (Hans) von Dohnanyi, the son of the famous Hungarian composer, pianist and conducter Ernst von Dohnány (and the father of the recent brilliant Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Christoph von Dohnanyi) , was married to his sister Christine and was an Oberredierungsrat and personal advisor to Reich Minister of Justice Gürtner before joining the Abwehr. In the former capacity he became familiar in 1938 with the trumped up case against Werner von Fritsch, the then Commander-in Chief of the Army, which further embittered him against the Nazi régime - in 1936 certain jealous rivals had discovered that his maternal grandfather was Jewish, and he had a difficult time in obtaining a ruling that doubts about his pedigree should be ignored. He was shot on or about April 9, 1945.

    His brothers-in-law Erwin and Justus Delbrück were brothers of Klaus' wife Emilie, (the daughter of Hans Delbrück, a well known german historian) were employed in von Dohnanyi's Abteilung of the Abwehr, were arrested and imprisoned but miraculously escaped with their lives when their guards let them go free as the Russians approached their prison.

    His brother-in-law Rüdiger Schleicher, husband of his sister Ursula, was Ministerialrat in the Ministry of Aviation, convicted of treason and shot in April 1945.

    His uncle (mother's brother) Generalleutnant Paul von Hase, Military Commandant of Berlin, was directly involved in the July 20 plot and was tried and convicted by the Volksgerichtshof and hanged on August 8, 1944.

    Ernst von Harnack, a Social Democrat, former Regierungspräsident in Merseburg and a cousin of Klaus' wife Emilie, although not directly involved in the July 20 plot, was convicted of treason and executed on March 5, 1945.

    All the members of the Bonhoeffer family, men, womwen and children, together with families of many others of the anti-Nazi conspirators, were arrested and sent to concentration camps under the Nazi policy of "Sippenhaft" (kith and kin arrest); many of them were in a column which toward the end of the war left Dachau for the Tyrol with orders to be shot when U.S. troops approached, but were saved by order of Wehrmacht Colonelgeneral Heinrich von Vietinghof, who ordered the SS guards disarmed and the prisoners set free. See Hoffmann, supra at 520.

    As an incidental note, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's attorney representing him during his investigation was his cousin Rüdiger von der Goltz, the son of the General von der Goltz of post World War I Baltic fame, who was a highly regarded member of the Nazi Party and who had also defended General Werner von Fritsch in his 1938 court martial investigation and trial. It must have been a relatively small world in those days among the German upper classes.
  14. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Thanks, Dave.
  15. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian


    Your background info on Bonhoeffer is very detailed and helpful. Thanks for sharing it, and I appreciate your interest in trying to pin down precisely if, when and where Bonhoeffer made any unorthodox statements about the Virgin Birth, etc. Let us know what you find in that regard. He's obviously a man that many of us respect, despite his known errors, in light of his stand against compromise with Nazism and cheap grace. It is good to hear the truth about Bonhoeffer no matter where that takes us.
  16. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor

    I don't know how you even apply the appellation of anti-semitic to Bonhoeffer... His sister was married to a Jew. If you want to castigate him for being in Nazi bureaucracy... he did so to avoid the draft, and after his work in the Confessing church, and as Abwehr agent he was active in the resistance. Some of things he did was very brave. He actually tried to initiate contact with a British agent while in Scandanavia when some Wehrmacht commanders like Beck were planning to knock off Hitler. The British wouldn't take them seriously nor entertain notion of doing away with uncondititional surrender demand. However, Niemoller initially welcomed the rise of national socialism, but soon eschewed it in the early-to-mid 1930s as its radicalism became omnipresent. Niemoller is famous for that "first they came for the Jews... etc. etc." quote.

    [Edited on 3-9-2005 by Puritanhead]
  17. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    It's a quote I have often pondered and take serious issue with because it lacks Biblical discernment, but on a certain level, I think, it has some merit.
  18. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Andrew beat me to it, Communists were indeed first on Niemoller's list. I also have trouble with the quote, as well as Niemoller's theology, which was socialist at first. He actually was trying to marry Christianity with Marxism, then gave it up when he saw Socialism didn't work, which gives a good indication as to his discernment. Also, even Hitler himself stayed a member of the Catholic church to the end, even paying church tax, so the quote is historically inaccurate. "They" never "came" for the Catholics.

    BTW are you sure you aren't confusing Bonhoeffer's brother in law with a Hungarian?
  19. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    I am a fan of Bonhoeffer's in many respects, but I think he and Niemoller were very close in many ways. Bonhoeffer's life was cut down rather early of course, but Niemoller lived to old age. As an old man it is interesting to note that during the German Autumn of 1977, the Red Army Faction terrorist group during a hostage taking demanded that Niemoller guarantee the government's compliance with their demands, because they trusted him as a spokesman for socialism. That says a lot about Niemoller's theology and it makes one wonder where Bonhoeffer would have ended up had he lived as long.
  20. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor

    Tell it to the Catholic Youth League leader assassinated on the streets, and the many clergy that were executed and imprisoned. I read Protestant Protest In Germany and while it makes light of complacency, it makes light of the heavy price paid by those who resisted the Third Reich's encroachment on the church... many paid with their lives. For all my faults and grievances I have with Catholic theology, I cannot accept the accuracy or historicity of outlandish scholarship like Hitler's Pope and other tirades which puts all Christians in Germany as cozily in acquiesce with the vitrolic anti-Christian, murderous ideology espoused by the Nazis.
  21. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Read the quote again. "They" did indeed come for the Jews and Communists. They persecuted a relatively smaller number of Germans of other faiths, particularly Jehovah's witnesses who wouldn't fight. While a relatively small number of Catholics and Protestants were persecuted (if you read my longer post you will see several examples from Bonhoeffer's family) but members of the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church were not singled out for persecution as groups. Hitler was a member of the RC Church to the end, and to the end he paid his Church tax. The majority of German leaders tried by the IMT after the war were Lutherans, and one of the most distinguised Generals Germany ever produced, Heinrici, would have felt comfortable on this board (although he was passed over for promotion on that basis, it came to the point that he usefulness was such that he was put in charge of defending Berlin).

    Why did you mention Goldhagen's trash? How are his last two works of bigotry related to anything that I've posted here?
  22. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor

    I don't even know who Goldhagen is.

    I'm not going to debate whether Germans singled out Christians or Catholics for persecution. I know what I've read on the subject. Hitler was very cynical about Christianity in general and wanting to keep the churches under the thumb of the state, RC church membership notwithstanding.

    I've read of many disgusting state-sponsored activities in Nazi Germany directed at Christians from Hitler Youth that vandalized churches and were throwing excrement on the altars. Then there is the outright murder by Nazi officials and SA thugs.

    As an aside, I know church complacency was a problem, but I'm personally tired of Marxist-leftist-revisionist scholarship that acts like that Christian church and the Nazi state were in cozy lockstep. This is hyperbole if not outright obfuscation of historical fact, and denigrates the memories of those in the resistance and those who died at the hands of the Nazis.

    "For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow." -Ecclesiastes 1:18
  23. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Hitler's Pope is what Goldhagen bases his works on to a large degree

    Goldhagen is who I though you were refering to, as his books have been the main sorce of controvery that you allude to here:

    But you did, by challenging me when I said that "they" never came for the Catholics.
    Again, why bring it up on a thread I ressurected to get some information about Bonhoeffer's theology? Do you accuse me of holding these views, or was this just a general statement of advice to those who may be reading this thread?
  24. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor


    Well, i forgot who wrote Hitler's Pope, but I consider it shoddy scholarship. Goldhagen's concern however was NOT chronicling abuse by Nazis against clergy but rather presenting the Vatican as a willing cohort in Nazi persecution that walked in cozy lockstep with the Axis regime. My scrupples about Catholic theology notwithstanding, I just think that his book and others like it are an eggregious misrepresentation of historical fact and shoddy scholarship that draw their conclusions ahead of time while distorting the facts. That book is just one big logical fallacy of petitio principi that is it just begs the question.

    No, I do not. And you need not get overanalytical with my "aside" about church complacency-- and take that as my surmising your statements. It's a general statement. Perhaps, I should have put in message separate from my reply to you.

    [Edited on 3-10-2005 by Puritanhead]

    [Edited on 3-10-2005 by Puritanhead]
  25. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist


    "Do you accuse me of holding these views, or was this just a general statement of advice to those who may be reading this thread?

    No, I do not. And you need not get overanalytical with my "aside" about church complacency-- and take that as my surmising your statements. It's a general statement. Perhaps, I should have put in message separate from my reply to you."

    Thanks for the clairification.
  26. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    I have to ask...Is it possible to discuss this without being accused of "challenging"? Why is it always "my thread" or "the thread I ressurected", TimV? We are here to discuss, not fight for domination of a topic...please, let's not have this again like the last couple of threads... :um:

    [Edited on 3-10-2005 by LadyFlynt]

    [Edited on 3-10-2005 by LadyFlynt]
  27. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Then discuss the subject please, rather than making inflammitory remarks punctuated by hyperbole.
  28. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    I was not being inflamatory...I was requesting that ppl refrain from it. That is all I have to say on the subject...I'll leave anything furthur up to the moderators.
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