Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Religion: Dietrich Bonhoeffer at 100

February 4th was the 100th anniversary of the birth of German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a complex historic and religious figure who wrote broadly on theology, ethics, and the commitment of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer is a bit controversial for the paradox illustrated in the juxtaposition of his intense pacifism (as a protégé of German theologian Karl Barth and colleague of French pacifist John Lasserre) during the rise of the third Reich during the 1930s with the conspiratorial part he played in the multiple attempts to assassinate Adolph Hitler (his implication in the famous failed July 20, 1944 assassination attempt resulted in Bonhoeffer's execution in the Flossenburg Concentration Camp April 9, 1945).

A bit of a contradiction to be sure, but Dr. Bonhoeffer was human, German and practical and saw the issue as one of taking action to save lives and indeed humanity. While his ethics were certainly situational, desperate times do call for desperate measures.It is fairly well accepted that Bonhoeffer is a modern martyr to the Christian ideals he personally held dear. How then, can such a man be characterized in metaphor by Dr. G. Archer Weniger as:

If there is wholesome food in a garbage can, then one can find some good things in Bonhoeffer, but if it be dangerous to expect to find nourishment in a garbage can, then Bonhoeffer must be totally rejected and repudiated as blasphemy. It is worse than garbage (FBF Information Bulletin, May 1977, p. 12)?

This above quotation was part of the writings of Dr. Don Jasmin, erstwhile publisher of Fundamentalist Digest. While praising Bonhoeffer for practicing what he preached, Dr. Jasmin pointedly opins that:

Bonhoeffer in reality did not adhere to biblical literalism and subsequent fundamental and traditional beliefs, a religious humanist, that of the historical Christ, as opposed to the traditional, religiously created one, who denied virtually every one-sided doctrine and forced mystical adherence to literalization of mythical midrashic writing in denial of the traditional non-mystical Christian faith.

Quaintly stated, Dr. Bonhoeffer was not a fundamentalist evangelical.

No, I believe that it is very obvious that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in no way a fundamentalist. I believe calling him a "Christian Humanist" is quite accurate and in fact should be considered a proud badge of spiritual intellectualism. Bonhoeffer was a progressive theological mind millennia ahead of his time. His convictions of "Cheap Grace" and "Religionless Christianity" are right on.

Bonhoeffer’s "Cheap Grace" permeates the modern evangelical political movement, grace without loss or responsibility. His "Religionless Christianity" marked his hoped for a united ecumenical Christian Community, where the scaffolding of religion and indeed, theology, would fall away leaving only the example of The Christ to guide one.

These are not ideas to be vilified but carefully considered and celebrated. The Modern Pharisee movement presently occurring in the United States has every right feel threatened by such revolutionary thought. this is very much in keeping with Jesus as revolutionary. The Modern Pharisees are statically treading spirituality with no growth pontential and a developmentally-pinched perspective. In their mouths, Christ cannot breathe. Bonhoeffer sets Christ free.

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006