As part of my theological studies, I am required to study the lives of certain theologians - who are/were they, what influenced them, what shaped their doctrine and understand what made them tick?
Diedrich Bonhoeffer is the first one on my list and from what I've read so far, I'm speechless; except for maybe a whisper of "Wow!" every now and then. For a guy who achieved his doctorate at 21, who wrote books that would shape future Christian culture, who would stand in courageous opposition to Hitler and the Third Reich - and he was executed because of it - and all this before he turned 40! Let me share with you...
Diedrich was born in 1906 into a middle class German family. By age 14, he told his parents he wanted to study to become a priest. By age 21, he wrote his first book 'Communion of the Saints' from which earned him his Ph.D. During the next 18 years, he would go onto write "Life Together", "The Cost of Discipleship" and "Ethics" - all of which had major influence on Christians since. As Hitler rose in power, Diedrich opposed the state-run-church and preached/taught in the 'underground' church called the Confessing Church. It was here that Diedrich had influence amongst German believers. He ran their 'underground' seminary as well, teaching and training future preachers. He travelled to the USA twice and occasional trips to London, where he preached and lectured. On his second trip to the United States, he knew he had made a mistake. His burden for his countrymen in Nazi-Germany was one that troubled him immensely and he knew God was calling him to suffer with them and oppose Hitler from inside Germany, come what may! He was a courageous man.
His theology was lived out in his actions. His theology became his convictions and his convictions became his legacy. Some men can tell you exactly what they believe, with subheadings and definitions, with Diedrich, you just need to look at his life - and that's what makes me utter "Wow!"
His theology was simple - Jesus suffered. He suffered for the sake of us, humanity. He refers to God as the God of weakness - not because He is weak, but because in His great power, he submitted to death on a cross and suffered what needed to be suffered for those that needed help - all of humanity. Diedrich concludes that we ought to be like Jesus; in that Christians should act when they see injustice, it's not enough just to speak against it. Christ's example compels us. In the case of Hitler, he felt that by doing nothing about the killing of innocent Jews, he would be more guilty than if he did something that would stop him, even if that meant killing him. Such a thought process messes with many believers and still causes controversy within Christian circles today. But the fact remains - an injustice is an injustice and Christians have an obligation to act for truth and for what's right.
He believed that Jesus, and more importantly, the cross of Christ, had to be the centre and origin of all theological thinking in a Christian's life. Jesus and His lordship isn't just for one part of a Christian's life, but it's the foundation of every area in a Christian's life. Jesus, Lord of all.
He believed that the 3 propositions - the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man and the person/work of Jesus were the 3 pillars to a Christian getting saved, a Christian living out his days and a Christian growing into maturity. God is Holy, Man is Sinful and Man needs Jesus. He said that men are called to God by grace, live daily by grace and grow into maturity by the same grace. The mistake is that grace is left at the door of initial salvation and what's left is a Christian who lives out his days in utter frustration. It starts and ends in, by and through God's grace.
He had a problem with cheap grace; and often spoke about how it was opposed to costly grace. Not that a believer is indebted to God - but he firmly believed that true grace looks like something - a changed life that lays down one's life for the sake of others. He believed that Christians need to be involved in social issues, political issues - Christians need to stand up and be counted and fight for those who have no voice - as Christ did on humanity's behalf. And even if it costs you your life, as it did Christ, then so be it.
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ lay down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." - 1 John 3:16
Part 2 coming soon...