In the process of completing theÂ Christian Devotional ClassicsÂ series, I was inspired to digÂ into material which I wrote on the prayer life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer forÂ Theology and Practice of Prayer.Â My intention had been to do such last fall, but I found my time too pressed with transitioning into my new role as Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network. I will begin the series with the introduction toÂ Who Am I? Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a Historical Mentor in Prayer. I am very interested in your thoughts/insights regarding the life, ministry, and academic writing/study not only of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but also of the people of God whom he served (and/or tried to serve) during a significantly challenging period of German (and international) history.
How Dietrich Bonhoefferâ€™s (1906-1945) â€œtheology is interwoven with the course of his lifeâ€ (Eberhard Bethge 1997, viii) and the various influences upon it attracts attention from many circles. In addition to his writings, libraries abound with publications by popular biographers, family who survived World War II, close friends and acquaintances, pioneers of the liberation movements, members of the â€œdeath of Godâ€ movement, advocates of religionless Christianity, and those engaged in dialogue with patriotism, pacifism, and resistance. A number of movies, plays, and television shows attempt to act out the drama of Bonhoefferâ€™s involvement in the resistance to the Nazi party before and during World War II, which ultimately led to his hanging 23 days before the surrender of Nazi forces.
In what manner does one find Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom Eric Metaxas calls Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy (Thomas Nelson,Â 2011), also a prominent figure in the history of Christian prayer for the church? Bonhoefferâ€™s conversion led to his acknowledgement of Christ as the Lord of all of life and the world, even in its â€œreligionless form.â€ He found and taught the historic liturgical practices of the church as vital to daily discipleship and the pastoral vocation. Bonhoefferâ€™s â€œrule of lifeâ€ incorporated the praying of the Psalms with an emphasis on their value at the beginning of a day filled with â€œrighteous action.â€
Praying of the Psalms was practiced not only in the â€œnew monasticismâ€ of Finkewaldeâ€™s, i.e., the Confessing Church Seminary led by Bonhoeffer, but personally through Nazi imprisonment up to his death. In between, his 1939 release of Psalms: The prayer book of the Bible led to the enforcement of a ban on his release of new publications, which was coupled with a ban on his preaching and teaching (first in Berlin). As Martin E Marty draws together in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s â€œLetters and papers from prison: A biographyâ€ (Princeton University Press. 2011),Â in some ways he was â€œa product of his time,â€ but with â€œthe pivot of all of Bonhoefferâ€™s liberating analysisâ€ being Christology, â€œhe also transcended those times more than did most clergyâ€ (55). As such Bonhoeffer leaves not only a legacy worth reflecting on and discussing, but also spiritual practices to follow today.
Questions for your reflection:
- In what manner do you consider Bonhoeffer “a product of his time” . . . while at the same time one who “transcended his time”?
- Why do you think Bonhoeffer has become “popular” among so many different groups of people since his death, including Evangelicals? Note:Â Bonhoeffer’sÂ The Cost of DiscipleshipÂ (1937) reached theÂ Final Four of ESN’s March Madness.
- In what manner do the Psalms inform your walk with the Lord, possibly even your daily walk with the Lord and as part of the people of God?
Note:Â Sources Consulted for the whole projectÂ (PDF).
Click here for Part 2:Â Who Am I? â€“ A Glimpse of Dietrich Bonhoefferâ€™s Context.
- SF/ST 777: Theology and Practice of Prayer.Â Laurie Mellinger, Ph.D. Evangelical Seminary. Summer 2012.Â Course Description: This course explores various aspects of the interplay between theology and prayer. What we believe about God determines how and why we pray; this has also been true for Christians throughout the history of the Church. We will examine both historical persons and methods of praying from a variety of Christian traditions, and discuss their potential for deepening our own relationships with God. This course provides the opportunity for students to study and experience a variety of Christian prayer forms, and to discern the theological foundations upon which they rest. We will take a historical approach, discussing prayer in the Scriptures and its application in the lives of persons of prayer throughout the Christian era. We will also consider the place and practice of prayer in the contemporary church, both for individuals and for corporate gatherings.Â â†©
- E.g., Mary Bosanquet. The life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1968; Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy: A righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011. Barbour Publishing recently re-titled and re-covered Michael Van Dykeâ€™s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Opponent of the Nazi regime (2001) as The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Radical integrity.Â â†©
- E.g., Bonhoefferâ€™s twin sister Sabine Leibholz-Bonhoeffer wrote The Bonhoeffers: portrait of a family (New York, NY: St. Martinâ€™s Press, 1972). Family, friends, and acquaintances are in Wolf-Dieter Zimmermann and Ronald Gregor Smithâ€™s I knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1967).Â â†©
- The most notable being Eberhard Bethge. While imprisoned Bonheoffer called upon Bethge to be his pastor through the practice of letter writing (Letters and papers from prison: New greatly expanded edition, 128). Bethge gathered and published Bonhoefferâ€™s Ethics and Letters and papers from prison: New greatly enlarged edition. After the conclusion of World War II, Bethge organized conferences, spoke, and wrote on Bonhoeffer.Â â†©
- E.g., Wayne Whitson Floyd Jr. and Charles Marsh, eds. Theology and the practice of responsibility: essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1994.Â â†©
- E.g., William Hamilton. â€œâ€™The Letters Are a Particular Thornâ€™:Some Themes in Bonhoefferâ€™s PrisonWritings,â€ in World Come of Age. ed. Ronald Gregor Smith. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1967.Â â†©
- E.g., John A.T. Robinson. Honest to God. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1963.Â Ralf K. WÃ¼stenberg. A theology of life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing. Â â†©
- E.g., John W. de Gruchy (2007, 361-362) considers Eberhard Bethgeâ€™s role as Bonhoefferâ€™s interpreter for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Stanley Hauerwas wrote Performing the faith: Bonhoeffer and the practice of nonviolence (2004) to be â€œno more and hopefully no less than ongoing commentary on Bonhoefferâ€™s extraordinary claim that if our common life rests on lies and injustice, then we cannot hope to be a community of peace. Accordingly this book is my attempt to display how the church by being the church serves the worldâ€ (14). Also see Larry L. Rasmussen with Renate Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: His significance for North Americans. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990; Larry L. Rasmussen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and resistance. Louisville, KY : Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. Â â†©
- E.g., Bonhoeffer. Dir. Martin Doblmeier. Journey Films, 2005; Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace. Dir. Eric Till. PBS, 2000. DVD. 3; Hanged on a Twisted Cross. Dir. T.N. Mohan. Lathika International Film & Entertainment Inc, 1996. DVD; The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Inside Nazi Germany 1933-1945. Dir./Producer Hava Kohav Beller, 1991. Â â†©
Updated: 10/27/2013. 9:09 AM.
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!