Twice in the last few days I’ve been asked why Bonhoeffer remains so popular after all these years? What’s so attractive about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? And, equally interesting, how would I summarize his message, his theology?
Some would say that are drawn to Bonhoeffer because he lived and died for his faith. As important as is his faithfulness unto death, I always remember that thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands, no millions of good people have died at the hands of Hitler, Stalin, and many other dictators.
Bonhoeffer’s faithfulness is valuable for us because it verifies the depth of his trust in God but we keep returning to read and discuss Bonhoeffer because of what he believed and taught about God.
At the heart of Bonhoeffer’s theology lay not merely his convictions about but his very solid devotion to his living Lord, Jesus Christ. Where other people might have a clear ethic in the sense of a coherent sense of right and wrong, Bonhoeffer had instead a sense of obedience to Christ. Others might have a detailed christology but Bonhoeffer knew Christ.
Secondly, in a way that moved beyond even the most conservative Fundamentalist, Bonhoeffer was a truly biblical Christian. Not satisfied merely to mimic biblical words, Bonhoeffer studied with persistence and careful attentiveness both the Old and New Testaments.Not content to attend only to the words (Greek rhema) of the Bible, Bonhoeffer sought always to hear the Word (Greek logos) woven throughout Scripture. He read the Bible faithfully but also creatively, seeking a mature understanding of its meaning.
Third, to name something few Evangelicals bother to notice, Bonhoeffer sought always to minimize the difference between the secular and the religious worlds. He valued solidarity with the world, by which he did NOT mean submission to the world and its values. He meant it in a very Christlike sense: As Jesus identified with the sinners like you and me and had no fear of being contaminated, so Bonhoeffer wanted to leave religion behind and follow Christ along the dusty trail into the messiness of the real world. One implication of this is that Bonhoeffer’s work lays a good foundation for the church’s work on social justice.