I have been reading Bonhoeffer - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. He has done a brilliant job of bringing together various aspects of Bonhoeffer's history to give the most complete picture of this man, his walk with God, his theology, his family, his relationships, his sacrifices, and his fight with the Nazis.
I must confess that I had not studied the Nazis since high school and was quite stunned at the prevalent evil they not only practiced, but inflicted on humanity. I also knew very little about Bonhoeffer and did not know that he was actually killed because of his participation in an assassination attempt on Hitler. I had not seen or read much of his work, although I had read the The Cost of Discipleship twenty years ago. I also found it quite amazing that the Anglican Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, organized and led his memorial service at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton (home of ALPHA) in London for this German Lutheran pastor and theologian. It was by listening to the service on the radio in Germany that his parents found out he was dead.
For the next several blogs, I am going to list some of Dietrich's words which stood out in the book. The time frame is the 1930's and early 1940's.
The theological atmosphere of Union Theological Seminary is accelerating the process of secularization of Christianity in America. Its criticism is directed essentially against the fundamentalists and to a certain extent also against against the radical humanists in Chicago; it is healthy and necessary. But there is no sound basis on which one can build after the demolition. It is carried away with the general collapse.
In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.
The one, notable exception, Bonhoeffer again observed, was the "negro churches." If his year in New York had value, it was mainly because of his experiences in the "negro churches."
In Washington I lived completely among the negroes and through the students was able to become acquainted with all the leading figures of the negro movement, was in their homes, and had extraordinary interesting discussions with them.... The conditions are really rather unbelievable. Not just separate railway cars, tramways, and buses south of Washington, but also, for example, when I wanted to eat at a small restaurant with a Negro, I was refused service.
I still believe that the spiritual songs of the southern negroes represent some of the greatest artistic achievements in America. (this from a man from high society culture in Germany).
I plunged into my work in an unChristian way... Then something happened, something that has changed and transformed my life to the present day. For the first time I discovered the Bible.... I had often preached. I had seen a great deal of the Church, and talked and preached about it -- but I had not yet become a Christian...... Then the Bible, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, freed me from that. Since then I everything has changed.
The Church exists and God exists, and we are asked whether we are willing to be of service, for God needs us.
When you read the Bible, you must think that here and now God is speaking with me...