Bonhoeffer is best remembered for his stand against the Nazi government in his native land and his subsequent execution just prior to Germany’s surrender.
He was born in 1906 into a family that was prosperous in finances and in heritage. However, they had no particular interest in church attendance.
It came as a surprise when, in his mid-teens, Dietrich announced his plan to study theology. As he pursued his studies, he was greatly influenced by Adolph von Harnack, Reinhold Seeberg, and Karl Barth, among others.
He became particularly concerned with how to apply theology to social and political issues. He lived in a time of deadness within churches and social upheaval in the world. Germany had been defeated in World War I, and Hitler was marching headlong into World War II.
The author points out Bonhoeffer’s belief in the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s work, the importance of God’s sovereignty in the world, and the need for practical Christianity. Bonhoeffer’s beliefs regarding basic evangelical doctrines, such as the infallibility of Scripture and the meaning of Christ’s atoning work, and Bonhoeffer’s methodology in Scripture interpretation are unclear in this volume.
Bonhoeffer emphasized ecumenical works and was involved in what became the World Council of Churches. He sought to alert others to the real situation in Germany, particularly as Hitler worked to control the German church for his own interests. Bonhoeffer’s love for the church and its freedom was seen in his devotion to his pastorates and in his establishing an unofficial seminary to train future leaders (after the Nazis had taken over the seminaries). His deep affection for the German people was shown in his unwillingness to immigrate to the United States until the war was over. Although he did come to America after friends procured work for him, he hastily returned to Germany and to the work that awaited him there. Through family and other political networking, he was able to know much of what went on in the Nazi government. The revelation of his involvement in plots to overthrow Hitler led to his being sentenced to death by hanging in the latter days of the war.
This sympathetic biography is easy to read. It has no footnotes. The author, Theodore J. Kleinhans, chronicles Bonhoeffer’s life in brief chapters that focus on where he was educated and where he traveled and ministered. It conveys Hitler’s rise to power and the steps Hitler took to consolidate his power. Hitler received considerable support from the German citizens in his pursuit of political victory and dictatorial power. It is a stark reminder of how easily a people who are not grounded in Scriptural truth can be motivated to follow men. It is also a chilling fact that strong political leaders with unbiblical agendas realize the importance of curtailing the voice of the church when that voice is raised in opposition.
- Byron Snapp
Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia. He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina. He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren.