On Feb. 4 the world will commemorate the 100th
anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birth. The German pastor and
theologian is remembered foremost as a martyr who was hanged in the
early hours of April 9, 1945, at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp for
his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer has evoked
the highest respect humans can engender for offering their life for
others but also the harshest criticism one can reap for
attempting to end the life of another.
For many Bonhoeffer has a well-respected place on the 20th century’s short list of influential theologians. For others he deserves the label of heretic whose radical writings ought to be buried with his ashes at Flossenburg. Such an interesting life, such a controversial witness: What are we to make of this man? What will we in the 21st century make of his legacy?
Much already has been written—articles in the thousands and books in the hundreds. Why more words about a man who passionately argues that “deeds not words” are the primary medium of Christian proclamation?
Because most people, most Christians, still know little about him. While many parish pastors decorate their end tables with Bonhoeffer’s most popular books, precious little of his theological or ecclesiastical legacy has reached the life of the church and the piety of her people.
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