What makes a story compelling? Stories are compelling when they connect us to our culture. They are compelling when they provide themes and ideas that add a rich context to our own lives. They are compelling when they resonate with our history. Our current teaching series is entitled “Stories.” The pastors at Northstar will share their stories over the next four weeks. During this series, I will be sharing some compelling stories from history that hopefully will illuminate and illustrate the story of Christianity. We will start with The Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” — Hebrews 13:3
Everyone has a story. Everyone has a past no one’s heard about. Everyone has talents that people don’t notice. Everyone has weaknesses hidden inside. We can never assume we know people front to back, because we just don’t know the whole story.
There are stories that are so powerful that they have the ability to transform our lives. The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of those.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: compassionate minister, brilliant thinker, opponent of Hitler and the Nazis proved the adage that the greater the struggle, the greater the story. Bonhoeffer’s actions and writings attest to his beliefs that true grace is costly and true Christianity brings a voice to the voiceless.
In 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a brilliant young theologian just beginning his career. He taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York. On weekends he volunteered to teach at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany as Hitler was rising to power. Ominously, two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, as Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address denouncing Hitler, he was cut off the air.
With the ascendancy of the Nazi party in Germany, Bonhoeffer was among the first of the German theologians to perceive the pervasiveness and significance of the looming Nazi threat. Warned that he could be executed for his actions, Bonhoeffer would not be passive. It is apparent that Bonhoeffer wrestled with some of the same questions we must all face. He struggled to understand his place in a world that had gone mad, facing the dilemma of how to accept his government while at the same time working to overthrow it. He wanted people to accept that God was more than just a God that was there during the bad times, that God was bigger than that. Bonhoeffer worked hard to get the churches in Germany to speak out against all the evil that was occurring in Germany and refused to accept Hitler’s false Bible and doctrine. He was arrested as part of a plot inside Germany to kill Hitler.
Bonhoeffer spent the last months of his life at Flossenburg, a Nazi concentration camp. While at Flossenburg, he tried to be a pastor to anguished souls. One prisoner who survived said that “His soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison. He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom God was real and ever close to him.”
Facing the death sentence in prison, he wrote some of the most compelling theology of the 20th century. One of Bonheoffer’s works is the Cost of Discipleship. “The Cost of Discipleship” is soaked in Scripture, because reading the Bible actually contributed to Bonhoeffer’s personal conversion and commitment to Christ. Bonhoeffer constantly refers to Biblical passages to make his points. One can sense his deep love for the Bible and for Christ throughout the book. Another strength in this book is how it stresses the importance of commitment to Christ. He wrote as one who has stood for Christ in tough times, and he knew that Christ was his hope. Even though “Cost of Discipleship” was published in 1937, every page in this book seeks to counteract the belief that Christianity is easy. Bonhoeffer attacks “cheap grace” and demands a steadfast, deep loyalty to Christ.
At dawn on April 9, he was marched to the gallows where he stopped to pray for himself and for his enemies. He died with a prayer upon his lips and his compete trust placed in the grace and mercy of God.
Bonhoeffer’s life and death were inspiring and an example of faith that we should all try to emulate. In his story, are the following takeaways: (1) I pray that I would face persecution with courage and perseverance. (2) That I too would see the difference between “religion” and an actual faith in the God who made us and loves us. (3) His love for Scripture reminds me to never forsake reading the Bible, and also not to rely exclusively on the writings of others, or their interpretations of Scripture. (4) His focus on a relationship with Christ prods me to examine my own relationship with Him, and to ensure that I don’t neglect it. And (5), his statement that Christ bids us to “come and die” leads me to evaluate the level of my own commitment as a Christian, especially in light of what is happening all around us.
Next: John Wycliff