by Eric Metaxas, Timothy J. Keller (Foreword)

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: May 01, 2024

Explore the profound life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer through this comprehensive book summary. Discover how his religious upbringing, ecumenical vision, and resistance against the Nazi regime shaped his enduring impact. Uncover key lessons on faith, suffering, and resilience.

What are the big ideas?

Impact of Religious and Intellectual Upbringing

Bonhoeffer's early exposure to a nurturing environment deeply rooted in education, music, and religious traditions like Pietism shaped his intellectual independence and theological perspectives, impacting his later resistance against ideological conformism.

Influence of Ecumenism on Bonhoeffer's Theology

Bonhoeffer's extensive international experiences, including his travels and theological studies abroad, shaped his inclusive and ecumenical view of Christianity, which opposed the nationalistic and exclusionary tendencies evident in the Nazi-influenced German church.

Profound Impact of Personal Relationships

Bonhoeffer's personal relationships with family, friends, and colleagues deeply influenced his professional life and decisions, exemplified by his resistance movements and theological writings, which were often shared, discussed, and enhanced through these bonds.

Synergy of Faith and Resistance

Bonhoeffer’s active involvement in conspiracies to resist Nazi regime showcased a unique approach where Christian ethics and active political resistance were intertwined, offering a theological justification for taking bold, sacrificial actions against tyranny.

Role of Pastoral and Theological Education in Resilience

Bonhoeffer's leadership at the Finkenwalde seminary highlights how rigorous spiritual and communal training can prepare religious leaders to confront societal injustices and personal crises with resilience and faith.

Transformation Through Suffering

Bonhoeffer's experiences during his imprisonment and eventual martyrdom transformed his theological views on suffering and death, presenting them as integral to Christian faith and witness in the world.

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Impact of Religious and Intellectual Upbringing

Bonhoeffer's upbringing instilled in him a deep appreciation for education, music, and religious traditions like Pietism. This nurtured his intellectual independence and shaped his theological perspectives. These formative experiences would later empower him to resist ideological conformism.

Bonhoeffer's family valued learning and the arts. His father was a renowned psychiatrist, while his mother ensured the home was filled with Bible readings, hymn singing, and reverence for Scripture. This environment cultivated Bonhoeffer's brilliant mind and his ability to think critically.

The Pietist influence, with its emphasis on a personal relationship with God over rigid doctrine, also left a lasting mark. Bonhoeffer embraced this focus on living out one's faith, rather than mere intellectual assent. This would guide his approach to teaching theology as a practical matter of how to live as a Christian.

Bonhoeffer's unique background equipped him to chart his own course, even when it diverged from prevailing intellectual and political trends. His unwavering commitment to the Bible as God's personal message, and his insistence on the practical application of theology, made him a bold voice against the conformity demanded by the Nazi regime.

Here are key examples from the context that illustrate the impact of Bonhoeffer's religious and intellectual upbringing:

  • As a girl, Paula Bonhoeffer attended Herrnhut, where Count Zinzendorf advocated a personal relationship with God rather than formal Lutheranism. This emphasis on "living faith" and Bible reading influenced the Bonhoeffer home.

  • The Bonhoeffer family rarely went to church, instead practicing "homegrown" Christianity with daily Bible reading and hymn singing led by Frau Bonhoeffer. This shaped Bonhoeffer's view of faith as personal and practical, not just intellectual.

  • Bonhoeffer's father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a prominent psychiatrist who took a "measured skepticism" towards theories like Freudian psychoanalysis, preferring empirical observation. This scientific mindset likely contributed to Bonhoeffer's independent, critical thinking.

  • At university, Bonhoeffer confidently contradicted renowned professors like Adolf von Harnack, demonstrating the intellectual confidence instilled by his upbringing in the Bonhoeffer household.

  • Bonhoeffer was greatly influenced by the neo-orthodox theology of Karl Barth, which emphasized God's transcendence and the importance of revelation - a perspective that contrasted with the historical-critical liberalism prevalent at the time.

  • Bonhoeffer's ability to appreciate different intellectual perspectives, even those he ultimately rejected, allowed him to incorporate the best of Protestant and Catholic traditions in his illegal seminaries, demonstrating the impact of his nuanced, independent thinking.

Influence of Ecumenism on Bonhoeffer's Theology

Bonhoeffer's ecumenical outlook was a defining feature of his theology. His extensive travels and studies abroad exposed him to diverse Christian traditions, moving him away from the narrow nationalism prevalent in the German church at the time. Bonhoeffer saw the universal church as transcending national and denominational boundaries, in contrast to the Nazi-aligned German Christians who sought to link the church to German racial identity.

This ecumenical perspective shaped Bonhoeffer's fierce opposition to the Nazi regime's attempts to co-opt the German church. He recognized that the church's true calling was to serve the world, not the interests of the state. Bonhoeffer worked tirelessly to unite Christians across Europe in resisting the Nazis' totalitarian ambitions, which he saw as fundamentally at odds with the inclusive, global vision of the church.

Bonhoeffer's ecumenical theology was not merely abstract; it compelled him to take concrete action. He leveraged his international connections to rally support for the Confessing Church's stand against the German Christian movement. Bonhoeffer's ecumenical orientation was thus a driving force behind his courageous resistance to the Nazi regime, which he viewed as a betrayal of the church's true identity and mission.

Here are key examples from the context that illustrate how Bonhoeffer's ecumenical views shaped his theology:

  • Bonhoeffer's openness to the Roman Catholic Church, seeing it as partaking in the "splendor of classical antiquity" and redeeming the best of the classical pagan world, in contrast to the more insular Lutheran and Protestant traditions.
  • Bonhoeffer's desire to draw "Catholic" theological texts back into the larger Christian theological conversation, encouraged by his teacher Adolf Schlatter.
  • Bonhoeffer's attendance of Evensong at the Trinità dei Monti in Rome, where he was struck by the "profound, guileless piety" of the young women entering the convent.
  • Bonhoeffer's involvement in the ecumenical movement, introduced to him by professor Adolf Deissman, which would later provide the means for his involvement in the conspiracy against Hitler.
  • Bonhoeffer's incorporation of both Protestant and Catholic traditions in the illegal seminaries of Zingst and Finkenwalde, reflecting his ability to appreciate the value in different Christian perspectives.

These examples demonstrate how Bonhoeffer's ecumenical outlook, shaped by his international experiences, contrasted with the nationalist and exclusionary tendencies in the German church under Nazi influence, and informed his inclusive theological vision.

Profound Impact of Personal Relationships

Bonhoeffer's personal relationships were central to his life and work. His close bonds with family, friends, and colleagues profoundly shaped his theological views and resistance efforts against the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer's intimate connections allowed him to develop, test, and refine his ideas. He shared his writings with trusted confidants like Eberhard Bethge, who provided feedback and support. Bonhoeffer also leaned on friends during periods of depression and doubt, finding solace in their understanding and encouragement.

Moreover, Bonhoeffer's relationships motivated his actions. His love for the church and concern for his students drove him to establish the Confessing Church's seminaries, where he could model Christian living. Bonhoeffer's bonds with the Junker families of Pomerania also exposed him to different social circles, expanding his perspective.

In the end, Bonhoeffer's personal ties were inseparable from his professional life. His theological convictions and resistance work were forged through these vital human connections, which imbued his efforts with deeper meaning and purpose.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight about the profound impact of Bonhoeffer's personal relationships:

  • Bonhoeffer had a close personal relationship with Eberhard Bethge, whom he confided in about his struggles with acedia (a "sadness of the heart" or depression). Bethge was able to provide pastoral care and support Bonhoeffer in his complexities and doubts.

  • Bonhoeffer had an early love affair with Elizabeth Zinn, a fellow theological student, that lasted for nearly 8 years. Even though their paths diverged, this relationship was an important part of Bonhoeffer's life during his 20s.

  • Bonhoeffer became acquainted with the Junkers (landed gentry) of Pomerania through his work, and maintained relationships with some of the young men he met, like Goetz Grosch, even after leaving the area. Tragically, many of these young men died during the war.

  • Bonhoeffer's family upbringing, especially the values instilled by his mother Paula Bonhoeffer, had a profound influence on his emphasis of selflessness, generosity, and helping others in the communities he led.

  • Bonhoeffer's close relationship with his sister Sabine was noted, as Elizabeth Zinn was said to resemble her.

The context highlights how Bonhoeffer's personal bonds - whether with family, friends, romantic partners, or colleagues - deeply shaped his theological perspectives, ministry approach, and life decisions, even in the face of great tragedy and loss.

Synergy of Faith and Resistance

Bonhoeffer's faith and resistance were deeply intertwined. He saw Christian obedience as demanding bold, sacrificial action against tyranny. For Bonhoeffer, the church had a prophetic duty to confront evil, not just debate theology.

Bonhoeffer rejected "cheap grace" - the idea that belief alone was enough. He insisted that true faith required putting one's beliefs into practice, even at great personal cost. This drove his growing involvement in conspiracies to resist the Nazi regime.

Bonhoeffer believed the church must move beyond mere "confessing" to active resistance. He was willing to take risks, even conspire against the state, because he saw it as a moral imperative rooted in his Christian convictions. For him, faith and resistance were inseparable.

This synthesis of spiritual conviction and political action was a unique aspect of Bonhoeffer's approach. He offered a powerful theological justification for bold, sacrificial opposition to tyranny - a model that continues to inspire resistance movements today.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about the synergy of Bonhoeffer's faith and resistance:

  • Bonhoeffer saw the church struggle in Germany as more than just a "preliminary fight" - he believed it was a "resistance unto death" that would require faithful suffering, not just political maneuvering. This shows how his theological perspective on discipleship and the call to suffer shaped his approach to resistance.

  • In his "Peace Speech" at the Fanø conference, Bonhoeffer "passionately exhorted this carefully convened assembly to justify its right to exist by imposing the Gospel of peace in its fullest extent." He saw the church as having a prophetic, God-given authority to resist the evils of the world, not just debate them.

  • When Bonhoeffer suggested the churches go on "strike" by refusing to perform funerals, this combined his theological convictions about the church's independence with concrete political resistance against the state. His faith directly informed his approach to active opposition.

  • Bonhoeffer's sister-in-law Emmi challenged him, saying "You Christians are glad when someone else does what you know must be done, but it seems that somehow you are unwilling to get your own hands dirty and do it." This shows how Bonhoeffer wrestled with translating his faith into direct, sacrificial action against the regime.

  • Bonhoeffer's close involvement in the conspiracy against Hitler, despite the risks, demonstrates how his theological perspective on discipleship and resistance had become deeply integrated with his political actions. His faith and resistance were inseparable.

Role of Pastoral and Theological Education in Resilience

Bonhoeffer's approach to pastoral and theological education equipped his students with the spiritual resilience needed to confront societal injustices and personal crises. He emphasized practical application over abstract intellectualism, training his students to live out their faith through disciplines like Bible meditation, communal singing, and selfless service.

Bonhoeffer understood that true Christian leadership requires more than just theological knowledge - it demands a personal relationship with God and a willingness to model Christ-like living for others. By immersing his students in a tight-knit community centered on prayer, confession, and mutual accountability, he helped them develop the spiritual fortitude necessary to stand firm in the face of adversity.

This holistic training prepared Bonhoeffer's ordinands to navigate the complex moral and ethical challenges they would face as pastors, equipping them to make courageous decisions rooted in their faith rather than succumbing to fear or compromise. Bonhoeffer's educational approach cultivated resilient leaders who could weather personal struggles and societal upheaval with unwavering commitment to God's will.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight about how Bonhoeffer's approach to pastoral and theological education helped prepare religious leaders for resilience:

  • Bonhoeffer emphasized the practical, personal application of Scripture: He taught students to read the Bible as a "personal message of God's love" directed at them, rather than just abstract intellectual concepts.

  • Bonhoeffer incorporated spiritual disciplines: He led students in daily devotions, prayer, Bible meditation, and the singing of Christmas carols - practices that grounded them in their faith.

  • Bonhoeffer modeled a life of service: He set an example by washing dishes himself when no one volunteered, demonstrating the "authority of a servant leader" rather than authoritarian rule.

  • Bonhoeffer fostered community and accountability: He instituted the practice of personal confession among the ordinands, allowing them to support each other through struggles like Bonhoeffer's own "sadness of the heart" (depression).

  • Bonhoeffer's training prepared students for the challenges of ministry: The context notes that many students came to the seminary "empty" and "burnt out", but Bonhoeffer's holistic approach equipped them for the demands they would face as pastors.

The key concepts illustrated here are Bonhoeffer's emphasis on the practical application of faith, the integration of spiritual disciplines, modeling servant leadership, cultivating community, and preparing students for the realities of ministry - all of which contributed to building resilience among the ordinands.

Transformation Through Suffering

Bonhoeffer's imprisonment and martyrdom profoundly transformed his theological understanding of suffering and death. He came to see them as central to Christian faith and witness in the world.

Bonhoeffer recognized that true obedience to God may require sacrificing oneself, even to the point of making moral mistakes. The Christian must be willing to act with responsibility and freedom when faced with danger, driven not by fear but by the liberating and redeeming love of Christ. Mere passive waiting is insufficient - the Christian is called to sympathy and action on behalf of those who suffer.

Bonhoeffer also embraced the reality of death, no longer seeing it as something to be feared or avoided. He believed that by freely and voluntarily accepting death, one could find deeper meaning in life's "broken fragments." Death was not to be a surprise, but an opportunity to fully commit oneself to God's purposes.

This transformed theological perspective shaped Bonhoeffer's courageous witness during his imprisonment and ultimately his martyrdom. He saw his suffering and death as a way to obey God rather than man, and to protect the sanctuary of the Gospel from being cheapened or misused.

Unfortunately, the provided context does not contain any information or anecdotes that directly support the key insight about Bonhoeffer's transformation through suffering and death. The context focuses on Bonhoeffer's time in London and his relationships, but does not discuss his imprisonment or martyrdom. Without relevant examples from the given text, I cannot provide any supporting evidence for the stated key insight. The context simply does not contain the necessary information to address this particular insight.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Bonhoeffer" that resonated with readers.

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.

Following God's will requires bold action and a willingness to take risks, rather than simply avoiding mistakes. It involves actively pursuing what is right, even if it means facing challenges or difficulties. This approach to faith emphasizes the importance of living out one's values and principles in a proactive way, rather than just trying to avoid wrongdoing. By doing so, individuals can make a positive impact on the world around them.

Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God's word, but testify to it. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The power of scripture lies in its inherent significance, making it unnecessary to artificially create relevance. Instead of trying to justify or protect God's message, one should confidently bear witness to its truth. Trusting in the authority of the Word allows it to speak for itself, much like a vessel overflowing with riches.

...when someone asked Bonhoeffer whether he shouldn't join the German Christians in order to work against them from within, he answered that he couldn't. 'If you board the wrong train,' he said, 'it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.

When you join a group or movement that contradicts your values, it's pointless to try to change it from within. You're still part of the problem, even if you're trying to move in a different direction. It's better to stand apart and work towards positive change, rather than being complicit in something you don't believe in.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "Bonhoeffer"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. Which two aspects of the upbringing described in the passage particularly shaped the protagonist's theological perspectives?
2. What key quality did the protagonist's unique background equip them to demonstrate, even when it diverged from prevailing trends?
3. How did the protagonist's upbringing influence their view of faith and the practical application of theology?
4. What theological perspective did this figure hold that transcended national and denominational boundaries?
5. How did this figure's ecumenical perspective shape their stance towards the attempts by the state to co-opt the church?
6. What concrete actions did this figure take that were motivated by their ecumenical theology?
7. What role did personal relationships play in shaping the subject's theological views and resistance efforts?
8. How did the subject's intimate connections allow them to develop, test, and refine their ideas?
9. In what ways did the subject's personal relationships motivate their actions and efforts?
10. How were the subject's personal ties inseparable from their professional life?
11. What is the relationship described between faith and action?
12. What role is the church said to have in confronting evil?
13. What is the significance of the concept of "cheap grace" that is discussed?
14. How is the synthesis of spiritual conviction and political action described?
15. What is the key characteristic of the approach to faith and resistance that is highlighted?
16. What is the importance of emphasizing practical application over abstract intellectualism in pastoral and theological education?
17. How can the incorporation of spiritual disciplines like Bible meditation, communal singing, and selfless service contribute to building resilience in religious leaders?
18. What is the value of fostering community and accountability among religious leaders in training?
19. How can a holistic approach to pastoral and theological education, which integrates practical application, spiritual disciplines, and community, prepare religious leaders for the realities of ministry?
20. What is the central idea of the Christian faith and witness according to the passage?
21. What must the Christian be willing to do when faced with danger, according to the passage?
22. What is the role of sympathy and action on behalf of those who suffer, according to the passage?
23. How does the passage describe the Christian's perspective on death?
24. What is the significance of freely and voluntarily accepting death, according to the passage?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Bonhoeffer". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you cultivate an intellectual and creative environment in your own life or community, similar to the one that nurtured Bonhoeffer's development?
2. How can you balance a personal, practical approach to faith with a deeper intellectual understanding of religious traditions and theology?
3. How can you cultivate an ecumenical mindset in your own spiritual and community life?
4. In what ways can you resist the pull of nationalism or exclusionary ideologies within your own religious or civic contexts?
5. How can we cultivate meaningful personal connections to positively impact our goals and the greater good?
6. What steps can we take to ensure our important relationships remain sources of strength, even during challenging times?
7. How can we ensure our faith is not just theoretical, but compels us to take bold, sacrificial action against injustice and oppression in the world around us?
8. In what ways can we cultivate a church community that sees its role as a prophetic voice speaking truth to power and taking bold, redemptive action in the face of evil or oppression?
9. How can you incorporate more practical, personal application of your faith into your daily life?
10. In what ways can you foster a greater sense of community and mutual accountability among the people in your life?
11. How can you transform personal struggles or suffering into meaningful growth and commitment in your life?
12. In what ways can you demonstrate courage and responsibility when faced with difficult choices or threats to your wellbeing?

Chapter Notes

Chapter 1: Family and Childhood

  • Bonhoeffer Family Background: The Bonhoeffer family had a long and illustrious history, with both Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer coming from prominent families. The Bonhoeffers were a respected and influential family in Germany, with a strong intellectual and cultural heritage.

  • Upbringing and Education: The Bonhoeffer children were raised in a loving and nurturing environment, with a strong emphasis on education, music, and family values. They were taught by their mother at home until the age of 7 or 8, and then attended local public schools, where they excelled academically.

  • Influence of Herrnhut Pietism: The Bonhoeffer family's faith was influenced by the Herrnhut Pietist tradition, which emphasized a personal relationship with God and a focus on Bible reading and home devotions. This had a significant impact on the children's religious upbringing and Dietrich's later theological development.

  • Dietrich's Musical Talent: Dietrich Bonhoeffer showed exceptional musical talent from a young age, and was an accomplished pianist and composer. Music remained a vital part of his life and expression of faith throughout his life.

  • Impact of World War I: The Bonhoeffer family was deeply affected by the events of World War I, particularly the death of Dietrich's brother Walter. This tragedy had a profound impact on the family and shaped Dietrich's worldview and decision to pursue theology.

  • Dietrich's Decision to Study Theology: Dietrich's decision to study theology was met with some resistance from his family, who were concerned that he was turning his back on a more prestigious scientific or academic career. However, Dietrich remained steadfast in his choice, despite the skepticism of his siblings.

  • Weimar Republic Turmoil: The Bonhoeffer family lived through the tumultuous events of the Weimar Republic, including the abdication of the Kaiser, the rise of communism, and the assassination of Walther Rathenau. These events had a significant impact on Dietrich's political and social views.

Chapter 2: Tübingen, 1923

  • Significant Family Events in 1923: In 1923, several significant events occurred in the Bonhoeffer family, including the marriages of Ursula to Rüdiger Schleicher and Maria van Horn to Richard Czeppan, as well as Karl-Friedrich's prestigious research position at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.

  • Dietrich's Departure for Tübingen: Dietrich left for Tübingen in 1923 to begin his university studies, following the family tradition of starting at Tübingen. He stayed with his grandmother and was closely connected to his family, often consulting his parents before making decisions.

  • Dietrich's Involvement in the Igel Fraternity: Dietrich joined the Igel fraternity, which was known for its patriotic devotion to the German Reich and Kaiser, but was less nationalistic and militaristic than other fraternities. Dietrich was described as secure, self-confident, and possessing a sharp wit.

  • The Economic Turmoil of 1923: Germany faced severe economic turmoil in 1923, with the German mark plummeting in value and hyperinflation setting in. This made daily life and expenses extremely difficult for the Bonhoeffer family.

  • Dietrich's Military Training: In November 1923, Dietrich underwent two weeks of covert military training with the Ulm Rifles Troop, as part of the Black Reichswehr, a response to the Versailles Treaty's restrictions on Germany's military.

  • Dietrich's Potential Trip to India: Dietrich's grandmother encouraged him to visit Gandhi in India, but instead, he was able to secure a semester abroad in Rome, which he was extremely excited about.

  • Dietrich's Accident and the Rome Opportunity: Dietrich suffered a concussion after slipping on the ice, which led to his parents visiting him in Tübingen. During this time, the idea of a semester in Rome presented itself, which Dietrich was eager to pursue, despite some initial hesitation from his father.

Chapter 3: Roman Holiday, 1924

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Bonhoeffer's Fascination with Rome: Bonhoeffer had a deep fascination with Rome, its art, history, and culture, which he explored in great detail during his trip there in 1924. He was particularly impressed by landmarks like the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, and Michelangelo's works.

  • Bonhoeffer's Thoughts on Art Interpretation: Bonhoeffer expressed strong views on the interpretation of art, arguing that one should simply experience the work intuitively rather than trying to impose academic interpretations on it.

  • Bonhoeffer's Epiphany about the Universal Church: During a Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter's, Bonhoeffer had an epiphany about the universal nature of the Catholic Church, which transcended race and national identity. This revelation would shape his future thinking about the nature of the church.

  • Bonhoeffer's Openness to Catholicism: Bonhoeffer was unusually open-minded and sympathetic towards Catholicism, in contrast to many German Lutherans. This was influenced by his upbringing, his appreciation for the classical roots of Catholicism, and the teachings of his professor Adolf Schlatter.

  • Bonhoeffer's Critique of Protestantism: Bonhoeffer expressed doubts about Protestantism becoming an "established church" rather than remaining a "sect" or movement. He believed this led to a decline in the vitality of religious life.

  • Bonhoeffer's Balanced View of Catholicism: While Bonhoeffer was impressed by many aspects of Catholicism, he did not feel compelled to convert. He saw both the strengths and weaknesses of the Catholic Church, and believed that a unification of Catholicism and Protestantism was likely impossible, though it could benefit both.

  • Bonhoeffer's Later Reflections on Catholicism: Three years later, Bonhoeffer gave a nuanced assessment of the Catholic Church's historical importance and its relationship to Protestantism, emphasizing the need for both to focus on God's word rather than dogma or denominational divisions.

Chapter 4: Student in Berlin, 1924-27

  • Bonhoeffer's Intellectual Independence: Despite being surrounded by influential professors like Harnack and Seeberg, Bonhoeffer maintained his intellectual independence, refusing to be overly influenced by any one scholar. He was able to think critically and contradict even the most revered professors, demonstrating his confidence and maturity.

  • Theological Debate: Liberals vs. Neo-Orthodoxy: The chapter highlights the theological debate between the liberal, historical-critical approach of scholars like Harnack and the neo-orthodox theology of Karl Barth. Bonhoeffer aligned himself with Barth's emphasis on the transcendence of God and the importance of divine revelation, rather than the liberal focus on textual and historical analysis.

  • Bonhoeffer's Diverse Interests: In addition to his rigorous academic work, Bonhoeffer had a rich cultural life, regularly attending operas, concerts, art exhibitions, and plays. He also maintained a wide network of friends and family, and was deeply involved in his local church community, teaching a Sunday school class and leading a weekly discussion group.

  • Bonhoeffer's Relationship with Elizabeth Zinn: The chapter reveals that Bonhoeffer had a significant romantic relationship with a fellow theological student, Elizabeth Zinn, that lasted for nearly eight years. Though the relationship ultimately did not lead to marriage, it was an important part of Bonhoeffer's personal life during this period.

  • Bonhoeffer's Calling and Dedication to the Church: Despite his family's hopes that he would pursue an academic career, Bonhoeffer was increasingly drawn towards pastoral ministry. His work with children and young adults, as well as his growing sense of calling, led him to seriously consider devoting himself fully to the church's work, even at the expense of his relationship with Elizabeth Zinn.

Chapter 5: Barcelona, 1928

  • Bonhoeffer's Decision-Making Process: Bonhoeffer describes his decision-making process as one where he doesn't feel he has much control, and the decision often becomes clear to him over time in an intuitive, rather than intellectual, way. He suggests that God may be guiding him, even when he doesn't explicitly acknowledge God's role.

  • Bonhoeffer's Engagement with Catholicism: Bonhoeffer shows a keen interest in understanding Catholic expressions of faith, such as the "day of the saint for cars and tires" he witnesses in Barcelona, and he attends high mass at Sacré Coeur in Paris, where he observes prostitutes and their companions participating in the ceremonies.

  • Bonhoeffer's Perspective on Bullfighting: While initially shocked by bullfighting, Bonhoeffer comes to appreciate it as a "great spectacle" and even sees theological significance in the "swing from 'Hosanna!' to 'Crucify!'" that he observes in the crowd's reactions.

  • Bonhoeffer's Engagement with the Poor and Outcast: Through his work at the Deutsche Hilfsverein, Bonhoeffer encounters a wide range of people in need, including "bums, vagabonds, criminals on the run," and others, which awakens his heart to the plight of the poor and outcast, a theme that becomes important in his later life and theology.

  • Bonhoeffer's Preaching and Teaching: Bonhoeffer's sermons and lectures in Barcelona challenge his congregants intellectually and spiritually, often soaring over their heads with his theological depth. However, he is able to connect with them and sees his work as a "synthesis" of "work and life."

  • Bonhoeffer's Theology: Bonhoeffer articulates several key theological ideas in his lectures, including the distinction between "religion" and the "real essence of Christianity," the centrality of Christ rather than moral accomplishment, and the rejection of dualism in favor of an affirmation of the material world and the body.

  • Bonhoeffer's Pastoral Care: Bonhoeffer demonstrates a compassionate and sensitive approach to pastoral care, as seen in his interaction with the young boy grieving the death of his dog, where Bonhoeffer gently guides the boy towards a hopeful understanding of the afterlife.

Chapter 6: Berlin, 1929

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Bonhoeffer's Philosophical Thesis "Act and Being": In this thesis, Bonhoeffer used philosophical language to argue that theology is not just another branch of philosophy, but something entirely different. He believed that philosophy is man's search for truth apart from God, whereas theology begins and ends with faith in Christ, who reveals himself to man.

  • Bonhoeffer's Friendship with Franz Hildebrandt: Hildebrandt became Bonhoeffer's best friend and closest ally in the church struggle. As a Jew who had converted to Christianity, Hildebrandt's existence highlighted the complex relationship between Germans, Jews, and Christians in this period.

  • Martin Luther's Changing Attitudes Towards Jews: Early in his career, Luther was sympathetic towards Jews and hoped they would convert to Christianity. However, as his health declined in his later years, his views became increasingly anti-Semitic, with him advocating for the persecution of Jews. The Nazis would later exploit Luther's most extreme anti-Semitic writings.

  • Bonhoeffer's Farewell Speech for Adolf von Harnack: In this speech, Bonhoeffer graciously acknowledged Harnack as his teacher, even though he had taken a different theological direction. This shows Bonhoeffer's ability to disagree respectfully and his commitment to the "pure search for truth" over ideological battles.

  • Bonhoeffer's Trip to America: Bonhoeffer was initially skeptical of American theology, seeing American seminaries as more like "vocational schools." However, he decided to go to Union Theological Seminary in New York on a Sloane Fellowship, a decision that would ultimately change the course of his life.

Chapter 7: Bonhoeffer in America, 1930-31

  • Bonhoeffer's Disappointment with Union Theological Seminary: Bonhoeffer was disappointed with the theological education at Union, finding it lacking in substance and seriousness. He criticized the students for being "intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases" and lacking a genuine understanding of Christian theology.

  • Bonhoeffer's Appreciation for African American Churches: In contrast to the liberal theology he encountered at Union, Bonhoeffer was deeply moved by the powerful preaching and vibrant worship he experienced in African American churches, particularly at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He found the gospel message to be more faithfully proclaimed in these congregations.

  • Bonhoeffer's Engagement with Racial Issues in America: Bonhoeffer's experiences in the African American community, including his trip to Washington, D.C. with his friend Frank Fisher, opened his eyes to the realities of racial segregation and discrimination in the United States. This would have a lasting impact on his thinking and later involvement in the ecumenical movement.

  • Bonhoeffer's Pacifist Leanings: Bonhoeffer's friendship with the French theologian Jean Lasserre and their shared experience of watching the film "All Quiet on the Western Front" together led Bonhoeffer to develop a more pacifist outlook, which would later influence his theology and his resistance against the Nazis.

  • Bonhoeffer's Appreciation for Community and Music: Bonhoeffer was struck by the sense of community and mutual support he observed in the dormitory life at Union, which would later inform his own experiments in communal Christian living. He also developed a deep appreciation for the power of music, particularly the African American spiritual songs he encountered in Harlem.

  • Bonhoeffer's Travels and Experiences: Bonhoeffer took advantage of his time in America to travel extensively, visiting his relatives in Philadelphia, exploring the American South, and taking a road trip to Mexico with Lasserre and Lehmann. These experiences broadened his perspective and exposed him to diverse cultural and religious contexts.

Chapter 8: Berlin, 1931-32

  • Bonhoeffer's Deepening Faith: During his time in New York, Bonhoeffer experienced a significant deepening of his faith, which became evident upon his return to Berlin. He discovered the Bible and the Sermon on the Mount, which "freed him" from his previous self-centered approach to theology and ministry. This transformation led him to take his faith and the church more seriously, becoming a regular churchgoer and emphasizing the practical implications of Christian living.

  • Bonhoeffer's Prophetic Preaching: Bonhoeffer's sermons in 1932, particularly his Reformation Sunday sermon at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, were strikingly critical of the complacency and self-congratulation of the German Protestant church. He warned that the church was in its "eleventh hour" and condemned the "unpardonable frivolity and arrogance" of the congregation for celebrating while the church was dying. This prophetic message was largely rejected by the congregation.

  • Bonhoeffer's Approach to Teaching Theology: Bonhoeffer's approach to teaching theology at the University of Berlin was unique. He emphasized the practical implications of theological ideas, challenging his students to live out their faith and not just engage in abstract theorizing. He encouraged them to read the Bible as the direct word of God, to sing Christmas carols, and to participate in spiritual disciplines like Bible meditation.

  • Bonhoeffer's Engagement with Students: Bonhoeffer had a deep personal involvement in the lives of his students, inviting them to his family's home, taking them on retreats, and even moving into a neighborhood to be closer to the confirmation class he taught in the impoverished Wedding district of Berlin. He sought to model the Christian life for his students and disciple them in the practical realities of faith.

  • Bonhoeffer's Prophetic Witness: Bonhoeffer's sermons and teaching during this period reflected a growing prophetic awareness of the threat posed by the rise of Nazism in Germany. He recognized the need to warn the church and his students about the impending crisis, even as others remained complacent or optimistic about Hitler's ascent to power.

Chapter 9: The Führer Principle, 1933

  • The Führer Principle: This was a concept of leadership that arose in Germany in the early 20th century, which emphasized the authority and power of a single, charismatic leader (the Führer) who was not accountable to any higher authority. This principle enabled Hitler's rise to power and the horrors of the Nazi regime.

  • Bonhoeffer's Critique of the Führer Principle: Bonhoeffer argued that true leadership must derive its authority from God and serve the greater good, not from the leader's own self-aggrandizement. He believed the Führer Principle was a dangerous distortion of leadership that placed the leader above all other authority and responsibility.

  • Hitler's Exploitation of the Führer Principle: Hitler deliberately embraced the title of "Führer" and the associated concept of absolute, unquestioned authority to consolidate his power. He used the Führer Principle to undermine Germany's democratic institutions and establish a totalitarian dictatorship.

  • The Reichstag Fire and the Suspension of Civil Liberties: The Nazis orchestrated the burning of the Reichstag (parliament building) and blamed it on the Communists, using this as a pretext to suspend civil liberties and individual freedoms through the Reichstag Fire Decree. This laid the groundwork for the Nazis' complete takeover of the German government.

  • The Enabling Act and the Demise of Democracy: The Reichstag, under duress, passed the Enabling Act, which formally transferred all legislative power to the Nazi cabinet, effectively abolishing the Reichstag and establishing Hitler's dictatorship. This marked the end of democracy in Germany and the beginning of the Nazi regime's unchecked rule.

  • The Bonhoeffer Family's Involvement: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's father, Karl, was called upon to examine the alleged arsonist, Marinus van der Lubbe, while his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, was named an official observer at the trial. The Bonhoeffer family was thus drawn into the center of the national controversy surrounding the Reichstag fire.

Chapter 10: The Church and the Jewish Question

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Church's Response to the "Jewish Question": Bonhoeffer argued that the church had three possible responses to the state's treatment of Jews: 1) Question the state's actions and their legitimacy, 2) Aid the victims of state action, even if they are not Christians, and 3) Directly oppose the state if its actions threaten the church's existence.

  • Bonhoeffer's Radical Stance: Bonhoeffer took a bold and radical stance, declaring that the church must stand with the Jews and that a church that does not stand with the Jews is not the true church of Jesus Christ. This was a revolutionary position at the time.

  • The Aryan Paragraph and the German Christians: The Nazis sought to exclude Jews, including baptized Christians of Jewish descent, from the German church through the "Aryan Paragraph." The "German Christians" movement supported this, wanting a "German" church aligned with Nazi principles.

  • Bonhoeffer's Warning: Bonhoeffer warned that a church that goes along with the exclusion of Jews is not the true church, and that evangelizing people into such a church would be "foolishness and heresy."

  • Early Resistance: Even in 1933, Bonhoeffer and his family were already engaged in resistance against the Nazis, including writing a letter to Rabbi Stephen Wise to alert the U.S. government to the situation.

  • The Book Burnings: The chapter describes the chilling Nazi book burnings, where the Nazis sought to purge German society of "un-German" ideas and intellectualism, including the works of Jewish and other authors. Bonhoeffer saw this as a harbinger of the Nazis' ultimate goal to "burn people" as well.

  • Prophetic Warnings: The chapter includes prophetic warnings from German-Jewish writers like Heinrich Heine and Sigmund Freud about the Nazis' ultimate intentions, foreshadowing the horrors to come.

Chapter 11: Nazi Theology

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Hitler's Pragmatic Approach to Christianity: While Hitler was not a Christian and privately held disdain for Christianity, he was pragmatic in his public approach. He sought to appear pro-Christian early in his career to gain support, but intended to eventually reshape the churches to align with Nazi ideology.

  • Nazi Efforts to Replace Christianity: Key Nazi leaders like Himmler, Bormann, and Rosenberg were actively working to replace Christianity with a new pagan, Nazi-aligned religion. They sought to purge Christian elements and replace them with Nazi symbols and teachings like Mein Kampf.

  • The "German Christians" Movement: This group of German Protestants sought to fuse Nazi ideology with a distorted version of Christianity. They rejected the Old Testament as too "Jewish", reinterpreted the New Testament to be anti-Semitic, and sought to remake Christianity in a völkisch, nationalist mold.

  • Incompatibility of Nazism and Traditional Christianity: The chapter highlights the fundamental incompatibility between the core tenets of Nazism (e.g. Nietzschean "will to power", social Darwinism, anti-Semitism) and the teachings of traditional Christianity (e.g. grace, mercy, universalism). This led to conflict with the Confessing Church.

  • The Confusion of National and Religious Identity: The chapter notes that for many Germans, their national and Lutheran Christian identities had become so intertwined that the distinction between the two was blurred. This contributed to the rise of the "German Christians" movement.

Chapter 12: The Church Struggle Begins

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The German Christians' Agenda: The German Christians wanted to unite the German church under the leadership of the Führer (Hitler) and the idea of "Gleichschaltung" (synchronization). They were vocal about this at their April 1933 conference, which aimed to create a single "Reich Church" (Reichskirche).

  • Appointment of Reich Bishop: In May 1933, a commission of bishops was convened to discuss the church's future. Hitler inserted Ludwig Müller, his proposed Reich Bishop, into the commission. However, the bishops elected Friedrich von Bodelschwingh as the Reich Bishop instead, which angered the German Christians.

  • Bonhoeffer's Involvement: Bonhoeffer attended the German Christians' meeting at Berlin University in June 1933, where he and his students walked out in protest. Bonhoeffer later spoke at another meeting, suggesting the possibility of a church council to resolve the issue, but his suggestions were not well-received.

  • State Intervention: In late June 1933, the state intervened in the church struggle, with SA troops occupying church offices and arresting a pastor. This prompted Bodelschwingh to resign as Reich Bishop, and the real church struggle began.

  • Bonhoeffer and Hildebrandt's Proposal: Bonhoeffer and Hildebrandt suggested that the churches effectively go on strike against the state to assert their independence, but this proposal was too dramatic for most of the Protestant leaders.

  • Church Elections: In July 1933, Hitler announced new church elections, which were heavily influenced by the Nazis. Despite Bonhoeffer's efforts, the German Christians won a landslide victory, and Ludwig Müller was elected as the Reich Bishop.

  • The Confessing Church: In response to the German Christians' victory, Bonhoeffer and others in the Young Reformation movement proposed to create a "Confession of Faith" to define their theological position and force a crisis with the German Christians.

Chapter 13: The Bethel Confession

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Bethel Confession: Bonhoeffer and Sasse were tasked with drafting a confession that would spell out the basics of the true and historic Christian faith, in contrast with the "theology" of the German Christians. However, the final draft was watered down and Bonhoeffer refused to sign it, disappointed by the inability of his fellow Christians to take a definitive stand.

  • The Aryan Paragraph: The Aryan Paragraph was a proposed policy that would prevent pastors of Jewish background from serving as ministers. Bonhoeffer wrote a pamphlet strongly opposing this, arguing that a church that was not willing to stand up for the Jews in its midst was not the real church of Jesus Christ. This put him at odds with even some of his allies, who were not yet willing to break the church apart over the issue.

  • The Brown Synod: The national synod in September 1933 was overwhelmingly dominated by the German Christians, with 80% of the delegates wearing Nazi uniforms. The decision to remove already ordained non-Aryans from ministry was not passed, but Bonhoeffer and Hildebrandt saw this as a clear break from the true and historical faith, leading them to call for schism.

  • The Pastors' Emergency League: In reaction to the Brown Synod, the Pastors' Emergency League was formed, with a statement that declared the signers' rededication to Scripture and the church's confessions, their intent to protect the church's fidelity, and their rejection of the Aryan Paragraph. This was a major step toward the Confessing Church.

  • Bonhoeffer's Ecumenical Efforts: Bonhoeffer attended ecumenical conferences, where he gave the full story of what was happening in the German church to leaders like Bishop Bell. This led to strong resolutions condemning the actions against Jews and non-Aryans, jeopardizing the position of Theodor Heckel, the official representative of the German church.

  • The German Christians Overreach: The German Christians' rally at the Berlin Sportpalast, where their leader Reinhold Krause made extreme, heretical statements, was a fatal miscalculation that effectively doomed the German Christian movement, as it shocked and outraged mainstream Protestants.

Chapter 14: Bonhoeffer in London, 1934-35

  • Bonhoeffer's Reasons for Going to London: Bonhoeffer had two main reasons for accepting the invitation to pastor the German congregations in London: 1) to gain experience in "parish work" or "church work", which he felt was lacking in his theological training, and 2) to gain perspective on the bigger picture of the church struggle in Germany, which he believed went far beyond mere church politics.

  • Bonhoeffer's Prophetic Perspective: Bonhoeffer seemed to have a prophetic understanding of the situation, seeing that the "real struggle" ahead would require simply "suffering faithfully" rather than the "parries, blows or thrusts" of the "preliminary fight" in Germany. He believed the church would need to be prepared to resist "unto death".

  • Bonhoeffer's Relationship with Karl Barth: Bonhoeffer's relationship with the influential theologian Karl Barth was strained after Barth's apparent rebuff of Bonhoeffer's views on the Aryan Paragraph. Barth urged Bonhoeffer to return to his "post in Berlin" rather than remain in London.

  • Bonhoeffer's Relationship with Bishop George Bell: In London, Bonhoeffer developed a close friendship and important ecumenical partnership with Bishop George Bell of Chichester. Bell became a vital source of information about the situation in Germany and a means of galvanizing British sentiment against the Nazi regime.

  • Bonhoeffer's London Pastorate: Bonhoeffer's life in London was marked by a close-knit community with fellow German exiles like Franz Hildebrandt, constant theological discussions and debates, and a commitment to his pastoral duties, including preaching, teaching, and organizing church activities. His sermons became more demanding and eschatological in tone.

  • Bonhoeffer's Deepening Seriousness: The circumstances of the time had clearly taken a toll on Bonhoeffer, as evidenced by the increased seriousness and longing for the "kingdom of heaven" in his sermons, compared to his earlier work in Barcelona.

Chapter 15: The Church Battle Heats Up

  • Bonhoeffer's Influence in London: Bonhoeffer's time in London gave him the freedom to deepen his relationships in the ecumenical world and shape the opinions of other German pastors, leading the German churches in England to join the Pastors' Emergency League and the Confessing Church.

  • Confrontation with Heckel: Heckel, the newly appointed bishop and head of the church's Foreign Office, tried to get Bonhoeffer to sign a document refraining from all ecumenical activity, but Bonhoeffer refused, further escalating the conflict between the Confessing Church and the Reich church.

  • The Barmen Declaration: The Barmen Declaration, written at the Barmen Synod in May 1934, was a seminal document that publicly declared the Confessing Church's independence from the Nazified Reich church, rejecting the Reich church's heretical teachings and affirming the Confessing Church as the true German Evangelical Church.

  • Ecumenical Tensions: Bonhoeffer's efforts to ensure that the Confessing Church was recognized as the legitimate German church at the Fanø ecumenical conference led to tensions with the ecumenical leaders, who were hesitant to take a clear stance and exclude the Reich church delegates.

  • The Night of the Long Knives: In June 1934, Hitler orchestrated the "Night of the Long Knives," a brutal purge of political rivals, including the SA leader Ernst Röhm, which solidified Hitler's power and eliminated potential threats to his regime.

  • Hindenburg's Death and Hitler's Consolidation of Power: With the death of President Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler was able to combine the offices of chancellor and president, becoming the sole leader of Germany and requiring the military to swear an oath of allegiance to him personally, further entrenching his totalitarian control.

Chapter 16: The Conference at Fanø

  • Bonhoeffer's Resolve and Courage: Bonhoeffer was determined to take a strong stand against the Nazi regime's encroachment on the church, even in the face of personal risk. He refused to back down when ordered to leave the London church, telling the bishop that he would have to come and remove him.

  • Bonhoeffer's Vision for the Ecumenical Movement: Bonhoeffer believed that the serious Christians in the ecumenical movement constituted the true church, which transcended national borders. He exhorted the delegates at the Fanø conference to act with complete truthfulness and sincerity, making it clear that they were faced with the choice between being National Socialists or Christians.

  • Bonhoeffer's Emphasis on Obedience and Listening to God: At the Fanø conference, Bonhoeffer stressed the importance of humbly listening to God's commands and obeying them, rather than merely advocating for one's own views. He wanted the delegates to know that hearing and obeying God was the core of all ecumenical work.

  • Bonhoeffer's Prophetic Voice: Bonhoeffer's "Peace Speech" at the Fanø conference was a powerful and prophetic call for the church to take a stand against the evils of the Nazi regime. He exhorted the delegates to risk everything and lay the destiny of the nations in God's hands, rather than seeking security or trying to direct events for selfish purposes.

  • The Confessing Church's Struggle for Identity: The Confessing Church was still grappling with its identity and role, with some members hesitant to take a strong stand against the Nazi regime for fear of appearing unpatriotic. Bonhoeffer worked to help the Confessing Church leaders recognize that they were a true church, not just a movement, and to declare this emphatically.

  • The Threat to Bonhoeffer's Berlin Students: Bonhoeffer's Berlin students who attended the Fanø conference were at risk of facing difficulties upon their return to Germany, after a Danish newspaper reported that they had spoken freely about Hitler's desire to become the "Pope" of the German church.

  • The Reich Church's Attempts to Undermine the Confessing Church: The representatives of the Reich church, such as Heckel, tried to downplay the Confessing Church's concerns and insert language into the Fanø resolutions that would equate the two "groups" within the German Evangelical Church, undermining the Confessing Church's claim to be the true German church.

Chapter 17: The Road to Zingst and Finkenwalde

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Bonhoeffer's Disillusionment with the Confessing Church: Bonhoeffer had become disillusioned with the Confessing Church, which he felt was already compromising and not living up to the radical discipleship he believed was required. He felt the church needed a "new kind of monasticism" that followed Christ's teachings in the Sermon on the Mount without compromise.

  • Bonhoeffer's Interest in Gandhi's Methods: Bonhoeffer was interested in studying Gandhi's methods of Christian social resistance, wondering if that was how he and other Christians were supposed to fight against the evils of the Nazi regime, rather than trying to "win" the current church struggle.

  • Bonhoeffer's Rejection of Attempts to Reason with Hitler: Bonhoeffer had already seen through the idea that Hitler could be reasoned with, and he criticized attempts by others, like Karl Barth, to meet with Hitler in the hopes of persuading him. Bonhoeffer believed Hitler was "obdurate" and that the church needed to listen to him rather than try to make him listen.

  • Bonhoeffer's Acceptance of the Directorship of the Confessing Church Seminary: Despite his disillusionment, Bonhoeffer accepted the directorship of the new Confessing Church seminary, seeing it as an opportunity to train a new generation of pastors in the radical discipleship he believed was necessary.

  • The Continued Church Struggle: The chapter details the ongoing church struggle between the Confessing Church and the Reich Church, including the "consecration" of Reich Bishop Müller and the Confessing Church's Dahlem Resolution declaring its independence.

  • Bonhoeffer's Confrontation with his Old Friend Rössler: Bonhoeffer was dismayed to find that his old friend Helmut Rössler had sided with the Reich Church against the Confessing Church, leading to a heated exchange of letters between the two.

  • Bonhoeffer's Preparations for his Seminary and India Trip: As the church struggle continued, Bonhoeffer made preparations to lead the new Confessing Church seminary and to finally make his long-planned trip to India to study Gandhi's methods of Christian social resistance.

Chapter 18: Zingst and Finkenwalde

  • Bonhoeffer's Vision for the Confessing Church Seminary: Bonhoeffer aimed to create a monastic-like community at the Confessing Church seminary, where ordinands would live and learn according to the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This was an unorthodox experiment in communal Christian living, in contrast with the typical Lutheran theological education that produced out-of-touch theologians and clerics.

  • Daily Spiritual Disciplines: At Zingst and Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer emphasized a strict daily routine of spiritual disciplines, including morning and evening services, Scripture meditation, and communal prayer. This was intended to cultivate a life "governed by gathering round the Word morning and evening and by fixed times of prayer," in contrast with the perceived lack of emphasis on personal spiritual formation in typical Lutheran theological education.

  • Bonhoeffer's Approach to Preaching: Bonhoeffer took preaching very seriously, seeing it as an opportunity for God to speak directly to the congregation. He wanted his ordinands to view preaching not as an intellectual exercise, but as a holy privilege to be the vessel through whom God would speak. He emphasized practical advice, such as writing sermons in daylight and not wasting the first minutes in generalities.

  • Bonhoeffer's Struggle with Depression: Bonhoeffer suffered from periods of depression, which he referred to as "acedia" or "tristizia." He was able to be open about this struggle with his close friend Eberhard Bethge, who served as a pastoral confidant for Bonhoeffer in this regard.

  • Bonhoeffer's Relationship with the Pomeranian Junker Families: Bonhoeffer developed close relationships with the conservative, aristocratic Junker families of Pomerania, who became staunch supporters of the Finkenwalde seminary. This included a particularly significant friendship with Ruth von Kleist-Retzow, who became a grandmother figure to Bonhoeffer and involved her grandchildren in the life of the seminary.

  • Bonhoeffer's Dissent from the Prevailing Lutheran View on Nationalism: While most of the ordinands at Finkenwalde initially shared the common Lutheran view that serving one's country was a good thing, Bonhoeffer expressed strong misgivings about Hitler and the war he was maneuvering the country toward. This marked Bonhoeffer as an outlier among the ordinands in his political views.

Chapter 19: Scylla and Charybdis, 1935-36

  • Bonhoeffer's Relationship with the Confessing Church: Bonhoeffer's relationship with the Confessing Church grew more awkward in 1935 as he became a lightning rod for controversy, both inside and outside the church. He was critical of the Confessing Church's unwillingness to speak out against the Nuremberg Laws and the persecution of Jews.

  • The Nuremberg Laws: The Nuremberg Laws, announced in 1935, stripped Jews of their German citizenship and prohibited marriages and sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. Bonhoeffer saw this as an opportunity for the Confessing Church to speak out, but the church was slow to act.

  • Bonhoeffer's Stance on the Church's Role: Bonhoeffer believed the church had an obligation to speak out against injustice and persecution, even if it did not directly affect the church. He argued that the church was called to be a "community in which Christ was present" and to "exist for others."

  • The Confessing Church's Reluctance to Act: The Confessing Church was reluctant to take a strong stand against the Nazis, often preferring to engage in "meaningless and endless dialogue" rather than taking action. Bonhoeffer criticized this as playing into the Nazis' hands.

  • Bonhoeffer's Trip to Sweden: In 1936, Bonhoeffer organized a trip for his ordinands to Sweden, which brought him into conflict with the Reich church and the Gestapo. This trip led to Bonhoeffer being labeled a "pacifist and an enemy of the state," resulting in him losing his right to teach at Berlin University.

  • The Confessing Church's Memo to Hitler: In 1936, the Confessing Church prepared a memo criticizing the Nazis' policies against the Jews and other issues, which was intended to be delivered to Hitler. However, the memo was leaked to the international press, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of those involved.

  • The Closing of Finkenwalde: In 1937, the Gestapo closed down Bonhoeffer's seminary at Finkenwalde, but Bonhoeffer continued his work through a system of "collective pastorates" in remote areas of Pomerania, where the ordinands could continue their education and training.

  • Bonhoeffer's Optimism and Faith: Despite the challenges and persecution faced by the Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer remained an eternal optimist, believing that God would provide new opportunities for the faithful to serve Him. He encouraged his ordinands to find joy and dignity in their secluded country life, even as they faced increasing hardship.

Chapter 20: Mars Ascending, 1938

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Bonhoeffer Banned from Berlin: In January 1938, Bonhoeffer was arrested and banned from Berlin, which was devastating for him as it was the center of his universe. However, his father's influence helped him regain the ability to travel to Berlin for personal and family matters.

  • The Fritsch Affair: This was a crisis that threatened to topple Hitler's regime, as the army generals were planning a coup to remove him from power. However, the generals' inaction and Hitler's maneuvering allowed him to maintain power.

  • The Austrian Anschluss: In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria, which was celebrated by many Germans but condemned by Bonhoeffer and others in the Confessing Church.

  • The Leibholzes Flee Germany: Fearing the impending war and persecution of Jews, Sabine and Gert Leibholz, Bonhoeffer's sister and brother-in-law, fled Germany with their daughters and sought refuge in Switzerland and then London.

  • Bonhoeffer's Theological Reflections on the Jews: After the events of Kristallnacht, Bonhoeffer had a profound realization that the attacks on the Jews were attacks on God's own people, and he began to more clearly see the connection between the Nazis' actions and his Christian faith.

  • Bonhoeffer's Involvement in the Conspiracy: Bonhoeffer was deeply connected to the conspiracy against Hitler through his family's relationships with powerful figures in the government and military. He provided counsel to the conspirators, though he was not yet ready to fully join their efforts.

  • Bonhoeffer's Writings: During this time, Bonhoeffer wrote his devotional classic "Life Together" while staying at the Leibholzes' home in Göttingen, and he continued to encourage and support his persecuted brothers in the Confessing Church.

Chapter 21: The Great Decision, 1939

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Bonhoeffer's Dilemma: Bonhoeffer faced a difficult decision - whether to stay in America or return to Germany. On one hand, he felt a strong calling to be with his fellow Christians in Germany and share in their trials. On the other hand, he could avoid conscription and potential arrest by staying in America.

  • Bonhoeffer's Principles vs. Conscience: Bonhoeffer believed that Christians cannot be governed by mere principles, but must ultimately hear from God and follow their conscience. He did not feel he could take up arms for Germany, but also did not want to force this position on the Confessing Church.

  • Bonhoeffer's Struggle with Homesickness: During his time in America, Bonhoeffer experienced intense homesickness and longing for his fellow Christians in Germany. He felt deeply out of place and unsettled in New York, longing to return to the "brethren" and the work of the Confessing Church.

  • Bonhoeffer's View of the American Church: Bonhoeffer was critical of the liberal, tolerant nature of American Christianity, which he felt lacked the "passionate longing for unity in faith" that he valued. He found the preaching he encountered to be lacking in biblical exposition and the true Gospel.

  • Bonhoeffer's Decision to Return: Ultimately, Bonhoeffer decided that he must return to Germany, despite the risks. He felt a strong conviction that this was God's will for him, even if the reasons were not entirely clear. He believed that to stay in America would be to "flee" from his true calling and the suffering of his people.

  • Bonhoeffer's Farewell: Bonhoeffer left America with a sense of having learned important lessons, and with a renewed commitment to the work of the Confessing Church in Germany, even in the face of the coming war and persecution.

Chapter 22: The End of Germany

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Staged Provocation for War: The Nazis staged a false flag attack on a German radio station near the Polish border, dressing concentration camp inmates in Polish uniforms and killing one to make it appear that Poland had attacked Germany. This provided the pretext for Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, marking the start of World War II.

  • The Horrors of the Nazi Invasion of Poland: The German invasion of Poland was accompanied by deliberate, systematic mass murder of Polish civilians by the SS and Wehrmacht. This included the murder of 50 Polish Jews who had been forced to repair a bridge, as well as plans to exterminate the Polish intelligentsia, clergy, and nobility.

  • The Conspiracy Against Hitler: Bonhoeffer became aware of the growing conspiracy within the German military and government to remove Hitler from power, as they learned of the atrocities being committed in Poland. This conspiracy sought to communicate with the British to ensure they would not simply destroy Germany after Hitler's death.

  • The Nazi Euthanasia Program: Concurrent with the war, the Nazis had already begun implementing their "T-4" euthanasia program, which involved the systematic murder of disabled German children and adults in order to free up medical resources for the war effort. This program served as a precursor to the mass killings in the Nazi death camps.

  • Bonhoeffer's Dilemma: Bonhoeffer was torn between supporting the young men who felt compelled to fight for Germany, and his own knowledge of the conspiracy to overthrow Hitler. He could not openly share what he knew, as it had become too dangerous.

Chapter 23: From Confession to Conspiracy

  • Bonhoeffer's Transition from Confession to Conspiracy: Bonhoeffer recognized that mere confession, no matter how courageous, was no longer sufficient in the face of the escalating persecution of the Jews and the growing threat of the Nazi regime. He realized that he needed to move beyond confession and into active resistance, even if it meant engaging in deception and conspiracy.

  • Bonhoeffer's Involvement in the Abwehr: Bonhoeffer officially joined the conspiracy by becoming a member of the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence), which provided him with the cover and protection he needed to continue his pastoral work and theological writing while also engaging in activities against the Nazi regime.

  • Bonhoeffer's Understanding of Truth and Deception: Bonhoeffer grappled with the question of what it means to tell the truth, recognizing that there are circumstances where deception may be necessary in order to uphold a deeper, "living" truth. He rejected the simplistic view that all deception is inherently wrong, arguing that the relationship with God must take precedence over rigid adherence to rules or principles.

  • Bonhoeffer's Theological Writings: Despite the increasing restrictions and threats he faced, Bonhoeffer continued to write and publish theological works, including "The Prayerbook of the Bible," which was a bold declaration of the importance of the Old Testament to Christianity and a rebuke to the Nazi efforts to undermine anything of Jewish origin.

  • Bonhoeffer's Refuge at Ettal Monastery: Bonhoeffer found respite and peace at the Ettal Monastery in the Bavarian Alps, where he was able to work on his "Ethics" and meet with members of the conspiracy, including Vatican representatives and other German resistance leaders.

  • Bonhoeffer's Reputation and Isolation: Bonhoeffer's involvement in the conspiracy and his ability to continue his work and travel while others were suffering and dying led to suspicion and misunderstanding from some within the Confessing Church, further isolating him in his struggle against the Nazi regime.

Chapter 24: Plotting Against Hitler

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Commissar Order and the Turning Point for the Generals: The Commissar Order, which instructed the German army to execute all captured Soviet military leaders, was a turning point that caused many generals to reconsider their support for Hitler. Even the weak-willed Brauchitsch was shocked by the order, and it helped the conspirators recruit more generals to their cause.

  • Bonhoeffer's Pastoral Work and Correspondence: Despite not being on the front lines, Bonhoeffer remained deeply engaged in pastoral work, corresponding with many of the Confessing Church pastors who were serving in the war. He provided encouragement, prayers, and exemptions where possible to support their ministry.

  • Bonhoeffer's Involvement in the Conspiracy: Bonhoeffer became directly involved in the conspiracy against Hitler, stating that he would be willing to kill Hitler if necessary, though he stipulated that he would first have to resign from the Confessing Church to avoid implicating its members.

  • Operation 7 and Saving Jewish Lives: Bonhoeffer became involved in a complex plan, code-named Operation 7, to smuggle seven Jews into Switzerland in order to save them from deportation and likely death. This operation highlighted the conspirators' efforts to resist the Nazis' persecution of the Jews.

  • The Turning of the Tide against Hitler: The chapter describes how Hitler's military successes began to unravel, with the German army's defeat at Stalingrad and the onset of the brutal Russian winter. This reversal was a significant blow to Hitler's hubris and the conspirators' hopes that his downfall was imminent.

  • The Kreisau Circle: The chapter introduces the Kreisau Circle, a separate group of conspirators led by Count Helmuth von Moltke, which was focused on discussing how Germany should be governed after Hitler's removal, rather than on assassination attempts.

  • The Increasing Danger and Bonhoeffer's Preparations: As the Gestapo began to monitor Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer, the latter drew up a will, aware of the growing danger to the conspiracy and his own life.

Chapter 25: Bonhoeffer Scores a Victory

  • Bonhoeffer's Trip to Norway: Bonhoeffer traveled to Norway to encourage the Norwegian church leaders to resist the Nazi-backed government of Vidkun Quisling. The Norwegian church leaders, led by Bishop Berggrav, went on strike in protest, which was a success for the resistance movement.

  • Bonhoeffer's Meeting with Bishop Bell: Bonhoeffer met with Bishop George Bell in Sweden to discuss the German resistance movement against the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer provided Bell with details about the conspiracy, including the names of the generals who would initiate the coup against Hitler.

  • Bonhoeffer's Attitude Towards Repentance: Bonhoeffer expressed a position of "deliberate weakness" and emphasized the need for Germans to show deep humility and repentance for the sins committed by the Nazi regime. He believed that Germany could only recover if the German people adopted an attitude of repentance.

  • British Reluctance to Support the German Resistance: Despite Bonhoeffer and Schönfeld's efforts to convince Bishop Bell to relay information about the German resistance to the British government, the British government was reluctant to provide any support or encouragement. This was likely due to Churchill's desire to maintain a strong alliance with the Soviet Union.

  • Bonhoeffer's Family Connections: Bonhoeffer had connections to the Prussian prince, Louis Ferdinand, through his brother Klaus. This suggests that the German resistance movement was considering a return to a Hohenzollern monarchy as a possible post-Nazi government.

  • Heydrich's Death: The chapter notes that Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Final Solution, was assassinated by Czech Resistance fighters at the end of May 1942, which was a positive development for the anti-Nazi movement.

Chapter 26: Bonhoeffer in Love

  • Bonhoeffer's Changing Perception of Maria: When Bonhoeffer first met Maria in June 1942, he saw her as the 12-year-old girl he had known previously. However, during their meeting, he was struck by how she had grown into a beautiful, intelligent, and confident young woman of 18, which affected him deeply.

  • Bonhoeffer's Thoughts on Marriage: Bonhoeffer had previously decided against marriage, believing it to be incompatible with the life he felt called to. However, his views on marriage seemed to evolve, as evidenced by his positive response to the news of a fellow ordinand's engagement and his later decision to propose to Maria.

  • The Wedemeyer Family's Anti-Nazi Stance: Maria's father, Hans von Wedemeyer, was a staunch anti-Nazi who had quit his position on the staff of the Reich chancellor Franz von Papen after just three months, unable to be party to the Nazis' actions. The Wedemeyer family was deeply committed to their Christian faith and opposed to Hitler's regime.

  • Bonhoeffer's Involvement in the Conspiracy: While visiting the Wedemeyer family, Bonhoeffer shared his views on the importance of those with moral convictions to avoid military service and instead work against the regime from within, hinting at his own role in the conspiracy against Hitler.

  • The Developing Relationship between Bonhoeffer and Maria: After their initial meeting in June, Bonhoeffer and Maria continued to see each other, particularly during Bonhoeffer's visits to the hospital where Maria was caring for her grandmother. Their relationship deepened, and Bonhoeffer eventually proposed marriage to Maria, despite the significant age difference and the difficult circumstances of the time.

  • The Challenges and Complications of their Engagement: The engagement was complicated by the Wedemeyer family's concerns about the appropriateness of the match, as well as the tragic deaths of Maria's father and brother. Bonhoeffer and Maria were forced to navigate these challenges, with Bonhoeffer ultimately gaining the permission of Maria's mother to propose.

  • Bonhoeffer's Theological Perspective on Marriage: Bonhoeffer's views on marriage evolved, as evidenced by his positive response to the news of a fellow ordinand's engagement and his own decision to propose to Maria. He saw marriage as a "protest against all false, inauthentic apocalypticism" and a "joyful grasping hold of happiness where God still gives it to us."

Chapter 27: Killing Adolf Hitler

  • Bonhoeffer's Involvement in the Conspiracy: Bonhoeffer was actively involved in the German resistance against Hitler, following his moral conviction that "the structure of responsible action includes both readiness to accept guilt and freedom." He believed that living in fear of incurring "guilt" was itself sinful, and that God wanted His children to operate out of freedom and joy to do what is right and good.

  • Operation Flash: This was a coup attempt in March 1943 to assassinate Hitler by detonating an explosion aboard his plane as it flew over Minsk. The plan involved Fabian von Schlabrendorff planting a bomb on Hitler's plane, but the attempt ultimately failed when the bomb did not detonate.

  • The Overcoat Bombs: In another attempt to assassinate Hitler, Major Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff volunteered to carry two bombs in his overcoat and meet Hitler during a visit to the Zeughaus on Unter den Linden. However, Hitler's sudden decision to leave the exhibition early foiled the plan, and Gersdorff was able to remove the fuses before the bombs exploded.

  • The Bonhoeffer Family's Involvement: The Bonhoeffer family was deeply involved in the conspiracy against Hitler. Dohnanyi, Oster, and Bonhoeffer were all implicated, and the family was aware of the ongoing attempts to assassinate the Führer. The chapter describes a family gathering where they were rehearsing for Karl Bonhoeffer's 75th birthday, unaware that a failed assassination attempt had just occurred.

  • The Gestapo's Closing In: The Gestapo was closing in on the conspirators, and Bonhoeffer's involvement in the Abwehr had already been discovered through Operation 7. The family knew that their lives were about to change dramatically, and that they would never gather like this again.

Chapter 28: Cell 92 at Tegel Prison

  • Bonhoeffer's Arrest and Imprisonment: Bonhoeffer was arrested in April 1943 along with Dohnanyi and others, not for their involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler, but for more innocuous reasons related to the Abwehr's activities. Bonhoeffer and the others engaged in a multilevel game of deception to keep the conspiracy hidden from the Gestapo.

  • Bonhoeffer's Attitude in Prison: Despite the harsh conditions of his initial imprisonment, Bonhoeffer maintained a positive attitude, drawing strength from his daily spiritual disciplines, reading, and writing. He was able to use his position and connections to improve his situation and help other prisoners.

  • Communication and Coded Messages: Bonhoeffer and his family developed sophisticated methods of communication, including coded messages in books, to pass information and coordinate their efforts while he was imprisoned.

  • Relationship with Maria von Wedemeyer: Bonhoeffer's engagement to Maria von Wedemeyer provided him with a source of hope and joy during his imprisonment. They maintained their relationship through letters and visits, despite the challenges posed by the prison environment.

  • Theological Reflections: Bonhoeffer used his time in prison to deepen his theological thinking, particularly around the concept of "religionless Christianity." He grappled with the question of what it means to be a Christian in a "completely religionless time" and how to reconcile God's reality with the reality of the world.

  • Ethics and the Problem of Evil: Bonhoeffer worked on his magnum opus, "Ethics," during his imprisonment, exploring the challenges of Christian ethics in the face of the overwhelming evil of the Nazi regime. He rejected traditional approaches to ethics and emphasized the need to do God's will rather than simply follow moral principles.

  • Bonhoeffer's Relationships and Visitors: Bonhoeffer's relationships with his family, friends, and even some of the prison guards were a source of comfort and strength during his imprisonment. He was able to engage in pastoral activities and provide counsel to others, even while incarcerated.

Chapter 29: Valkyrie and the Stauffenberg Plot

  • Stauffenberg's Failed Assassination Attempt on Hitler: Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, a devout Catholic from an aristocratic family, led the failed July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. Stauffenberg planted a bomb in Hitler's headquarters, but the Führer survived due to the design of the conference table. This event led to a crackdown on the German resistance movement, with many conspirators being arrested, tortured, and executed.

  • Bonhoeffer's Equanimity and Faith: Despite the failure of the assassination attempt and the worsening of his own situation, Bonhoeffer maintained his equanimity and faith. He wrote letters expressing his belief in God's providence and the importance of living a "this-worldly" Christian life focused on serving others. Bonhoeffer also composed the poem "Powers of Good" during this time, which has become a famous hymn in Germany.

  • Bonhoeffer's Attempted Escape and Arrest: Bonhoeffer made plans to escape from Tegel prison with the help of a friendly guard, Corporal Knoblauch. However, the arrest of his brother Klaus and other family members led Bonhoeffer to abandon the escape attempt, as he did not want to worsen their situation. Bonhoeffer was eventually transferred to the Gestapo prison on Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, where he was held in harsh conditions.

  • Bonhoeffer's Final Months and Execution: In the Gestapo prison, Bonhoeffer was able to communicate with fellow prisoner Fabian von Schlabrendorff and maintain his composure and faith. On February 7, 1945, Bonhoeffer was transported to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he was later executed on April 9, 1945, just days before the camp's liberation.

  • The Fate of the Conspirators: Many of the key figures involved in the Stauffenberg plot, including General Oster, Admiral Canaris, and Judge Sack, were also arrested and transported to concentration camps, where most were executed. The death of the notorious Ronald Freisler, the presiding judge of the People's Court, was seen as a kind of divine retribution by some of the conspirators' relatives.

Chapter 30: Buchenwald

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Buchenwald was a Nazi center of death where death was celebrated and worshipped: The chapter describes Buchenwald as a place where the weak were preyed upon and crushed, in contrast to Bodelschwingh's community at Bethel which embodied the gospel of life. Horrific practices such as using human skin and fat to make souvenirs and soap were carried out at Buchenwald.

  • Bonhoeffer spent his last two months at Buchenwald in a small prison cellar with other notable prisoners: The chapter introduces the diverse cast of characters Bonhoeffer encountered at Buchenwald, including British intelligence officer Captain Payne Best, General Friedrich von Rabenau, and the notorious Nazi doctors Waldemar Hoven and Sigmund Rascher.

  • Rascher conducted horrific medical experiments on prisoners at Buchenwald: The chapter details Rascher's "experiments" on prisoners, including subjecting them to extreme cold and low-pressure conditions, often resulting in their deaths. Rascher saw nothing wrong with these practices and was proud of the "scientific results" he obtained.

  • Bonhoeffer's faith and character stood in stark contrast to the evil around him: While the other prisoners were described as distrustful and suspicious of each other, Bonhoeffer was remembered as "all humility and sweetness" who "diffused an atmosphere of happiness" and for whom "his God was real and ever close to him."

  • The prisoners at Buchenwald lived in constant fear of being killed or evacuated as the Allies approached: As the American and Russian forces closed in on Germany, the prisoners lived in uncertainty, not knowing if they would be liberated or killed. The guards were increasingly nervous and some discussed escaping or fighting to the end.

Chapter 31: On the Road to Freedom

  • Bonhoeffer's Positive Attitude: Despite the difficult circumstances, Bonhoeffer remained "very happy" and did a great deal to keep his fellow prisoners from becoming depressed or anxious. He was described as a "good and saintly man" and the "finest and most lovable" person that one of his fellow prisoners had ever met.

  • Bonhoeffer's Last Service: On the day before his execution, Bonhoeffer conducted a small service for his fellow prisoners, reading from the Bible and explaining the verses to them. This was his last act as a pastor before his death.

  • Bonhoeffer's Final Words: When the guards came to take Bonhoeffer away, he said to one of his fellow prisoners, "This is the end... For me the beginning of life." This reflects Bonhoeffer's belief that death is not the end, but rather the beginning of eternal life.

  • Bonhoeffer's Transformation of Death: In a sermon, Bonhoeffer had said that "Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death." This shows Bonhoeffer's theological perspective on death and his belief that it can be transformed through faith.

  • Bonhoeffer's Execution: Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated by American troops. His execution was ordered directly by Hitler, who saw Bonhoeffer as a traitor to the Third Reich.

  • Bonhoeffer's Legacy: Bonhoeffer's death was deeply mourned by his family and friends, including Bishop George Bell, who described him as a "good and saintly man" and said that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church." Bonhoeffer's life and death have had a lasting impact on Christian theology and the fight against fascism.


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