Two sermons and a funeral ceremony in the Third Reich (3 of 3)
|April 19, 2014||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
During his imprisonment, Bonhoeffer wrote in his own defense to one Dr. Roeder, the Judge Advocate, saying “the Gestapo have not confronted me with a single ‘disruptive’ sermon or lecture” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1997), p. 57]. That is certainly true. Bonhoeffer was always careful never to publicly cross the line. He first got arrested because of currency irregularities, or for being connected to the wrong people, and was executed for being connected to an underground political plot – not for any public statements about Christ. As I said, I cannot criticize Bonhoeffer and Barth,they were in incredibly difficult situations, but I can suggest they should not be put on pedestals, made into heroes, and looked to for examples of how Christians should stand against tyranny.
Moreover, there are serious doctrinal issues with Bonhoeffer. For example, the closing words of his sermon in Stroud’s book are “Lord on the cross, be our only Lord. Amen” [p. 61]. What about the risen Christ? What about Christ in glory, now reigning? Bonhoeffer wrote in Christ the Center that “The Church gazes always only at the humiliated Christ.” He also wrote “All that we know today only through the encounter with the humiliated one. It is with this humiliated one that the church goes its own way of humiliation” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center, trans. Edwin H. Robertson (New York: HarperOne, 1978), p. 113 (both quotes)]. This is very far from a complete christology, or even from a basic one.
In Christ the Center Bonhoeffer also wrote, “If Jesus Christ is to be described as God, we may not speak of this divine being, nor of his omnipotence, nor his omniscience; but we must speak of this weak man among sinners, of his manger and his cross. If we are to deal with the deity of Jesus, we must speak of his weakness” [p. 104]. This is not surprising, since in this same book Bonhoeffer doubts that Jesus really was born of a virgin [p. 105], and also states that we “cannot be sure” of the historicity of the empty tomb [p. 112].
How could someone genuinely know the risen Christ and say such things? Bonhoeffer is introducing a new concept of Christ – yet not completely new, but fully in accordance with so-called neo-orthodox Christianity, which states that our “faith” in Christ cannot be and should not be tied to historical fact, but is internal and spiritual only. This is a false Christ, a false gospel, very different from what we read in Scripture about a Christ who rose from the dead and now reigns in glory, to be worshipped as God, not only as a broken man on the cross.
It appears self-evident that Bonhoeffer did not know and had never met the risen Christ. But how could he write so many wonderful things? Plato, Seneca, and Aristotle also said a lot of wonderful things. The human mind is capable of an appearance of spirituality apart from Christ, even of theoretical Christian spirituality.There are many liberal or neo-orthodox theologians who deny the essentials of the faith but say religious things that sound very true by themselves. For my part, I have no interest in wonderful theology from those who say the only Christ we have is “the humiliated one.” But, what can you expect from people like Bonhoeffer who did not even believe in the Bible? In my view he is under Paul’s dreadful warning in Galatians 1:8-9.
But Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a hero! He was peripherally involved in the plot to kill Hitler, and tried to help the conspirators establish contact abroad! Is this what our Christianity has come to now? If someone is on the fringes of a conspiracy, he now becomes such a hero that doctrine is no longer important? It is a sad day for the church when a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer is set up as a model for naïve and gullible people to follow.
But Bonhoeffer was a very brave man who returned to Germany when he could have stayed safely in America? Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, had an approved visa to leave Nazi-occupied Austria and emigrate to America. He voluntarily stayed in Vienna as he did not want to abandon his parents, and ended up in Auschwitz. Does this mean he has earned God’s grace and forgiveness and can go to heaven? Leo Baeck, an influential Jewish scholar and religious leader with numerous foreign contacts had opportunities to leave Nazi Germany, but he felt obligated to stay with his people. He was sent to Theresienstadt, where he stayed until the end of the war. Holocaust survival narratives tell of many people who had a chance to escape but passed it up because they did not want to abandon someone, parents or children. Even many Nazis and Communists bravely went to death for their respective causes. Bravery, a willingness to suffer and die – this does not grant someone the seal of God’s approval.
How vastly different was Paul Schneider’s behavior, in making specific, pointed and public criticisms. Even his sermon in Stroud’s book has a clearly evangelical voice that is missing from Bonhoeffer’s. He preached in 1934: “Let us say in bluntly: we Evangelical Christians can never say that we agree with these things that many leading figures of the new Germany are voicing and declaring in speeches” (Stroud, p. 81). He also affirms that whoever will not acknowledge Christ will lose his soul, and states “I would rather die for my faith than live a cowardly and cultured life with the rest of the world” (p. 82).
Did Bonhoeffer ever preach so directly as this? I doubt it – not that we want to propose Paul Schneider for a substitute hero. Bible-believing Christians should need no heroes. We should understand that Paul Schneider was a weak and sinful man who erred in many ways and who had no ability to resist and to speak out other than what Christ gave him. But it is or should be a loud and clear warning of deep problems in the church when we blindly accept people without even knowing or caring what they believe behind their façade of religious rhetoric.