I just finished Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by Charles Marsh. I’ve always been a fan of Bonhoeffer – everyone in the evangelical world is, right? He’s a hero, our go-to guy. “Would you like to know what a committed Christian looks like? Go to Bonhoeffer. Would you like to know what it’s like to follow Christ no matter the cost? Go to Bonhoeffer.
Theologian, poet, pastor, professor, a guy who dressed like he just jumped off the pages of GQ – oh, and dissident, spy, and martyr, who was executed for his role in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. See? A hero!
Maybe you’ve read his classic, The Cost of Discipleship. If you haven’t read the book but you have attended an evangelical church sometime since 1980, you’ve more than likely heard it quoted by a pastor of said church.
For as long as I can remember anything about Christian authors, Bonhoeffer has been at the top of the evangelical heap – portrayed as the voice of evangelical values. Such was the position in another popular biography of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. In an interview for his book, Metaxas said this about Bonhoeffer, “I have to say, with unbounded joy, I discovered him (Bonhoeffer) to be the most straight-up, theologically orthodox believer I have ever encountered. He is as theologically orthodox as St. Paul and Isaiah!”
Not so fast. Experts on Bonhoeffer came out of the woodwork to contradict Metaxas’ perspective. Even a fan of the book, Tim Challies, admits that these experts “may well be right in suggesting that Metaxas got in over his head and they may be right in suggesting that the true Bonhoeffer was simply too unorthodox to appeal to the likes of me…”
What does the “true Bonhoeffer” believe that doesn’t fit with the “likes” of some? Here’s a sample:
*In a lecture in 1928 Bonhoeffer stated that the Bible is filled with material that is historically unreliable.
*In discussing the first three chapters of Genesis in Creation and Fall (1933) Bonhoeffer criticized the idea of verbal inspiration and stated that the biblical author was restricted by the state of knowledge when it was written.
*In the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer presented a series of lectures on “Christology.” Later, his good friend Eberhard Bethge published the notes under the title Christ the Center. In that writing, Bonhoeffer said this, “It is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us.”
What do we make of these views? What do we make of Bonhoeffer in light of his views?
Do these beliefs knock him down a notch or two?
Do these beliefs negate his role as a “go-to” guy?
Do these beliefs change his love for Jesus and people; his passion to follow Him fully?
Tylor Standley, in a blog post carried by Relevant Magazine, asks these questions:
What does it mean to be evangelical?
What must you believe?
What must you reject?
He then lists other “heroes” of the faith who like Bonhoeffer may be cut from the evangelical team because of their theological views and positions.
You’ll recognize some of them – Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, even Billy Graham. Maybe you’ll be surprised by the views of some of them.
Maybe we all will realize how easy it is to miss the essence of Christianity – to miss what really matters.
It was Christmas, 1934. a 28 year old Bonhoeffer preached a series of sermons on 1 Corinthians 13 -the Love chapter. Speaking of doctrine and the churches of Germany, he asked, “Is it not obvious? They have not made people who love. It does nobody any good professing to believe in Christ without first being reconciled with his brother or sister – including the nonbeliever, his brethren of another race, the marginalized, or outcast … In the end everything must become love…perfection’s name is love.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer got it. I hope I do too.