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Confessions of a Small Church Pastor

Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Probably Not


Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 10.42.34 PMIn their newly-released book, Bonhoeffer The Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking, the authors Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel provide compelling evidence that Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not participate in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

I had anticipated this book’s publication since reading an article in which one of the author’s, Mark Thiessen Nation, revealed the thesis of their research. Excited as I was by that article, this book is even more exciting as a new look at an old myth.

As to their thesis that Bonhoeffer maintained his pacifist stance in both word and deed, the authors assert confidently, “If by ‘activities’ we mean actions that contributed directly to attempts to kill Hitler, there is no evidence of any such actions on Bonhoeffer’s part.” (p. 87). By reviewing writings about Bonhoeffer, the writings and sermons of Bonhoeffer, and the testimonies of those who knew Bonhoeffer, Nation, Siegrist, and Umbel not only dispel the myth of Bonhoeffer’s alleged participation in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, they blow it up altogether.

Interestingly, Mark Thiessen nation offers his own understanding for decades of fascination with the story of the young pacifist theologian who turned to violence in the hot-light of Nazi atrocities. Nation writes, “Repeatedly I see writings about Bonhoeffer that imply that what truly sets him apart is that he was a theologian–a former pacifist and trainer of pastors–who then became involved in plots to kill Hitler.”(p. 229). This story fits our national psyche, our need to affirm that no one, not even a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, can adhere to the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount in the real world in which we live. However, to believe this unchallenged theory, Nation argues, seriously distorts the legacy of Bonhoeffer.

This is an important book, a book that rewrites the story of Bonhoeffer — a book which asserts that the real transition Bonhoeffer made was not from naive idealist to mature realist, but from rationalizing nationalist to completely committed disciple of Jesus Christ. No biographer of Bonhoeffer’s will again be able to get away with the unfounded assumption of Bonhoeffer’s turn toward violence. Even critics of the authors’ conclusions and convictions will be unable to accept without question the heretofore unquestioned wisdom about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Read other books on Bonhoeffer, including his own work, but read this one as a credible corrective to a myth that was all too easy to believe.

Disclaimer: I purchased my own copy of the book from Amazon and did not receive any inducement for this review.  -cw

Categories: Books, christian history, ethics, Resources

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4 replies

  1. I look forward to buying this book at some point. Whatever Bonhoeffer’s role was perceived to be, Christians lost perspective in extolling it. They forgot God’s sovereignty. How did God use Bohhoeffer? It was in many ways, including a prison ministry. But it was not in ridding the world of Hitler.

    “To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenseless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way.”– Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship)
    [I used this quote as the epigraph for my book on Christian pacifism.]

    Another faithful hero of the faith who saw clearly on these matters, Charles Spurgeon http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

Trackbacks

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