Tag: sermon on the mount

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

Bonhoeffer the assassin? Think again professor says

Mark Thiessen Nation, professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, has broken new ground in the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Nation’s new book, co-written with two former students, argues that Bonhoeffer was a pacifist from the time of his tenure in America in about 1931.  Going against the conventional wisdom that Bonhoeffer was a co-conspirator in one or more plots to kill Hitler, Nation et al assert that Bonhoeffer was and remained a Christian pacifist, committed to the “costly discipleship” of which he wrote so powerfully.

As a fan of Bonhoeffer’s I was always troubled by his alleged involvement in the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler, which seemed at odds with his complete commitment to the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount.  One of the classic lines of Christian literature is Bonhoeffer’s “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” from The Cost of Discipleship, now re-titled in a new Bonhoeffer edition as just Discipleship. Now there is strong evidence that Bonhoeffer was executed, not for his attempt to kill Hitler, but for his unswerving commitment to Christ and his consistent pacifism.  If true, and I hope it will attract further examination, Bonhoeffer emerges as a true martyr for Christ, not just another Christian who resorted to violence to combat evil.

Nation presented the results of the team’s research at a colloquium at EMU.  You can listen to the podcast, which runs about an hour, plus 20+ minutes for questions from the audience.   You can also download the podcast from EMU’s iTunes selections.  Nation’s case is well-made, with compelling stories and illustrations from Bonhoeffer’s life.  The podcast is worth an hour.  The book will be published by Baker Academic some time next year.

Review: “Kingdom Ethics” Transforms Life in the Way of Jesus

Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee.  InterVarsity Press, 2003. 491 pages.

In Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen (Fuller Seminary) and David Gushee (McAfee School of Theology) provide a Christian ethic rooted in the idea of the Kingdom of God as defined by Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. But this is not a typical treatment of either.

Perhaps the most helpful aspect of their Kingdom perspective is the section on the “Transforming Initiatives of the Sermon on the Mount.” The authors present the commonly held views of The Sermon on the Mount, but then move to give new meaning to the Sermon and its application through a new look at the construction of each teaching section.

The heart of their argument is that Jesus’s teaching is a tripartite entity, dealing with the problem, the vicious circle caused by the problem, and the transforming Kingdom initiative which places both the problem and those involved in it, in a new light.  An example would be:

  • Traditional Righteousness: Matthew 5:38 — “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'”
  • Vicious Cycle: Matthew 5:39 — “But I say to you, do not retaliate vengefully by evil means.” (This is the vicious cycle of violence, retaliation, and more violence.)
  • Transforming Initiative: Matthew 5:40-42 — “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if any one wants to sue you and take your coat give your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go the second mile.  Give to one who begs from you, and do not refuse one who would borrow from you.”

The authors contend that the entire Sermon on the Mount features this pattern of Jesus presenting the traditional view, the vicious cycle that results, and the alternative way of the Kingdom.  Rather than the Sermon being an ideal, but unattainable

Continue reading “Review: “Kingdom Ethics” Transforms Life in the Way of Jesus”