Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran minister, theologian, and martyr. He was born into a prominent middle-class family at Breslau (WrocÃ??aw), the sixth of eight children. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, an agnostic, was one of the most distinguished neurologists in Germany as a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Berlin and the director of the psychiatric clinic at CharitÃ??Ã?Â© Hospital in Berlin. His mother, Paula von Hase, was a granddaughter of Karl von Hase, a distinguished church historian and preacher to the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Bonhoeffer family was not notably religious, although Paula homeschooled the children until each was six or seven and read them Bible stories. Dieterich was an exceptional pianist and athlete but surprised his parents when he decided as a teenager to become a theologian and later a minister. After attending TÃ??Ã?Â¼bingen University and the University of Berlin, Bonhoeffer spent a year in 1928-1929 as minister of a German community in Barcelona, Spain. He returned to the University of Berlin to work on his thesis then went to the United States in 1930 for postgraduate study and a teaching fellowship at New York City's Union Theological Seminary where he studied under Reinhold Niebuhr and met Frank Fisher with whom he attended the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
Following his return to Germany from America in 1931, Dietrich became a lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Berlin and was appointed a secretary by the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches, a forerunner of the World Council of Churches. However, with the Nazi rise to power and takeover of the German Church, Bonhoeffer became one of the founders of the opposition Confessing Church. Upon completing a two-year appointment with two German-speaking Protestant churches in London, England, he returned to Germany to conduct an underground seminary and published his best-known book, The Cost of Discipleship, a study on the Sermon on the Mount, in which he not only attacked "cheap grace" as a cover for ethical laxity but also preached "costly grace." During this time he became involved with the Abwehr German military intelligence organization, which was the seat of anti-Hitler resistance, in several plots to overthrow Hitler. Escaping to the United States in 1939, he soon regretted his decision and returned to Germany to continue his work with Abwehr, helping Jews escape to Switzerland. Eventually arrested in 1943 and imprisoned for a year and a half, Bonhoeffer was executed in 1945, just weeks before Germany surrendered.
I first became acquainted with the name of Bonhoeffer when a teenager by reading an article entitled "Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Qualified Disciple." I do not now remember where I saw it or who wrote it. Later, I received a copy of The Cost of Discipleship from my great aunt and read it. More recently, we obtained the CD audiodrama Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom from the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre series to hear while on car trips. So I thought that it would be nice to read a biography of Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas has recently written a definitive biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy published by Thomas Nelson, but I wanted something more suitable for children. I remembered that there was a biography of Bonhoeffer in the excellent "Heroes of the Faith" series by Barbour Publishing. We already had some of these 37 books, including ones about Sojourner Truth, Corrie ten Boom, Fanny Crosby, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, and C. S. Lewis. Unfortunately, they are no longer available, but I found a used copy. I enjoyed reading it. Please understand that this is not a blanket endorsement of Bonhoeffer's beliefs. He was a product of German liberalism, and while he gravitated towards Karl Barth's neo-orthodoxy, he continued to promote the social gospel concept and ecumenism. There are many "heroes" of history with whose religious beliefs we may not always agree but may still learn from their convictions and courage in other areas. Certainly, we can appreciate Bonhoeffer's resistance and opposition to the evil Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler.show more
by Wayne S. Walker