Friday, July 8, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we tell the story of Bonhoeffer’s return from America to Hitler’s Germany.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 8th of July 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

“Are there any topics you would prefer not to bring up on your show”?

This, and versions of this question, are not uncommon. After all, when you’re teaching involves history and faith, and identity, sometimes that means you dance around sacred cows.

And in a very online-passive format like a podcast and a 5 minute one, sometimes it’s easier to let certain things zoom past me. And in a sense, the longer Weekend Edition format is designed for me to let some topics like this breathe. And in some ways, I’m just talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is one of the most significant theologians of the 20th century as well as the ultimate wax nose in the 21st century- “biographies” of the man (please note I’ve put that in quotes) can often tell us more about the author than Bonhoeffer. I digress, and a Weekend Edition on the man and his biographies is on the menu for later in the year.

But we’ve got a date for you- and him, today.

Brief bio: Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau in 1906. Like other Protestants in Prussia, he would be a member of the Evangelical State Church. So… your favorite German Luther theologian was Prussian (or Polish today) and a member of a Union church of Lutherans and Calvinists. See what we can do with him!

He was a professor's son, which would presage his academic life. Dietrich went to the Universities of Tuebingen and Berlin. There he began his fascination with the history of the church and historical theology, as well as a love of Karl Barth and the sociological dimensions of theology.

In 1928 and 1929, he served a German-speaking congregation in Barcelona and then spent a year as an exchange student in New York at Union Theological Seminary.

Meanwhile, the Weimar Republic back in Germany completely revolutionized German society. Germany had its first experiment in modern democracy and a disestablished church. And while there are implications for this and the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, it is also essential to think of how this affected the church and those theologians like Bonhoeffer, whose work dealt with the intersection of the state and faith.

From 1931 Bonhoeffer taught at the University of Berlin. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer became one of his most vociferous opponents- of course, not to ruin the end of the story, but his life ends in execution at a concentration camp.

From 1933-35 Dietrich would serve as a pastor of German-speaking congregations in London. But his fellow Christians' plight back home led to him returning and setting up an underground Seminary in Pomerania. Here he would compose two of his most important works- the Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

In 1939, seeing that his work was becoming increasingly dangerous, he went to the United States again under Reinhold Niebuhr's sponsorship. It would be safer here. Here he could write without fear of the Nazis. But, after only two weeks in New York, he wrote to Niebuhr:

“I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation so that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make this choice in security.”

And so, on the 8th of July in 1939, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went home… and was heading to his death. Perhaps appropriate for the man who wrote that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer would be executed within five years.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 82 on false Gods.

“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
 They walk about in darkness;
 all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
 you are all sons of the Most High.’

But you will die like mere mortals;
 you will fall like every other ruler.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
 for all the nations are your inheritance.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of July 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who, on this national freezer pop day, bemoans the loss of colors in Otter Pops. He Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who wonders if we say “Weimar” with a “V” sound, should we say Barcelona with a “th”? These are the questions I have; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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