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

It is the 4th of February 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

We start today’s show with another question- feel free to pause the show, talk amongst yourselves and then come back for my answers.

Who are the most famous and influential Christians of the 20th century?

You might think of Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and perhaps Pope John Paul II in terms of fame and name recognition.

I might suggest a one-two punch of C.S. Lewis and Karl Barth when it comes to theology. They both were theologians of their time- trying to bridge what was modern with historic faith, both with an ecumenical spirit.

But we’re missing one- one about whom there are at least eight movies about his life, eight plays have been produced as well as an opera and oratorio. I suppose that’s what happens when you combine a witness for Christ, a global following across denominations, and Nazis. Today we remember the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the anniversary of his birth in 1906 in Breslau (Prussian and then German but is today Polish and called Wroclaw to pronounce as Vratslav).

His father was a professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Berlin. He would oppose Hitler’s plan for euthanizing those deemed “unfit”- the apple wouldn’t fall far from the tree as Bonhoeffer would lose his life opposing Hitler. But we will get to that.

IN the 1920s, Bonhoeffer studied at Tübingen and Berlin under the big names in German theology - names like Harnack and Barth. Like Barth, and influenced by him, Bonhoeffer would attempt to bring theology into the modern world and unite disparate followers of Jesus in a perilous time.

Bonhoeffer gained an international following after serving German-speaking parishes in Barcelona and London and doing Post Grad work, and teaching at Union Theological Seminary. Here, he began to worship and teach Sunday school at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Here, he would start his fascination with African American hymnody and worship- he took records and instruments back to Germany to amaze his students.

Bonhoeffer came back to Germany in 1931 and was appointed a lecturer in Systematic Theology. He was also appointed a "European youth secretary of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches.”

His ecumenicism was shaped by his concern for what was happening in Germany after the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the church’s seeming acquiescence to fascism.

Here, he would join other German Christians to form the Confessing Church. This was a church formed in conscious opposition to the German Christian Church- which like the German Catholic Church, had signed agreements with Hitler and the Nazis to avoid persecution.

After being deemed unfit to teach by the state in 1935, he would be involved in covert theological teaching in what has been called a “seminary on the run.” His two most significant works, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, must be read in this context- in an apocalyptic fight against evil- on the run, betrayed. Taken as “systematic theology,” these books have been found wanting by many Lutherans- but as historical documents that witness Christ amid evil and suffering, they are remarkable.

As you might imagine, this put him in the crosshairs at home, and soon an old friend from New York reached out to help. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr arranged for Bonhoeffer to come back to Union Seminary to teach in 1939. Dietrich took him up on his offer but soon felt regret. Within a month, he decided to head back and wrote to Niebuhr.

“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.”

Bonhoeffer signed up with the Abwehr- a kind of German Secret Service infiltrated by many who opposed Hitler. This would keep Bonhoeffer from being drafted and give him inside knowledge of the resistance he saw as part of his Christian duty.

Bonhoeffer would relay information to the British, proving his downfall. He was arrested in 1943, and after the attempt on Hitler’s life in 1944, Bonhoeffer was linked to that group and sent to the death camp at Buchenwald.

He would write what would be collected as the “Letters and Papers from Prison.” Dietrich was sent to Flossenbürg Concentration camp, where he was executed by hanging in April of 1945.

The theology of Bonhoeffer is complicated, needs to be contextualized, and will be the subject of an upcoming Weekend Edition of the Christian History Almanac. Born on this day in 1906, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was 39 when he was killed.

The Last Word for today comes from Luke 17:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of February 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Dietrich’s include Bonhoeffer, Marlena, and Colonel Dietrich, the NAZI from Raiders of the Lost Ark. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose favorite is Dietrich? My old boss Martin is the one-time purveyor of the tiniest coffee in Southern California. I am 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.