The other day I watched “Bonhoeffer” on DVD, about German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis near the end of WWII. I also have one of his books — I hope I don’t have the wrong title here, but I think it’s Discipleship.
Bonhoeffer is quite the interesting individual. He had some ideas that were quite unorthodox in his day — and some of which would still be considered unorthodox today! (Not necessarily un-Orthodox, mind you — lower-case “o”.) To give one example, according to the documentary, in German Evangelical (Lutheran) churches of the day, the Sermon on the Mount was something to convince you how sinful you are, but not something to strive to live up to because it was clearly not possible, and was therefore not what Jesus intended. Bonhoeffer disagreed and placed great emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount as a guide to what it means to be a Christian.
To give another, Bonhoeffer came to believe that Christian ethics and the will of God were not something to be found in a list or a simple set of rules, but rather have to be sought, and may not be immediately obvious. You can see here the struggles he had to deal with personally in Christian ethics, as he moved from a strong interest (perhaps even belief) in pacifism (perhaps as a reaction to WWI), to being a part of a conspiracy seeking to murder Hitler. According to the film, when his fellow conspirators worried if they were acting correctly, if it was in fact ethical to do what they sought to do, Bonhoeffer encouraged them that it was.
I have found the book difficult to read — 1940’s style prose is not my favorite, and Bonhoeffer definitely writes like a philosopher, not my favorite subject matter — so I’m glad I got the DVD. On a sad note, the director of the documentary says that for several of the friends/family members interviewed in the film, this was actually their last interview. And, if nothing else, it should give us all something to ponder…and pray that we, unlike Bonhoeffer and his friends and family, never have to move our pondering out of the realm of ideas.