Devotion, Doctrine, and Duty in Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- By: Bruce A. Demarest

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 148:592 (Oct 1991)
Article: Devotion, Doctrine, and Duty in Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Author: Bruce A. Demarest

Devotion, Doctrine, and Duty in Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bruce A. Demarest

Professor of Theology
Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary, Denver, Colorado

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1886–1945) is widely acknowledged as one of the most inspiring personalities of the 20th century. His principles of Christian living and courageous resistance against the Nazi regime during World War II have contributed to his broad popularity. Bonhoeffer’s ready acceptance by evangelical Christians has been spurred by the warmth and fervor of his devotional writings. The substance of his critical writings in theology and ethics is less familiar to the evangelical community. This article explores aspects of Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics, assesses the integration of devotion, doctrine, and duty in his writings, and invites a more accurate assessment of Bonhoeffer for Christian faith and life today.

Bonhoeffer on Personal Devotion

Bonhoeffer’s writings on the Christian life reflect a heart sensitive to the things of the Spirit. A few excerpts from his book Life Together (1939) confirm this judgment. Concerning principles of community, Bonhoeffer wrote, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.”1 Concerning Bible study he said, “We must learn to know the Scriptures again, as the Reformers and our fathers knew them. We must not grudge the time and the work that it takes. We must know the Scriptures first and

foremost for the sake of our salvation.”2 On prayer: “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses…. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day.”3 On small acts of helpfulness: “Only where hands are not too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness can the mouth joyfully and convincingly proclaim the message of God’s love and mercy.”4 And on spiritual authority: “The church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren…. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word.”5

Equally edifying are thoughts from Bonhoeffer’s <...

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