A Critique Of Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus At All Costs -- By: Samuel C. Smith

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 20:39 (Autumn 2007)
Article: A Critique Of Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus At All Costs
Author: Samuel C. Smith


A Critique Of Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus At All Costs

Samuel C. Smith

Associate Professor of History
Liberty University
Lynchburg, VA.

I. Introduction

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and writings appeal to many evangelical Christians. His personal courage in the face of the Nazi regime has won him many adherents. His willingness to endure the hardships of tyranny to the point of giving his life (executed in 1944) has drawn well deserved admiration. Indeed, such bravery and authenticity is commendable under any circumstances.

As is often the case in religion and politics, however, martyrdom covers a multitude of sins. As much as one may admire the man, his doctrinal errors, which were serious, should not be overlooked. Christians must distinguish between the bravery of the man and the corpus of his beliefs. Sadly, that distinction has faded.

In his very interesting book, Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus at All Costs,1 Mark DeVine, professor at Midwestern Theological Seminary, seeks to draw his fellow conservative evangelicals into the Bonhoeffer orb. After a succinct chapter surveying Bonhoeffer’s life, DeVine makes a compelling case for following Bonhoeffer in several areas.

Early in his theological studies, Bonhoeffer experienced what De-Vine called an “awakening.” “For the first time I discovered the Bible,” Bonhoeffer wrote. Before this discovery, he added, “I had not yet

become a Christian.” That conversion led to a strong “Back to the Bible” foundation from which all of his theology would develop.2 DeVine rightly argues that Bonhoeffer’s desire to let the Bible be the ultimate authority over human experience should be emulated. His critique of “immediacy-dependent approaches” rebukes the modern church that is immersed in theological pragmatism.3 “Do not get into the habit of interpreting Scripture in the light of personal experience,” Bonhoeffer wrote. Along these same lines, he stressed that the mentality that gives way to spiritual hunches disguised as the leading of the Lord has created confusion in the Church especially in the area of discovering God’s will. Bon-hoeffer’s use of the Bible as the principal means to finding God’s will is similar to Garry Friesen’s perspective in his Decision Making and the Will of God.4 One can also admire Bonhoeffer’s balanced approach to the issue o...

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