9 Bonhoeffer Quotes to Remember a Pastor Who Resisted Evil Unto Death

By Ryan Stewart 4-08-2016
Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

If there was ever a Christian who practiced what he preached, it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

A theologian adored by evangelicals and liberals alike, Bonhoeffer is often invoked in support of action. Decrying the "cheap grace" of the German church, Bonhoeffer heralded "costly grace" — a grace that might cost a Christian his or her very life.

After Hitler rose to power Bonhoeffer left his post at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and his new fiancee, to return to Nazi Germany. He would soon be accused of joining the plot to assassinate the Führer, and spend two years in prison.

The German pastor was executed by the Nazi regime at Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the United States liberated the camp. When he died he famously remarked to another prisoner, "This is the end — but for me, the beginning."

Here are 11 quotes often attributed to Bonhoeffer to remember his radical legacy:

On returning to Nazi Germany:

I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the 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.

On the "great venture" of peace:

There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture.

On living with your enemies:

Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.

On systemic injustice:

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.

On loving Christian community:

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

On revolutionary Christianity:

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear ... Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.

On reconciliation through Christ:

The world is overcome not through destruction, but through reconciliation. Not ideals, nor programs, nor conscience, nor duty, nor responsibility, nor virtue, but only God's perfect love can encounter reality and overcome it. Nor is it some universal idea of love, but rather the love of God in Jesus Christ, a love genuinely lived, that does this.

On silent theology:

We must finally stop appealing to theology to justify our reserved silence about what the state is doing — for that is nothing but fear. ‘Open your mouth for the one who is voiceless’ — for who in the church today still remembers that that is the least of the Bible’s demands in times such as these?

On Christ's ultimate command:

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

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Ryan Stewart

Ryan Stewart is a Masters of Divinity student at Yale Divinity School, where he studies race, religion, and literature. You can find him on Twitter @RyanMcStew.

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