A dose of Bonhoeffer on “peace”

by Kim on June 29, 2010

“‘Let me hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace to his people, and to his faithful’ (Psalm 85:8). Between the twin crags of nationalism and internationalism, ecumenical Christendom calls upon its Lord and asks for guidance. Nationalism and internationalism have to do with political necessities and possibilities. The ecumenical church movement, however, does not concern itself with these things, but with the commandments of God, and regardless of consequences it transmits these commandments to the world … Peace on earth is not a problem, but a commandment given at Christ’s coming. There are two ways of reacting to this command from God: the unconditional, blind obedience of action, or the hypocritical question of the Serpent: ‘Did God say …?’ This question is the mortal enemy of obedience, and therefore the mortal enemy of all real peace … Has God not understood human nature well enough to know that wars must occur in the world, like laws of nature? Must God not have meant that we should talk about peace, to be sure, but that is not to be literally translated into action? Must God not really have said that we should work for peace, of course, but also make ready tanks and poison gas for security? And then perhaps the most serious question: Did God say you should not protect your own people? Did God say you should leave your own a prey to the enemy?

“No, God did not say all that. What God has said is that there shall be peace among all people - that we shall obey God without further question, that is what God means. Anyone who questions the commandment of God before obeying has already denied God …”

From a sermon preached at the Fano Ecumenical Conference, Denmark, on August 28th, 1934.
Cited in Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945 (London / New York: T&T Clark, 2010), p. 171.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }


Earl 06.29.10 at 2:26 pm

Bonhoeffer confronted a waning europe in crisis. In the face of weakness and accommodation, the competing ideologies of fascism, socialism and communism were moving toward critical confrontation in an apocalypse that would engulf the world. In the midst of that truce that allowed an exhausted europe to catch its breath, he supposes that to question is diabolical when that questioning focuses on the issue of peace? How so? How is it diabolical to question God? Briefly Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Mary, and even our Lord Jesus Christ voiced questions about seemingly settled issues. Is peace unquestionable? Why should it be? Why should peace be beyond question? Considered in the context of Bonhoeffer’s address, if beyond merely speaking Christendom expects to enter the chaos of competing self-destructive ideologies and therein build the prophetic peaceable kingdom, then Christian will have to do more than offer cerebral comments about the ultimate issues of life. Christendom will have to address that lost and unbelieving world with the message of peace that is found in a personal experience of Christ as Lord and Savior. Otherwise one may say “peace… peace” but there will be no peace. And until that day Bonhoeffer is tragic proof that those who to early beat their swords into plows end up plowing for those who do not beat their swords into plows.


dh 06.29.10 at 4:40 pm

“Christendom will have to address that lost and unbelieving world with the message of peace that is found in a personal experience of Christ as Lord and Savior. Otherwise one may say “peace… peace” but there will be no peace. And until that day Bonhoeffer is tragic proof that those who to early beat their swords into plows end up plowing for those who do not beat their swords into plows.”

Earl, perfectly said.


Paul Martin 06.29.10 at 6:32 pm

So that’s one scripture out the window!


Kim 06.29.10 at 6:43 pm

My dear Earl and DH, this is one of those “Do I laugh or cry?” moments, and a moment of exasperated temptation simply to hurl a couple of choice expletives at you two (*&&$@£”& and +@!@~& come to mind, if you can decode them) and leave it at that. It simply beggars belief - not to mention the intellect, the imagination, and the conscience - that you can reduce Bonhoeffer to a cerebrater; that you think the Christian project is to “build” the kingdom of God (a profoundly unbiblical notion); that you also think that having “a personal experience of Christ as Lord and Savior” is the holy grail of authentic peace-making (when in fact such pietsitic bullshit usually goes hand-in-hand with the privitisation of faith and quietist collusion with demonic powers); and that you miss Bonhoeffer’s essential, indeed his whole point, viz. that Jesus’ call for his followers to be peacemakers and practitioners of nonviolence demands absolute obedience (I wish you fundie types would take the Sermon on the Mount as literally as you take the rest of the Bible), not the equivocation of cross-and-flag nationalists like yourselves, who are among the kinds of Christians Bonhoeffer has in his sights (another being being wishy-washy liberals). Suspecting the kind of worship in which you will be participating next Sunday (July 4th), I shall pray for your benighted souls.


Earl 06.29.10 at 7:34 pm

Exasperation is understandable. But expletives? You can do better than that. Bonhoeffer was a superlative demonstration of Christian courage in the midst of that larger Christian community whose silence and accommodation served to enable the ascendancy of evil and a subsequent reign of terror the scars of which are with us to this day. Notably Bonhoeffer came to see the limits of pacifism in the shadows of the smoking fires that consumed not only the victims of concentration camps but the life and people of Germany.

I make no apologies for asserting that it is the role of the Church to be involved in the work of the Kingdom. If this is described as building, announcing, bringing in, living, etc., so be it. Jesus preached it and He invited us to enter into it and be a part of it.

Peace making begins as one finds peace in ones heart through a personal faith relationship with Christ as Savior and Lord. Apart from that reality, one has not peace but merely a truce… a silencing of the guns until hostilities begin anew. Personal peace or world peace cannot be found apart from that peace that is found in Christ.

As to your other objections, it calls to mind a tale I was once told of a farmer who went on a quail hunt. He decided it was pointless to continue when his bird dog stopped pointing quail and started chasing rabbits.

And as to your concerns about the kind of worship in which I and others will share this coming July 4th, our theme will be, “For Freedom!” and is drawn from a little bit of something Paul wrote to the believers in Galatia… it goes like this… “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 NASV).


dh 06.29.10 at 8:23 pm

Well, I do know that Earl and I spoke the truth in love. As for the expletives , it seems that it isn’t Earl and I’s fault. We never attacked anyone or anything. Why the need for expletives? Also Kim, did we bring up any “nationalism”? I don’t even think that subject was even brought up by us until the final sentence of Earl last statement.

Earl, again your response was even better than the first.

I find it interesting that people think that peacemaking can be pursued without one having a relationship with Christ with Scripture saying: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and Believe in your heart that God has risen from the dead you shall be saved.” with “Tho I speak with the tounges of men and have not love I am a clanging gong and cymbal.Thou I give ones self to be burned (at the stake) and have not love I’m a clanging gong.” Wit the understanding that true peacemaking to occur absolute love must be there than one can see that one cannot “prooftext” the Sermon on the Mount. :)


dh 06.29.10 at 8:33 pm

Paul, what Scripture out the window? No Scriptures were thrown out the window. This subject is way bigger than one Scripture. Scripture is not looked at at one passage alone but many taken as a whole.

For example: I believe strongly that Jesus’s response to the moneychangers by throwing them out of the temple with a whip was perfectly appropriate. However, Kim and others would not consider that “peacemaking” under their definition of “peacemaking”. One must understand the appropriate definition and context of the term to show that Jesus’s response WAS consistent and that being a peacemaker is not solely “non-violent” or that being “non-violent” is approriate in the absolute sense.


dh 06.29.10 at 8:34 pm

What Earl is saying that being a peacemaker doesn’t mean being non-violent in each and every case. One can be a peacemaker in many different ways.


Kim 06.29.10 at 9:23 pm

Earl and DH, Bonhoeffer impressed Karl Barth at their first meeting by quoting Luther: “For God, the cursing of the godless person can be more agreeable than the hallelujahs of the pious!” I wonder what you make of that.

In an infamous ecclesiastical scandal, the “Dehn case”, in 1933, Bonhoeffer supported Berlin Pastor Günther Dehn when he spoke against having war memorials in churches and describing the deaths of soldiers as “holy sacrifices”. I wonder what you make of that too.

Bonhoeffer remained a pacifist to his dying day. Had he been called to serve in the army, he prayed he would have the courage to refuse - and suffer the dire consequences. As for his participation as a double agent in the plot to kill Hitler, Bonhoeffer regarded it as necessary in this particular exceptional circumstance, but he also insisted that tyrannicide is still murder, and that his involvement was therefore sinful; he was prepared to accept his guilt, praying for the forgiveness of his sin. Indeed Bonhoeffer reflected deeply on whether he could remain a minister were the assassination to succeed.

I trust in your sermon, Earl, if it’s on Galatians 5:1, that you will explain the difference between libertas Christiana and “freedom” as in “the land of the free”, and point out the idolatry of any civic religion that confounds the two.


Earl 06.30.10 at 12:17 am

For good cause Bonhoeffer has earned the respect and admiration of many. His quoting of Luther is not surprising. Many have found the mind and work of Luther to be a delightful garden that continues to yield fruit in its season. From the quote cited, both Bonhoeffer and Barth shared Luther’s preference for that which was genuine over that which was pretense.

Regarding a call to military service, refusal would have entailed severe consequences. Through a family member Bonhoeffer obtained a position in Military Intelligence by which he avoided conscription.

Along with Dehn and others Bonhoeffer rejected efforts of the Reich to bring the Evangelical Church into line with National Socialist ideology. The subsequent Barmen Declaration clarified what the legitimate German Church believed over against Nazi ideology. A contemporary parallel may be seen in the Manhattan Declaration.

Bonhoeffer’s pacifism was tempered by the unpleasant reality of his “exceptional circumstances.” His insistence that assassination of Hitler would have constituted murder fails to persuade.

Galatians has been aptly described as the “Magna Charta of Christian liberty.” That broad theme will underlie the use and application made of the text. Thank you for your gracious and thoughtful suggestions in developing and presenting this text in worship.


Pam 06.30.10 at 3:34 am

Tips on resolving conflict:
Use friendly, co-operative language. (dh and Earl are good at this but don’t actually veer from their point of view).
Open up to the other person’s reality. (that requires empathy).
Talk about mutual gains. (you know, respect for each other).
Let generosity be an explicit value. (give, give, give).
Keep banging your heads against the brick wall (as you all seem to enjoy doing).


Pam 06.30.10 at 6:48 am

Just came across this verse dh and Earl might like:
From William Butler Yeats -
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


Earl 06.30.10 at 1:34 pm

Yeats gave voice to those nightmare years that broke the heart of european innocence. He understood the silence of 11/11/18 was not permanent. His foreboding sense of the future was a tragic prophesy fulfilled on 9/1/1939.


dh 06.30.10 at 3:15 pm

Kim, Earl and I are not “Godless people”. Also, Luther was human and we all sin and I don’t believe that if one follows God that one should use expletives at people. Luther’s view went against Scripture and sinned in attitude by advocating using expletves toward people. Also, yet we know that he sinned by wanting certain books of the Bible removed. However, that doesn’t diminish all of the many other things where his fruit epitomized what true Christian character is and the lives that have been changed over to the goodness of God due to Luther’s heart for God.


dh 06.30.10 at 3:22 pm

Pam, thanks for the kind words. What’s tough is when the song by Billy Joel happens to ones life and you are faced with a “We didn’t start the fire.” situation. Pam, it is hard when initially one states the Truth in love and it is looked at as “starting a fire” when in fact it shouldn’t be looked at that nor would anyone else look at it as that.

Well I wasn’t trying to start a debate but if that were the case, using expletives just shows who won Earl and I. However beyond that I choose not to use that language because I truly care about people.

Pam and others I truly care about all of you. If that doesn’t come across I apologize but really I don’t feel that Earl and I deserved the treatment we received and our responses. So for that I speak “Grace” to Kim and to all who hear.


Kim 06.30.10 at 3:31 pm

A contemporary parallel [of the Barmen Declaration] may be seen in the Manhattan Declaration.

“Parallel?” I think the word your’re looking for, Earl, is “parody”. The Manhattan Declaration was a self-important and self-serving puff of wind by an ecumenical hodgepodge of the religious right in the wake of its popular decline, not to mention its resentment at the Obama presidency, trumpeting “family values” against the usual suspects while remaining stentorianly silent about nationalism, militarism, poverty, and oppression. But then if George Bush, in two speeches, could co-opt Bonhoeffer in support of the invasion of Iraq, I guess it’s not surprising to hear the Barmen Declaration dissed in this way.


dh 06.30.10 at 3:49 pm

Kim, I know no pastor who is “silent about poverty and oppression”. I know no pastor who doesn’t believe as Christians we must give to he poor and help the oppressed. Your response implies that if one doesn’t support the Obama presidency that one is “silent on poverty and oppression”.

Barmen declaration dissed? hogwash.

Bonhoeffer a pascifist? didn’t he fight against the Nazi’s? the more this subject is discussed by the left the more “revisionist history” occurs bu that is nothing new.


Kim 06.30.10 at 6:17 pm

That’s it. That’s enough. I’m taking a pledge - may lightning strike me! - NEVER to respond to DH again. If, by his last comment, especially the last paragraph, he’s trying to wind me up, he has succeeded. If he is serious, then his ignorance or deceitfulness has reached new levels of making intelligent and fruitful conversation quite impossible. The spelling and smarm don’t help either. I’ll leave attempts at either his conversion or his exorcism to the rest of you more patient - or more masochistic - souls. Every blessing.


Earl 06.30.10 at 6:56 pm

Briefly “parallel” describes aptly both the declarations of Breman and Manhattan. If that should fail to satisfy ones politics, then one must be dissatisfied.


Richard 06.30.10 at 9:29 pm

I have to say, it’s a big stretch to find a parallel between the declarations of Barmen and Manhattan. That hasn’t got anything to do with my politics. They’re just not parallel documents in any worthwhile sense.

DH - on Bonhoeffer’s pacificism, here’s John de Gruchy
“Bonhoeffer’s reluctant involvement in the conspiracy against Hitler certainly does not provide unambiguous Christian justification for resorting to violence and war. He knew only too well that even a “just war” is still war with all its awful consequences. Rather, Bonhoeffer confronts us as someone who, in following Christ, made a personally costly decision that doing nothing to rid the world of Hitler was worse than doing what he did, however ambiguous the moral issues. That is what peacemaking demanded of him at that time and place. In making that decision he could only “sin boldly” and cast himself on the grace of God.”


dh 06.30.10 at 10:39 pm

Kim, I truly wasn’t trying to get you going but pointing out the fact that he DID advocate going against the Nazi’s by supporting the conspiracy against Hitler. I’m not ignorant or deceitful but pointing out the fact. I also might add that I do not believe Bonhoeffer “sinned” by doing what he did. I too consider Bonhoeffer a wonderful Christian in extreme admiration. I’m sorry for the confusion on my part but to me a person who says they are a pascifist but supports taking on Hitler and the Nazi’s is not a pascifist. Richard’s clrification is great. I might add that while Bonhoeffer was humble by thinking he “sinned badly” I personally believe that he did NOT sin and that the attitude of what he pursued in the end is why the UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, etc., etc. are democratic and free nations where religious freedom exist today.


dh 06.30.10 at 10:39 pm


Richard 06.30.10 at 11:30 pm

>> “I might add that while Bonhoeffer was humble by thinking he “sinned badly” I personally believe that he did NOT sin …”

That’s hardly surprising, but not at all relevant. The discussion is about Bonhoeffer’s attitude, not yours.


dh 07.01.10 at 3:07 am

Well whether or not I believe he sinned. God knows he didn’t and the fruit from his attitude after WWII shows that . “By their fruit you shall know them.” So you see Richard you are correct and thanks for the clarification.


Pam 07.01.10 at 10:33 am

dh and Earl, my comment “Use friendly co-operative language (dh and Earl are good at this, but don’t actually veer from their point of view)” was not meant as praise, flexibility in seeing others’ opinions as valid was my point. Also, Earl, the Yeats poem, like all great literature, can be interpreted apart from the specific time at which it was written. Kinda like the bible.


Earl 07.01.10 at 2:38 pm

Praise? Perish the thought! Why that sort of thing might get out of hand. It could even lead to koinenia. Why that even Biblical. Imagine that. On the internet… koinenia. One can only imagine all that might lead to. No better that we keep our razors sharp and at the ready. You never can tell when there might be a need for a little slicing and dicing.

With respect interpretation is not invention. If one is to grasp the meaning of a text, either sacred or secular, then one must begin with that text taken within its context. One must weigh other significant information having to do with the author and his work. Then one may begin to understand, interpret and make application of that text with respect to the thought and intent of the author as well as ones current reality. But to take a text, either sacred or secular, and seek to interpret it divorced from its context is simply eisegesis.


dh 07.01.10 at 3:33 pm

Pam, Scripture is more than just “great literature” and as such must be looked at just like Earl says. What I say is Scripture in light of Scripture and looking at the Scriptures before and after a specific passage for propr understanding of the literal passage meaning.


Richard 07.01.10 at 3:42 pm

>> “No better that we keep our razors sharp and at the ready. You never can tell when there might be a need for a little slicing and dicing.”

Forgive me saying so, but that would be easier to take from someone less inclined to wield a razor.

>> “But to take a text, either sacred or secular, and seek to interpret it divorced from its context is simply eisegesis.”

A big part of me agrees with you absolutely. But we must also recognize that there is alot of precedent in the history of the church for this sort of eisegesis: it can’t always be condemned out of hand. And don’t forget that the cultural context in which a text is read will influence the way it is interpreted at least as much as the context in which it was written.


dh 07.01.10 at 4:04 pm

“And don’t forget that the cultural context in which a text is read will influence the way it is interpreted at least as much as the context in which it was written.” and that is the problem and why Earl and I look at Scripture the way we do. Whn Scripture says specifically what is sin, Salvation, ho to live for Christ, etc. and culture says otherwise thereby making the interpretation of Scripture to be totally out-of-context that is a problem and therefore the concern Earl and I have with this growing trend in the church. sad, very sad


Earl 07.01.10 at 5:49 pm

“…that would be easier to take from someone less inclined to wield a razor.” Surely you jest! I never use anything but a pen knife.

“there is a lot of precedent…”

It is the obligation of the interpreter to keep faith with the author and text. Integrity offers nothing less. This keeping of faith may conflict with precedence. In that case respect for integrity trumps precedence.

As regards eisegesis, I am most cautious of taking it in hand. At best it is a poor substitute for exegesis. In rawest form, it walks on the text using it as a means to an end. Beginning with the text in its context and then proceeding to where that text leads honors the text rather than using it as a tool of legitimization ala proof-texting.

Responsible exegesis is of course informed by the varied contexts of culture, history, language, etc. Subsequent textual application is rooted in the work of exegesis. It is made relevant as it is addressed to the life situation and practical needs of the audience. In application one cannot “ease” the text, like one might alter a to snug coat, so as to make it better fit the audience. We are called to be ministers and not tailors of the Truth.

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