Five problems with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and why he should not be a martyr
Like many others, German theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer did his part to save Jews during the holocaust. But he was also politically motivated and openly criticized the evil Nazi regime. He joined the underground resistance that implicated him with Operation Valkyrie. Such is problematic for someone tasked with kingdom-building.
When a plot to assassinate Hitler failed, Deitrich was one of hundreds of suspects executed for treason. His death did not make a difference, nor did it inspire a movement for peace or “gospel movement” because World War 2 ended—just weeks after he was “allegedly martyred.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a hero but not a martyr
Seven of the apostles were martyred for refusing to deny Jesus. Their death was a testimony that bolstered “The Way.” Bonhoeffer is hailed as a martyr, though he was hanged as a dissident.
1. Silence is not collaboration with wrongdoing
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is honored for his stand against injustice and preaching “costly grace.” Initially a pacifist (advocates for non-violence), he risked his life for openly rebuking the Nazi regime.
Dietrich felt strongly that Christians who remained silent in the face of injustice failed in their moral duty. He saw silence as a form of collaboration with wrongdoing, turning God’s divine favor into “cheap grace.”
The irony of Bonhoeffer’s “unsilence” is his execution just a month before WW2 ended.
Cheap grace and social justice
The concept of ‘cheap grace‘ was articulated by Pastor Dietrich in his book ‘Cost of DIscipleship’ published in 1937. He is absolutely right that grace should never be preached without requiring repentance.
The apostles fought against all forms of cheap grace but fell silent on the “political injustice” that caused the “social injustice.”
They refrained from actively opposing the government and religious leaders but addressed social injustice by selling their properties, sharing resources to help the helpless.
There is wisdom in silence and meekness
- There are no records of Jesus criticizing or openly opposing the evil Roman Empire.
- The Bible teaches us to speak out against injustice but also tells us to live a “peaceable life” as our testimony (1 Timothy 2:2).
- Jesus advocates for non-retaliation (Matthew 5:39) and the apostles for meekness (Galatians 6:1), for there is wisdom in silence. [See commentary on Matthew 5:5]
2. Religionless Christianity and ecumenism
Bonhoeffer developed the concept of “religionless Christianity” while he was imprisoned. It calls for faith beyond traditional religious practices, clearly to encourage Christians to fight against the evil Nazi government.
Religionless Christianity emphasizes a personal relationship with God but without the necessity for a religious institution. He argued that faith should be lived out in the secular realm rather than confined to church traditions—which opposes the concept of fellowship in Hebrews 10:25.
In contrast, theologian Karl Barth believed in the importance of traditional Christian practices. He rejected Bonhoeffer’s “natural theology,” which seeks to find God through human reasoning and mere experience. Bohoeffer’s concept may dilute the core Christianity, which is lived specially from within the community. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)
Bonhoeffer advocated for ecumenism, emphasizing unity among Christians from various traditions through shared worship, prayer, and action. Understandably, his motivation is clearly driven by political concerns, notably his strong opposition to Nazism.
3. We are not called to be social justice warriors
Church leaders and churches have honored Dietrich Bonhoeffer for doing his job as a pastor and as a Christian who stood against evil. He is also hailed for his commitment to social justice.
He is often the inspiration of some preachers who are sincere social justice warriors—fighting social injustices and attempting to put down a corrupt government.
In the Philippines, Christian leaders, led by the council of evangelical churches, campaign to install a “righteous government.” Its leaders endorse politicians and occasionally tell the government what it should do.
4. Flawed motivation on justice and divine suffering
Bonhoeffer’s writings, particularly “The Cost of Discipleship,” had an impact on like-minded Christians. He argued that we should not retreat from the world but act from within because two elements constitute faith: the implementation of justice and the acceptance of divine suffering.
Implementation of justice
Apostle Paul consistently reminds us that we are “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20). There is no indication in the scriptures that implementing justice is the way of the apostles or of Christ. There will be true justice when Jesus returns.
Divine suffering is when we’re persecuted for our faith. Saints don’t get martyred for opposing bad leadership but for proclaiming who Jesus is for the glory of our Father in heaven.
While it is unthinkable for six million Jews to die and millions more to suffer, like them, we suffer for obeying God. Christians die for the gospel—not for political change.
5. Ten Booms: “Silent Acts of Courage”
There have been countless Christians who’ve helped the persecuted Jews escape the holocaust—that’s our role as Christians. The Ten Boom family exemplifies martyrdom. They silently resisted the Nazis and were ready to die for other people.
Casper and Bonhoeffer
Casper Ten Boom, the family patriarch, risked his life and his children by sheltering Jews and the Dutch resistance. They were later caught, and he died after nine days in prison.
Corrie Ten Boom, who survived the Ravensbrück concentration camp because of a clerical error, lived to tell that “In the darkness, God’s truth shines most clear.”
The point is that the Ten Booms and Bonhoeffer displayed great faith and courage. Hence, we should give the Ten Booms the same accolade we give Bonhoeffer.
Yet, in the eyes of the Romans, the apostles died for their faith, but Bonhoeffer died as a traitor in the eyes of his enemies.
Not we, but evil shall slay the wicked
History continues to repeat itself. In 2006, the Palestinian people elected the evil Hamas terrorist to rule. For nearly twenty years, they’ve used people and their resources to send suicide bombers and missiles to annihilate the Jews. [History of Palestine]
The government they chose failed to destroy Israel but succeeded in destroying themselves as their country sunk into poverty. They brought judgment and destruction to themselves.
During the destruction of Jews in 70 A.D., Christians escaped Nero to continue their work. Four hundred years later, barbarians overthrew the Roman Empire. [Jewish History]
The point is that our role as Christians is not to overthrow an evil government, for “evil shall slay the wicked” (Psalm 34:21).