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On the puzzle of Bonhoeffer’s activism

Summary

John Stackhouse explains how unusual this pastor’s concern for the Jews was in his context.

Summary

John Stackhouse explains how unusual this pastor’s concern for the Jews was in his context.

Transcript

It is quite a puzzle, actually, why Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw so clearly and so early that caring for the fate of the Jews was integral to Christian testimony during these terrible times. It’s not obvious where this comes from, because he had a pretty standard-brand German education, which would not have been particularly favourable toward the Old Testament, toward the Jewish heritage of Christianity. In fact, quite the contrary, a hundred years of liberal theology in Germany had generally relegated the Old Testament to the dustbin. With, you can imagine, accompanying feelings toward the Jews.

Bonhoeffer was related to Jews, though, through his family. As lots of Germans were, however, so that doesn’t really account for it either. So it emerges as an intriguing puzzle, as to why did this conventionally trained theologian and pastor have such a strong and clear devotion to the Jews? And the one element that some of his biographers have pointed to was his time in America, when he studied in New York City, and he saw how American Blacks were being treated in this ostensibly Christian country. And the one thing that makes Bonhoeffer different than most of his German counterparts is this encounter with American racism. And so I wonder if that’s the element that sensitised him in a way that lots of other otherwise honourable Germans were not.