Dietrich Bonhoffer on Cheap Grace

Dietrich Bonhoffer (1906-1945) was born into a family of seven children in Breslau, Germany.

He grew up in Berlin, where his father worked as a  prominent professor of psychiatry and neurology; his mother was one of the few women of her generation to obtain a university degree.

Bonhoffer was a German pastor who lived during the era of Adolph Hitler. He was the first of the German theologians to speak out clearly against the persecution of the Jews. Of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before the Holocaust, approximately two-thirds were killed. Over one million Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust, as were approximately two million Jewish women and three million Jewish men.

Hitler and the Nazis said the Jews were responsible for huge events of German like losing World War One and the economic crisis. This was totally untrue. Hitler said that all Germany’s problems had been caused by the Jews. Many people believed him. According to the Nazis the ‘Aryan race’ was the best and strongest race. But did Hitler invent hatred of Jews? No, Hitler built on and used anti-Semitic ideas that already existed. He was Austrian and grew up in Vienna where the mayor was extremely anti-Semitic and where hatred of Jews was widespread.

Michael Berenbaum writes that Germany became a “genocidal state.” Every arm of the country’s sophisticated bureaucracy was involved in the killing process:


1. Parish churches and the Interior Ministry supplied birth records showing who was Jewish;
2. the Post Office delivered the deportation and denaturalization orders;
3. the Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish property;
4. German firms fired Jewish workers and disenfranchised Jewish stockholders.
5. The universities refused to admit Jews, denied degrees to those already studying, and fired Jewish academics;
6. government transport offices arranged the trains for deportation to the camps;
7. German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners;
8. companies bid for the contracts to build the crematoria;
9. detailed lists of victims were drawn up using the Dehomag (IBM Germany) company’s punch card machines, producing meticulous records of the killings. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were made to surrender all personal property, which was catalogued and tagged before being sent to Germany to be reused or recycled. Berenbaum writes that the Final Solution of the Jewish question was “in the eyes of the perpetrators … Germany’s greatest achievement.”
10. Through a concealed account, the German national bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.
Saul Friedländer writes that: “Not one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews.” He writes that some Christian churches declared that converted Jews should be regarded as part of the flock, but even then only up to a point. Friedländer argues that this makes the Holocaust distinctive because antisemitic policies were able to unfold without the interference of countervailing forces of the kind normally found in advanced societies, such as industry, small businesses, churches, and other vested interests and lobby groups.

While most of the pastors and churches of Germany went along with Hitler’s program, a small group of dissenters refused to kneel to fascism. Bonhoffer was one of their leaders. [In the 1930s] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a then relatively unknown German Lutheran pastor and theologian, aroused the ire of the Nazis by his radio address attacking the Nazi leadership principle and also by his open support of the Confessing Church movement.  Having founded what soon became an underground seminary at Finkenwalde in Pomerania, he demonstrated in his own life what he had urged on others – that fidelity to the kingdom of God takes precedence over all other loyalties, including that which we owe to our nation.  By the late 1930s, Bonhoeffer’s activities were greatly restricted by the Gestapo.  Two of his former professors at Union Theological Seminary in New York succeeded in bringing him safely to America but he could not allow himself to remain in refuge, detached from the sufferings of his people. Against his teachers’ advice, he boldly decided to return to Germany, even though by this time he was a marked man. After the war began, Bonhoeffer, despite his pacifist convictions, was led to participate in a resistance group that eventually plotted to assassinate Hitler. In April 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel in Berlin. Bonhoeffer was arrested because of his illegal activities in the resistance movement. While in prison, he had an opportunity to escape, but he called off the escape plans for fear of reprisals against his family.  Although often tempted to despair, he radiated a joy and peace that were a constant source of inspiration to his fellow prisoners.  He wrote a powerful little book at that time titled The Cost of Discipleship

Bonhoffer looked around and realized that the doctrine of grace, rediscovered by Martin Luther several hundred years before, had been cheapened into an excuse for a worldly brand of Christianity that had no spine and little morality. He wrote these words, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Bonhoffer didn’t just wax eloquent on such costly grace.
a. He was arrested for opposing Hitler and thrown into prison
b. He was 39 years old when he was taken out of his prison  and hanged as a Nazi traitor in 1945.  He was hanged on the gallows in the Flossenburg prison camp in April 1945. As he left his cell he said to his companion, “This is the end — but for me, the beginning of life.”
c. He died just one week before the prison was liberated by the Allies.

– Daily Devotional App
– Wikipedia


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