Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bonhoeffer Study Guide

This uses the documentary from Martin Doblmeier on Bonhoeffer's life and theology. You can find it here:

Here is the study:

Bonhoeffer Study


What did Marianne Liebholz say was the most important thing that Bonhoeffer and his friends did?
(Note: Recognize how evil Nazism was and that it must be resisted.)

Why do you think she believes this?
(Note: It showed what kind of person Bonhoeffer and his friends were. Many people were taken in by the Nazis, but Bonhoeffer wasn’t. He had enough goodness in him to clearly recognize evil.)

How do we learn to recognize evil?
(Note: By learning about good. We have to spend time with God, and focus on the moral life, and try to experience the good. Only by acquainting ourselves with goodness can we learn to know evil.)

What does Desmond Tutu say about Bonhoeffer?
(Note: That he maintained great faith in the face of terrible darkness.)

How can we learn to have faith in the face of terrible darkness?
(Note: Through prayer, and struggle, and trying to face that darkness AS a Christian. We must learn what it is to be a Christian facing evil, if we are to live as a Christian facing evil. It also helps to learn about how other Christians faced their own struggle, including Jesus Christ. That is, in part, what we are doing here: learning how to face darkness as a Christian.)

How did the German churches respond to WWI?
(Note: They capitulated to the state, took everything it said as the truth, and supported the war effort without question.)

What do you think of this attitude? Can a church ever support war? Why or why not?
(Note: Their may be situations in which war can be or must be supported as a last resort to ensure peace of justice. But to accept all the state says uncritically is unchristian. The Church must never be the mere tool of the state.)

What are the dangers in the church supporting a war effort?
(Note: It may betray Christ’s call to peace, or allow itself to fall along with the state if the state loses the war.)

What did Bonhoeffer write about WWI?
(Note: That it was a time when death knocked at every door and called for entry.)

Have you ever experienced death in this way, as an animated force?

What effect did the loss in the war have on the churches in Germany?
(Note: It caused the people to abandon the churches, and to look on its leaders as hypocrites.)

Why does hypocrisy arise within the church so often? How do we as Christians guard against hypocrisy?
(Note: When someone tries to be the best, they often make pretense before they achieve it. You have to some degree to ‘pretend’ to be good if you are going to learn how to be good. But blatant two-faced actions are unacceptable. Christians need to put Jesus Christ first, and His teachings first. Jesus entire life was aimed at fighting religious hypocrisy.)

What are some hypocrisies you see in your own lives?

What effect did Walter’s death have on Bonhoeffer?
(Note: It caused him to be an ardent, passionate, pacifist. It gave him something to fight against when he became a theologian.)

What are some ways we can respond positively to someone’s death?
(Note: We have to learn from loss, and like Bonhoeffer try to see in it a call or mission. Maybe we have some evil to fight, or maybe we need to learn to become stronger people. But any loss can be turned into a gain if we look at it the right way.)

What kind of people were the Bonhoeffers?
(Note: Politically active, conservative, but not religious.)

How does your family compare to the Bonhoeffers?

Do we have a responsibility to lead our families towards religion if we think it is important?
(Note: If you believe something, you are going to share it. It makes sense to at least engage your family at the level of your own beliefs.)

What was Bonhoeffer’s experience of the church?
(Note: Not very positive, more as a social club than a living religious community.)

What is yours?

What does the theologian in the film say church is supposed to be?
(Note: A fundamental community in which you discover who you really are and discover the reality of Christ in the world today.)

What does it mean to enter a ‘fundamental’ community, where you ‘discover who you really are’?
(Note: A fundamental community is one that is bonded at the deepest level. Communities like this love each other as people, not just as members, and seek involvement in each other’s lives at more than the level of ideas. And by relating to each other, they find themselves, their values and the meaning of their lives. That is what Bonhoeffer is talking about: becoming a family.)

Do you believe that the Church is “Christ existing in the world today?” Why or why not?

What was Barth’s central thesis?
(Note: That all parts of the Great War reclaimed God for themselves, and made of the One Christian God, a tribal god reflecting the wants, needs, and attitudes of each group, and that this was a catastrophe for Christianity.)

Why is it so catastrophic to re-cast God in our own image?
(Note: What it allows us to do is worship ourselves while we simultaneously convince ourselves we are worshipping the One God. It is a subtler, and so more dangerous, form of idolatry.)

What was Bonhoeffer’s PhD thesis about?
(Note: The Church & human community)

What did Bonhoeffer say about the church?
(Note: That the church is Christ existing as community)

What major problem did Bonhoeffer see in the church?
(Note: That because only certain social strata stayed in the church, and the poor abandoned the church, it was a divided community.)

Do you see that problem still today?
(Note: Christianity is divided today, more along ideological and class lines. This division is more than denominationalism, it is a split in the soul of the church.)

How can we fight against this problem?
(Note: By reclaiming the sense that we are all a part of Christ. If we start with Jesus Christ, we can avoid some of the errors that divide us.


What was the difference between Barth and Niebuhr?
(Note: Barth was Christocentric in his approach in a way Niebuhr was not.)

Do you think that Christ has to be the primary center of a theology to make it valid? Why or why not?

How central is Jesus to your own thinking about God?

What did Niebuhr and Bonhoeffer have in common theologically?
(Note: Both thought that the purpose of religion and theology is to change the world for the better.)

Do you agree that theology and religion is supposed to change this world for the better, primarily? Or is it more about the next life? Explain your answer.

Where did Bonhoeffer go to church in New York?
(Note: Abissinian Baptist Church, an African-American evangelical congregation.)

What do you think it was like for Bonhoeffer to take part in an evangelical African-American worship experience?
(Note: It had to be surreal, like walking into another world. Here’s this white, intellectual German entering this emotional, deeply devout African-American community. Talk about ‘wild’.)

Have you ever experienced this type of worship? What did you think of it?

What are some of the ways that Bonhoeffer was affected by Abissinian?
(Note: He discovered a church that was emotional in a way his religion wasn’t, rapturous, and socially engaged.)

What does it mean for a church to be socially engaged?
(Note: It means a church is concerned with the actual political, economic, and social ills of the world in which it finds itself.)

What kind of attitude did Bonhoeffer have in the church? Why was this important?
(Note: He was humble. Being humble in a new Christian setting is vital if you are going to learn anything. If you enter into it assuming you already know what Christianity is ‘supposed to be’, you can miss out on something very important.)

How often do Christians ‘destroy the body of Christ’?
(Note: They let their brothers and sister suffer without care, they enter into violence and oppression upon other human beings. What you do to the least of persons, you do to God.)

What is the substance of Lassere’s discussions with Bonhoeffer?
(Note: That the gospels are clearly pacifist in their ethical approach, and so suspending them during wartime makes no sense.)

What do you think of Lassere’s position here?

What is the Sermon on the Mount?
(Note: It is the central ethical teachings of Jesus, the speech He gave in Israel that laid out his way of looking at life and ethics.)

What would it mean to put into practice the Sermon on the Mount?

What was Hitler’s theology?
(Note: It was the inverse of Barth’s theology, an active attempt to re-paint God and Christ in a Nazi, German light, to make God into a German and a Nazi.)

How do we guard against repainting God in our own image?
(Note: One, by letting God speak on His own terms, by letting all routes to God have an equal say in our decisions. Tradition, scripture, reason, experience, all of these must be open and must be set in tension with the others, so they can enter into a dialogue of cross-criticism, reducing the chance of error.)

What was Bonhoeffer’s radio address about?
(Note: It was a criticism of the cult of personality Hitler had cultivated in Germany’s youth.)

What do you think Bonhoeffer is warning against when he talks about political leaders making of themselves ‘an idol’ and ‘mocking God’?
(Note: He is warning against seeing politics and politicians as in some sense our ‘saviors’. Politicians cannot be the object of our religious reverence, that is reserved for God alone.)

What was the Church’s general attitude towards the Nazis? Why did they act this way?
(Note: The Church generally capitulated to the Nazis, hoping an alliance with the government of the Nazis would replenish their waning numbers and money.)

What does this tell us about being concerned with ‘numbers’ in the church?
(Note: When just drawing people in becomes an end in itself, you have betrayed your soul. Bringing people to God matters, but if you are focused on money and getting people in alone, you become vulnerable to the worst kind of corruption.)

Ludwig Mueller said the struggle for the soul of the people had begun? What was this struggle about?
(Note: He was talking about the new attempt to convince people that to be Christians they also had to be Nazis.)

How can we keep our churches from being manipulated like this?

00:29:00- 00:44:00

How did Bonhoeffer approach the Bible?
(Note: As the Word of God directed precisely at the reader.)

Have you ever had God speak to you through scripture? Can you give an example?

How does Bonhoeffer direct his students away from Hitler?
(Note: By emphasizing that only Christ can bring salvation.)

What does this say about the importance of the idea that Christ alone saves us?
(Note: By making Christ the sole source of salvation, we are less likely to be led astray by political and ideological leaders. If only Christ can save us, we will treat no other as our savior.)

What was Bonhoeffer’s grandmothers’ response to the boycott of the Jews?
(Note: To go to the shops she always went to and face down the boycotters.)

Do we have a responsibility to act this way when we see evil being done?
(Note: Absolutely, what Bonhoeffer’s grandmother did is what any decent person SHOULD do.)

In what way had Luther laid the foundation for the anti-Semitism of the Nazis?
(Note: He wrote texts that actually laid out plans for oppression of the Jews.)

How do we deal with, say, the anti-Judaism found in the gospels?
(Note: There is no easy answer here, there is a clear anti-Jewish tendency in much of the New Testament. How to handle it, is up to the individual. However, the wrong way to handle it is to adopt an anti-Judaistic stance oneself.)

What happened when Bonhoeffer was asked to preach at Gerhardt Liepholdz’s funeral?
(Note: He refused.)

What caused him to act this way?
(Note: He was told not to by the church, and feared consequences, he acted out of fear.)

How did this make him feel later on?
(Note: Ashamed)

Does Bonhoeffer’s later action make up for the mistake he made?

What is the substance of Bonhoeffer’s letter “The Church & the Jewish question”?
(Note: That ultimately the church has to stand on the side of the oppressed, that the church is called to help the victims of oppression.)

What are the three ways that the church can resist tyranny?
(Note: It can act as the state’s conscience, proclaiming what is right and refusing to just capitulate its beliefs to state whims. It can also help the victims. Finally, it can undergo a process of actually acting against the state.)

Under what circumstances is actual action against the state justified?
(Note: When lives are endangered, or when the state itself is closing off legal routes to resistance, then the Church has a right to choose to act against the state)

In what ways have you ‘bandages the victims of the wheel’ in life?

What was the Catholic belief about Hitler? What was the mistake here?
(Note: They believed that because Hitler was Catholic, he would act conservatively and legally. The mistake was to believe that religious belief necessarily tells us something about a person’s character.)

Have you ever made a major mistake about someone’s character?

What bothered Bonhoeffer when he joined the Pastor’s Emergency League?
(Note: That his actions were creating a rift in the church)

Why do you think Bonhoeffer saw the problems with Nazism in a way many of his colleagues didn’t?

What is the ecumenical movement?
(Note: It is the attempt to bring all the churches back together, and seek a reunified church.)

Do you support the ecumenical movement? Why or why not?

What was the Barmen Declaration?
(Note: It was the creation of a separate church entity, a protestation against the Nazified church, proclaiming that certain pastors would no longer follow the church as it had capitulated to the Nazis.)

What did Bethge say it was all about?
(Note: Confessing Christ, putting Christ first within the church and not allowing the Nazis to decide how the church would work and run.)

Why is it important to ‘confess Christ’ and no other?

What is NOT said at Barmen? What was it primarily focused on?
How does Bonhoeffer change that?
(Note: The Jews aren’t mentioned at Barmen, rather what is focused on is the freedom to run the church as the church itself sees fit. Bonhoeffer brings the focus back onto the Jews.)

00:44:00- 01:00:16

What is more important, the freedom to preach the gospel, or the freedom to stand by the victims? Why do you say this?

What was Bonhoeffer’s at Faneu about?
(Note: Peace, the need to establish it in light of the coming war, and the ecumenical movement’s role in doing so.)

Why do you think this bothered some people?
(Note: They didn’t want the church to be overly political in its stance, but wanted to keep things at the level of religion.)

Why didn’t Bonhoeffer change his speech, do you think?
(Note: Bonhoeffer already believed in the social engagement of the church, keeping it political was essential to maintaining his integrity.)

What does it mean to say ‘peace must be dared’?
(Note: Peace cannot be sought without risk. Peace requires that we are willing to live without guaranteed security, and so someone has to take the risk first.)

Have you ever won a battle with God?

What does it mean to say that whenever Christ calls us, His call leads us to death?
(Note: We cannot expect to live a Christian life without real sacrifice, and without ‘losing ourselves’ to find it. Certitude, security, all the things that make up our quest to ‘build a life’ must be left behind.)

What was life like at Zingst & Finkenwalde?
(Note: The seminarians were family, living as family. They engaged in prayer, scriptural study, and communitarian service. It was a living community.)

What new music and new experience from America did Bonhoeffer bring to his students?
(Note: He shared the music and experience of the Abissinian Baptist Church.)

What effect had his experience with the African-Americans had on Bonhoeffer now? How did the African-American experience ‘speak to’ the Germans?
(Note: The African-American experience helped get Bonhoeffer’s head right when it came to the Jewish question, and in that way spoke to the Germans at his school as well.)

Why do you think Bonhoeffer’s preaching was so unique?
(Note: He had learned how to preach in the evangelical style at Abissinian.)

What is the difference between ‘cheap grace’ and ‘costly grace’? What do you think this means?
(Note: Cheap grace is grace without sacrifice and responsibility. It is grace ‘without the cross’. Costly grace is sharing in the life of God, and all that entails, including self-sacrifice, and dying daily to ourselves.)

How is grace ‘costly to God’? Has grace been ‘costly’ to you? If so then how?

How did Bonhoeffer see the attack on the Jews? Why do you think he saw it this way?
(Note: Bonhoeffer saw the Jews as a revelation of Jesus Christ, and saw an attack on them as an attack on God. Because the Jews were the sufferers, he could see them as the ‘lowest’ with which Christ identified Himself.)

Why did the Bonhoeffers decide to resist Hitler violently?
(Note: They knew what he was doing in the concentration camps.)

Was this action justified? Why or why not?

How would you answer Bonhoeffer’s question about whether absolution for the killer of a tyrant is allowable?


What did America represent for Bonhoeffer?
(Note: Safety and security)

Why is the seeking after security a violation of faith?
(Note: Faith is the embrace of the life of risk, and venture. To seek proximate security is to give up the Ultimate Security of accepting life as it is, as a gift from God.)

How do we learn to seek the risky, venturesome path?

Have you ever chosen the risky path? Have you ever consciously rejected the risky path in life?

What is the ethical question Bonhoeffer asks? What is the difference between this and asking ‘what does it mean to do good’?
(Note: Bonhoeffer asks what the Will of God is, not what is ‘good’. This is a rejection of seeking a set of principles one can use oneself to guide one’s life and instead to be open to a spontaneous action of faith, whatever that might lead you to.)

What are some of the things you have been called to, or are called to in your own life? How do these things represent a risk for you?

Do you wish there was a shaft of light that could tell you that you are right?

What does Desmond Tutu say our actual situation is? How do we walk this tight rope?
(Note: He says we have to hold onto what we think is right by the skin of our teeth, unsure, insecure about it, and hope there is vindication on the other side.)

How do you think Bonhoeffer was able to decide to help kill Hitler?
(Note: Confronted with the actual horrors of the concentration camp, there was nothing else he could do.)

Can a Christian ever reasonably kill?

What are some of the concerns Bonhoeffer had to deal with in himself?
(Note: The issues of peace and justice, of war and oppression, and of the fact that he found himself in a concrete situation, where real people needed him to do SOMEthing.)

What do you think of Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Maria? Does it make sense?

Does their difference in age bother you? Why or why not?

Where does Bonhoeffer say we find the Will of God?
(Note: Through many different possibilities, in an unsure, continuous ‘searching’.)

Why is re-examination of the Will of God so important?
(Note: This keeps us from idolatry, we set our quests for God in tension with one another, and never seek some comfortable spot in which to just ‘sit’. It is a process of self-criticism and of living a penitent life.)

What are some of the ‘layers’ where we can look for the Will of God?
(Note: Scripture, experience, reason, the Bible, other people, anything, almost anything, can act to show us the will of God.)

What do you think of the Ally’s decision not to support the resisters?

What was the Christmas letter about?
(Note: It was about examining how being part of these plots had changed the plotters themselves, an ethical and theological reflection on the meaning of this morally ambiguous situation.)

What does Bonhoeffer think is really important in what they’ve done?
(Note: Bonhoeffer’s main concern is that they’ve learned to put those who suffer first, to see the world from the sufferer’s point of view.)

Why does he say this?
(Note: Bonhoeffer thinks that Christ reveals Himself through the lowest, the weakest, the suffering. This is another example of Bonhoeffer’s Christocentrism.)


What is Bonhoeffer’s main concern in prison?
(Note: His fiancĂ©e and making sure his family isn’t worried.)

How is Bonhoeffer when Bethge first sees him?
(Note: Happy, joyful, easy.)

What were some of the things the conspirators faced?
(Note: Imprisonment, torture, and death.)

What does Bonhoeffer say makes the church what it is?
(Note: Its existence for others, and the proclaiming what it means to LIVE in Christ.)

What does it mean to ‘live in Christ’?
(Note: It means to put the last first, and to live like Jesus.)

What did the Enlightenment do to religion? Why isn’t Christianity about this?
(Note: The Enlightenment had turned religion into a personal thing, something between ‘you and God’. Christianity is about human community, and so cannot be relegated to an isolated, personal sphere.)

Where did Bonhoeffer find strength in prison?
(Note: The Bible)

What book of the Bible is your favorite?

How does Bonhoeffer think Nazism has changed Christian ethics?
(Note: Bonhoeffer now sees the world as a place of great sin, where there is no such thing as a clear ‘right’ decision, but that in that darkness we are still called to act. So all you can do is the best you can, and throw yourself on the mercy of God.)

What do you think of this idea?

Does the fact that Hitler keeps surviving bother you? Does it sharpen the problem of evil for you? (Where is God in all this?)
(Note: The problem of evil is not just why innocent suffer, it is why the evil so often triumph. Hitler’s stubborn refusal to die is very annoying, and brings up many doubts. But God is still in the situation, within the sufferers, within those who are trying to help the sufferers.)

What does Bonhoeffer ask in his poem?
(Note: Who is he?)

What are some of the feelings expressed there?
(Note: Bonhoeffer is confused, fearful, empty, wondering if his life has meant anything at all, but finally faithful, trusting in God.)

Have you ever felt this way?

What were Bonhoeffer’s last words?
(Note: ‘This is the end, for me the beginning of life.’

Can you honestly join Bonhoeffer in this proclamation?

What is it about the last Bonhoeffer quote, read by Bethge, that makes it so important?
(Note: It is Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics laid out simply. God is in the world within the life of the suffering person, that is Christ manifest. God is not ‘somewhere’, ‘out there’, but right here, in the person in need. You discover God in your response to them.)

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