The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Tour
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
February 25, 2013 02:46 PM | 2968 views | 9 9 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Eric Metaxas spoke on February 21 at Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta.  He is the widely acclaimed author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which has been heaped with awards and praise since its 2010 publication. 

It was this book that led Metaxas to meet former President George W. Bush, who has never made a secret of his Christian faith, and then President Barack Obama at the 2012 Prayer Breakfast at which Metaxas was the keynote speaker.  Metaxas is also well known for having been a writer on the very popular Veggie Tales series for children and for his work with the noted Christian Evangelical leader Chuck Colson. 

Though it was impossible to count all of the other people who had converged in Buckhead on an overcast Thursday night to hear more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian whose opposition to Hitler landed him on the gallows just a few weeks before the end of World War II, I would estimate a crowd of close to two thousand.  Surveying the full pews in front of him, Metaxas—an always articulate and funny spokesman—quipped, “For the cerebral Christian, this is what a revival looks like.”  

Indeed, much of Metaxas’s speech focused on the idea that Bonhoeffer was a serious intellectual from a family that understood the value of education and rational thinking.   In fact, Bonheoffer’s father was an influential psychiatrist and neurologist, and his mother had a teaching degree, which she used to home-school her eight, brilliant children. 

In highlighting such biographical facts—and then Bonhoeffer’s own record of study—Metaxas underscored how a man can worship God with not just blind emotion but with an attempt at whole understanding.   

This is an important message for people living in a society that often mocks religion. 

Having grown up in a church-going house that did not dig into those deeper questions of faith, Metaxas mentioned how he himself had been a young man who went off to university completely unequipped to defend any sense he’d once had of God. With a sardonic smile, he then advised the lesson learned was, “If you go to a place like Yale, don’t go with an open mind.”

Apparently Metaxas felt he had opened himself up too completely because whatever faith he had enjoyed as a child was quickly stripped away in a profoundly secular environment.    This set him adrift in the inevitable darkness that shadows the thinking of purposeless atheism. 

Yet Dietrich Bonhoeffer, no slouch as an academic, played a large part in reigniting within Metaxas the light that would lead him back to a belief in Christ.  After all, Bonhoeffer earned his PhD from Berlin University at the astonishingly young age of twenty-one, and thus had views that were undergirded with serious study and careful consideration. 

Personally, I found this point one of the most interesting in the talk.

Consider for a moment that many Americans have a foundation in faith that is cultural and emotional.  This was true for Eric Metaxas, and this foundation quickly crumbled under the weight of intellectual challenges.

However, Bonhoeffer’s faith—per our understanding of his life—was always based on reason.  When he worshipped in Harlem while studying in New York, Bonhoeffer discovered a more personal and interactive relationship with a living God.   It was at this point that emotion was added on top of solid knowledge, and his relationship with Christ only deepened. 

In other words, Bonhoeffer’s foundation was intellectual.  He had a strong framework of faith that could not be easily shaken by the skepticism that so often topples those who are steeped in ignorance about their own religions.  With learning came love. 

His beliefs fully cemented, Bonhoeffer could not in good faith stand silent in the face of Nazi oppression.  He spoke up for Christianity in even the early days as Hitler’s regime began to hollow out the church and twist it into something evil and unrecognizable. 

Further scorning the concept of “easy grace,” he then actively took part in the resistance movement. For this, his corpse would eventually be burned at Flossenburg and mingled with the ashes of the Jews he had been called by God to defend.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer went to his death knowing exactly what he was doing. 

Ultimately, in bringing attention to this great man’s story, Eric Metaxas is exhorting others to seriously consider the meaning of their own faiths and the extent to which they live their beliefs. 

On this front, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy is one of clear inspiration. 

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B D Lane
February 28, 2013
I don't know how old you are, Mr. Foley, but I assume you got your BA a long time ago. I am currently in graduate school working on a second masters degree right NOW, and I can tell you academia is not neutral on religion or politics.

Now let me reiterate... I have wonderful professors from whom I have learned a lot. But they are predominantly--all--positioned on the left end of a political/religious spectrum. I don't think any of them would be bothered or offended for my having noticed this either. They also don't sit around in tweed coats saying things like "God is dead" or "Republicans are stupid" to students. THIS conception of university, I would grant you, is a myth if it even exists.

But the prevalent view in academia IS that God is irrelevant as anything other than a cultural force, and the Left has better ideas about how to run the state than the Right. This bleeds into the coursework in a variety of ways, one of which is the material chosen to study and how ideas are positioned in a hierarchy of worth. This is not a myth. This is my experience.

Regardless, I hope that you take the time to read about Bohnhoeffer. I'm sure we can both agree he was a great man.

And JR... glad you had the chance to hear the lecture!
JR in Mableton
February 27, 2013
It was a great book and an interesting lecture. I highly recommend the Bonhoeffer book. It was more interesting to see how Hitler manipulated the Germans by controlling the church.
Kevin Foley
February 27, 2013
Ms. Lane, I graduated from the University of Connecticut in New England. Never, not once, in all the classes I took there did I ever hear a professor or guest lecturer express "severe secular skepticism" of God or any religion.

Does it happen? Sure. But mine was the quintissential liberal arts education in the hotbed of liberalism and if such skepticism was prevelant, I would have heard and seen it, especially at UConn.

This idea of widespread academic disdain for God and religion is a myth pushed by the far right noise machine. These are the same people who flog the annual "war on Christmas" claptrap. Beware.

One last thing about "ideas that originate from the Right." The Right is losing the war of ideas as we saw in 2012. See my nearby blog if you want to know why.
B D Lane
February 27, 2013
Of course God is not a foreign concept in institutions of higher learning, Mr. Foley! But not everyone goes to divinity schools. And one is often still inundated in other disciplines with a severe secular skepticism that is rarely countered in the classroom with an opposing viewpoint. One is supposed to simply assume that everyone in the classroom has moved beyond those "outdated superstitions" as educated people.

It's a little like always reading Leftist ideology--plentiful on your common syllabus--and never bothering with any serious consideration of ideas that originate from the Right.

While I have had MANY amazing professors over the years to whom I give an amazing amount of respect--I did not go to Yale, but I have a masters degree and am currently earning another in preparation for further studies--I have found I must seek my own counters in both religion and politics if the goal is really to weigh both sides of any argument and make up my own mind.

I'm sure that you would agree lack of balance--starting from a point of conclusion rather than real inquiry--can be a problem??? I am simply stating--as Mr. Metaxas observed--that this lack of balance on the question of God exists in academia, i.e. the debate is often concluded before the student ever enters that debate.
Kevin Foley
February 26, 2013
Ms. Lane - You are no doubt aware that many universities, including Yale, have divinity schools. So God is not a foreign concept in institutions of higher learning.

However, there are also many academicians who don't believe there is a God or at least question the existence of a supreme being.

This is what they do at universities: offer a wide range of diverse thinking. If a student believes in God, he or she will find plenty of like minded folks, including professors, who share their views. If they don't, ditto.

The idea is to expose students to a wide range of thinking and let them decide for themselves.

West Cobb
February 26, 2013
Mr. Foley: In Romans 3:23 the Apostle Paul writes that "all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God". Therefore, there is no "sinners" v. "righteous" debate.

"Absent any proof positive"? What further proof does one need? I have seen the face of God in the eyes of a child, in the miracle of birth, in my grandmother's smile as she breathed her last breath. Love is not tangible, yet we know it exists, intrinsically. You love your wife, you love your children; you are familiar with the concept of love, yet, if asked to describe love, you can't identify it by color, by shape, or by any other "proof positive". Still, you know it exists. God is the same way. It is necessary to seek Him; look for Him in everything. If you have an open mind, and an open heart, you will find Him, and He will find you, wherever you may be.
B D Lane
February 26, 2013
Mr. Foley,

You are indeed amusing. We are all sinners, regardless of the answers we find about faith. However, I believe Mr. Metaxas' point was that the questions about God are often already decided on university campuses and thus do not truly encourage real exploration of theology.

In fact, rather than encouraging true inquiry about His existence, students are often presented God as a cultural artifact, like a strange amulet uncovered in an archeological dig that may say something about the superstitions of a society but little about the truth of divinity. I find this mostly sad as I believe there is plenty of "proof" of God, and He is a big part of my own very flawed, very human life. Even Voltaire who was no doubt a deist--thus skeptical of the supernatural elements of any one particular faith--thought atheists were wrong-headed and intellectually dishonest. Perhaps he would debate the form of God, but he was thoughtful enough to concede God exists.

So rather than pushing an ideological position that does not include God as at all plausible as so many academics tend to do--whether they are at Yale or not--in my perfect world we would all follow different lines of inquiry and build a foundation in education on subjects like religion that encourage students to make up their own minds on those giant questions that will surely impact the rest of their lives.... I wish this for you, too. In fact, I would hope quite sincerely that you and God are on a regular speaking basis. As you may already know, He has a lot of great things to say when you listen to Him. Bonhoeffer surely understood this verity.

Kindest regards,

Kevin Foley
February 25, 2013
So the sinners are those Yale (read Northeastern "elites") intellectuals who, absent any proof positive, question the existence of God or, for that matter, faith?

Isn't that the substance of intellectualism? Questioning what others accept as an article of faith?

I'm just asking, Ms. Lane.
Concerned Citizen
February 25, 2013
It is good to hear stories like this. It makes me believe that even in the world of skeptics in which we live, there are people who with both reason and faith live lives that we should all applaud. I am glad that you had an opportunity to attend and that there was indeed a "revival" for so many people. Wouldn't it be nice if all of us could have the strength of character of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
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