In April 1933, during the early months of Nazi rule in Germany, the "Aryan Paragraph," as it came to be called, went into effect. A new law banned anyone of Jewish descent from government employment. Hitler's assault on the Jews—already so evidently under way in his toxic rhetoric and in the ideological imperatives of his party — was moving into a crushing legal phase. German churches, which relied on state support, now faced a choice: preserve their subsidies by dismissing their pastors and employees with Jewish blood — or resist. Most Protestant and Catholic leaders fell into line, visibly currying favor with the regime or quietly complying with its edict.
Such ready capitulation makes the views of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran theologian in Hitler's Germany, all the more remarkable. Within days of the new law's promulgation, the 27-year-old pastor published an essay titled "The Church and the Jewish Question," in which he challenged the legitimacy of a regime that contravened the tenets of Christianity. The churches of Germany, he wrote, shared "an unconditional obligation" to help the victims of an unjust state "even if they [the victims] do not belong to the Christian community." He went further: Christians might be called upon not only to "bandage the victims under the wheel" of oppression but "to put a spoke in the wheel itself." Before the decade was out, Bonhoeffer would join a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and pay for such action with his life.
In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy [Thomas Nelson, 2010], Eric Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer's story with passion and theological sophistication, often challenging revisionist accounts that make Bonhoeffer out to be a "humanist" or ethicist for whom religious doctrine was easily disposable. In "Bonhoeffer" we meet a complex, provocative figure: an orthodox Christian who, at a grave historical moment, rejected what he called "cheap grace"—belief without bold and sacrificial action.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2518