Dietrich Bonhoeffer: From the Editor — A Spiritual Tonic

by Ken Curtis

Bonhoeffer’s pilgrimage offered me a much-needed clue for reapproaching the adventure of faith.

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue 32 in 1991 ]

THIS ISSUE marks only the second time Christian History has featured a twentieth-century figure. (The first was Issue 7 on C.S. Lewis)

I happily acknowledge a long-standing debt to Bonhoeffer. During my seminary days, in the midst of an overly smug orthodoxy, his writings motivated me to keep on with the theological quest. At a practical level, his forthright explications of “cheap grace” and “religionless Christianity” helped make sense of the church in today’s world.

It seems that about every five years, Bonhoeffer has provided a needed spiritual tonic for me. His poem “Who Am I?” written in prison, gave me permission to ask some disturbing questions in the confidence that “God knows,” even though I wasn’t sure. Later, Bonhoeffer’s pilgrimage offered me a much-needed clue for reapproaching the adventure of faith. This is well summed up in the words of his biographer Eberhard Bethge: “The witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer began with the attempt to live and say what it is to be with Christ, and it ended with teaching what it is that Christ is with us.”

Most recently my gratitude to him has been kindled through a chance comment written by a friend in Uganda. He said that Bonhoeffer’s book on the Psalms was selling well in Christian bookstores there. I ordered it out of curiosity: What did these believers in such difficult circumstances find in this little, 86-page book?

Through the book, Bonhoeffer not only brought me back to the Psalms, but he also reminded me of the necessity of morning prayer—a lesson I learned, like so many of you, as a youth at Bible camp but had drifted from in favor of less-demanding evening devotions. His words are to the point: “The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity. This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer. It is confirmed in work. The morning prayer determines the day. Squandered time of which we are ashamed, temptations to which we succumb, weaknesses and lack of courage in work, disorganization and lack of discipline in our thoughts and in our conversation with other men all have their origin most often in the neglect of morning prayer.”

Bonhoeffer’s life was caught up in epochal events that have shaped our century. Nevertheless, his teaching, writing, and living inevitably seemed to come around to how we think, believe, and pray.

As a filmmaker, for over twenty years I have tried, without success, to organize a feature film or television movie on the life of Bonhoeffer. All the elements are there for a captivating production that could speak the gospel uniquely to today’s world. Others, too, have tried in vain to mount such a dramatic film. It is still a worthy project, and may God enable the right producer to worthily accomplish that task.

Don’t be surprised if, after reading this issue, you find yourself waking up playing the movie out in your imagination. It’s that compelling a story and one we long looked forward to publishing for you.

Dr. Ken Curtis, Founder and Senior Editor of Christian History.

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