Monday, January 15, 2007

Bonhoffer and Dr. King

Staying in because of the threatened winter storms Saturday gave us the opportunity to watch Bonhoffer - the documentary about the life of German theologan Deitrich Bonhoffer. Bonhoffer was executed by the Nazis for his efforts to stand against Hitler. As I watched the movie, I was struck by the similarities and parallels in his life to that of Martin Luther King.

  • Both men were trained in the classic theology of their time, personally struggled with the practical application of the intellectual studies they engaged in, and came to an understanding that application of theology to life involved actively living and speaking in a way that opposed oppression and injustice.
  • Both men actively challenged the status quo and were advocates on behalf of the oppressed in their society.
  • Both men heroically abandoned safety and comfort to fulfill what they saw as their duty.
  • Both men were imprisoned and eventually killed because of their efforts.
  • The lives of both men created a legacy that surpassed what they were able to accomplish in life.
Although they lived a few decades apart and in two distinct social contexts, the way that they lived according to their beliefs was similar. Both men did understand the cost of discipleship. Below are some quotations from each - I will put in a separate post the author of each.

  1. "One of the great weaknesses of liberal theology is that it becomes so involved in higher criticism, in many instances that it fails to answer certain questions. ... The weakness lies in its failure to connect the masses. Liberal theology seems to be lost in a vocabulary. Moreover, it seems too divorced from life."
  2. “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
  3. "On the one hand, I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so that their societies may be changed. On the other, I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a change. Therefore, I must be concerned about unemployment, slums and economic insecurity."
  4. “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it."
  5. “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
  6. "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."


By the way, Larry James has published in his blog today Dr. King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail. I would encourage you to take the time to read it. It is powerfully eloquent.

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