Archives For Germany

 

“Identified as the People of God
in an age of Bitter Partisanship”

Reflections on
The Aryan
Jesus
By Susannah Heschel.

Reflections by Chris Smith.

The Aryan Jesus:
Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany.

By Susannah Heschel.

Paperback: Princeton UP, 2010.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

The Aryan Jesus - Susannah HeschelWhen those of us interested in church history think of Nazi Germany, our minds typically jump to the good work of Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church movement.  However, we typically know less about the theological movements that reinforced Nazi ideology in German churches.  In her recent book, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and The Bible in Nazi Germany (which has just been released in paperback by Princeton University Press), Susannah Heschel narrates the history of the primary catalyst of such errant theology, the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life.  Heschel, professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and daughter of renowned Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel, describes here not only the organizational history of the Institute, but also their work in rewriting Bible in a way that eliminated as many Jewish elements of its story as possible, and also revising the hymnal and liturgy of the German churches in a similar fashion.  In the book’s introduction Heschel pointedly summarizes the mission of the Institute:

[The] Institute redefined Christianity as a Germanic religion whose founder, Jesus, was no Jew but rather had fought valiantly to destroy Judaism, falling as victim to that struggle.  Germans were now called upon to be the victors in Jesus’s own struggle against the Jews, who were said to be seeking Germany’s destruction (1).

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A Brief Review of The Word in This World:
Two Sermons by Karl Barth
.
Kurt Johanson, ed.
Paperback: Regent College, 2007.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

There was once a phase in my life where I was reading anything I could get my hands on by Karl Barth.  However, that phase has sorted of waned over the last decade and it has been quite awhile since I’ve read anything by Barth.  Thus, I was delighted to have the opportunity to immerse myself again in some of Barth’s work, when Kurt Johanson invited me to review his new little book The Word in the World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth.   Although Barth’s sermons are an essential part of this volume, they are almost equaled in significance by the supporting materials that Johanson has assembled alongside the sermons here, particularly Will Willimon’s introduction “Preaching with Karl Barth,” in which he examines these two sermons as exemplars within the larger context of Barth’s homiletic work.

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A Brief Review of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer And The Resistance.
Sabine Dramm.

Hardback: Fortress Press, 2009.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chase Roden.

Given the opportunity, would you have assassinated Adolf Hitler?  Every pacifist alive since World War II has probably been asked some form of this question at least once.  Although any answer we might give would be speculative, ethical extremes can help clarify our thinking — and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man for whom the hypotheticals of Christian nonviolence were real-life decisions.  Bonhoeffer’s fatal choice to participate in a plot to kill Hitler is, to say the least, troubling for many Christian pacifists.  Despite his principled objection to violence, Bonhoeffer came to the conclusion that murder was the appropriate course of action in his circumstance.  Or did he?
Sabine Dramm’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance goes into great detail to answer the questions surrounding the pastor Bonhoeffer’s involvement with the German resistance to Hitler and Nazism, and in doing so reveals a portrait too complex to be summed up by a single decision.  Some of the details of Bonhoeffer’s life run contrary to what modern Christians may assume about him; although his opposition to Hitler was based on his Christian convictions, Bonhoeffer’s active resistance work was largely carried out without the support or knowledge of his denomination or other German churches.  He worked primarily through ecumenical contacts in the World Council of Churches and through his family.  It was a family connection — brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi — who secured Bonhoeffer a position in Military Intelligence, allowing him not only to avoid conscription, but also to travel relatively freely in order to work with foreign church leaders to discuss the severity of the situation in Germany and the possibilities for restructuring the country and the church after the end of the war.
Dramm interacts significantly with Eberhard Bethge’s definitive 1967 biography of Bonhoeffer, offering her own research from new evidence and historical speculation about events and motives that were, by necessity, shrouded in mystery.  Dramm aims to avoid idealizing Bonhoeffer — she believes that the tendency to do so is “dishonest and pointless, and … can only lead to absurd dis(illusion).”  Dramm points out the fractured nature of the resistance — people working together shared so little information that they often didn’t know what their own colleagues were working on — and the seemingly unstoppable power of the Nazi state; in light of these facts, what Bonhoeffer was able to accomplish is impressive enough on its own to need no exaggeration.  Nazi surveillance was so pervasive that resistance efforts had to resort to subtle means of opposition; at one point, Bonhoeffer and Dutch theologian Visser’t Hooft coauthored a theology book and mailed it to American publishers as a failed attempt to send an SOS to Allied nations.  It is easy in hindsight to forget that it was an act of faith for Bonhoeffer to even make plans for life after the end of Third Reich, but the level of historical detail that Dramm provides makes it possible to appreciate his dire circumstances.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance is, ultimately, a specialized history book looking primarily at one aspect of one man’s life (although it doesn’t spare details regarding Bonhoeffer’s co-resistors).  As such, the detail can be a bit overwhelming, but any Christian pacifist who is tired of answering hypothetical questions about WWII may want to check it out.

Given the opportunity, would you have assassinated Adolf Hitler?  Every pacifist alive since World War II has probably been asked some form of this question at least once.  Although any answer we might give would be speculative, ethical extremes can help clarify our thinking — and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man for whom the hypotheticals of Christian nonviolence were real-life decisions.  Bonhoeffer’s fatal choice to participate in a plot to kill Hitler is, to say the least, troubling for many Christian pacifists.  Despite his principled objection to violence, Bonhoeffer came to the conclusion that murder was the appropriate course of action in his circumstance.  Or did he?

Sabine Dramm’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance goes into great detail to answer the questions surrounding the pastor Bonhoeffer’s involvement with the German resistance to Hitler and Nazism, and in doing so reveals a portrait too complex to be summed up by a single decision.  Some of the details of Bonhoeffer’s life run contrary to what modern Christians may assume about him; although his opposition to Hitler was based on his Christian convictions, Bonhoeffer’s active resistance work was largely carried out without the support or knowledge of his denomination or other German churches.  He worked primarily through ecumenical contacts in the World Council of Churches and through his family.  It was a family connection — brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi — who secured Bonhoeffer a position in Military Intelligence, allowing him not only to avoid conscription, but also to travel relatively freely in order to work with foreign church leaders to discuss the severity of the situation in Germany and the possibilities for restructuring the country and the church after the end of the war.

Dramm interacts significantly with Eberhard Bethge’s definitive 1967 biography of Bonhoeffer, offering her own research from new evidence and historical speculation about events and motives that were, by necessity, shrouded in mystery.  Dramm aims to avoid idealizing Bonhoeffer — she believes that the tendency to do so is “dishonest and pointless, and … can only lead to absurd dis(illusion).”  Dramm points out the fractured nature of the resistance — people working together shared so little information that they often didn’t know what their own colleagues were working on — and the seemingly unstoppable power of the Nazi state; in light of these facts, what Bonhoeffer was able to accomplish is impressive enough on its own to need no exaggeration.  Nazi surveillance was so pervasive that resistance efforts had to resort to subtle means of opposition; at one point, Bonhoeffer and Dutch theologian Visser’t Hooft coauthored a theology book and mailed it to American publishers as a failed attempt to send an SOS to Allied nations.  It is easy in hindsight to forget that it was an act of faith for Bonhoeffer to even make plans for life after the end of Third Reich, but the level of historical detail that Dramm provides makes it possible to appreciate his dire circumstances.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance is, ultimately, a specialized history book looking primarily at one aspect of one man’s life (although it doesn’t spare details regarding Bonhoeffer’s co-resistors).  As such, the detail can be a bit overwhelming, but any Christian pacifist who is tired of answering hypothetical questions about WWII may want to check it out.