Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German: [ˈdiːtʁɪç ˈboːnhœfɐ]; 4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic.
Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler's euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp.
After being accused of being associated with the July 20 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then hanged on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.
Bonhoeffer's life as a pastor and theologian of great intellect and spirituality who lived as he preached—and his being killed because of his opposition to Nazism—exerted great influence and inspiration for Christians across broad denominations and ideologies, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the anti-communist democratic movement in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.
Bonhoeffer is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of several Christian denominations on the anniversary of his death, 9 April. This includes many parts of the Anglican Communion, where he is sometimes identified as a martyr, and other times not. His commemoration in the liturgical calendar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America uses the liturgical color of white, which is typically used for non-martyred saints. In 2008, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which does not enumerate saints, officially recognized Bonhoeffer as a "modern-day martyr." He was the first martyr to be so recognized who lived after the Reformation, and is one of only two as of 2017.
The Deutsche Evangelische Kirche in Sydenham, London, at which he preached between 1933 and 1935, was destroyed by bombing in 1944. A replacement church was built in 1958 and named Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Kirche in his honor.
Overshadowed by the dramatic events of his life, Bonhoeffer's theology has nevertheless been influential. His theology has a fragmentary, unsystematic nature, due at least in part to his untimely death, and is subject to diverse and contradictory interpretations, sometimes necessarily based on speculation and projection. So, for example, while his Christocentric approach appeals to conservative, confession-minded Protestants, his commitment to justice and ideas about "religionless Christianity" are emphasized by liberal Protestants.
Central to Bonhoeffer's theology is Christ, in whom God and the world are reconciled. Bonhoeffer's God is a suffering God, whose manifestation is found in this-worldliness. Bonhoeffer believed that the Incarnation of God in flesh made it unacceptable to speak of God and the world "in terms of two spheres"—an implicit attack upon Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms. Bonhoeffer stressed personal and collective piety and revived the idea of imitation of Christ. He argued that Christians should not retreat from the world but act within it. He believed that two elements were constitutive of faith: the implementation of justice and the acceptance of divine suffering. Bonhoeffer insisted that the church, like the Christians, "had to share in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world" if it were to be a true church of Christ.
In his prison letters, Bonhoeffer raised tantalizing questions about the role of Christianity and the church in a "world come of age," where human beings no longer need a metaphysical God as a stop-gap to human limitations; and mused about the emergence of a "religionless Christianity," where God would be unclouded from metaphysical constructs of the previous 1900 years. Influenced by Barth's distinction between faith and religion, Bonhoeffer had a critical view of the phenomenon of religion and asserted that revelation abolished religion, which he called the "garment" of faith. Having witnessed the complete failure of the German Protestant church as an institution in the face of Nazism, he saw this challenge as an opportunity of renewal for Christianity.