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EMS Professor Challenges Conventional Wisdom about German Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Dr. Mark Thiessen Nation, professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, will present a lecture, “Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging a Myth, Recovering Costly Grace” Wednesday, February 23, 3:30-5 at Eastern Mennonite University, Martin Chapel.

Nation will challenge the long-held assumption that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor, was arrested, imprisoned and executed because of his involvement in plots to assassinate Hitler.  Instead, Nation will argue that it was Bonhoeffer’s costly discipleship—which led a Nazi official to call him “a pacifist and enemy of the state”—that led to his arrest, imprisonment and execution.

Bonhoeffer is known for his popular books, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.  He is less well-known for his early and active opposition to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and the “new monasticism” he introduced to the seminary he directed. He was also seen as so dangerous that he was banned from public speaking and publishing.

This presentation is a summary of a book Nation is writing with two EMS graduates, Anthony Siegrist and Daniel Umbel.  Nation will present his summary of their research at the University Colloquium in Martin Chapel from 3:30-5. The book is scheduled for publication next year by Baker Academic Press.  This book will be the first to make the argument that Bonhoeffer was not involved in any assassination attempts.  But as importantly, it will attempt to re-claim the central legacy of Bonhoeffer, a call to discipleship.

“If we are successful in our argument,” said Nation, “It will require a complete reexamination of the Bonhoeffer legacy.”

University colloquiums are free and open to the public.

3 Responses to "EMS Professor Challenges Conventional Wisdom about German Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer"

  1. Glen Stassen says:

    Congratulations, Mark!

    And I’m really glad that you have expanded the argument to naming his pacifism as what got them to want to execute him. That fills in the argument and points in the right direction.

    Glen

  2. Colin Fraser says:

    While I agree that it is attractive but too simplistic to align Bonhoeffer with the resistance, especially the July plot. But it is apparent to me that he was in the know in advance of the 2 March 1943 attempts on Hitler’s life planned by Henning von Tresckow. Bonhoeffer must have been told about the attempts before hand by Donanyi, Oster and Canaris. His trips to Swedent to communicate with George Bell are related to these events.

    While Bonhoeffer was not himself an assassin, he clearly was an accessory to attempted assassination and regime change before and after the fact. I hope you are not going to argue that his arrest and execution had nothing to do with this…..the discovery of the Zossen archives in 1944 and 1945 led directly to his execution on Hitler’s express orders. Bonhoeffer may not have planned assassination but he was killed for exactly that.

    Good luck and I will watch for our book. It is very true that his personal resistance to the regime, prior to his involvement with the Abwehr, is often overlooked and underplayed in favour of the more glamourous bomb plots.

    Colin Fraser

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