The church needs more men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a young man, he criticized the individualized faith of German Christianity. Inspired by the black churches he found in America, he called for a renewal of community in the Christian church. He also advocated personal reading and interpretation of the scriptures, and he wrote authoritatively about discipleship and suffering for Christ. His contributions to Christianity are vital, but he has earned an equal place in history due to his actions in Germany in World War II. While he saw most church leaders lend their full support to Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer engaged in open rebellion against the government. He participated in the founding of an illegal anti-Nazi Christian church, and joined a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.
Martin Doblmeier’s documentary Bonhoeffer captures multiple aspects of the man’s life, from the formation of his theology, to his influence as a prominent Christian thinker and teacher in his time, to the political activism that eventually led to his death. Interviews with modern historians and theologians lend insight into his writings, while talks with his family and students illuminate his private life. They reveal a man who was dedicated to living according to Jesus’ teachings, and torn over how a Christian ought to respond to a murderous national leader.
Doblmeier’s film takes a mostly objective look at its subject. It doesn’t omit the praise lavished on Bonhoeffer by men such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, but it also doesn’t shy away from his shortcomings or his controversial decision to participate in the murder Adolf Hitler. The film attempts to explain what led him to this decision, but it neither criticizes nor commends the action. Presented with the facts, viewers are left to form their own judgments.
Regardless of Bonhoeffer’s methods of resistance, he is remarkable as a man who recognized the duty of Christians to defend victims of unreasoning hatred and violence. It is chilling to see the film’s account of how the Christian church in Germany rallied in support of World War I, and aligned itself closely with the established government. It’s also comforting to see a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer reclaim Christian faith for advocates of peace.Powered by Sidelines