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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Impact on Europe
The deep depravity of the Holocaust forces us to ask serious questions of humanity. When arguing with logical absolutes it gives us a rock of what we consider pure evil to serve as representative to what humanity is capable of. For Example, would a non-violent pacifist ever be so moved by human wrongdoing that he would kill another to stop it? This is exactly the dilemma that led to the demise of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose participation in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler ultimately led to his demise. Bonhoeffer’s ideas on pacifism and non-violent resistance have influenced everything from Protestant theology to Martin Luther King’s adoption of Non-Violence for the SCLC in the 1950’s. It is Bonhoeffer’s legacy of ideas, coupled with his dramatic demise just before liberation that make him one of the most influential figures of 20th century Europe.1

**Bonhoeffer cared passionately about stopping Nazism **Bonhoeffer was born in Germany in 1906 and studied religion from an early age**. He passionately read the works of Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebhur. ( 2008) He was a passionate theologian who grew up in the Lutheran tradition. In 1934 he drafted the Barmen Declaration which denounced the teachings of the Nazi Party. After Hitler gained more power, Bonhoeffer became involved in a plot to kill Hitler. (Time 1996) For his role in the plot, Bonhoeffer was held for 2 years in a German prison and was executed by hanging just 1 month before Hitler took his own life and Germany surrendered. (Hunter 1997) Being willing to die for your cause and try to save Europe from the clutches of an evil dictator shows how passionate Bonhoeffer was about Nazism.

Bonhoeffer’s contributions to the non-violence movement are immeasurably important. Martin Luther King was deeply influenced by Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship while in Seminary training. According to George Westerling in his article about the ties between America’s Civil Rights’ movement and Bonhoeffer, “Dr. King’s three greatest influences when developing the SCLC’s non-violence platform were Ghandi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jesus.”2 (Westerling 1998) Dietrich Bonhoeffer showed that non-violence does not equal weakness. Contrarily, he showed the strength of conviction that non-violence needs and ushered in the tactics that would bring about equality for Americans, South Africans, the Burmese, and many others.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s views on Religionless Christianity ushered in a revolution of emergent churches across Europe that engaged the culture and sought to be relevant through action, not just belief. **“Many churches in North Ireland use cultural** activism.” (Kauffman 2007) Bonhoeffer thought that a church was only relevant if it was acting to make the community a better place. He believed there was no room for people of faith who did not act. He knew that he could not be relevant to Germans if he did not share in their suffering. In one of the letters he wrote from a German prison, he wrote “I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people." (Bonhoeffer 1944) Today, thousands of faith-based movements to end poverty, fight AIDS, end urban violence and other action-oriented causes owe their roots to Bonhoeffer’s insistence that churches mustn’t preach with words, but with actions.

Along with thinkers Immanuel Kant and Karl Barth3, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saved faith in general, and the protestant church in particular from becoming irrelevant in the face of the modern scientific world. As the world of scientific enlightenment thinking began to prove more and more religious absolutes faulty, Bonhoeffer embraced uncertainty as an essential element of faith. (Hunter 1996) Bonhoeffer even ventured into quantum mechanics and related the gray world of the uncertainty principle had more to do with theology than did the black an white constructs of the old church. (Hunter 1996) Religious fundamentalism has long stood under attack from science. Bonhoeffer and his ideas helped show that religious belief can exist in a post-modern world, thus he helped to save faith from science.

Clearly Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s contributions to European culture are not the end all be all of influence. **Even the movie about his life has done well on the documentary circuit. Christian Science Monitor gives it 4 stars. (Movie Guide 2003)** Arguably Winston Churchill and his drunken adulterizing did more to save European Protestantism by demanding the best of Britain’s military than Bonhoeffer. Adolf Hitler had a clearly greater affect on the century than Bonhoeffer’s difficult to read writings and failed assassination attempt. However, his importance in changing peoples actions, convictions and ideas cannot be understated. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the 100 most influential people in 20th Century European history.


Forman, Jack. "God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights. " Library Journal 123.n4 (March 1, 1998): 104(1). 
Hunter, Robert L. "Dietrich Bonhoeffer: a vision and a voice for our times. " Saturday Evening Post 269.n5 (Sept-Oct 1997): 50(3)
Kauffman, Richard A. "Blessed are the peacemakers.(REFLECTIONS: Quotations to Stir Heart and Mind). ." Christianity Today 51.12 (Dec 2007): 54(1).
Westerlund, George. "No Difference in the Fare: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Problem of Racism. " Library Journal 123 (Nov 15, 1998): 73(1). 
Dietrich, Donald J. "To Live as to Believe: Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Religionless Christianity"  179 (Dec 12, 1998): 15(1). 
Exonerated, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. " Time 148.n10 (August 26, 1996): 14(1). 
"Movie Guide. " The Christian Science Monitor (June 20, 2003): 14
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. “Letters and Papers from Prison.” Haper Collins (June 2008)

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