Biographers Needed! Please Apply
By: Rubel Shelly

You likely know the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a Christian theologian whose writings became influential throughout the Protestant world in the mid-twentieth century. Among his many books, Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship are my personal favorites. Both are widely thought of as classics of modern Christian literature.

It was Bonhoeffer’s fate to be a Christian in Germany during the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The ethical principles he embraced and taught as a follower of Jesus Christ led him to be an outspoken critic of both. He affirmed that obedience to Christ’s command to love one’s neighbors made it impossible for the same person to be anti-Semitic and a propagator of hatred.

Bonhoeffer became a prominent leader in what came to be called the Confessing Church, a Protestant movement in Germany that was born the same year that Hitler came to power, 1933. The Confessing Church systematically opposed the German Christian Church – a Nazi-backed church that collaborated with Hitler’s evil theories, statements, and actions.

Bonhoeffer went so far in his opposition to Nazism that he was involved in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. He was imprisoned. Then, shortly before the end of World War II, he was hanged by the Nazis.

You probably knew at least the broad outline of what has been related to this point in this article. What you likely don’t know is that we are aware of Dietrich Bonhoeffer principally through a man named Eberhard Bethge. One theologian wrote this of him: “Bethge was to become the editor of all Bonhoeffer’s works, his biographer and his interpreter. Without Bethge, Bonhoeffer, whose name was to become a household word far beyond the church scene, would hardly be known outside the circle of his family, his students and his friends.”

Eberhard Bethge died on March 18, 2000, in a suburb of Bonn. Even his obituary in the New York Times featured more data about Bonhoeffer than him. Though a theologian himself who taught with his more famous friend at an underground anti-Nazi seminary and suffered imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis, his most significant work was to be a biographer. His great achievement was not to become widely known himself but to make someone else famous. His quiet-by-comparison achievements have been very significant.

As I read his obituary, the thought occurred to me that Jesus needs more biographers. He needs people who are willing to tell his story without calling undue attention to themselves. Evangelism is telling the story of Jesus so compellingly that it draws others to him and attracts them to follow him.

Without Plato, we would know little about Socrates. Apart from Bethge, the life of Bonhoeffer would not be so well-known. Without you, someone may never know about Jesus.