German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived 39 years, the last 12 under Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Nazis murdered Bonhoeffer at Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, as an anti-Nazi dissident and participant in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

During the Third Reich, many German Protestants leaders became crafters and preachers of a Nazi theology that sanctified Nazi politics and policy. In 1939, they founded the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life. The work of creating a dangerous, certainty-driven, “science”-based Christianity was well underway.

Theology matters. It is in the groundwater of society, even when disparaged or ignored. Appealed to explicitly (“The Bible says…!”) and implicitly (“It just ain’t natural…normal…right!”), theology is never so far from the surface as we might imagine. The Institute quickly became the most critical propaganda machine of German Protestantism, exerting widespread influence, producing “a Nazified Christianity that placed anti-Semitism at its theological center” (Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus, Princeton University Press, 2010). Nazis also cast the Romani racially, socially, and physically defective and murdered them en masse. Considered “genetically defective,” the deaf, the blind, the physically disabled, gay and lesbian people, the mentally ill, and alcoholics were either sterilized or killed.

In his context, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood out. To this day, Christians of good theology highly regard his moral courage and loyalty to Christ above all else. Recently, I’ve read from a collection of Bonhoeffer’s writings. The words quoted below spoke to me both as a commentary on the devotional’s title (God is in the Manger) and a challenge for we good church-goin’ folk. The constant, insidious temptation to deem ourselves “pious” can ruin us.

The editors titled the passage “The Scandal for Pious People.”

Bonhoeffer is talking about the scandal of Christmas.

“The lowly God-man is the scandal of pious people and of people in general. … The most incomprehensible thing for the pious is this man’s claim that he is not only a pious human being but also the Son of God. … If Christ had documented himself with miracles, we would naturally believe, but then Christ would not be our salvation, for then there would be no faith in the God who became human, but only the recognition of an alleged supernatural fact. But that is not faith. … Only when I forgo visible proof, do I believe in God.”

Pastoral Ponderings is a brief, weekly email from Rev. Zach Bay. You are invited to peek behind the curtain of the pastor’s study at what he is reading, thinking about, and working on this week. Pastoral Ponderings may be a set of loose threads of thought or a well-wrought article. It may be only a paragraph, but it will never be more than 400 words. Feel free to click reply and write back anytime. Zach enjoys hearing from you.
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