A man destined to fail, hanged as a 39-year-old, has now deeply influenced—perhaps troubled—Christianity for half a century.

The career in theology for which Dietrich Bonhoeffer was prepared opened with highly specialized works (The Communion of Saints and Act and Being). But then came books addressed to insiders of the church, who, like he, were fighting on the losing side in Germany (The Cost of Discipleship). Later, the Nazis prohibited Dietrich from speaking, printing, and writing. During this time only fragments of manuscripts, sometimes hardly decipherable, emerged (Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison).

Forty-five years ago, the author of the Ethics fragments was prematurely torn away from his work by the Nazis. As one of Bonhoeffer’s closest surviving friends, I fulfilled an obligation to make the Ethics fragments readable and communicable.

This led to mediating the entire Bonhoeffer literary inheritance. The work almost became the primary occupation of the second half of my life.

Today about forty people are working to edit all of his writings into sixteen volumes. Already six volumes are on the market (at a price too high for most people’s pocketbooks), and the English edition is in the works. Introductions, commentaries, and painfully precise evidences by experts!

This scholarly output means that today’s readers of Bonhoeffer face a new challenge: they must examine their interpretation of him in light of firm sources. Some explorers of the religious Bonhoeffer must see if they have overlooked the political Bonhoeffer. Others, explorers of the worldly Bonhoeffer, must see if they have not devalued his spirituality.

Toning Down His Significance?

Now a new generation, with firm source material, examines the assertive ...

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