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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: May 2006

13 - Prayer and action for justice

from Part two - Major themes in Bonhoeffer's theology


Those whose only acquaintance with Dietrich Bonhoeffer is limited to his exciting affirmation about 'Christian secularity' in the prison letters and his inspirational role in the plot to kill Hitler are often astonished to learn that he was also a man of daily, at times childlike, prayer. Some early analysts of Bonhoeffer's theology did, in fact, dismiss his most directly 'spiritual literature', The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, as deviations from the exemplary activism that reached crescendo pitch in the anti-Hitler conspiracy and his goading the churches to responsible action against the state in the Ethics. These writings, however, were far from being 'devotional' detours. They reflect enduring, faith-filled sources of Bonhoeffer's inner stamina, his profound 'spirituality', without which he could never have persevered in his struggle against Nazism.

Discerning the rhythms of Bonhoeffer's 'spiritual strength', which is the focus of this study, brings us time and again to the intrinsic connection between prayer and action as expressed in his daily meditation on the biblical word, his efforts to form genuine Christian community, and his willingness to be led by God's grace to take Christlike risks to retrieve freedom and justice for a nation under the heel of a cruel dictatorship. These were the 'Powers for Good', to cite a phrase from one of his poems,1 that steadied him in his resistance to Nazism. They also distinguish his Christcentred spirituality from false piety and idolatrous religion.