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Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging The Myth, Recovering His Call To Peacemaking Paperback – 1 Oct 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 1st Edition edition (1 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801039614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801039614
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.7 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,116,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Mark Thiessen Nation (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and has authored several books, including John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convic

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was pleased to discover this book,and the views and opinions that it puts forward in an excellent way. Full of good material and references that make it a very worthwhile contribution of study in the life of Bonhoeffer.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Probably Not 11 Oct. 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In their newly-released book, Bonhoeffer The Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking, the authors Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel provide compelling evidence that Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not participate in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

I had anticipated this book's publication since reading an article in which one of the authors, Mark Thiessen Nation, revealed the thesis of their research. Excited as I was by that article, this book is even more exciting as a new look at an old myth.

As to their thesis that Bonhoeffer maintained his pacifist stance in both word and deed, the authors assert confidently, "If by `activities' we mean actions that contributed directly to attempts to kill Hitler, there is no evidence of any such actions on Bonhoeffer's part." (p. 87). By reviewing writings about Bonhoeffer, the writings and sermons of Bonhoeffer, and the testimonies of those who knew Bonhoeffer, Nation, Siegrist, and Umbel not only dispel the myth of Bonhoeffer's alleged participation in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, they blow it up altogether.

Interestingly, Mark Thiessen nation offers his own understanding for decades of fascination with the story of the young pacifist theologian who turned to violence in the hot-light of Nazi atrocities. Nation writes, "Repeatedly I see writings about Bonhoeffer that imply that what truly sets him apart is that he was a theologian--a former pacifist and trainer of pastors--who then became involved in plots to kill Hitler."(p. 229). This story fits our national psyche, our need to affirm that no one, not even a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, can adhere to the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount in the real world in which we live. However, to believe this unchallenged theory, Nation argues, seriously distorts the legacy of Bonhoeffer.

This is an important book, a book that rewrites the story of Bonhoeffer -- a book which asserts that the real transition Bonhoeffer made was not from naive idealist to mature realist, but from rationalizing nationalist to completely committed disciple of Jesus Christ. No biographer of Bonhoeffer's will again be able to get away with the unfounded assumption of Bonhoeffer's turn toward violence. Even critics of the authors' conclusions and convictions will be unable to accept without question the heretofore unquestioned wisdom about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Read other books on Bonhoeffer, including his own work, but read this one as a credible corrective to a myth that was all too easy to believe.

Disclaimer: I purchased my own copy of the book from Amazon and did not receive any inducement for this review. -cw
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An important corrective to the assassination narrative 1 Jun. 2014
By Arthur Sido - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Third Reich in the waning days of World War II, is enjoying something of a posthumous renaissance in the evangelical world even though he might not really qualify as an evangelical. Much of this is attributable to the risible but wildly popular biography of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Unfortunately this renewal of interest in Bonhoeffer presents as an ironclad fact his supposed involvement in one of the myriad plots within the Third Reich to assassinate Hitler.

The narrative of Bonhoeffer as an active participant in the plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler is a commonly referenced trump card in discussions of redemptive violence. This is especially true with the contemporary co-opting of Bonhoeffer as an honorary American evangelical hero. That is why this book is such an important counter-balance to the Bonhoeffer as assassin narrative.

The great strength of this book is the systematic dismantling of the "facts" that form the evidence for Bonhoeffer as a participant in the assassination plots. By first unraveling the flimsy historical evidence. notable mostly for what is not there, namely any concrete evidence that directly supports the contention that he was involved directly in assassination plots, what is left is an examination of what we do have, his writings. When you read Bonhoeffer, and note the entire scope of his writing, what you are left with is a man who is hardly the model of a would-be assassin.

The great weakness of this book, in my opinion, is the pretty technical nature of several chapters. For someone unfamiliar with Bonhoeffer's works as well as unfamiliar with philosophical fundamentals and writers such as Karl Barth, several chapters will be difficult slogs to get through. I am more comfortable with theology proper than I am what I consider more esoteric philosophical conversations and while important I am not sure that the average reader will benefit much from these chapters.

More fundamentally it is important to remember that while the alleged evidence of Bonhoeffer's involvement in the assassination plotting is pretty flimsy, even if he were involved it really doesn't matter because our standard is Scripture, the example of Christ and the witness of the Biblical teaching. Bonhoeffer, whether he did or did not actively seek to be involved in the assassination attempt, is still just a redeemed sinner and while he was brilliant he was also still very much a work in progress when it came to his own theological positions. In spite of that caveat this is still an important book that serves as a serious, scholarly corrective to the "heroic assassin that justifies killing" paradigm that surrounds Bonhoeffer in popular literature. When a man who was as brilliant as Bonhoeffer and still has so much to teach the church is primarily known as the pastor who plotted to kill Hitler in spite of a decided lack of concrete evidence, something is wrong and I believe Bonhoeffer himself would be aghast. You might not find the argument compelling but it at the very least deserves examination.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Well Written Book that Forces Us to Reconsider How We Talk About Bonhoeffer's Legacy 2 Jan. 2014
By Drew Hart - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had the pleasure of reading Bonhoeffer The Assassin?: Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking, by Mark Nation, Anthony Siegrist, and Daniel Umbel. In this work, the authors have one primary and focused goal, that is to challenge the language used and assumptions held by many surrounding Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy, specifically as it relates to his participation in the Abwehr and the resistance plots to kill Hitler. These assumptions we have about Bonhoeffer provide hermeneutical lenses through which we read his later work, particularly Ethics. This book does not argue that Bonhoeffer wasn’t in the Abwehr, nor does it suggest that he did not know about the assassination plots or was distant from those engaged in those realities and plots. However, while recognizing and affirming those historical facts, the authors challenge what this actually means in terms of the nature of Bonhoeffer’s actual involvement and his ongoing theological positions.
One of the strongest historical arguments that challenge our assumptions about Bonheoffer’s legacy in the book is how the book explores Helmuth James Count von Moltke’s own legacy and participation in the Abwehr, in his own words. Considering Moltke’s actual participation, and all that it involved has considerable import for expanding current imagination around role participation possibilities. On paper, “His job description said that he was to gather military intelligence for the Wehrmacht, the Armed Forces, using his expertise to assist Germany in its war efforts. This entailed reading reports regarding German military efforts as well as those of other nations; it also involved extensive travel.” (3) However, Moltke was involved in the resistance, and therefore that was only a cover. In reality, “Making allies where he could, he attempted to work against the escalation of the war as well as to mitigate atrocities masquerading as legitimate war tactics” and this “involved gathering specific data and communicating with relevant German officials, attempting to convince them of the need to obey international laws, sometimes utilizing arguments of self-interest—such as mutual, respectful treatment of political prisoners—in order to be convincing.” (3) Along with this, he “improved local conditions for people where he could through invoking legal principles. After he knew that Jews were being deported, he attempted to get them rerouted to countries that would be a safe haven for them. When possible, he personally helped Jews escape to safe territories.”(3) Finally, he also used connections in England to communicate that there were Germans that were opposed and actively resisting Hitler. (5) What becomes pretty clear, is that Moltke was an important figure in the resistance, had military background and expertise, saw his participation as a way to avoid conscription in the war, and sought to resist German through nonviolent means (and actually participated in the Kreisau Circle which mostly rejected violence as a viable option). The authors make a compelling case from here, to at least reconsider what Bonhoeffer’s actual activity and reasoning for joining the Abwehr might have been.
All of that is covered in the introduction, but the first three of the seven chapters is primarily a biography of Bonhoeffer’s life. These chapters, as expected, detail Bonhoeffer’s geographic movements, significant friendships, and theological shifts (like his “grand liberation” and “conversion” to the Sermon on the Mount). For the books argument, chapter three holds significant weight in its importance in setting out to accomplish its objective. This part of the book engages Sabine Dramm’s work that has already significantly challenged many assumptions made about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s conspiracy activity, and more controversially it questions Eberhard’ Bethge’s accounting of events, upon which most of the vague but implicit assumptions about Bonhoeffer’s activity emerges. However, from both of their writings, the authors highlight the following point:
What is striking about both the accounts of Bethge and Dramm is that Bonhoeffer's life as an agent of the Abwehr was truly a cover: a way to avoid military induction while continuing his theological reflection and ministry. Not only did he receive no income from his work for the military intelligence agency, but he continued as much as he was able in his work as a pastor and theologian. (76-77)
However, leaning especially on Dramm’s work, he clarifies Bonhoeffer’s activity as being more of a cover so that he could avoid conscription and uphold his convictions rather than because he desired to participate in assassinating Hitler. Similarly, his actual everyday responsibilities and actions had nothing to do with assassination plots. However, it is from Bethge’s important biography of his friend, which leads most to interpret his participation as implying more active involvement in assassination plots. So, the challenge turns towards challenging Bethge’s depiction of Bonhoeffer at that time. Readers will have to wrestle with these points being brought up for themselves, because they are both compelling and yet controversial in their questioning of Bethge.
The last few chapters engage Bonhoeffer’s theological work, exploring its continuity and discontinuity. It is less controversial, though no less important in its place in the book. The authors easily demonstrate the theological continuity of Discipleship with the positions being presented in Ethics as well as Bonhoeffer’s Prison Letters. Their careful theological work will either win over their reader, or at least will leave a reality that there is some tension between what Bonhoeffer wrote in his theological work and what he said informally to Bethge.
This book, despite some responses from the Old Guard of Bonhoeffer studies, is not reaching that far beyond what is already known in Bonhoeffer scholarship. In fact, it relies heavily on the work of others to make its point. However, it does question Bethge (in a manner that I found actually very respectful and transparent in relation to its challenge). This book at the least will make a great reading conversation partner with Schlingensiepen’s biography which is certainly following the lead of Bethge in this regard. I would expect that most, regardless of whether one agrees with the approach of questioning Bethge’s account or not, will be challenged in this book in a manner that will change the way they describe Bonhoeffer’s role in the Abwehr, and his overall reasoning for being there to begin with. Finally, the book will help draw out much more continuity in Bonhoeffer’s theological work from Discipleship to his death. I gladly recommend this book as a stimulus for further consideration to those who already have some familiarity with Bonhoeffer’s life and thought.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Rewriting History (for accuracy no less!) 10 Dec. 2013
By Keith Foisy - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a book that is long overdue and if anyone cared to hear the real story of Bonhoeffer, it would change history.

Bonhoeffer was made famous, not for who he was, but for who we wanted him to be. In "Bonhoeffer the Assassin?" it is revealed that there is no case for the claim that Bonhoeffer was ever a part of an assassination attempt on Hitler or that he ever renounced non-violence as an essential element of Christianity.

Bonhoeffer was arrested a few years prior to the assassination attempt he's become so famous for. He was brought up on charges of evading military duty on the front lines and connected with misusing funds to relocate a group of Jewish victims. He did want to see Hitler removed from power, but sought a Christian solution for doing so.

Why has Bonhoeffer been labeled as a pacifist who became 'realistic' and embraced redemptive violence? Because we wanted him to be that for us. If someone like Bonhoeffer, who wrote "The Cost of Discipleship" which was so thoroughly convincing and convicting, ultimately embraced the necessity of violence, then we too can feel free to end all questions on the matter.

The problem is, that isn't the story of the real Bonhoeffer. Nor did anything good come from the assassination attempt. Bonhoeffer's commitment to non-violence and the blundered assassination attempt that inspired even more executions, should stand as a lesson against redemptive violence rather than support it.
A great and revolutionary book 25 July 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A great and revolutionary book, but should be read with Sabine Dramm's book for a little more balance. This is absolutely a must read for anyone who has ever wrestled with Bonhoeffer's relationship with any assassination attempts.
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