Glenn Beck: Why Dietrich Bonhoeffer Matters

This is a rush transcript from "Glenn Beck," December 3, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GLENN BECK, HOST: Welcome to "The Glenn Beck Program."

Surprisingly yet in another studio tonight. I — I mean, we're like — I'm like the little orphan around here. It's like the 5:00 show — we'd like a studio, please.

Tonight, I want to talk to you a little bit about the churches in America, because the churches have always played a role, not only here but abroad as well. Are the churches in America vibrant? Are they dead? Are they on life support? What are they?

And are we getting the right story? I have somebody on in about a half hour that you're going to meet. He is the reverend of the largest church in the New York City area. They have over 30,000 members here, the largest church in the New York City area. It's conservative.
How come we didn't know that?

Stick with us.


BECK: Hello, America.

I want to tell you about this guy and this book, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy." I talked about Bonhoeffer a couple of times on this program. And he is loved by the left. Oh, they love him. In fact, here's "A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer," foreword by Jim Wallis.

Hi, Jimmy. Jimmy loves the show.

Jim Wallis, of course, is the guy who's leading that Christian boycott against me. I think that's what Christ would do — leading that Christian boycott against me in this program and running ads about what kind of Christians would watch or listen to Glenn Beck? Thank, Jimmy. I love you, too.

There's a problem because the left likes to take Dietrich Bonhoeffer and say he's a social justice guy. This book says no, not so much.

Who is Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He's a guy that you should know. This is a book that you should read. Why? I don't believe in coincidence. This is a book that the author told me I was compelled to write. I didn't want to write it.

I have to tell you I didn't want to read about a guy who was tortured by Nazis either. But it came in to my hands, strangely, and I felt compelled that I should put it on the air. But then I got side-tracked onto Gandhi and was looking for expert on Gandhi. And the author of this book bumped into somebody on my staff and he was reading this book at the time. And he said, hey, you know Dietrich Bonhoeffer was fascinated by Gandhi and said Gandhi held the answer.

I called Eric right away. Eric Metaxas, he is the author of "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," and said, can you help me out with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Gandhi? And tonight, we want to spend a little bit of time talking about the churches in Germany and look for patterns here, because it's important what happened to the churches in Germany, but really important because this guy stood and is being recast now.

Tell me, Eric, about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

ERIC METAXAS, AUTHOR, "BONHOEFFER: PASTOR, MARTYR, PROPHET, SPY": Bonhoeffer, yes, there's a lot there. There's a lot there. But Bonhoeffer's — it's a fascinating thing because I wrote a book about William Wilberforce. It's called "Amazing Grace."

BECK: I know.

METAXAS: And people kept asking me who you're going to right about next? Some people said about whom are you next going to write? Those people were correct, by the way. I like the word "whom," I'm yelling.

BECK: Right.

METAXAS: But I thought there's only one person who captures my imagination, my heart, my mind the way William Wilberforce did. And that's Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer in a nutshell for folks who don't know was a German pastor and theologian who got involved in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

BECK: But he didn't — wait, wait, wait. Back up.

METAXAS: That's the short — leaping ahead. That's who he was.


METAXAS: But to talk about how that happened, that's where —

BECK: Right. He's a guy who didn't want to be involved, tried to wake the churches up. They now say, people like Jim Wallis, say that he said that Christianity was dead and he was social justice guy.

METAXAS: Right. Well, it's almost hilarious because when you look at the fact, the reason I said, I got writing this book not knowing what I would find, because I heard these things about Bonhoeffer. People had presented it that sort of toward the end of his life, he kind of makes a weird left-hand turn and becomes a post-Christian humanist, whatever that means. I don't know.

BECK: Right.

METAXAS: But somehow drifts away from biblical faith in Jesus Christ. That's not true. I didn't know until I did the research on the book and what I discovered actually stunned me because the opposite is true. His faith is stronger and stronger. Eighteen hours before he is sent to his death in Buchenwald concentration camp, he has a service for his fellow prisoners. He preaches a sermon.

I mean, this guy went to the gallows with his faith in Jesus intact. And so, none of that is true and his legacy has effectively been hijacked by the hard left, really by agnostics and atheists.

BECK: OK. This is — America, this is important for you to know. This is an important book for you to read because he was compelled to write it — prompted, dare I say. I felt prompted to bring the story to you.

And we were in my office a couple months ago and I said, I don't know what it's supposed to be used for, but somebody is supposed to get their hands on this book. And maybe it's you. This guy was amazing, was amazing, and a hero. Did you see "Valkyrie"?


BECK: Yes. Amazing story and fearlessness.


BECK: That was this kind of guy.

METAXAS: Oh, yes. You know, the whole story of "Valkyrie" is in this book. That's why it's a thick book. There's a lot of — there were many plots — or I should say there are many attempts on Hitler's life. The final one, I'll get to that in a minute, if you want to go through the timeline. It all culminates in that.

BECK: Yes, the Hitler part is not as important to me as standing up to the churches and saying, no, no, no.

METAXAS: Right. That's right.

BECK: Look what's happening.

METAXAS: Right. And that's why in the title, I call him a prophet, because the prophet speaks to the church. The prophet is trying to get the people of God to be the people of God.

BECK: OK. So, what was happening in the churches early in Germany?

METAXAS: Well, you got a number of things going on.

First of all, you have theological liberalism. OK, Bonhoeffer, he wants to be a theologian at age 14. He decides to go to Berlin University, which is the finest place in the world to study theology, literally.

So, he goes there, but he is not a theological liberal. He is a Barthian, people can look that up, Karl Barth. And Bonhoeffer realizes that the God of the Bible is alive. He's not dead. It's not just these are texts we're studying, but most of the German theologians at that time looked at it as though, you know, all that stuff has been sort of disproved, so, we're just going to study the text. Bonhoeffer says, no, there's a God behind the text and he wants us to know him personally.

So, the climate of Germany, in the, whatever, the first decades of the 20th century, was climate of you have two things going on — number one, theological liberalism, where people don't really believe this stuff. But they continue to go through the motions.

BECK: In many ways, what we have here now.

METAXAS: Well, of course. Absolutely. And this always happens to the church. You have this season that waxes and wanes where you have people who effectively take it for granted. I mean, Germany, in many ways, the parallels to the U.S. are stunning. And I didn't realize it until I did the research for this book.

But when you have a country that thinks of itself as Christian nation, the downside is, you begin to take it for granted. You go, well, we're a Christian nation. So, Germany thought, hey, we gave the world Martin Luther and he gave the world Protestantism. We're it. So, we don't have to do anything.

BECK: When I saw speeches. I went to a museum of film and I saw old speeches of Adolf Hitler that he gave really early. And they are loaded with Jesus Christ stuff. I mean, they are loaded —

METAXAS: Of course.

BECK: — with Christianity.

METAXAS: Of course. He wanted to sell himself as a Christian because he understood that if he shows who he really is — and by the way, in the book I give chapter and verse on what the Nazis really believed. They were not only not Christians, they were gentiles. So, they were not Jews, but they were not Christians. They were pagans, basically.

But he understood that he's dealing with a population that is vaguely Christian. Germany is a Christian nation. And that if he presents himself as bitterly opposed to Christianity, he will lose his power.

BECK: Right.

METAXAS: So, he plays — I mean, this is the danger, when you have a nation that is sort of Christian in a very surfacey way, not mentioning any names but the initials are USA, if you have that kind of thing going on, you're very susceptible.

So, Hitler comes in the situation and he basically plays the conservatives. He basically says that, you know, I'm against degenerate Bolshevism. I'm against the communists, I'm for values, and so on and so forth.

And so, he speaks, he talks the talk, but he is fundamentally opposed to actual Christianity. But he hides it, because he knows it. If he revealed it, he loses everything.

BECK: When did Bonhoeffer first figure him out? Because he was the first guy from the beginning, right?

METAXAS: Yes. From day one, and I think that's because Bonhoeffer's father was a scientist. And the whole Bonhoeffer family was trained to think rigorously. They were not able to be fooled. They were really some of the finest minds in Germany. This is an amazing family. And I go into it in the book.

But they were trained to think clearly. So, number one, Bonhoeffer thinks very clearly. Number two, his family was very well-connected in social circles in Berlin, so they knew people who were in the know.

And they knew before Hitler became chancellor who he was. That he's a vulgar, fundamentally anti-German, anti-Christian narcissist. The maniac basically. They knew this. The family whole knew it. They all got involved in the plot to kill Hitler.

BECK: When Hitler became chancellor, Bonhoeffer was on the air. And was he taken off air?

METAXAS: Yes. Well, two days in January 31st, 1933, Hitler becomes chancellor. Two days later, three days later, Bonhoeffer goes on the air and gives a radio speech. And in the speech, he basically dissects the whole idea of the fuhrer principle. That's another chapter in the book, this idea that was very popular in Germany of the fuhrer, the leader. I won't go into it now.

But Bonhoeffer dissects it, really rips it to shreds. And people thought that the Nazis cut off the broadcast, but now, it doesn't seem that's what happened. But the bottom line is, he gives the speech days after Hitler becomes chancellor.

You want to talk about brave — I mean, this was not the way the winds were blowing in Germany at the time. But from that day on, all the way until his death 12 years later, Bonhoeffer is vehemently against the Nazis.

BECK: OK. (INAUDIBLE), he again stands up, his family stands up.

METAXAS: Well, I think it's important to talk about the fact that right in the early '30s, the Germans, German pastors still believed there was an opportunity to turn the tide, right? You had most of the pastors just kind of lay down and roll over.

But there were a few, and Bonhoeffer was one of the leaders who understood that we've got to stand up to the Nazis, because it's important to say the Nazis are trying to take over the church. They were totalitarians. They want to take over everything. And there was no separation of church and state in Germany.

So, Hitler becomes the head of the state. So, he's thinking, well, we can take over the church, but we're going to do it carefully. We're not going to announce that we're taking over the church. We're going to do it carefully.

BECK: How did he do it?

METAXAS: Bonhoeffer sees this — excuse me?

BECK: How did he do it?

METAXAS: Well, basically infiltration. He had — there were Nazis everywhere and they began to take over the levers of power because it was the state church. And Bonhoeffer was, again, like the canary in the coal mine, he was one of the first people to say, wait a second. What they are saying is completely antithetical to the Scripture.

They are, for example, looking at things along racial lines. Bonhoeffer said you can't do that. My best friend is a Jew who becomes a Christian and now, he's a member, he wants to be, he's training for the clergy. The Nazis said you have Jewish blood? You can't be member of the clergy. This is a state-run church. You're Jewish, you're out.

Bonhoeffer writes a seminal essay, this was really the key in 1933, he writes something "The Church and the Jewish question," where he, with his incredible mine, dissects this idea and shows that what the Nazis are bringing to the church, this racial prism through which they're seeing everything is fundamentally opposed to Christianity.

And he was one of the leaders that led to the writing of this famous thing, "The Barmen Declaration" where all the pastors including Martin Niemoller, Karl Barth, stood up and said, no more. We are separating from the Nazified Reich church. So, we're separating. That's no longer the church of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer is one of the leaders in this.

And every pastor in Germany that signed on to "The Barmen Declaration" was now part of what became known as the confessing church. And in the story, confessing church are basically the good guys. Then you have the Reich church which is run by the Nazis.

And the Nazis marked every pastor in the confessing church was a marked man. Basically, they were sent to concentration camp. They were sent to the front lines when the war came. They were decimated, completely decimated.

BECK: Bonhoeffer comes to America a couple of times.

METAXAS: Twice. Yes.

BECK: This is where it gets dicey, because he goes —

METAXAS: The first time he's talking about —

BECK: Yes, social justice church.

METAXAS: Yes, not really. No, not really. This is interesting. In 1930, he comes to America. He goes to Union Theological Seminary. And here where he had his doctorate at age 21. So, he's not really interested in learning theology. But he comes, he wants to spend a year in America before he gets ordained.

So, he comes here, and an African-American friend of his, fellow student, invites him to Harlem, to Abyssinian Baptist Church. Bonhoeffer goes there and what he sees in this church, actual Christianity, he has never seen before. He sees thousands of people worshipping Jesus Christ, people who are a suffering congregation. I mean, African-American in 1930. He sees them singing with joy.

This is real. This is not — we're not playing church. This is not gentiles what you do on a Sunday. This is the real day.

It changed him. He couldn't believe it. He goes to back to Union, and he says, I'm so moved, I'm going back to that church every single Sunday.

So, imagine this blonde, bespectacled Berlin academic going to Harlem every Sunday, not just to worship, but to teach Sunday school, to get involved in the lives of these people. So, he was, during this year, fundamentally changed. He was a theologically a Christian before this, but his heart was changed and gave his heart to Jesus.

BECK: And when he went back, he tried — correct me if I'm wrong — he try to do gospel music, right?

METAXAS: Oh, he brings, yes, he brings records, the quote-unquote, "Negro Spirituals" to Germany. But he says, you got to hear this. This is — he was moved. I mean, he could see that something had happened that these African-Americans were — their fate was totally different.

BECK: They were here, not here.

METAXAS: Definitely. Definitely. And the — I mean, many of the Lutherans weren't even here either. You know, they were kind of nowhere.

But the fact is that, Bonhoeffer, he sees this, he comes back and when he starts teaching in Berlin University, in theology department, and he starts talking about the Bible as the word God. He says that the God of the Bible wants to speak to us through the Bible. He wants to have a personal relationship with us. Of all the stuff not that is, you know, was not being taught in seminary, was not being taught in the theology. This is amazing.

BECK: He is — he tried to do what Whitefield did here.

METAXAS: Well, of course.

BECK: Whitefield said the same thing. No, no, the Lord wants to have a personal relationship with you.

METAXAS: Yes, this is — this is actual Christianity. That's playing church. That is dead religion.

I mean, everybody who goes to church, Germany thought of itself as a Christian nation. Obviously, in this country, in Great Britain, in my other book about "Amazing Grace," you got slavery, but all these people go to church on Sundays. Well, the people who go to church, I mean, if you're a serious Christian like Whitefield you're going to see the injustice in slavery.

Same thing in Germany — if you are a serious Christian, you're going to see that what the Nazi propose for the Jews is wrong. But not everybody thought that.

BECK: I mean, Whitefield didn't actually see the injustice in slavery. He did. He saw the brutality in slavery. But he was a complex guy.

Let me go to — let me take you towards the end of the story. He actually starts smuggling Jews get out and starts helping Jews get out. He comes to America, because he knows things are closing in, right?

METAXAS: Well, the war is coming and he knows he cannot fight in Hitler's war. So, what he's going to do? The Nazis are essentially closing in and closing in and closing in. So, he goes to America again to escape.

And no sooner does he get off the ship in the New York harbor, right down the street here, and he knows he's made a mistake. God is calling him back to Germany to stand with his people in this time of evil. So, he goes back to Germany.

What is he going to do in Germany? He's against Hitler. What can he do? Well, here's what he does. He becomes a spy. He works for his brother-in-law, who was a member of the German military intelligence and we need to say that German military intelligence at the time was the center of the conspiracy against Adolf Hitler. Amazing, right?

So, Bonhoeffer has this cover. Ostensibly, he's working for Third Reich as member of the German intelligence but what he's really doing with his brother-in-law is working conspiring against the Nazis and that's what he does.

BECK: And this is when he starts to get dicey for him. Here's a guy who first spoke out in 1933 against Hitler publicly, bravely. And started to organize and wake up all of the churches, he makes it all the way to 1940 at this point and goes back. And now, it gets really dicey for him. They're on to him. And we will finish the story here in just a second.


BECK: We're back with Eric Metaxas. He is the author of "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy." And I'm going to have to have him back because we're running out of time here. And this is a book that you need to read, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy." pick it up and read it.

This guy is an inspiration for his courage. It is a guy that you should teach your children, somebody who stood against all odds for a very long time in Nazi, Germany. First to really speak out publicly against Hitler, 1933. He's giving a radio speech.

Now, we get all the way to the 1940s, the war is coming. Things are really bad. The death camps are here. He is smuggling Jews out. He's spying on to Hitler. He's actually the guy who — was it the first attempt on Hitler's life?

METAXAS: Well, he was one of the conspiracy and there were many attempts. I write about all of them in the book. They're fascinating.

The final attempt happens after Bonhoeffer's arrest. He is arrested for trying to smuggle seven Jews out of Germany to neutral Switzerland. That's when the Gestapo gets him. They understand something is going on in German military intelligence. That's not Kosher (ph). They arrest him. They send him to prison.

And a year later, Bonhoeffer is still in prison. But he's not going to be killed. This is just, you know, he's been smuggling Jews out. But then the Valkyrie plot goes awry. The bomb explodes, Hitler survives.

For the first time in years, this conspiracy is exposed, people are arrested. People are tortured. Names come up. Bonhoeffer's name is among them.

So, he's transferred to the dreaded Gestapo prison and from that point in, his days are numbered. A year later, he's at Buchenwald concentration camp, and on the specific direct orders of Hitler for revenge, Bonhoeffer is murdered by the Nazis at dawn on April 9th, 1945.

I think it's important to say — oh, it's amazing. I mean, he identifies with — he stood up for the Jews. Because of his faith in Jesus, he stood up for the Hews unto death and dies in concentration camp. — amazing, amazing story. And believes that God has called him to be a spy. I mean, it's amazing.

But what I find in some ways as amazing is how his legacy has been totally distorted for 50 years, because while he's in prison — and you'll follow this — while he is in prison, he writes a letter to his best friend and he basically says, how did this happen? How did the churches fail to stand up to the satanic evil of the Nazis? How did we fail?

Well, he knows how we failed, because we weren't really being the church. We were playing church. We were showing up. But we were not being sold out Christians, devoted to God, to obey God even unto death.

And he uses a phrase in one of these letters, he says, what we need in Germany, what we needed is a religion-less Christianity. In other words, not just go you through the motion, show up at church, and do this and do that, but completely sold out to serve God and obey God and stand up for those, Jews, who can't stand up for themselves. We need a religion-less Christianity.

Now, we have to keep in mind, Bonhoeffer's idea of religion, that term "religion," was a negative idea. It means —

BECK: It's a state religion.

METAXAS: It's not the — it's not a personal relationship with God. It's just going through the motions.

BECK: Sure.

METAXAS: So, Bonhoeffer uses the phrase "religion-less Christianity." Well, if you can believe it, in the early '50s, the agnostics and atheists in the so-called "God is dead movement," OK, theological liberals, seize on this phrase religion-less Christianity. And they said, oh, we know what Bonhoeffer meant by that. He meant that he steered away from Christianity into some kind of an atheistic humanism toward the end of his life. That's totally —
BECK: That's what Hitler was doing.

METAXAS: It's totally untrue, right? But they seize on this and they built this kind of theological Piltdown Man.

BECK: He looked to the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel, you say, is the key. We talked about the Tower of Babel. And it is.

METAXAS: It's the image of dead religion. Tower of Babel, and Bonhoeffer writes about this and Barth writes about this — the Tower of Babel is an image of man's attempt through religion to earn his way to heaven without God. In other words, I don't need God. I don't need a savior. I certainly don't need Jesus. I can earn my way. I can tough it out and be good and get there myself, and I'm going to construct this moral system, call it religion and I'm going to get there myself.

That's not what the Bible says. The Bible says, if you do that, God will destroy that. That is dead religion. Bonhoeffer says we need a religion-less Christianity, actual faith, which means that I know I cannot get to heaven by myself. I can't get there. I have can't build a Tower of Babel and reach heaven.

What I need to do is acknowledge that and humble myself before God and say, God, only you can save me. You can bridge this infinite gap between me and you. That's what the Bible teaches. And that's what Bonhoeffer said — the Tower of Babel is dead, religion and actual faith is to say, God, you have to do it by your grace.

BECK: You didn't really want to write this book because it was —

BECK: Yes, it's agony.

METAXAS: What's the Aramaic word for agony?

BECK: It's agony. You felt compelled to write it.

METAXAS: I'll say bluntly on national television God made me write this book.

BECK: Right. Why do you suppose? What is that — what is it you're supposed to —

METAXAS: I believe, number one, I think there are spectacular parallels between that era and this era. I won't go into them.

BECK: You didn't know that.

METAXAS: No. When I went into writing this book, I just wanted to write a nice biography of this nice guy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

BECK: When did it occur to you?

METAXAS: Well, that's actually a whole story you don't have time for. There was a miracle involved in that. Miracles are rare but they happen. It was a miracle.

The thing about Bonhoeffer while I was writing the story, I kept noticing the parallels to today and I thought, here is a man who lived his faith. We need models of people who totally live their faith.

Why do we need those models? Because we need to be inspired. We're weak. We need to see, it can be done. God wants us to live the way Bonhoeffer did.

That's God's plan for everyone. Not just for Bonhoeffer. Not just for a few heroes. We're all meant by God to live like that.

Bonhoeffer stood up in the face of Nazism, in the face of satanic evil as a hero. We're talking about him today because he did what God asked him to do.

I really believe we need those stories today. I need them. We need to be inspired. We need to know it can be done.

BECK: Yes. You know, it's one thing — you know, I hope this doesn't offend anybody. I'm sure it will. It's "The Glenn Beck Program," you'll be offended.

Jesus is hard to relate to. He's hard to relate to because he's Jesus. I need people like this.

METAXAS: Well, that's Bonhoeffer's theology. We need people. But, in fact, even Jesus said that. Jesus didn't come down and hand out some sheets and say do this stuff and you'll be good. He lived among us. It's not funny.

He lived among us and he showed us how we're supposed to do it person to person. It's supposed to be people sharing the faith. And Bonhoeffer taught this. He lived in community. I mean, I read about this, too.

He lived in a Christian community for a time, sort of this golden era of Bonhoeffer because he believes to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, you have to teach people and show them with your life. And by writing a biography I really believe that I'm showing people through the life of an actual human being, what does it look like to live the kind of life God calls you to live. It's other people. These aren't just sort of cookie cutter saints or stained glass things.

BECK: This is — I'm not sure what the title of book is going to be that comes up probably, maybe around this time next year. I've been working on it for about a year now. And it is called the working title is "God: Blessing and Curse." When you know him, sometimes it's a curse, because you do things you do not want to do. You say things you don't want to say.

We are living in extraordinary times. But we're up to the challenge. We're Americans. And that's not just something empty. That's — I learned it from my grandparents.

This is — freedom does not belong to you and it doesn't belong to me. It belongs to God and we are stewards for freedom for whatever it is that he wants us to do with that freedom. And I don't think it's going shopping to the mall and doing the crap that we've been doing lately. It's something else.

And it may not be our generation, it may be another, and we're supposed to preserve the freedom and pass it on to our children. It's getting harder and harder to do that. We're approaching difficult times. We need heroes in our life. This is one. Get to know him. This is a tremendous book. And I'm telling you — when you read what he did — the worst of us.

You're digging out sewers every day, whatever is it that you are doing that is awful, read this guy, and it will make your life seem like a piece of cake. Pick it up - tremendous book, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," and spread his story to others. It's an inspiration. Eric, thank you. God bless.

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