Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. Barnabas

The last full week of Lent Madness begins right now. But do not despair as there are many miles to walk and votes to cast before we  sleep and/or award the coveted Golden Halo.

Today is the last matchup of the Saintly Sixteen as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Barnabas for the final spot in the Elate Eight. To make it to this point, Bonhoeffer easily defeated Athanasius while Barnabas rocked Elmo's world.

Tomorrow we begin the Elate Eight aka the Round of Saintly Kitsch. Will the Kitsch Kranks come out in full force? Will it be Kontroversial? Stay tuned as the Saintly Smackdown continues at its usual Krazy pace!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing continues to inspire and sometimes convict us 71 years after his martyrdom.

On our relationship with God and Scripture:

“I bury myself I work in a very unchristian and immodest way. A crazed ambition, which some have noticed about me, makes life difficult…Then something else happened, something that up to this day has changed and rearranged my life. I came for the first time to the Bible…I had already often preached; I had already seen much of the church, even spoken and written about it- and still I had never become a Christian, but instead was very furiously and unrestrainedly my own Lord…Also I had never prayed, or only very little. I was with utter abandonment entirely content with myself. The Bible has liberated me from that, and especially the Sermon on the Mount. Since that time everything has become different.” From a letter to Elisabeth Zinn Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (DBW 14)

“It is only because he became like us that we can become like him.” From Discipleship (DBW 4)

On our relationships with one another:

"The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them." From Life together (DBW 5)

“The church is only the church when it is there for others…It must participate in the worldly affairs of the human social order, not ruling but helping and serving.” From Outline of a Project (DBW 8)

On gratitude:

“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” From Letters and Papers from Prison (DBW 8)

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.” From Life Together (DBW 5)

And, as we wrestle with racism, theologian Renate Wind helps us to see that we haven’t come as far as we’d like to think:

“Bonhoeffer spent time in 1920 and 1931 at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was chilled by the bourgeois white churchliness of conservative America. But, in the local communities of the “other America,” he found evidence of the church he was searching for. The storefront churches and self-help centers of Harlem and the ecumenical and cosmopolitan atmosphere of the seminary impressed Bonhoeffer.” From Who is Christ for Us?

All quotes ©Fortress Press, used by permission

— Beth Lewis

Barnabas

barnabasAlthough the biblical depiction of Barnabas is somewhat limited, his kindness and fidelity that suffuses that presentation led to many texts being written in his name. These texts give us a sense of how Christians throughout the ages drew strength and encouragement from Barnabas’ example. He has continued to be for us a “son of encouragement.”

One of the earliest texts bearing Barnabas’ name is the Epistle of Barnabas. This short work was likely written in the early second century. The text demonstrates a deep knowledge of the Jewish scriptures and offers a host of creative Christological reflections. The letter is often a litany of biblical texts with brief commentary on the side. At one point in the letter Barnabas offers what was perhaps his rationale for selling everything and giving it to the fledgling Jesus community. He sagely writes, “You shall share everything with your neighbor, and not claim that anything is your own. For if you are sharers in what is incorruptible, how much more so in corruptible things!”

The Acts of Barnabas (likely written in the 5th century) again shows us how Barnabas was remembered. The short work recounts some biblical stories with greater detail and then describes the journeys of Barnabas and John Mark after their parting with Paul. The dispute with Paul is far more cordial than described in Acts with Barnabas calmly arguing, “The grace of God will not desert one who has served the Gospel.” The text includes a beautiful reflection on what it means to be clothed in Christ at baptism – “There is in it nothing filthy, but it is altogether splendid.” The Acts also depict his martyrdom by burning and how he was buried with his copy of the Gospel of Matthew (a Gospel that is, like many of the writings that bear Barnabas’ name, rooted and grounded in the Jewish scriptures).

The final text that bears Barnabas’ name is a late text, likely post-Medieval. The Gospel of Barnabas, which only survives in Italian and Spanish translations, perhaps offers the most important message for us today in the West. At a time when Muslims are routinely denigrated and anti-Muslim rhetoric is on the rise, perhaps we would do well to remember Barnabas’ commitment to seeing the best in people, be they Paul the Apostle or his friend (cousin?) John Mark. In this Gospel, Barnabas presents a Jesus who is sympathetic to Muslim belief and practice. Barnabas’ example as a bridge-builder between people and communities is very much needed today.

— David Creech

Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. Barnabas

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer (68%, 4,275 Votes)
  • Barnabas (32%, 2,041 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,316

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130 comments on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. Barnabas”

  1. There is no figure who means more to me this Lent than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And there is no “thinner place” in the twentieth century than where God met man at the gallows in Flossenburg prison. Bonhoeffer was hanged naked with a wire as the Third Reich collapsed. Bonhoeffer’s halo is not a golden circlet but a crown of thorns. Bonhoeffer asked: how do we dare say the Psalms with their imprecations and curses? By praying together. It is Jesus praying for us, and together in our prayers we enact the Incarnation. By singing hymns together, we manifest God. I found an Easter card with a picture of Jesus saying “Save me some chocolate eggs. I’ll be back in three days.” And I laughed, because suddenly the Resurrection was real to me: human, palpable, and funny. We together on this Lent Madness journey inhabit a “thin place.” Whom would we most want to see in the flesh? If I could with my vote bring one person back, to joke and break bread with, it would be Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I cast my vote today as a chocolate egg for Dietrich.
    Here is a link to a recent choral work composed for Bonhoeffer: https://www.newmusicusa.org/projects/bonhoeffer-a-choral-theater-work-by-thomas-lloyd/

    1. I loved your reflection and agree with what you had to say. Very emotional and true.

    2. Dietrich Bonhöffer's insights are increasingly needed today in a world that is becoming increasingly divided by an "us" versus "them" mentality. I am reminded of Martin Niemöller's quote often attributed to Bonhöffer: "In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up." It certainly applies to Bonhöffer and what happened to him at the hands of the Nazis. And all of us need to take note of that, and of Bonhöffer's words and actions. We are all in this together, and for better or worse we need to learn that we are ALL human beings loved by God and put on earth for the good of all and for all of creation!

      1. Thank you for identifying the source of the quote. Heard it once before; did not from whence it came. Most of all thank you for your powerful response.

    3. This was hard for me. I voted for both in their earlier rounds.
      Thank you St. Celia for your awesome words. I think you and Mr. Kober nailed what was important about Dietrich.

      But the vision of the 2 Sts. Is not different.

      No 'Us vs Them' mentality and 'building bridges between the Church and the community'.
      I voted for Barnabas❤️

    4. Bonhoeffer is worthy of the Golden Halo. Promulgating the discredited "Gospel of Barnabas" is odd and very naive. The Qur’an states Jesus alone is the Messiah (eleven times). Why would I ( or anyone) legitimize a forged document that says he is not?

    5. Thank you for expressing just what I was thinking, St. Celia. I'm hoping Bonhoeffer goes all the way to the golden halo this year.

    6. For the first time the "Madness" in the title of this exercise strikes me...it's madness what Jesus did; it's madness what Bonhoeffer did; we are called to this same marvellous madness for Christ and the world. Thank you.

  2. I voted for Barnabas because he gives himself to the community and believes in sharing.

    1. I would have liked it if Barnabas never came up against Bonhoeffer, so that I wouldn't have to vote against him. Barnabas was pretty amazing, too. I really enjoy your comments, oliver eight years old.

    2. Oliver, you are a thoughtful young man. I too voted for Barnabas, but it looks like the voting is trending towards the Bonhoeffer. I look forward each morning to reading the reasons for your voting choices.

    3. I'm with you, too, Oliver. Barnabas has always been one of my favorite Bible characters because I've so often needed the encouragement of others to get through life's hard times. Realizing how much others needed encouragement, too, has made me try harder to be more like Barnabas in my Christian living. So Dietrich Bonhoeffer may win this round, but Barnabas will continue to be one of my Christian heroes.

    4. I voted with Oliver: for Barnabas, a sharer of things. Also I'm intrigued by this Gospel of Barnabas which has an inclusive Jesus as given to us by Barnabas the Bridge Builder.

    5. Oliver, you are a very wise young man. I love reading your comments. PS I voted for Barnabas also, his generosity is a great example for all of us, we all have too much stuff, I am trying to give away 40 things this Lenten season.

    6. Me, too, Oliver. We need to share. If we would do that the world would be a beautiful place and no one would be hungry or homeless.

  3. Bonhoffer got my vote today, as I found many of those quotes meaningful to my life and spiritual practice. How easy it is to be "my own Lord", and how difficult it can be to serve. But, the rewards for which to be thankful are so plentiful!

  4. What beautiful reflections to carry into this day and this week, from the saints and the bloggers and the good mad folk sharing this devotion.

  5. No contest for me. Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" continues to influence me deeply. Thank you for what you wrote, St. Cecelia-very moving.

  6. In today's world, we need to reach out to our Muslim brothers. We need to build bridges to others as Barnabas does in his medieval Gospel.

  7. Voted for Barnabas as the earlier saint and the underdog, but will be very happy to see Bonhoeffer move on. I too loved the "being my own Lord" quote; the unvarnished truth is always worth hearing again....

    1. It changed it for me too. Although I was leaning towards Barnabas and then read about Bonhoeffer and thought I would vote for him. But then I re-read the last paragraph and voted for Barnabas. I lived on Cyprus for 5 years and visited Barnabas' tomb (a bit creepy) so I read up on him. He strikes me as the kind of saint who could get along with most anyone, very much needed today!

  8. Thank you to David Creech for a wonderful write-up of Barnabas. Bridge builders are indeed needed today.

  9. Thank you St. Cecelia. Your words tipped the scales for me this morning and so Bonhoeffer.

  10. Barnabas to me. I'd feel bad about not voting for Bonhoeffer, except he's probably gonna win anyhow. Thank God there were no Barney references to make it so I couldn't vote for him!

  11. "The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving." Bonhoeffer is a saint whose words continue to speak to our day and age. His voice needs to be heard this Lent and beyond. I'm with Bonhoeffer all the way.

  12. I have a worn out copy of "Life Together" on my bookshelf. Bonhoeffer gets my vote today. Costly grace vs cheap grace.

  13. To repeat what Eric has just quoted “The church is only the church when it is there for others…It must participate in the worldly affairs of the human social order, not ruling but helping and serving.” How much we need those words today. I'm with Bonhoeffer for the golden halo.

  14. During the Civil Rights struggles Barnabas gave me the faith to be non-violent ; Bonhoeffer gave me the courage to continue the fight.

  15. Without Barnabas and his early witness and travels with, and even before, Paul, there might be no Bonhoeffer. Let's not leave behind the voices of those first followers of The Way. (and thank you, Bonhoeffer, as well, for your witness, more important these days than ever). That said, I vote for the underdog, Barnabas.

  16. Bonhoeffer's spirit has lived in my soul and guided my life for fifty years. It s heartening amidst the chaos of our present world, to know that so many of you also, find him worthy of sainthood. St. Dietrich's Feast Day, February 4.
    His LETTERS and PAPERS from PRISON remain as deeply moving as when I read them in 1965. And as relevant.

  17. It was suggested that I read DB's book while a religion major @ Kenyon. I couldn't. Too mauch family history. I could't see Shindler's List either. Now, with the election campaign in full swing, I feel we have come full circle to 1944. And, hung on a wire? the nazi's saved their best for him. Overwhelming sometimes.

    1. Having been a small child during WWII, and young child reading Life magazine after the war,seeing the pictures of displaced persons and concentration camps, I'm finding some of today's problems all too familiar. We desperately need the example and spirit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He gets my vote. Let us be the loving, serving church of Christ.

  18. The information about Barnabas, though it certainly speaks to us in our time, is way posthumous and of uncertain provenance. Bonhoefer is a hero of our own time, whose life we know clearly and can celebrate earnestly and deeply in our own lives. My vote goes to Bonhoefer.

  19. I love that Barnabas was a bridge builder, and spoke up for those who being denagrated. And I love that Bonhoeffer noted that the church is only the church when it is serving others. We so need both voices today. But what pulls me toward Bonhoeffer is his spirit of service even while being imprisoned by the Nazis, knowing a terrible end awaited him, he did not weaken in faith. What an example! A hard choice, as we must be thankful for those early saints who spread our faith, keeping it alive through the early years, yet also grateful for those who came later to keep the faith going through dark times. Ah, Lent Madness...you make me think! Good for you!

  20. I've always loved these words from Bonhoeffer regarding separation...from Letters and Papers from Prison..
    "First: nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try and find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive out former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain."

    1. I've always loved this quote, too! It's a helpful piece of theology when you're grieving, I think. At least it was for me.

  21. Bonhoeffer gets my vote. St Celia, your Easter card gets the vote for the best in that regard.

  22. Bonhoefer has long been a hero of mine, and a lovely write-up by Beth Lewis clinches my vote. I particularly like what he says about our duties to each other: "The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them." I have to admit Barnabas also seems to understand our obligations to the stranger, and I am struck by his willingness to respect people of other faiths (something still lacking in many "Christians" even today). But I cannot desert Dietrich!

  23. I was going to vote for Bonhoeffer until I read the last paragraph on Barnabas. While The Cost of Discipleship has been my Lenten reading this year, I've been in an interfaith discussion group that meets once a month for over twenty-seven years, currently driving 140 miles round trip to attend so Barnabas got my vote.