Theology Matters

In a previous post I posed this question: Who cares about theology?   Today I propose that it is reasonable and instructive to examine the theology of our elected leaders.  A leader’s character and motivation spring from that which he or she deeply believes.

Four 20th Century martyrs: Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. West door of the Westminster Abbey.

A relatively recent historical example of the perils of ignoring theological red flags was Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a brilliant and controversial young theologian who correctly read the handwriting on the wall in pre-WWII Germany.  He did his best to persuade the German church to stay true to its biblical moorings and to refuse to cooperate with Hitler. Sadly, in spite of obviously heretical Nazi theology such as calling Jesus a great “Aryan hero” and rejecting the entire Old Testament because it was too Jewish, the established German church obediently played along with Hitler in the name of patriotism and unity.

Eric Metaxas, in his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer entitled, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, writes, “They were convinced that if they bent their theology a bit, it wouldn’t matter – the results would be all right in the end.  Many of them honestly believed that under Hitler the opportunities for evangelism would increase. But Bonhoeffer knew that a church that did not stand with the Jews was not the church of Jesus Christ…he saw this clearly and would stake everything on it. But it would be a long and lonely road” (p. 155-156).  Only a small minority of Christians, calling themselves the Confessing Church, stood against the bent theology of the Nazis.

By the time reality dawned on the larger Christian community, it was too late.  As Bonhoeffer said, “If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and eventually executed for his association with several unsuccessful plots to kill Adolf Hitler.   A close friend of Bonhoeffer’s, Franz Heldebrandt, quoted 2 Chronicles 20:12 at Bonhoeffer’s memorial service, “Neither know we what to do, but our eyes are upon Thee.”  Hildebrandt went on to say, “The young theologian faced the problem of Christian life in action.”  It’s difficult to imagine a more challenging scenario in which to work out “Christian life in action.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood that theology mattered quite a lot.  What if the church had spoken boldly and prophetically instead of climbing on board with Adolf Hitler?  We’ll never know.

Do you think it is important to understand the theology of our leaders?  Does it matter if our representatives hold to Christian, atheist, Jewish, or Muslim theology?  How are we tempted to “bend” our theology today?

One thought on “Theology Matters

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  1. When I read the Metaxas biography of Bonhoeffer, I, too, was immediately driven to examine our present campaign season in light of the issues raised by Bonhoeffer’s life and choices. I found many parallels between the issues in the history surrounding Bonhoeffer and the issues in our contemporary news. A very thought-provoking post.

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