Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
 is regarded as one of the Christian “saints” of the 20th century. As a leader of the Confessing Church in Germany, which resisted the attempt to impose Nazi ideology on the church, and later as a participant in the conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer demonstrated deep commitment, clarity of purpose, and a capacity for sacrifice. But he was also one of the most significant theological thinkers of his era, whose ideas about Christian community, cheap and costly grace, moral responsibility, and the “non-religious” future of Christianity continue to challenge us in the present.

This Adult Education course, taught by Central College Professor Emeritus David Timmer, focuses on understanding Bonhoeffer’s thought against the background of his life and historical context. 

The Teacher

The course will be led by David Timmer, who retired in 2020 after 40 years of teaching in religious studies at Central College, in Pella, Iowa. He has published articles on Bonhoeffer’s ethics, the impact of his musical interests on his theology, and contrasting visions of Bonhoeffer among his biographers. He and his wife, Mary, are frequent visitors to St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, where his daughter, Becky Benson, and her family are members.

The Book

A recommended book to accompany the course is Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, by Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). The authors are both respected Bonhoeffer scholars. Haynes specializes in tracking Bonhoeffer’s legacy, while Hale is an expert on his ethical thought. The book is short (152 pages of text), aimed at non-specialists, and organized in much the same way as this course.

The Videos

Click before for videos of David Timmer teaching this class from Oct. 8 to Nov. 12, 2023, as part of St. Andrew's Adult Education Academy. The weekly structure loosely matches the chapter organization of Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, by Stephen Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale.

  • Week 1: An overview

    In this session, David Timmer focused on understanding the shape of Bonhoeffer’s short but very full life.

    Week 1

  • Week 2: Christ Existing as Community

    In this session, David Timmer discusses Bonhoeffer's early theology of the church, which Bonhoeffer explained in his book Living Together.

    Week 2

  • Week 3: costly grace

    In this session, David Timmer discusses Bonhoeffer's understanding of the relationship of faith and discipleship, which he developed in his book, The Cost of Discipleship.

    Week 3

  • Week 4/5: Religionless Christianity

    In this Session, David Timmer begins by summarizing his earlier discussion of Vicarious Representative Action, a key concept underlying the notion of moral formation in Bonhoeffer's unfinished and posthumously published book, Ethics. The rest of the class focuses on, Religionless Christianity, the bold and controversial vision of the church’s future sketched out in his Letters and Papers from Prison.

    WEEK 4/5

  • Week 6: Bonhoeffer's Legacy

    In this closing session, David Timmer considers how Bonhoeffer has influenced generations of theologians and believers, sometimes in seemingly contradictory ways; and how a new generation of Bonhoeffer scholars is finding resources in his thought to address urgent contemporary issues such as racism, mass incarceration, and climate change.

    WEEK 6