Archives For Eberhard Bethge

If I’m reading a book, I’m usually stopping to look at the books the authors have read. The bibliography, (or more to my own liking) references in the footnotes, are a powerful add-on provided by the author. This isn’t just to add weight to their argument from an authority other than themselves, but also to help take the reader deeper. I’ve chased a number of these references down over the years, and on occasion found myself buying the book referenced. From it I learn more by reading the reference highlighted in the initial text, because reading the text alongside and through its references, expands interaction with the subject.

I’m often keen to go further, understand better, and walk the road the author has taken, by engaging with material that relates directly to the era, or the subject in question. The most recent example for me is the 1048 page biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written by his student, and nephew-in-law, Eberhard Bethge. I followed up three books mentioned by Bethge, and have one more bookmarked for another day.

There’s risk and reward in doing this. One of the traps to avoid in research are tangents. Following a rabbit down a hole is an easy snare to fall into. What looks relevant may be a wide, time consuming distraction. That’s going to mean time lost reading material that was already covered by the original text. This is a lot like Twitter, when someone throws a red herring into a comment thread unrelated to the original tweet. If the red herring isn’t recognised, the whole thread devolves into an endless – usually abusive – and time consuming round of back and forth, up and down.

It’s true that sometimes chasing the rabbit down the hole is a “necessary evil”. As is said, ‘you need to dig in order to find the gold.’ In this case it’s important to be mindful of the overall purpose of the research, taking note of anything along the way that relates directly to the subject matter discussed by the original text. If I stumble on something that I find interesting that isn’t related, I’ll note it as a resource. Then return to the source to study it a bit further, once I’m free of current subject.

An efficient way to follow-up without falling into the costly rabbit hole is to check a Kindle sample via Amazon, Google books or the better option, While has a limited range of books it’s the best place to start, followed by Amazon – as long as it has the Kindle preview option, & Google books, as long as it has the search text option. Searching a keyword, page number, contents or bibliography keeps things simple. Books can be expensive and libraries don’t stock everything, this is why I consider these three options to be the best place to start.

Reading a text alongside its references provides better context. This in turn creates a higher degree of transparency and confidence. I can see where the author was going, and improve my understanding of what they meant. Taking the greater context into consideration permits a practical level of confidence in paraphrasing quotes from the original text. The paraphrase is more likely to maintain the integrity of the author’s original meaning because context has been thoroughly considered.

Reading the text alongside and through its references expands interaction with the subject. I’m big on this process. It can be costly, though. If you’re not using or are unable to access places like, Amazon Kindle or Google Books. The benefits of doing this mean a greater understanding of the author’s subject matter, and consequently, the ability to simplify a large body of information.

I think this does justice to the painstaking effort the author has put into indexing, citing, and referencing their work. In a sense the process is about ensuring intellectual integrity, utilising a rigorous scientific method to analyse and respond to the subject or premises discussed by the original text. It also upholds the integrity of the author’s intentions, or perceived intentions, perhaps helping them achieve what they hoped their work would achieve. This is why referencing is important.

With Bethge, it’s been a journey that took me three summers to complete. Reading secondary material referenced by Bethge means being able to not only stand on his shoulders in order to see what he saw, but to better hear what he heard. Instead of being a spectator, we become participants.

©Rod Lampard, 2020 

In the process of studying, sometimes, amusing things happen. The quirky. The cool and the outright – “this has to be the part where Paul talks to us Christians about what it means to be Spirit lead, right?.”

The main two reads I’m working on at the moment are Karl Barth’s 1942, Church Dogmatics II:2: The Doctrine of God and Eberhard Bethge’s, ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography.’ 

On the side, I’ve just completed Bonhoeffer’s ‘Creation & Fall (DBW 3), which enhanced our homeschool journey through Genesis, and is, overall, an excellent and interesting resource. (Review/thoughts blog post pending)

I’m now moving through W.Du Bois’ 1905,  ‘The Souls of Black Men’ and John Walton’s 2015 work, ‘The Lost World of Adam & Eve’.

In recent months, Sundays have become my reading day. It’s also always good when some much needed rain, helps push that study along.

I’d just gotten through reading a long stretch about Bonhoeffer’s pastoral work in London, 1933-1934. In this part of the chapter Bethge discusses Dietrich’s fervent quest to counter the compromises being signed into church governance by Nazi party favourites, who’d been slipped into governing positions within the church, such as the ”German Christians”, Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller. Bethge: ”Müller was the man most highly esteemed by the Party.’ (Bethge, p.348)

Inspired by Bonhoeffer’s own words and response, (which were considered too radical for a large majority in the opposition within the famous ‘Church struggle’ at the time), I remarked:

Blogpost 5th June 1 Tweet

Then, about an hour later, after settling back down to read some more I came across this remark by Bethge:

Blogpost 5th June 2 Tweet

Call it text-book fog, but I laughed at the “co-incidence.” One of the greatest, underrated characteristics about God is His sense of humour. 🙂

On a more serious note.

Here’s the difference between the approaches of Martin Niemöller and Bonhoeffer’s, Christian opposition to the imposition of new cultural laws in Germany during the 1930’s. Form the start Bonhoeffer was issuing a loving ”no.” Niemöller’s came much later on. Both paid a price for it.


Bonhoeffer Post 5th June 2016


Bonhoeffer, at this early point in time had stood against, among other things, the church accepting and implementing the Aryan clause.

‘His was a lone stand.’ (Bethge, p.306)

Sadly, although it hasn’t yet reached the same intensity for us. The imposition of new cultural laws on Western citizens is, today, beginning to happen on two opposing fronts: the placating of Islamists and the demonising of those in loving opposition to the advances of LGBT ideology.

In our own loving “no,” may we ‘do everything we can to keep things clear, courageous and untainted.’ (Bethge, p.337)


Bethge, E. 1970 Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography Fortress Press, U.S.A

Paula Bonhoeffer and Her KidsTwo chapters in and I’m seeing the importance of Eberhard Bethge’s epic, ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography’.

Bethge begins by covering Dietrich’s family-history, education and home life. Each forms the background for his discussion on Bonhoeffer’s life as a student and his decision to study theology.

In these chapters, two things shine:


‘Bonhoeffer saw theology as branch of knowledge. His path to theology began – despite the Christian foundation of his parent’s home – in a secular atmosphere. Only later did the church enter his field of vision. Unlike theologians who came from families that were active in the church & theology. (p.44) [i]

Second: The Bonhoeffer children, including Dietrich, were, for a time, schooled at home.

Bethge explains,

Before moving to Berlin, Dietrich’s mother, Paula ‘gave the children their first schooling […]
She gave lessons at home to the older and younger children together, along with the children of some of her husband’s professor friends, and at the year’s end she was always able to register her pupils successfully for the state examination, where they did very well.
Thanks to the excellent start she gave them, they were able to skip entire grades and eventually take the school graduation examinations at a remarkably early age, as Dietrich did.
This home teaching, of course, implied some criticisms of traditional schooling. The Bonhoeffer’s did not want to hand their children over to others at an early, impressionable age. One of the family sayings was that Germans had their backs broken twice in the course of their lives: first at school, and then in their military service […]
Without the aid of textbooks, she taught them a large repertoire of poems, songs and games […]
Dishonesty and lies were severely punished; in comparison, broken windows and torn clothes hardly counted. Talents were encouraged at an early age. The Children knew it was not impossible for any of their real wished to be granted, and when others’ wishes came true they were expected to share in the pleasure. What their parents told them to do, had to be done without hesitation or argument, and complaining about work or unfair treatment was not tolerated. The Children’s day followed a disciplined pattern; they always knew where they were, and the routine never struck them as restrictive, for they also knew that their parents arranged happy surprises and outings every now and then.’ (pp.16-19)[ii]

Sabine, Dietrich’s twin sister, also wrote about their early home education. Sabine’s account described Paula as having had a ‘strong personality. Of being intelligent, warm-hearted and unaffected, a good organiser and socially very gifted.’

Paula had homeschooled Sabine and Dietrich’s older siblings for one or two years. Due to Paula’s schedule, Sabine and Dietrich were then taught by a governess, with Paula teaching them Bible, and religious instruction.

Sabine recounts that their large house even had a schoolroom with desks in it. Their mother ‘had a strong interest in and talent for teaching. Girls had a dolls room, to play as they liked, and the house also had a workshop for woodworking.’ Sabine then writes that ‘nobody took it amiss when they tore they clothes at play or work, or broke things.’ [iii]

On the difference between Bethge’s version and the more recent Eric Metaxas version, I still think Metaxas’ strength is that it meets a wider audience. It’s accessible at an affordable level.

For example: at the time of purchase the Bethge version cost $75.00au as compared to $39.95au for the unabridged Metaxas version.It’s also worth noting that the Bethge version took three months to arrive.

Although my thoughts here could change the further I read, I still think, that the Metaxas biography holds its own; Metaxas makes the Bonhoeffer story more accessible. It’s easy to purchase, has a reasonable price-point and the retelling seems to flow better.

As I stated in a recent review of ‘No Ordinary Men,’ Metaxas may not augment the work of Eberhard Bethge, but he certainly doesn’t diminish it. Instead, what could be said, is Metaxas steers a larger audience in Bethge’s direction.



[i] Bethge, E. 2000 Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography Revised Edition, Fortress Press

[ii] ibid

[iii] Leibholz, S. 1964. I knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, English version, 1966. (pp. 19-21)

*Updated 16th December, 2019.

Photo: Paula Bonhoeffer with her children, date unknown. Source: Paula Bonhoeffer