Heroes of the Faith

February 2019: Ederhard Bethge & Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Graeme Garrett

February 7 2019The friendship between German theologians Eberhard Bethge and Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a profound impact on world theology, and it evolved in harrowing circumstances. But in it we can recognise the qualities common to friendships everywhere and across time, and the truism that “in the life of faith, no one is an island”, writes Graeme Garrett.

In February of 1991, the World Council of Churches held its Assembly meeting in Canberra. I remember vividly one of the plenary worship services. Hundreds of us, from all over the world, were crowded into a large white marquee. As we entered, we received a small coloured sheet of paper and a pencil. When the service got under way, the leader asked us to sit in silence for a few moments and think of the people in our lives who had influenced us most in our journey of faith. Then we were asked to write down on the sheet the names of persons who came to mind. This done, we were directed to come to the front. There we pinned our paper, names inscribed, onto a huge tarpaulin suspended on the wall of the tent. By the time this task was completed, the wall was covered with hundreds of coloured slips displaying thousands upon thousands of names.

The impact was stunning. There on the wall for all to see was the truth that, in the life of faith, no one is an island. All of us come to God through the help, prayer, example and conversation of others. Faith and friendship belong together.

In this article I want to explore this essential connection through the lens of a remarkable friendship, that between Eberhard Bethge and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This friendship has changed the landscape of world theology, a compelling illustration of how friendship contributes to theological thought and faithful discipleship.

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