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DIETRICH BONHOEFFER AND H. G. WELLS:
A NEW YEAR'S SERMON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Morning, December 28, 2008
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).


Two of the most interesting and provocative men in the first half of the twentieth century were H. G. Wells and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both of them were strongly affected by theological liberalism, but their life stories went in opposite directions as the years went by.

H. G. Wells was an atheist and an evolutionist. In short, he believed in “scientism.” He was a man who rejected Christianity and believed that all questions of life could be answered by science alone, with no thought of God, because God, he believed, could not be “proved” by the methods of scientific investigation and testing. But Billy Graham correctly said, in one of his famous sermons, “You can’t put God in a test tube.” Billy Graham meant that God is beyond scientific investigation because, as the Bible says, “God is a spirit” (John 4:24) and you can’t test a spirit by the rules of science.

The second interesting and provocative man was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In his pilgrimage away from theological liberalism, Dietrich Bonhoeffer moved increasingly closer to evangelical orthodoxy. In his movement toward a more Biblical Christianity, he became increasingly favorable toward the Jewish people. In fact, Bonhoeffer was arrested after money used to help the Jews escape Nazi Germany was traced to him. He was charged by Hitler with conspiracy and was arrested and put in a series of prisons and concentration camps, ending in the Flossenburg prison, where he was stripped naked of his clothing, tortured by the Nazi guards, and led naked to the place where he would be executed. A meathook was used to slowly raise him by a noose made of piano wire. The strangulation that slowly ended his life took about a half hour. His execution was based on his leadership role in preaching against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews and other atrocities committed by the Nazis.

Although Bonhoeffer never completely abandoned liberal theology, he increasingly felt that liberalism was wrong, and that it was responsible for the lack of relevance in the church. He came to feel that “liberal theology” minimized Scripture, reducing the Bible to a mere textbook of metaphysics, while deifying human culture. Although he never embraced the inerrancy of Scripture, and I believe this was an error, his books and sermons became particularly Christ-centered while he was in prison.

After his return to Germany in 1939, Bonhoeffer spoke out against the German Church for supporting Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews and other ethnic and social groups that the Nazis were persecuting. He said, “The church was silent when it should have cried out because the blood of the innocents was crying aloud in heaven. She [the church] is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless.” These were strong words which condemned Hitler and his Nazi Party.  They were widely publicized and infuriated Hitler, leading to Bonhoeffer’s arrest and execution. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer had written, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Collier Books paperback edition, MacMillan Publishing Company, 1963 printing, p. 99). Bonhoeffer's life shows that he took those words very seriously. That one sentence gives a key to understanding this Christian martyr. 

In his book, Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer asked whether mankind could cope with its problems without God. He feared that mankind might destroy the “religious premise” (God) upon which Christianity had been based for centuries. He said that Christians should be free to “share in God’s suffering in the world” following Christ’s example. He finally came to believe that science alone could not prove or disprove the existence of God. It was then that Bonhoeffer famously said,

“A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”

In this statement he meant that the final proof of God lies in faith, not in scientific testing. “A God who let us prove [scientifically] his existence would be an idol.” I agree with that statement. God’s existence cannot be verified, or disproved, by scientific means. God is known by revelation, given to us in the Scriptures, not by scientific testing. A god who could be tested and verified by the so-called “scientific method” would be an idol, not the real God at all, but rather the Antichrist, that malignant, Satanic creature who, in many ways, will verify his existence to a gullible and foolhardy world.

Thus these men, H. G. Wells and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were dynamically opposed to each other. Bonhoeffer’s faith rested in Christ. H. G. Wells’ “faith” rested in “science falsely so called” (I Timothy 6:20).

This can be seen in two of H. G. Wells’ most famous books, “The War of the Worlds,” and “The Time Machine.” Having given up the Bible and God, Wells “prophesied” a brave new world in the future – dominated completely by science. But Wells’ books were not based on true science. They were merely fanciful science fiction stories. For instance, “The Time Machine” is based solely on science fiction, not on scientific facts. In “The Time Machine” H. G. Wells portrays a savage world in the future, ruled by Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.”

In “The Time Machine” a young scientist is propelled into a future civilization completely ruined by war, where one group of people have become a passive race, the Eloi, who are enslaved by loathsome mutants known as Morlocks. In that future world, Wells' character finds a young woman who helps him to rediscover love and compassion. Together they believe that mankind may yet have a positive future.

Of course, this is science fiction, not scientific fact in any sense of the word. H. G. Wells had replaced God with science, and the result was nothing short of a world similar in many ways to Hitler’s Germany – a world without God, a world without Judeo-Christian ethics, a world without compassion or hope.

Yes, the false “god” of science appears to be provable, but science is a false god – an idol worshipped in the mind of the atheist and evolutionist H. G. Wells. But it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who saw the falseness of replacing God with science, for he said, “A God who let us prove his existence [scientifically] would be an idol” – indeed, an Antichrist!

God is not “proved,” or disproved, by scientific investigation. Jesus said,

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

Since God is a spirit He is not subject to “scientific” testing or "scientific" proof. God is a spirit – and thus He can only be known by self-revelation. If God does not reveal Himself to man, man cannot know Him or discover Him.

That’s where the Bible comes in. On the pages of the Holy Scriptures God and Christ are revealed to our spiritually blinded race. Without the Bible, no one could understand or find God. That is why the Apostle Paul said,

“the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”
      (II Timothy 3:15).

And in the next verse, God tells us how He gave us the Scriptures,

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16).

God “breathed out” the words of the Scriptures, and the prophets and the apostles wrote them down. That is God’s revelation of Himself to man. And that revelation is found only in the 66 books of the Bible.

“God is a Spirit” (John 4:24).

As a spirit God is not subject to scientific testing. You cannot “test” a spirit! Billy Graham was wrong on some things, but he was right when he said, “You can’t put God in a test tube.” You can only find out about God from His self-revelation in the Holy Scriptures, which are the God-given, God-breathed Word of God Himself. That is how a man can find out the truth about God – through the Bible, and through the Bible alone!

But there is more to it than that. If you simply read the Bible, it will do you little good. God Himself must come into the picture again. The God who revealed Himself in the Scriptures in the first place must do something else, before you can really encounter Him and know Him in all His glory. God must illuminate the Scriptures to you personally. The Psalmist said,

“The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

Theologians call this “illumination.” It happens when the Spirit of God opens your inner eyes, and the truth of the Scriptures enters your soul and heart. The Psalmist spoke of this when he said,

“Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18).

When God begins to illuminate a lost soul, God opens his eyes, and he begins to see the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Holy Scriptures.

When this happens, a man may begin to pray, for the first time in his life, a prayer like this,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

It is then that a man begins to pray for God to search his heart, and asks God to show him his depravity and sin. It is then that he begins to realize how deeply sinful he truly is. It is then that you will begin to see how evil your heart is in God’s sight. It is then that you will begin to see that

“[Your] heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).

This is the awakening and convicting work of the Spirit of God. Jesus said,

“When he [the Spirit of God] is come [to you], he will reprove…of sin” (John 16:8).

This inner reproving, this conviction of sin, is necessary or you will have a false conversion. God must make you look at yourself in a new way – and see yourself as a lost sinner – with no real goodness in yourself – and no real love for God in your heart. In fact, at this point, you may become painfully aware that you are

“the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

When all your self righteousness is swept away by God through this process of conviction, you may then, with great pain in your heart, see that you were never the good person you thought you were. You may then, after a struggle against God, submit to His judgment of you as an incorrigible, hopeless sinner,

“without Christ…having no hope, and without God in the world”
     (Ephesians 2:12).

After you are convicted and distressed by your sinfulness, then Jesus may appear to you as your only possible hope. Then, and only then, will you begin to think, “If Christ doesn’t save me, I have no hope. If Christ doesn’t cleanse me from my sin by His Blood, I will justly and correctly enter Hell forever, in the fire that never shall be quenched.”

We pray that God will illuminate the Bible and make it real to you, that you will rush quickly to Christ and find pardon through His death on the Cross, and cleansing from your sin by His precious Blood. It is then, and only then, that you will have a divine-human encounter with Christ, and be born again, to a new and everlasting life.

We pray that you will come to the risen Christ in Heaven by faith. We pray that you will be saved by His grace, because salvation by faith in Christ

“is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast”
      (Ephesians 2:8-9).

When you come directly to Christ in Heaven, you experience a divine-human encounter with Him. Christ said,

"Come unto me...and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

When you have this divine-human encounter with Christ you are born again!  Christ said,

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”
      (John 3:3).

Please stand and sing hymn number seven on your song sheet.

There is a fountain filled with blood Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains, Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away, Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more, Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed church of God Be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die, And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save:
I’ll sing Thy power to save, I’ll sing Thy power to save;
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save.
   (“There Is a Fountain” by William Cowper, 1731-1800).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Arthur B. Houk: John 3:1-7.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Ye Must Be Born Again” (by William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904).