When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany

When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany


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When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany by Erwin W. Lutzer

This excellent book is so important. It clearly and powerfully explains what the parallels are between Germany's fall from grace and the beginning of our own fall. - Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In When A Nation Forgets God, Erwin Lutzer studies seven similarities between Nazi Germany and America today—some of them chilling—and cautions us to respond accordingly. Engaging, well-researched, and easy to understand, Lutzer’s writing is that of a realist, one alarmed but unafraid. Amidst describing the messes of our nation’s government, economy, legal pitfalls, propaganda, and more, Lutzer points to the God who always has a plan.

At the beginning of the twentieth Century, Nazi Germany didn’t look like a country on the brink of world-shaking terrors. It looked like America today. When a Nation Forgets God uses history to warn us of a future that none of us wants to see. It urges us to be ordinary heroes who speak up and take action.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802413284
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication date: 01/05/2016
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 141,543
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

DR. ERWIN LUTZER has served as senior pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago for over 30 years. A renowned theologian, Dr. Lutzer earned his BTh from Winnipeg Bible College, a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, a MA in philosophy from Loyola University, and an honorary LL.D. from the Simon Greenleaf School of Law. He is an award-winning author and the featured speaker on three radio programs that can be heard on more than 700 radio stations in the United States and around the world. Dr. Lutzer and his wife, Rebecca, live in the Chicago area and have three grown children and eight grandchildren.

Read an Excerpt

When A Nation Forgets God

7 Lessons We Must Learn From Nazi Germany

By Erwin W. Lutzer, Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2010 Erwin Lutzer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8024-1328-4




HITLER DID NOT discourage people from attending church. He was a baptized Catholic who had long since abandoned his faith, but he did not mind if others continued to attend church as long as it did not affect the way they lived or the values they held. In fact, he explicitly said that he would not interfere with the specific doctrines of the church, just as long as the churches were teaching those things that were in harmony with the good of the German people. He called this "Positive Christianity."

Of course he knew he would encounter some opposition from those who were not on board with his vision of a toothless Christianity. But he believed that he could crush any opposition he might encounter — and in effect he did just that — by intimidation and controlling their salaries. (Because Germany had a state church, the pastors were dependent on the good graces of the government for their income.) Hitler ridiculed the Protestant pastors, saying they were cowering dogs who would do his bidding for the sake of "their miserable salaries."

So, right from the beginning Hitler sought to marginalize the church to guarantee that no Christian influence would be allowed to inform government policy. Worship would have to be a private matter between a man and his God; at all costs the official state policy would have to be based on humanistic principles to give Hitler the freedom to do what was "best" for Germany. He said that the churches must be "forbidden from interfering with temporal matters." The state would have to he scrubbed clean of all Christian convictions and values.

Since Germans had for centuries celebrated Christmas and Easter, Hitler had to reinterpret their meaning. Christmas was turned into a totally pagan festival; in fact, at least for the SS troops, its date was changed to December 21, the date of the winter solstice. School prayers were banned, and carols and Nativity plays were forbidden in the schools; and in 1938 even the name Christmas was changed to Yuletide. Crucifixes were eliminated from classrooms. Easter was turned into a holiday that heralded the arrival of spring. If religion was tolerated, it had to be secularized so that it would be compatible with the state's commitment to the greater good of a revived Germany. Most of the churches bowed to the cultural currents and endorsed the "Positive Christianity" that was in line with government policies.

Of course, Hitler's real intentions were not immediately revealed. Soon after he was sworn in as chancellor, he paid tribute to Christianity as an "essential element for safeguarding the soul of the German people" and promised to respect the rights of the churches. He declared his ambition to have "a peaceful accord between Church and State." He expressed his intentions to improve his relationship with Pope Pius XII. He also distributed a picture of himself coming out the door of a church to show that he had religious sympathies.

He was willing to give the churches freedom, he said, "as long as they did not do anything subversive to the state." Of course behind that promise lay his own definition of what might be subversive. But this guarded promise, as well as a concordat with the Vatican that appeared to guarantee freedom for the Catholic Church, was welcomed.

Article 24 of the party platform demanded, "liberty for all religious denominations in the State so far as they are not a danger ... to the moral feelings of the German race." Hitler spoke approvingly of his "Positive Christianity that would contribute to the German struggle. He won some goodwill by appearing to be conciliatory; the churches liked his use of the words freedom and tolerance. He assured them that he was doing what was best for Germany. Of course, what was "best" would be defined by him, not by the churches, not by the Bible, not even by natural law.

The Germans had become accustomed to the doctrine of the "two spheres," which was interpreted to mean that Christ is Lord of the church, but the Kaiser (or Caesar) is, after a manner of speaking, lord over the political sphere. Allegiance to the political sphere was as high and honorable a duty as was one's allegiance to God. Indeed, allegiance to God was best demonstrated by allegiance to the State.

Within the Lutheran church there was a strong pietistic movement that advocated a return to biblical piety, the worship of God within the heart. For the most part these people were opposed to biblical scholarship (especially of the liberal kind) and withdrew from the intellectual theological debates within Germany. They witnessed to the saving grace of Christ but believed that the church's mission was only to preach Christ. Pietism, with its emphasis on personal devotion to Christ, was used to inject spiritual life into the mainstream Lutheran church. But by insisting that that their faith was private and should not be brought into the political sphere, pietism had scant influence in stemming the Nazi tide.

So those who dutifully tolerated the excesses of the Nazi regime, but simply continued to study the Bible to maintain a warm heart, are to be commended for getting it half right. Certainly they were much more effective than those who ceased to study their Bibles and enthusiastically endorsed the regime. These pious Christians thought that if they left Hitler alone, he would leave them alone. But they discovered that was not possible. Hitler also put pressure on them to have their children indoctrinated in the state schools and, thanks to the cultural pressure, their churches were not equipping members to stand against the abuses that were developing around them.


Before Hitler moved to destroy the church, he decided to make peace with it and use it for his own ends. On March 21, 1933, he arranged an impressive spectacle for the opening of the new session of the Reichstag (German Parliament) in the Garrison Church in Potsdam. With pomp and ceremony he sought to assure the nation that he could follow a conservative path and seek harmony with the churches. Two days after the ceremony, the Reichstag passed the so-called Enabling Law whereby the power of the Reichstag was reduced to a sounding board for the party. The necessary majority to pass the bill was secured by the arrest of some opposition parliament members and the threatening of others. By July, Hitler proclaimed the Nazis as the only party in Germany.

Despite his conciliatory beginning, Hitler would later try to obliterate the church. In the end, he wanted to transform the church so thoroughly that every vestige of Christianity would be smashed. There was not enough room in the churches for both the cross and the swastika. As he himself mused, "One god must dominate another." Given the weaknesses of the church, his goal appeared to be within reach, though it would not be as easy as he thought.


Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (we shall meet both of these men in more detail later in this book) gathered opposition to Hitler's intrusion into the affairs of the church. When Hitler heard that there might be a church split because some pastors objected to his agenda, he summoned the leaders of the churches to a personal conference to which Niemoller was included on January 25, 1934. Niemoller and other members of the clergy walked past the SS guards to the Reich Chancellery in Berlin and soon were ushered into Hitler's study.

Hitler began by reproaching his guests, treating them to a tirade about how he was misunderstood. "Peace," he said, is all that he wanted. "Peace between Church and state." He blamed them for obstructing him, sabotaging his efforts to achieve it.


— Hitler

Niemoller was waiting for a chance to speak, and when he had the opportunity, explained that his only object was the welfare of the church, the state, and the German people. Hitler listened in silence and then said, "You confine yourself to the Church. I'll take care of the German people." The conversation then drifted to other themes.

When it was over, Hitler shook hands with the clergy and Niemoller realized this would be his last opportunity to speak his mind. Carefully choosing his words, he said, "You said that 'I will take care of the German people.' But we too, as Christians and churchmen, have a responsibility toward the German people. That responsibility was entrusted to us by God, and neither you nor anyone in this world has the power to take it from us." Hitler turned away without a word.

That same evening, eight Gestapo men ransacked Niemoller's rectory for incriminating material. A few days later a homemade bomb exploded in the hall. Interestingly, the police came to the scene even though no one had called them. These threats were easier for Niemoller to bear than some of the criticism he received from his colleagues for his strong words to Hitler. Clearly the majority of the clergy had adopted an attitude of safety first. More than two thousand pastors who had stood with Niemoller and Bonhoeffer withdrew their support. They believed that appeasement was the best strategy; they thought that if they remained silent they could live with Hitler's intrusion into church affairs and his political policies.


Please read this eyewitness account of how some members of the church reacted to the Nazism of their times. Put yourself in their shoes and ask: "What would I have done?

I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it?

A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!

Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.

We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.

Years have passed and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me; forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.

We should not be too critical of the church in Germany. What would we have done in the face of such abuses? What should we do when the state's policy is evil? What train is rumbling past us today whose whistle we ignore? Answers are not easy to come by. Yet the question is just as relevant today as it was back then: What is the role of the church in the face of governments that have self-consciously excluded God from their policies? Was Hitler right when he told Niemoller that he should limit himself to taking care of the church while he (Hitler) had the responsibility of taking care of the German people? Or was Niemoller right in insisting that the church also had responsibility for the German people at large?

Hitler responded to the opposition of the church in the same way all hostile governments respond to those who would disagree with them: He created a flurry of new laws and then accused pastors and church leaders of breaking them. In one way or another God had to be separated from government policies and ejected from the public square. The voice of courageous Christians had to be silenced. God had to he removed to make way for the National Socialist policies.

Niemoller was later imprisoned for what we today call "hate speech" because he dared criticize the regime within his church. Specifically, the charges against him were "abuse of pulpit" and he was charged with speaking "with malicious and provocative criticism ... of a kind calculated to undermine the confidence of the People in their political leaders. He had involved himself with matters that "were of concern only to the state." He had violated a new law for the "Prevention of Treacherous Attacks on State and Party. For speaking out — his crime was simply preaching what he believed his people should hear — he was sentenced to prison and then confined to concentration camps, ending up in Dachau where he remained until liberated by Allied troops.

Hitler always said that the best way to conquer your enemies is to divide them. He encouraged a movement simply called "God Believers" (he was willing to use the word God as long as it was emptied of all essential meaning), a policy designed to persuade individuals to withdraw from the churches. The sales pitch was that there was an alternative to the church; the state could have a ceremony to dedicate infants; the state could have its own holidays without the need to celebrate the Christian ones. Marriages, for those who wished, could also be performed by the state. The blessings of Mother Earth and Father Sky were frequently invoked upon the couple until their destiny was fulfilled. In the same way, same-sex marriage proponents say today that marriage can take place without the blessings of a religious body; it can be a purely secular act separated from religious overtones.

And so it was that secularism was imposed on the German people. The role of the church was minimized by privatizing faith and instituting laws about what could or could not be said from a pulpit. Religious leaders who opposed the secular steamroller were intimidated by threats to them and their families. With God and religion removed from government, the values of Hitler's socialism filled the vacuum. The church would increasingly become the enemy of the state.

Keep in mind that all of this happened under code words such as freedom, peace, and fairness. The people were assured that these changes were made with their best interests in mind. The Greater Good of Germany eclipsed individual freedoms and the right to opposition. Everyone was expected to be in sync with the accepted cultural values and goals. Those who opposed the regime paid a price.


Here in America where freedom of speech is expressly granted in the Constitution, we might think that Nazi Germany has little to teach us about a secular state. If you think that is the case, think again. When truth is rejected in the public sphere, the state will either turn to some semblance of natural law or more ominously, to lies. Secular values will be imposed on society, and it will be done in the name of "freedom."

Our social planners who are dedicated to reshaping America according to purely humanistic values agree with Hitler that God and religion must be removed from government. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that God must be separated not just from government, but from every sphere of American life. Religion — particularly Christianity — must be ousted from government, from law, education, and the workplace.

Thus with the so-called public square free of any hint of religious values, the vacuum is then filled with secular values: the cheapness of human life (abortion and euthanasia), the promotion of all forms of immorality (including homosexual marriages), and the sexualization of schoolchildren (often with pornography and the ridicule of traditional values). This secularism is not religiously neutral but is being imposed upon society as the only viable point of view. So, laws are being passed that will prevent effective opposition to these changes, so that secularism can reign supreme. Freedoms formerly a part of our history can be withdrawn as religion is designated as "private," which is code for "irrelevant" and "powerless."

Just as Germany had Christian holidays paganized, just so, we have witnessed the systematic removal of religious symbols from public places. First it was crosses on Christmas trees, and then it was Christmas trees themselves that became a point of controversy. During the holiday season public schools seldom refer to Christmas anymore in their celebrations. Instead, they use phrases such as "winter program" or winter holidays." Following a school board decision to rename a school's Christmas program a "winter" program, teachers in one district even began to forbid their students to say the word Christmas on school grounds. The ACLU stands ready to intimidate any teacher who dares to tell students that Christmas is a religious holiday. A kindergartener asking God's blessing on her lunch was tapped on the shoulder by her teacher and was told that she must not do that at school. All this, despite the fact that compelling arguments can be made that America's prosperity, freedoms, and generosity can be traced to its founding as a nation rooted in faith in God and respect for the Bible as His Word.


Excerpted from When A Nation Forgets God by Erwin W. Lutzer, Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse. Copyright © 2010 Erwin Lutzer. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. When God is Separated from Government

2. It is Always the Economy

3. Our Laws Reflect our God

4. Propaganda (i.e. the Media) has Power

5. Parents are Responsible for the Education of their Children

6. Ordinary Heroes can Make a Difference

7. Why the Cross can do what Politics can't

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


“Using the history of Nazi Germany as his canvas, Lutzer brilliantly illustrates a critically important truth.”

Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National Religious Broadcasters


“Woodrow Wilson once spoke of the futility of a nation that forgets its heritage.  Erwin Lutzer asks a far more penetrating question: What happens to the nation that forgets God?  Using the history of Nazi Germany as his canvas, Lutzer brilliantly illustrates a critically important truth.  Just as nature abhors a vacuum, a culture which drives every vestige of God from the marketplace of ideas inevitably finds it has sown seeds that it will reap in the whirlwind.”

Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National Religious Broadcasters

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When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Tino5569 More than 1 year ago
Leave it to Erwin Lutzer to properly handle this topic. VERY TIMELY! If only Americans would read this book and see the slippery slope we are headed for...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have jsut started reading it and cannot put it down. It describes exactly what is going on in the US today... got to read it now...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a must read to wake us up to what America stands for.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pastor Lutzer has wonderful insight as to the way our society is going. He reveals how a government controlled country can set the public up without even knowing what is happening. Guard your heart againist getting too involved with social and humanistic values and come back to a Christ center life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a must read book for every American! Let us learn from history and not repeat the mistakes of the past. Every high school history student should have this book on their list of required reading....and learn the truth of what happened in Nazi Germany.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A nation that forgets God is then doomed to hell. The Nazi Germany TRIED IT AND LOOK WHAT WHAT HAPPEN TO THEM. God, is still blessing this great nation for how long? Only God knows and I want to be on the right side. I have read the Bible and I know we Christian well... we win the book of Revelations tells us that.This book is a wake call for all and even the believer, best wake up and get back to God. Great book! I enjoyed the text and will read again.
dvdbrumley More than 1 year ago
This review can also be found on www.thispilgrimland.com THIS BOOK IS GREAT!!!! That should sum up my thoughts on this new publication from Erwin W. Lutzer, senior pastor of Moody Church, and Moody Publishers. Three sittings and 48 hours later I have now finished this stroke of genius. Lutzer writes, "I believe it is disingenuous when political opponents here in the United States call those who disagree with them "Nazis" or "Hitler." That alone told me this book was going to be different from the normal conservative speak that comes from so many in our churches today and that this book would not contain the finger-pointing and name-calling that I have quite frankly grown sick of. No, in a very tactful and succinct way, Lutzer in 141 pages points the reader to the facts, documents, and Christian writers who lived through the Nazi regime and uses their experiences and warning to parallel some of what many Americans see today as the abandonment of our countries inhibited history. In chapters named such as "When God is Separated from Government, Judgment Follows," "It's Always the Economy," & "That Which is Legal Might Also be Evil," Lutzer uses historical evidence to remind us that ideological and philosophical takeover is not done over night, but is rather a systematic and expertly crafted formula. This leads to his last chapter. As I stated above, what drew me into this book was Lutzer's refusal to point fingers at our contemporaries. That remained so until the final chapter. In the final chapter, Lutzer removes his gloves and begins throwing punches. Not at Obama or Pelosi. Not at Bush or Glenn Beck. Not at CNN or Fox News. No,Lutzer, and rightfully so, comes directly into the face of today's Christian. Building off of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's famous "Confess, Confess, Confess" radio address in Nazi Germany, Lutzer jumps into the face of today's Christian. He reminds us that the only way Nazi Germany was allowed to take place was because the Christians, primarily the pastors and preachers, in that area decided to bow to the Reich and hide the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Pointing out the compromise that is already taking place today in the church, Lutzer unabashedly calls these wolves in sheep's clothing to repentance. I personally pledged to myself to read this last chapter everyday for the next month because therein lies, outside of scripture, one of the most powerful sentences I have read in some time. Lutzer writes: "In an effort to be 'relevant,' we now face the temptation of being diverted from our mission and becoming involved doing what is good while bypassing what is best." Stop reading, back up, and read that sentence again. I personally read it three times to myself and three times to my wife I was so taken by those words. Lutzer's final plea is to return to the cross. In our teaching, preaching, praying, and living, return to the cross. He asks that we stop veiling the cross in nationalism (enough with the founding fathers argument), party lines, and protest. All of these things avert from our true message we are called to teach: Christ crucified. Lutzer points out that our railing and arguing all accomplish the goal of making the Christian seen, but that is not our goal. Our goal is to make the cross, not the Christian seen. Lutzer avoids making any doctrinal assertions in this book and any believer in the true gospel should be able to get on board with the message in this boo
Natonito More than 1 year ago
[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.] This book lives up to its title, and is likely to be the sort of book that leads its readers into some dark reflections.  I must say that I found the book to be gloomy but also very appropriate for the times in which we live.  Although this book was particularly dark, though, it was not the sort of book that was designed to write about the culture wars and serve as red meat for partisans of virtue, but rather this is a book that encourages its readers to align themselves with Bonhoeffer and others whose principled opposition to Nazi Germany and to the power of the totalitarian humanistic state put them in grave personal peril [1].  This is not a book that is likely to appeal to those who want their best life now, but rather a book for those who realize that remaining loyal to God's ways--all of them, even the unpopular ones--is likely to have a heavy price in the future and are determined to remain loyal to God come what may. This short book of 140 pages with no fluff is focused on telling seven lessons that contemporary American Christians can learn from the horrors of Nazi Germany.  After briefly discussing the purpose and context of the book, the author begins by pointing out that when God and government are separated, judgment follows.  Then the author points out how most people, then and now, care mostly about the state of the economy rather than the state of their spiritual lives.  The author then reminds the reader, if that were necessary, that what is evil is not necessarily illegal.  The author then reminds the reader that propaganda can change a nation, generally for the worse.  Then the author points out that it is the job of parents--not the state--to be responsible for training and raising up and educating children.  The book closes with reminders that ordinary heroes can make a difference--heroes like Corrie Ten Bloom and others like her--and with the reminder that we must exalt the cross in the gathering darkness.  With that, the book is done, having delivered an ultimately hopeful but also somewhat ominous message to its readers. What makes this particular book so remarkable and so worthwhile is the way that the author draws sober and reflective lessons from history and manages to encourage without the triumphalism that is common in such writing.  This writer manages to strike a delicate and difficult balance, avoiding the pietism that leads to a withdrawal of Christians from speaking on or writing about difficult subjects while also avoiding the sort of political grandstanding that substitutes salvation for victory in elections.  The author manages to demonstrate a firm and deep knowledge of Christianity during Hitler's regime and the way that our own age has some rather striking and dark similarities with Hitler's regime.  The author manages to discuss this without painting the present as darker than it is, pointing out to readers, most of whom appear to have lived without an understanding of the historical context of Christianity, that our times, as evil as they are, give believers far more freedom than has been the case through the majority of human history.  This is a book that deserves a wide and appreciative audience, even if its message is a bit more downbeat than the sort of message that is most popular. [1] It happens that Bonhoeffer happens to be a personal hero of mine.  See, for example: https://ed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most of this book identifies the root causes of cultural collapse in Nazi Germany and today’s parallels in America. The final chapters describe appropriate – that is, biblical – responses and perspectives. This is not a depressing book, though it addresses our major cultural problems, because it affirms that the American church’s best days are ahead. According to the author, the future will provide opportunities to show our faith and courage in a nation becoming officially hostile to Christian values. Among other things, he identifies essential godly character qualities and a biblical perspective of victory. He writes, “As Christians we can welcome an assault on our freedoms as long as we see this conflict as an opportunity to bear an authentic witness for Christ.”
Legion More than 1 year ago
The premise of the book is flat out wrong. It's amazing that so many people don't know history and buy into lies told to them. Nazi Germany was not athiest or even secular. Only liars and ignorant people believe that. The Nazi doctrine can be said to be pagan which is not even close to be the same thing as athiest. This book is not for anyone who really wants to learn. This book is just for religious idiots who want things to point too to back up their beliefs (beliefs without facts).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Compares how the Germans stopped following God and fell for Hitler's lies to how the USA is today. There are many similarities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh, my gosh! Had a library book, and was transferring marked paragraphs from book to Nook. There were paragraphs missing in the nook--and interesting enough, paragraphs that are action steps and encouragements for Christians. I'm only starting chap. 2. Going to keep the book for a while to see what else has been left out.
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