Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the most influential theological voices of the 20th century, whose words resonate into the 21st century in wonderful and sometimes challenging and surprising way. Victoria J. Barnett, editor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works in English, has, with The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 2, put together a collection of his sermons that is both relevant and insightful into his life.
Barnett introduces each sermon so that readers have a context in which to place it. Often, this demonstrates the radical nature of his sermons as well as other biographical details about Bonhoeffer that shine through in his preaching. For example, when the German church experienced a takeover by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer preached sermons that went against the grain of going along with the state.
It is difficult to find a place to begin to understand a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Each word he wrote seems so carefully considered, each quote needs to be placed within its broader context. It is easy to misquote him or to twist what he said. As such, a collection of sermons like this is almost an ideal entry point into his theology. Not only does a sermon contain whole theological points, but it also does so in a somewhat condensed form. One could argue–rightfully, I think–that drawing individual quotes from Discipleship may actually do damage to understanding the whole. But with sermons, one can listen, analyze, and parse wholly contained thoughts in a more condensed form.
Another thing that the collection does well is display the whole range of Bonhoeffer’s talent for sermons. Yes, his sermons tended on the scholarly side, but he tailored his sermon to the audience, and some of them are deeply personal. Others explore heavy theological concepts like the communication of attributes.
A few quotes from Bonhoeffer’s sermons seem in order to demonstrate the depth of this text:
We have become accustomed to seeing religion as something that corresponds to a need of the human soul and satisfies this need… But we forget the one most important question: whether religion is also something true, whether it is the truth.
Bonhoeffer, preaching from Finkenwalde after the Confessing Church refused to publicly come out condemning antisemitism:
“Babylon, which on its own power defies Christ, the crucified Lord… Babylon.. demands nothing of its subjects except blind love and intoxication… who would dare say that this Babylon is not eternal?–it will take a bad fall–woe to it!–how anxiously the Christian community… must… have yearned for its fall!”
Bonhoeffer makes a direct link between the hatred and action against a group of people (Jews) and defiance of Christ and acting as the apocalyptic Babylon.
Time and again stirring insights like these pour from the pages of Bonhoeffer’s sermons.
The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 2 is a valuable addition to any theological library. Even if one already owns his entire collected works, this collection puts together a number of impactful sermons with important contextual details that make it a necessary part of a Bonhoeffer collection.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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