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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This category contains 16 posts

Peace Must Be Dared: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call for true, insecure peace

“How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety.” (DBWE 13:308)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words continue to resonate prophetically into our own times. As war seems to loom around every corner, and the potential for armed conflict increases, fear mounts and we turn to our weapons and armies to bring us peace. But Bonhoeffer’s words correct this fleeing to violent means of security, and he challenges us to realize that there is a huge difference between peace and security. Arming ourselves for war does not bring peace but rather confuses the security we feel from our weapons with peace. Bonhoeffer explains:

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. (DBWE 13, 308-309)

Our rush to mistrust the national “other” leads us not to peace but to confusing safety with peace. Peace, as Bonhoeffer says, must be dared. It demands vulnerability and, yes, trust of the other. And though this may seem foolish, we have been told that as we walk with Christ, we will be seen as fools to the world. God makes the supposed wisdom of the world, a wisdom which seeks security and safety, foolishness as we seek peace. Next, Bonhoeffer offers one of the most powerful calls to international peace that has perhaps ever been uttered or written:

Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross. Which of us can say he knows what it might mean for the world if one nation should meet the aggressor, not with weapons in hand, but praying, defenseless, and for that very reason protected by “a bulwark never failing”? (DBWE 309)

These words are worth reading and re-reading and reflecting upon. Think about what Bonhoeffer is saying, particularly in context of his total corpus. He famously wrote that “When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die” (Discipleship). But if that’s Christ’s call; if the way of the cross is a bid to come and die, do we truly, really think that Bonhoeffer is asking us to spiritualize that call to death, that call to the cross? Or is Bonhoeffer truly saying, radically, that the call from Christ is a real call for peace, a call that asks us to set aside our securities and safety and be willing, yes, to lay down our lives for the sake of our neighbor and even our enemy; a bid to come and die to know the peace that surpasses all human understanding?

Yes, it may seem foolish. Yes, it may seem unwise. But a true, radical call to peace as a call from Christ is a call to come and die. It sets aside all securities; it sets aside the fear of the other; and it asks us to truly, radically, follow where the way leads to the cross of Christ.

Peace and Security and the “Other”

Bonhoeffer’s words are relevant to more than war, too. More than once, as I’ve talked about refugee crises around the globe, people questioned me on whether it was safe to have potentially dangerous people around. Now, I vehemently disagree with any notion that the “other” is inherently violent, or that we as Christians should turn away from the passages in Scripture which so clearly state we ought to care for the sojourner in our land and the refugee. But even more, Bonhoeffer’s insight here makes clear that those who live in fear of the “other” and use that as justification for their turning away the sojourner or refugee are living by making security their goal rather than peace. Peace, Bonhoeffer states, is the opposite of security. The appeal to the security of our home forsakes love of neighbor and true, lasting peace in favor of the idolatry of security. In fear, we demand the closing of our homes, our neighborhoods, and our borders to the “other.” In fear, we blasphemously turn aside from the words of God and turn them into spiritualized texts that we use to soothe our consciousness as we watch the least of those among us get thrown into camps; get turned away; get sent to die; starve; die of thirst; and more. Our demands for peace, which we have conflated with security, have turned into a fearful rejection of the peace of God and the way of the cross.

Peace Must Be Dared
(DBWE 309, capitalization mine)

Bonhoeffer’s Context, and Ours

Bonhoeffer spoke these words during an ecumenical conference that sat in recent memory of the Great War and with the seething political forces moving towards the Second World War. He ends his demand for peace at this conference with the question: “Who knows if we shall see each other again another year?” It would be four years until Germany would take over Austria and have parts of Czechoslovakia ceded to Hitler. But Bonhoeffer issued his call for demanding peace, a call that would be ignored, as the German Christian church capitulated to the Nazis. It was a call that some may look back upon and see as naive. But in our own world, in the here and now, what wars can we prevent? What tragedies and miscarriages of justice continue for the sake of our false security-oriented “peace”? What would happen if we answered the fears of the “illegal,” the “refugee,” or the “enemy” with a call for daring peace–by praying and setting ourselves, defenseless, to fight against injustice with the power of God? What if we did dare peace?

SDG.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon demands we hear him today– Bonhoeffer’s prophetic words resonate in more than peace; here, find some analysis of what he said about the poor.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– A collection of my posts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and reviews related to him (scroll down for more).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call for Peacemaking” by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel

It’s easy for ideas to become facts in the general populace. Common knowledge, inherited opinions, and “everybody knows it” type mentalities dominate. We just can’t research every claim ever made, so when presented with a claim that seems reasonable, people tend to accept it. One historical claim that has become common knowledge is the notion that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, in some rather intimate way, involved in a plot (or maybe even more than one) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The authors of Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking dispute this “common knowledge” about Bonhoeffer.

The book warrants careful reading, as the authors challenge what is a generally accepted claim about Bonhoeffer, so it requires digging deeply into his life and work in order to challenge that narrative. Early on, the authors note the many ways Bonhoeffer has been summoned to defend violence: defending the war on terror, killing abortion doctors, and many other violent acts are seen as justified by Bonhoeffer and his acts (12-13). The thinking seems to be that Bonhoeffer wanted peace, but circumstance forced him towards violence, and we need to be sensible enough to realize that can be a requirement as well. It is interesting that early on in the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer was already labeled as an “enemy of the state and pacifist”–an intriguing and counter-intuitive combination. If one is a pacifist, how can they truly be threatening to the powers that be? The answer seems to be that his ethical stance itself was a threat to the Nazi mentality of destruction and murder.

The authors acknowledge that Bonhoeffer began early on with an acceptance of militarism but they note, as did Eberhard Bethge, his close friend and biographer, that he never turned to such thinking again (19-20). Placing Bonhoeffer in his context, we find that he was even more radical than we may think. Hitler clearly tried to set himself up as an ally and friend of the Christian church, and despite his despicable actions, many, indeed most German Christians ended up following Hitler to atrocities. Due to Hitler’s attempts to sway the church, many Christians moved for syncretism of church and state. Bonhoeffer, though, stood against these movements and instead argued the church alone–the confessional, Christian church–was the only way for salvation.

The authors challenge another biographer, Schlingensiepen, whose excellent biography I’ve read before, on his claim that Bonhoeffer specifically returns to seeing certain acts as “sanctifying killing” (69ff). In contrast, they argue that Bonhoeffer instead had a kind of situational ethic that moved away from objectivism as others held and towards subjectivism (105-110). However, this subjectivism really became a kind of objectivism as Bonhoeffer saw Christian ethics as beyond the black and white of “good and evil” and instead grounding ethics radically in God as ultimate subject upon whom all subjectivism in ethics rests (110). This, on an even more ultimate level, means humans are not the final subjects in ethics but rather God is in Christ.

One area of disagreement I had with the authors is the notion that Bonhoeffer rejected the Lutheran view of the Two Kingdoms in favor of some other ethic (174-180). This itself has become something of a myth attached to Bonhoeffer’s legacy, but others like Michael P. DeJonge have ably shown that Bonhoeffer instead consistently affirmed a Lutheran view of the Two Kingdoms throughout his life. Indeed, at some points the authors fail to take seriously Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism and how that would impact not just his pacifism but also his Christology, which they rightly note is at the center of his ethic. Another area they seem to forget Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism is in the apparent importation of non-Lutheran soteriology into Bonhoeffer’s brief mention of “becoming a Christian” in the United States. The authors seem to make this a conversion experience in the “tell your story” type of way common in American Evangelicalism, but this type of notion–needing to pinpoint some point of conversion in one’s life–is entirely foreign to a Lutheran understanding of salvation. It’s a minor point in the book, but worth mentioning.

The authors’ conclude that we do Bonhoeffer a disservice by using him to underwrite our wars, but it seems to me they didn’t fully demonstrate their conclusion that he was a pacifist. Indeed, most of the case for this is found in the silence in between writings. Was Bonhoeffer actively involved in plotting to kill Hitler? It’s hard to tell from documentary evidence, but this is hardly surprising as we would expect them not to be recording every detail of their plots. But having early biographers, including those who knew him, seem to suggest exactly this–that he was involved or at least would have supported it–ought to serve as some weight of evidence. Yes, Bonhoeffer made clear statements at points that would lead us to think him a pacifist, but at others he is less clear, and, again, we cannot dismiss the testimony of those who knew him. Nevertheless, the authors challenge this notion of Bonhoeffer as being involved in a plot for tyrannicide, and they certainly do us a service in pointing out that Bonhoeffer would almost certainly not condone many, many modern wars, nor our proclivity to kill each other.

Bonhoeffer the Assassin? is a book that challenged my perspectives about Bonhoeffer and forced me to dig more deeply into some aspects of his life. Though I don’t agree with all of the authors’ conclusions, they made compelling cases for many parts of his legacy. I’m sure this work will continue to be cited and interacted with by any writing on Bonhoeffer’s view of peace and war. Recommended.

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought” edited by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sphere of influence seems to expand almost daily, as I read about his life and theology online and in books. Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought, edited by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick, is a collection of essays showing how Bonhoeffer’s influence extends into many and sometimes disparate strands of thought into our time and, certainly, beyond.

Engaging Bonhoeffer is a delight to read. Having read many books on Bonhoeffer and related works by now, I feel especially joyful when some fresh analysis or aspect of his thought is brought to light that I had not considered before. The authors in this collection bring many such moments, as they demonstrate how many others have carried the torch of Bonhoeffer’s legacy and, at times, done so with critical engagement. Though it is true most collections of essays have ups and downs, this one seems to be a collection of hits.

The essay on liberation theology may surprise some given the recent push to attempt to integrate Bonhoeffer’s legacy into a contemporary (American) evangelical fold. Bonhoeffer’s deep and repeated exegesis of biblical passages having to do with the poor, the oppressed, and more is set alongside the fact that Bonhoeffer himself was no less than the bourgeois of the bourgeois. Geffrey B. Kelly and Matthew D. Kirkpatrick show how despite his background, Bonhoeffer transcended his own privileged place to be named in some strands of liberation theology as a precursor to the movement and by others as an early liberation theologian. Bonhoeffer’s inclusion in the movement by those who are in the movement is due, the authors note, to (at least) two things- the uncompromising position Bonhoeffer takes in regards to God’s suffering with those who are suffering and his unwillingness to cede theology to broad metaphysics and abstraction rather than reality at hand.

Another contribution by Kirkpatrick, “Situations, Contexts, and Responsibility: Bonhoeffer’s Ethics in the Thought of Joseph Fletcher, Paul Lehmann, and H. Richard Niebuhr” fascinates with the examination of Bonhoeffer’s ethics set alongside a subjective theory of ontology. Kirkpatrick notes that while Bonhoeffer has similar thinking to much of situational ethics, he also does ground his ethics objectively in the person of Christ. The essay was a challenging read as it also presents the possibility for a way forward in the broad debate over Bonhoeffer’s views on pacifism and how to interpret some seemingly contradictory ideas. Is it possible that, instead, Bonhoeffer may consistently be understood through a lens of situation ethics?

The chapter on Karl Barth shows that Barth struggled much of his life to make sense of Bonhoeffer’s legacy and Bonhoeffer’s own interactions and comments upon his (Barth’s) work. The essay on Bonhoeffer and Jurgen Moltmann shows how some thinkers have critically interacted with Bonhoeffer, building some ideas and offering criticism of others. Another essay on the death of god theologians shows how some of Bonhoeffer’s language was co-opted for purposes certainly beyond his intent, but that do highlight some aspects that he may have pursued if he’d had the chance.

His influence on many others is considered as well: Stanley Hauerwas, Rowan Williams, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dorothee Soelle, Wolf Krotke, the earliest English commentators on Bonhoeffer, Ronald Gregor Smith and J.A.T. Robinson, Eberhard Jungel, Gerhard Ebeling, Paul Ricouer, and Jean-Yves Lacoste. My own familiarity with some of these is effectively nothing, so having Bonhoeffer’s thought linked to them and expanded was fascinating as a way of demonstrating his far-reaching legacy and the many, many ways people have adapted his thought.

Engaging Bonhoeffer is an excellent series of essays that will open up new avenues of exploration for readers to pursue. I highly recommend it for any who are interested in Bonhoeffer’s thought and how it is being shaped as his legacy in modern thinkers from many different perspectives.

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Holy Week- A reflection inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God consents to be pushed out of the world and onto the cross; God is weak and powerless in the world and in precisely this way, and only so, is at our side and helps us. Matthew 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us not by virtue of his omnipotence but rather by virtue of his weakness and suffering! This is the crucial distinction between Christianity and all religions. Human religiosity directs people in need to the power of God in the world, God as deus ex machina. The Bible directs people toward the powerlessness and the suffering of God; only the suffering God can help. – DBWE 8, p. 479

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote much related to the cross, and I have constantly found his reflections to be enlightening for devotional and reflective reading, particularly during seasons like Lent. The words presented here are from a passage he wrote while imprisoned by the Nazis, and it is in the middle of his own musics on a “worldly” or “religionless” Christianity, a theme that one may find throughout his career, despite some limiting it only to the latter part of his life.

Here, we see Bonhoeffer pointing to the cross in the midst of a discussion in which he says God comes to us when we are without God, and that God comes against us to be for us. What do all of these confusing things mean?

In the midst of Holy Week, as I watched Notre Dame burn and its spire collapse, I could not help but think about the suffering God in Christ. Then, I opened the works of Bonhoeffer during a devotional time and came upon the passage above. “Only the suffering God can help,” says Bonhoeffer, writing from prison in the midst of a horrific, terrifying war. These words spoke to me in the midst of my own recent sorrows as I dealt with a few fellow Christians condemning me for disagreeing with their beliefs.

Bonhoeffer here points us towards the cross. It is on the cross that God suffered and enters into the world most fully. God does not wave a hand and end suffering; instead, God takes suffering upon Christ, enduring the cross for our sake.

When we endure suffering due to our beliefs.

Only the suffering God can help.

When we seek to end the injustice in the world.

Only the suffering God can help.

When we come to God in times of sorrow.

Only the suffering God can help.

When we see the world in all of its horror, wishing for beauty.

Only the suffering God can help.

When we realize that it was our own sin that condemned us; our own grievous faults.

Only the suffering God can help.

Amen.

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Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– browse all of my writings on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and related works (keep scrolling through for more links).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Intellectual Formation” edited by Peter Frick

Bonhoeffer’s Intellectual Formation, edited by Peter Frick, explores how Bonhoeffer was impacted by various thinkers throughout his life. This collection of essays gathers Bonhoeffer experts to discuss numerous influences on Bonhoeffer, including some that are little-addressed in other literature I have read.

The influences on Bonhoeffer’s thought are (broken down as they are in chapters as follows): Augustine and Aquinas, The Imatatio Christi of Kempis, Martin Luther, Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Wilhelm Dilthey, Friedrich Nietzsche, Adolf von Harnack and Renhold Seeberg, Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Heidegger. A survey of every chapter would make this review much longer than I’d like it to be, so I will just highlight a few areas I found of interest.

Wayne Whitson Floyd’s chapter “Encounter with an Other: Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” highlights the importance of philosophy for understanding Bonhoeffer’s legacy. In this insightful chapter, Floyd notes the impact of both Kant and Hegel in Bonhoeffer’s thought and how the same philosophers impacted interpretation of Bonhoeffer. For example, Floyd critiques Ernst Feil’s The Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a work that this reviewer has yet to read) for not making enough of a distinction between Kant and Hegel when reading Bonhoeffer. He also shows how other thinkers have over-emphasized aspects like anthropology in Bonhoeffer’s thought (91ff). Peter Frick’s chapter “Friedrich Nietzsche’s Aphorisms and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Theology” shows that Bonhoeffer was aware of Nietzsche’s work and engaged with it, yes, critically, but also by noting areas of criticism Nietzsche leveled against the church that Bonhoeffer agreed with. Bonhoeffer’s interaction with Nietzsche ultimately shows competing notions of reality and Bonhoeffer radically asserted that “reality is one in Christ…. Belonging completely to Christ, one stands at the same time completely in the world” (cited on 199). Thus, Frick shows that Bonhoeffer answered Nietzsche’s challenges with a distinctly Christocentric response.

Josiah Young’s chapter “Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr: Their Ethics, Views on Karl Barth and African-Americans” shows a more intimate portrayal of Bonhoeffer. Young places Bonhoeffer in his American context, interacting with Niebuhr’s theology as well as other influences on his life. Young demonstrates the clear respect for and influence of African-Americans on Bonhoeffer and a contrast with Niebuhr’s uneven thoughts about race. Bonhoeffer fought against white supremacy on all levels, and was deeply influenced by his time in Harlem and black churches. Frick has several chapters in the book (one noted above), and all are of interest. His chapter on Kempis’s Imatatio Christi argues Bonhoeffer was so familiar with the work that he essentially follows Kempis’s form in some ways. His chapter on Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer is fascinating and shows how Bonhoeffer was aware of and interacted with liberal theologians while also being critical at times. Bultmann, in particular, highlighted problems that Bonhoeffer felt needed to be addressed, though Bonhoeffer ultimately diverges from Bultmann in developing the answers.

Wolf Krötke’s chapter, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther,” was the chapter to which I took the most issue. According to the contributor info, Krötke was a member of the editorial board of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke (Bonhoeffer’s works in German), so he is clearly an expert on Bonhoeffer. However, his background in Barthian studies seems to have colored his reading of Luther and Bonhoeffer. Though he acknowledges the deep influence Luther had on Bonhoeffer, alongside Bonhoeffer’s adherence to Luther’s position on numerous topics, Krötke  seems to have an agenda to paint Bonhoeffer in a Reformed light. For example, Krötke uses the word “regretfully” in his acknowledgement that Bonhoeffer sided with Luther on the Sacraments and used Lutheran language. He then argues that Bonhoeffer “criticized the doctrine of ubiquity… of the humanity of Christ” as ‘an impossible metaphysical hypostasis'” (61). Yet Krötke does not go on to note that the very reason Bonhoeffer makes this statement is not because he rejects the Lutheran position wholesale but rather because he sees it as an unnecessary attempt to answer the Reformed objection. As Bonhoeffer puts it, ubiquity is an attempt to answer “the Reformed question within Lutheran theology” (DBWE 12, 321-322). The very reason Bonhoeffer made this statement was as a rejection of the Reformed position, not a tacit admission that the Lutheran view of Christ’s real presence could be mistaken. Bonhoefer explicitly rejects the Reformed question of “How” Christ might be present in the Supper–reasserting that Christ is God and so can do so. Krötke then asserts that Bonhoeffer’s view on Law and Gospel differed from Luther’s, yet such differences are less a demonstration of Bonhoeffer’s divergence than on Bonhoeffer’s reliance upon and expansion of Luther’s view. DeJonge has convincingly argued, in his Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther, that Bonhoeffer sided with Luther on major Lutheran/Reformed (and other) controversies (see my review of DeJonge’s book here). These instances make it especially perturbing that Krötke closes his essay by calling Bonhoeffer’s faith “a living, Reformed faith…” (82, note the capital “R” tying it to the Reformed position). This attempt at subverting Bonhoeffer’s legacy by integrating him into the Reformed fold is nonsensical when one considers Bonhoeffer’s strict alignment with Lutheran positions on the Sacrament, the Two Kingdoms, and, as DeJonge argues, on the finite containing the infinite–all things that go against Reformed positions.

Bonhoeffer’s Intellectual Formation is packed with insights into the development of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thought. Every chapter has something to offer and the work as a whole opens up huge avenues to explore in Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholarship. Anyone with interest in Bonhoeffer’s thought ought to read this book. Highly recommended.

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther” by Michael P. DeJonge

Michael P. DeJonge’s thesis in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther may be summed up as saying the best interpretative framework for understanding Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology and thought is by understanding him as a Lutheran theologian specifically engaged in Luther’s thought.

DeJonge supports his thesis primarily through two strands of evidence: first, by showing Bonhoeffer’s close readings of and interactions with Luther; and second, by demonstrating that Bonhoeffer’s perspective on important controversies was a Lutheran perspective.

Bonhoeffer’s interactions with Luther outpace his interactions with any other theologian. DeJonge cites a statistic: Bonhoeffer cites or quotes Luther 870 times, “almost always approvingly”; “The next most frequently cited theologian is a distant second, Karl Barth with fewer than three hundred” (1). This alone may serve to demonstrate Bonhoeffer’s concern for interacting with Luther, but DeJonge goes on to note that Bonhoeffer also strove to correct competing interpretations of Luther, and affirm specifically Lutheran doctrine. For instance, in his interactions with Karl Holl, one of his teachers, he goes against Holl’s interpretation of Luther’s view of religion, arguing that Luther’s Christology saves one from idolatry of the conscience, which he felt Holl may have slipped into. Bonhoeffer also affirmed the emphasis on Christ’s “is” statements when it came to the Lord’s Supper, defending the position that “this is my body” means Christ is truly present in the Supper (70ff).

DeJonge’s argument expands to a demonstration that Bonhoeffer aligned with a Lutheran understanding on important issues. The Lord’s Supper has already been noted, but it is worth pointing out that in regards to this, Bonhoeffer explicitly sided with Luther against Karl Barth and the Reformed tradition, which argued that the finite could not contain the infinite. Instead, Bonhoeffer affirmed that, by virtue of the infinite, the infinite could be contained in the finite; allowing for a Lutheran understanding of real presence in the Supper. Another major controversy DeJonge notes is that of the interpretation of Luther’s “Two Kingdoms.” DeJonge argues that Bonhoeffer has been misunderstood as rejecting Luther’s doctrine in part because Luther’s doctrine itself is misunderstood. Thus, DeJonge engages in a lengthy section in which he traces the influence of Troelsch on the understanding of Luther’s Two Kingdoms and how often it is Troelsch’s understanding rather than Luther’s that is seen as “the” doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Going against this, Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the Two Kingdoms are closer to Luther’s position than many have argued.

DeJonge also interacts with other interpretations of Bonhoeffer, such as an understanding of Bonhoeffer as a pacifist, which has been a common understanding among some. Utilizing his deep analysis of the Two Kingdoms doctrine, DeJonge counters that Bonhoeffer’s comments about resisting the Nazis align with this doctrine much more closely than they do to a pacifist understanding. Like Stephen R. Haynes’s The Battle for Bonhoeffer, DeJonge notes that Bonhoeffer’s resistance cannot be linked explicitly to the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Though it is clear that Bonhoeffer detested this treatment, DeJonge argues he did so not through a broadly humanitarian theology (going against some interpreters here), but rather due to his understanding, again, of the Two Kingdoms. When the Nazis sought to attack the Jews, particularly by separating them from the so-called German Christians, they issued a direct assault on the body of Christ–the church. Thus, Bonhoeffer’s resistance to these ideals, again, springs from a Lutheran understanding of the Two Kingdoms. (As an aside, it is worth nothing DeJonge also acknowledges the contributions some aspects of Martin Luther’s own writings had to the Nazi ideology. However, DeJonge here shows how Bonhoeffer’s understanding of his theology set him against these anti-Semitic notions.)

Finally, DeJonge demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s view of justification–certainly a vastly important doctrine for Luther and Lutherans–ought to be properly understood as Lutheran rather than anything else. Time and again, throughout the book, DeJonge carefully demonstrates how an interpretation of Bonhoeffer suffers when not understood in a Lutheran lens. Over and over, readings of Bonhoeffer that make sense in one context are shown to fail when compared to the whole of his writings. DeJonge also manages to offer a coherent account of Bonhoeffer’s theology that does not set an “early Bonhoeffer” against a “late Bonhoeffer” nor does it read the whole of his thought through any one work. As such, DeJonge offers a truly compelling reading of the totality of Bonhoeffer’s work.

Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther is an incredibly important work for understanding the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Anyone who is interested at all in the theology of Bonhoeffer and understanding it fully would do well to read and digest it. I cannot recommend it highly enough for those who wish to understand the theology of this man.

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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Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

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SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality” by André Dumas

André Dumas’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality is a deep look at the theology and philosophy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, offering the thesis that Bonhoeffer’s primary aim was to show that God is reality and really interacts with the world. Though this may seem a rather mundane claim, Dumas’s point is that “reality” is rather strictly defined for Bonhoeffer, and, as he argues, this leads to some intriguing insights into Christian theology and philosophy.

One side note before reviewing the work: this book was originally published in French in 1968 and in English in 1971. Dumas is, in part, responding to the “death of God” movement that turned Bonhoeffer into a kind of secular saint Nevertheless, this work is highly relevant to today’s theological and philosophical inquiry as well, particularly due to the keen interest in Bonhoeffer’s life and work.

Central to Bonhoeffer’s thought, argues Dumas, is the struggle between objective revelation and existential interpretation. Alongside this is the question of reality, which, for Bonhoeffer, was this-worldly. Christianity is not to be reduced to a religion, in this case meant to denote a faith that points to the other-world or beyond this world to a different and disconnected reality. Instead, it is about this world, the very one we are in. Dumas notes that “Bonhoeffer was… drawn to the Old Testament, because the living God within it becomes known only in the here-and-now of human life. The absence in the Bible of any speculation about the beyond, about the abode of the dead, about inner feelings, or about the world of the soul, strongly differentiates the faith and anthropology of Israel from the various religions that surround it. For Israel [and Bonhoeffer], God can only be encountered in the reality of this world. To withdraw from it is to find oneself beyond his reach” (144). Alongside this is the need to avoid either total subjectivism about the word of God while also not falling into the danger of objectification.

In order to combat these difficulties, Dumas argues that Bonhoeffer sees Christ as the structure of the world, God entering reality to structure it around himself. Thus, for Bonhoeffer, Christ is “the one who structures the world by representing its true reality before God until the end” (32). This is important, because this means that Bonhoeffer is not encouraging a Christianity that sees the ultimate goal as “salvation” from the world. “When biblical words like ‘redemption’ and ‘salvation’… are used today, they imply that God saves us by extricating us from reality, blissfully removing us from any contact with it. This is both gnostic and anti-biblical” (ibid). Christ is the true center of all things, and the structure which upholds the true reality, one with Christ at the center.

These central aspects of Bonhoeffer’s thought are then the main force of Dumas’s arguments when it comes to “religionless Christianity” and the questions of realism and idealism. Regarding the latter, Nietzsche remains a major force in philosophy as one who also argued for a kind of realism. But Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, though having similar influences, came to utterly different conclusions and interpretations of that “realism.” Nietzsche “cannot get beyond the terrible ambiguity of loneliness in the world, against which Bonhoeffer rightly affirms the reality of co-humanity, willed by God in his structuring of the world, and embodied by Christ in his life and death for others” (161). Thus, “Bonhoeffer… agrees with Nietzsche on the primacy of reality… But Bonhoeffer disagrees with Nietzsche about the nature of that reality” (ibid). And Bonhoeffer’s vision of reality is concrete as well, but one which avoids the stunning loneliness and hopelessness of Nietzsche.

The non-religious church is a major question in Bonhoeffer’s later thought, but one which must be viewed holistically with the rest of Bonhoeffer’s ideas, as Dumas argues. Thus, the non-religious church is not an atheistic one or a “secular Christian” one. Instead, it is one which “will then rediscover a langauge in speaking of God [that] will not release one from the earth… The resurrection will not re-establish the distance between God and man that was overcome by the cross… Instead, [the community of the church] will be nourished by its participation here on earth in the task of restructuring everyday life, just as Jesus Christ did earlier on its behalf” (209). This cannot be interpreted as a call to go against faith in Christ but rather as a radical call to make Christ the center once again. This is the linchpin of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics as well, for it calls to make Christ the center, a re-structuring and ordering of the world which will change everything, and an order which Bonhoeffer died following.

Dumas is an able interpreter of Bonhoeffer, and one who avoids entirely the danger of separating Bonhoeffer’s work into distinct eras or prioritizing some works over others. Dumas argues instead that Bonhoeffer’s thought is unified, though of course it does develop over time. Therefore, Dumas finds Sanctorum Communio just as important as Letters and Papers from Prison for understanding Bonhoeffer’s thought. His book demonstrates the ability of Bonhoeffer not simply as theologian or martyr but also as philosopher, drawing from Hegel and others to create a systematic view of the world with Christ as the center, as the structure of reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality is a fascinating work that ought to be read by any looking to understand the works of Bonhoeffer.

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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Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sermon Demands We Hear Him Today

There is one sermon of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s I can’t seem to shake. Sure, many of his writings stick with me, and I consider his influence absolutely formative in my own faith life. But in our time as people debate issues like immigration, welfare, and the like, Bonhoeffer’s sermon on Luke 16:19-31 delivered on May 29, 1932 in Berlin has spoken to me time and again. I’d like to share a few of Bonhoeffer’s own words. All are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works, Volume 11, Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work: 1931-1932 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012). The sermon begins on page 443.

One cannot understand and preach the gospel concretely enough. A real evangelical sermon must be like holding a pretty red apple in front of a child or a glass of cool water in front of a thirsty person and then asking: do you want it? …But it just isn’t that way–we all know that.

…We have spiritualized the gospel–that is, we have lightened it up, changed it. Take our gospel of the rich man and poor Lazarus. It has become common practice to see as the whole meaning of the story that the rich should help the poor. That is, it is turned into a story illustrating a moral. But this particular story especially, if one allows oneself to be affected fully by its original meaning, is something very different from that, namely, a very concrete proclamation of the good news itself. Admittedly so concretely, so powerfully worded, that we don’t even take it seriously anymore.

…Blessed are you Lazaruses of all the ages, for you shall be consoled in the bosom of Abraham. Blessed [are] you outcasts and outlaws, you victims of society, you men and women without work, you broken down and ruined, you lonely and abandoned, rape victims and those who suffer injustice, you who suffer in body and soul; blessed are you, for God’s joy will come over you and be over [your] head forever. That is the gospel, the good news of the dawning of the new world, the new order, which is God’s world and God’s order…

…Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you who dress in purple and live happily in luxury, for you shall suffer eternal thirst.

Blessed poor, outcast, leprous Lazarus yesterday and today, for you have a God. Woe [to you] who live happily in luxury and are respected yesterday and today. That [is] the most concretely preached good news of God for the poor.

…There are always those in our midst who know better than the New Testament itself what the New Testament may and may not say. What we have just said here is, of course, a rough interpretation of the New Testament intended for rough common people. It couldn’t be about that. If something in the New Testament really sounds as rough as what we just said, you have to take it and spiritualize it… It’s not just simply the physically poor who are blessed and the physically rich who would be damned. But the main thing is always what a person’s attitude is toward his poverty and towards his wealth…

…Now, I ask you, where in the story of the poor Lazarus does it say anything about his inner life? Who tells us that he was a man who within himself had the right attitude toward his poverty? Just the opposite, he may have been quite a pushy poor man, since he lay down in front of the rich man’s doorstep and did not go away. Who tells us anything about the soul of the rich man? That is precisely the frightening thing about this story–there is no moralizing here at all, but simply talk of poor and rich and of the promise and the threat given to the one and the other. …And where do we get the incredible presumption to spiritualize these things that Christ saw and did very concretely?

We must end this audacious, sanctimonious spiritualization of the gospel. Take it as it is, or hate it honestly!

What does the gospel that was brought to the weaklings, the common people, the poor, and the sick have to do with us? …We disdain the mass of Lazaruses. We disdain the gospel of the poor. It undermines our pride, our race, our strength. We are rich, but with pride… It is so easy to disdain these masses of Lazaruses. But if just one of these would really meet you face-to-face–the unemployed Lazarus, Lazarus the accident victim, Lazarus whose ruin you caused, your own begging child as Lazarus, the helpless and desperate mother, Lazarus who has become a criminal, the godless Lazarus–can you go up to him and say: I disdain you, Lazarus? …And if you can’t do that, why then do you first act as if it were something great to be able to do that?

With this sermon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached an incredible message of law–one that would resonate with his audience, largely of privileged people in Berlin. The line about “our pride, our race, our strength” was a direct attack on the Nazi propagandists and the integration of the same terminology into the German Christian church. But he didn’t leave his message with the Law. Like any good Lutheran, he followed it up with the salve of gospel. He went on:

Who is Lazarus? You know it yourself: your poorer brother who cannot cope with life’s outward or its spiritual aspects… suffering, who craves the crumbs from under your table. …here at the end, in all humility, the last possibility must [be] considered, at the limits of all human and divine possibilities: we are all Lazarus before God. The rich man, too, is Lazarus. He is the poor leper before God. Only when we know that we are all Lazarus, because we all live through the mercy of God, do we see Lazarus in our brother…

We should see–see poor Lazarus in his full frightening misery and behind him Christ–who invited him to his table and calls him blessed. Let us see you, poor Lazarus, let us see you, Christ, in poor Lazarus. Oh, that we might be able to see. Amen.

Amen.

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Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Battle for Bonhoeffer” by Stephen R. Haynes

The Battle for Bonhoeffer by Stephen R. Haynes highlights the ways that people across theological, social, and political spectrums have played tug-of-war with Bonhoeffer’s thought, words, and legacy. As Charles Marsh puts it in his Foreword, “It is understandable… that readers with different theological and ideological perspectives would desire to claim Bonhoeffer as their own. ‘Excerpting Bonhoeffer’ has become a familiar exercise in each team’s effort to win…” (ix). Yet Bonhoeffer’s legacy is far more complex than a simple Google quote mine would allow. In my own reading of Bonhoeffer’s works, it is clear that it would be simple to find conflicting messages even within the same sermons at times. Like Martin Luther, for example, reading Bonhoeffer and interpreting him is like peeling away the layers of an onion, trying to get to the core. It takes care, precision, and thought. Unfortunately, as Haynes notes throughout this book, few people are concerned with doing so.

Though the subtitle is “Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump,” there is far more to the book than dealing with the recent Trump phenomenon. Haynes notes how people on both the right and left have distorted or ignored aspects of Bonhoeffer’s legacy to turn in him into a supporter of their own positions. Marsh sets the table well, asking: “Have you heard progressive Christians cite the passage in Ethics calling abortion ‘nothing but murder’? Or recall Bonhoeffer’s preference for monarchy over democracy?” (xii). Haynes notes how Bonhoeffer was cited on one hand by Vietnam draft resisters, peace activists, liberation theologians, death-of-God thinkers on the left, and on the right by people who oppose abortion or same-sex marriage (and, regarding the latter, Haynes notes insights from both Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory and Diane Reynolds The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer [which I reviewed here] for reasons this may be quite inaccurate]). The baffling array of topics Bonhoeffer is alleged to have endorsed or condemned suggests that the quote mining being done through his legacy belies an inner complexity that is far deeper.

Haynes surveys the history of interpretation of Bonhoeffer, particularly in America, through the next several chapters. He places a special emphasis on seeing how evangelicals have viewed Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What is interesting in this latter topic is that, initially at least, Bonhoeffer was viewed positively but with some “warning flags” by American evangelicals who interacted with his works. Several appreciated his resistance to Nazi ideals, but were put off by his apparent lack of concern for things like “a high view of Scripture/inerrancy” and his being influenced by liberal German theologians. This portrait by the early evangelicals of Bonhoeffer is far more accurate than the one that has been passed into our own time, in part because it allowed for a multifaceted Bonhoeffer who was complex enough to resist being easily integrated into any one position.

Fairly early on, however, the complexities of Bonhoeffer’s thought and life began to be ignored in favor of seeing him as a figurehead for resistance to one’s own preferred ideas. Haynes demonstrates how Bonhoeffer was used to resist George W. Bush and the “war on terror,” and then ironically turned around to resist the “culture of death” under Barack Obama. The raising of the “Bonhoeffer flag” behind such opposed viewpoints should have served as a warning sign, but it unfortunately did not.

Enter Eric Metaxas. Metaxas’s biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was an extreme departure from Bonhoeffer scholarship generally. For one thing, Metaxas himself admitted to virtually ignoring or explicitly shunning the conclusions of 70 years of Bonhoeffer scholarship both at home and abroad. The cover flap for the book features a spurious quote from Bonhoeffer “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself…” that has since been passed all over the world and even “quoted” multiple times in Congress on record. To say that using an invented quote from Bonhoeffer on the cover of a biography of the man is a bad sign is an understatement. Haynes notes many, many problems with the biography, from a lack of engagement with Bonhoeffer’s actual works (and ignoring, for example, his Letters and Papers from Prison, which is one of the most important works for understanding his developed thought) to a recasting of Bonhoeffer into an American Evangelical. Yet it is Metaxas’s biography that has become the torch-bearer for the populist Bonhoeffer, making an image of the man that is incredibly distorted. For my own part, when I read Metaxas’s work, I was struck by how entirely de-Lutheranized Metaxas had made Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who explicitly stated that, for example, without the Lord’s Supper there is no Christianity and who certainly supported infant baptism and regeneration, but Metaxas excised such details from his own dim look at Bonhoeffer’s theology, preferring to pull out those things which were more amenable to the typical American evangelical.

It was the populist view of Bonhoeffer which lead to notions of a “Bonhoeffer Moment” at various times before, during, and after the 2016 election cycle. Haynes spends some time noting how it was frequently said during the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that American Christians were facing a “Bonhoeffer Moment” in which they would need to resist the government’s tyranny. Haynes notes how many evangelicals made comparisons to previous Supreme Court rulings, conveniently ignoring those unjust rulings they supported or the just ones they opposed. More decisively, Haynes notes that after Obergefell, evangelicals rallied around a woman who was part of an anti-Trinitarian sect to be their martyr for the cause. In the time since, though, very little has been done by evangelicals in their supposed “Bonhoeffer Moment.” This kind of co-option of the man’s legacy is a disservice to all involved.

Haynes doesn’t limit his analysis of the “battle for Bonhoeffer” to just the positives of Bonhoeffer’s life. Metaxas and others have argued Bonhoeffer is a “Righteous Gentile” (Metaxas even made “righteous gentile” part of his additional subtitle to his biography). But Bonhoeffer has explicitly been turned down for that technical categorization for a few reasons: 1) he wrote or supported some things that were seemingly anti-Semitic; and 2) though he did become a martyr, it wasn’t specifically due to his efforts to help the Jews during the Holocaust, which is a criterion for being deemed a “Righteous Gentile.” Bonhoeffer certainly opposed the Nazi treatment of the Jews and did help some Jews escape Germany (though at arm’s length for the most part–simply helping get proper papers from afar); but that was not his project or his main reason for opposing Nazi Germany. And that’s okay. It is important not to lionize Bonhoeffer for things he didn’t actually do, and Haynes is careful to help readers realize that.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer isn’t very long, but its length shouldn’t be taken for a lack of depth. It’s a thoughtful, critical, and sometimes convicting read. As one who is deeply indebted to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my own theology and thought, I found ways in which I had been distorting him in this book as well. Haynes’ book provides an invaluable correction to distortions on the man’s life, times, and thought. I very highly recommend it.

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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Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Ethical Self: Christology, Ethics, and Formation” by Clark J. Elliston

Clark J. Elliston’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Ethical Self is a fascinating look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer in conversation regarding the concept of oneself in relation to the other, as well as one’s commitments to oneself. It is also an exposure to some writings and engagement with them that I suspect most readers of Bonhoeffer have yet to engage. As complex as Bonhoeffer’s philosophical writings were, Elliston manages to connect them to the reader in ways that make sense and holistically bring together Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the self.

Before diving into this deep work, it is worth asking the question of why it is important. Most simply put, it is nearly impossible to accurately interpret Dietrich Bonhoeffer without coming to some understanding of his concept of the self and how one relates to the “other.” To do so, however, requires engagement with the deepest and most difficult of Bonhoeffer’s writings. Elliston’s book is just such an endeavor.

Clark J. Elliston engages the topic of the “ethical self” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s body of work through the lens of Emmanuel Levinas and Simone Weil. Who? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. But Elliston introduces these thinkers and summarizes their thoughts to the extent that it not only makes sense for them to be the dialogue partners with Bonhoeffer but that I as a reader enjoyed the engagement. With Levinas and Weil, Elliston is able to approach Bonhoeffer’s thought from a two-pronged approach.

Levinas’s approach to the self is largely focused on the self in relation to the other. Elliston notes that this may present a “challenge for both theology and philosophy” by noting the interplay between self-other and the way responsibility forms. Bonhoeffer, however, Elliston argues, is able to meet the challenge and provide a holistic self in ethical relations to the other, allowing for theology to remain coherent as well. While Levinas believes that theology neutralizes the “other,” Bonhoeffer provides a corrective that preserves “otherness” without reducing it to the self.

Weil’s perspective is interesting becuase it is so other-oriented. The self exists “for” the other (Kindle location 2568). Weil’s thought included the concept of “decreation” which sees people as obstacles to God’s becoming. Creation is a kind of “renunciation” for God to provide other “selves” outside of himself. Decreation, though, is the act of total orientation of the self towards God. Attention is another central theme for Weil, and the attention towards the other is a way to engage with decreation and God. While Levinas and Bonhoeffer would surely be at odds regarding theology, he and Weil would be much closer. Many points of intersection exist between the two on the self. They share the notion that the self must limit its ego in order to better engage with the other.

I was particularly surprised when I saw that Elliston had utilized Adolf Eichmann as an example in the last chapter. Yes, that Eichmann. But it made sense in that Eichmann was a contemporary of Bonhoeffer’s and Elliston makes it quite clear that Eichmann is not being used positively. Instead, Eichmann is, Elliston argues, a good example of irresponsibility regarding the personal self. Eichmann demonstrated a defective view of the self and this undercut greatly his capacity to engage in proper ethics.

From all of this, it should be clear Elliston’s work is deeply philosophical. Much like reading Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being, reading Elliston here is a deep engagement on tough issues which demand much reflection.

On a side note, it would be remiss to not mention how excellent Elliston’s notes are throughout the book. Often paragraph-length themselves, these notes direct the reader to many different and intriguing topics, as well as providing insight into the details of Elliston’s theses.

Elliston’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Ethical Self is a deep, thoughtful, and sometimes surprising book. It takes a careful reading to fully engage with the topics here, and it warrants re-reading several sections. I recommend the book for those who are looking to go more deeply into their study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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