Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Book Review: “Bonhoeffer: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception” by Petra Brown

It’s no secret that I have been deeply impacted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology. However, as with everything, I believe it is important to read views which are critical of your own. Sometimes, this can help moderate your own enthusiasim for a view by showing potentially problematic aspects of it. Other times, reading something which disagrees with your views can help confirm you in that view as you rebut the critique. Petra Brown’s book, Bonhoeffer: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception is a remarkable critique leveled directly at Bonhoeffer’s ethic. I found it enlightening and, at times, course-correcting.

The central point Brown argues that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is dangerous because it essentially allows the individual Christian disciple to justify essentially any form of violence so long as they believe they are living in a state of “exception.” Brown cites numerous examples of Christians who used violence, claiming Bonhoeffer for support when challenged on it.

The state of exception is developed by Brown through the lens of Carl Schmitt, a Nazi jurist who developed the notion of “state of exception” as “a state of emergency which requires decisive action by the sovereign (in Schmitt’s case) or by other actors within the state” (5). Schmitt is explicitly cited by Brown as the lens through which she’s viewing the state of exception and analysis of Bonhoeffer, though she also clearly state’s Bonhoeffer’s own concept of exception is intended “in a fairly straightforward way, based on Machiavelli’s concept of necessita” (106). Brown rigorously documents Bonhoeffer’s writings showing that he did speak about a state of exception, along with the need for potential individual action on the part of the disciple. However, Brown’s own definition of exception is, by her own argument, placed squarely within Schmitt’s writings, not those of Bonhoeffer. And, since Brown denotes a significant divergence between the two, this seemingly undercuts her central point. Indeed, at times this reader wondered if the point was more akin to arguing that Bonhoeffer’s ethic could be misunderstood in light of other writers on states of exception, thus becoming dangerous because of that misunderstanding. Yet Brown herself seems to be arguing that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is problematic in just this sense: that it can and does yield individual, “lone wolf” type violence. The tension between these two points is, to my eye, not resolved.

Brown does make attempts to unite Bonhoeffer’s state of exception with that of Schmitt’s, but these arguments are tenuous. For example, she notes that one possible objection to her use of Schmitt with Bonhoeffer is that comparing Schmitt’s ideas with the “emerging ideas of Bonhoeffer” is mistaken because Schmitt was “a German Catholic who explicitly claimed to speak from a Catholic position” (112). Brown argues instead that Schmitt’s position was “highly idiosyncratic” compared to traditional Catholic political stance such that it was “neither neoscholastic, nor Romantic as German Catholicism tended to be at the time” (ibid). Of course, showing Schmitt had theological distance from Roman Catholicism of his time and place does not somehow mean that Bonhoeffer’s state of exception can be seamlessly united with Schmitt. Indeed, it is telling that after making these distinctions, Brown simply moves on with the analysis of Schmitt’s concept of exception rather than attempting to unite it with Bonhoeffer’s. Indeed, she noted earlier that Bonhoeffer’s position is more akin to Machiavelli, from whom she says Schmitt is “a significant departure” (114). This, again, makes it seem as though Brown’s point is less that Bonhoeffer’s ethic itself is dangerous than that it can be dangerous once one unites it with other ethical theories or concepts that are, yes, adjacent to it, but not actually part of it.

On this latter point, I think Brown and I are in general agreement. In fact, Brown’s argument here seems to demonstrate that American evangelicals who cite Bonhoeffer in support of violent acts are doing so by misunderstanding him. But Brown, as far as I saw (and I could have missed something in my own reading), never actually makes this point explicitly. Instead, the implication is that Bonhoeffer’s own ideas are dangerous in that exact way; but that point is not sufficiently established.

Another area in which Brown’s argument loses ground is that she attempts–and fails–to adequately account for Bonhoeffer’s moderation of that state of exception and ethic when related to the church. She acknowledges that Bonhoeffer’s writings about church-community present a significant problem to her reading of Bonhoeffer’s ethic as dangerous (184). However, even as she agrees that one cannot isolate Bonhoeffer’s discussion of ethics from his discussion of the church-community, she works to move Bonhoeffer’s concept of church to that of an individual.

Brown writes, “Bonhoeffer regards the church-community not as an institution, but as a collective person; the personhood of the church-community reflects its identity as the ‘body of Christ’ that is made [up of] ‘actual, living human beings who follow Christ” (187). Thus, she says, “The church community is understood by Bonhoeffer to have ‘personhood,’ and as such I suggest that it can suffer the same isolation experienced by Abraham or the isolated disciple in her obedience to Christ’s call” (ibid). The passage she quotes in support of giving the church-community personhood is from Discipleship (aka The Cost of Discipleship). Brown moves from this quote using the words “actual living beings who follow Christ” to saying the church-community has personhood. However, Bonhoeffer himself, in that very passage which Brown quotes, is not making that point. Instead, Bonhoeffer’s point is made explicitly: the church-community is the physical embodiment of Christ on Earth, preaching God’s word to the world (DBWE 4: 225-226). Thus, for Bonhoeffer, the church-community does not become personal by means of its composition of persons. No, for Bonhoeffer, the church-community has personhood because it becomes Christ to others. And this remarkable claim obviates the difficulty Brown is trying to press. For the church-community is not reducible to a person except that that person is Christ in the world. Therefore, Brown’s argument here fails, because she reduces the church-community to the person in the wrong direction. For her argument to work, it must be reducible, again, to the Christian acting as lone wolf, possibly through violence. But in fact, Bonhoeffer’s reduction is to bring it all to Christ.

One difficulty for Brown is that shared by her imagined–and real–opponents in interpreting Bonhoeffer. Namely, by lifting his name and ethic of the pages of a book and the specific time in which he lived and plugging it in to modern debates, they’ve assumed the context and intent of his ethic today. I need to unpack this a bit. It is abundantly clear that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is not meant to be a list of principles from which people are supposed to draw to make their decisions. Indeed, his ethic does encourage individual action. However, it always does so within the community of believers. Brown’s rebuttal for this was mentioned above, but I think it is worth noting again that community for Bonhoeffer is irreducible to the individual except that of Christ. Thus, the lone wolf violence about which Brown worries and which several have attempted to justify using Bonhoeffer’s words is deeply mistaken in putting Bonhoeffer’s name to it. Just as Bonhoeffer argues one cannot have church without sacrament, so too does he insist upon the church community as working together to embody Christ on Earth. Acting in state of exception does not mean merely acting individually–it means acting along with Christ and the church.

Brown’s arguments do have merit. It is demonstrable that many violent acts have been done in the name of, or at least justified after the fact by, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Brown’s argument that Bonhoeffer’s own ethic justifies this violence is, I believe, mistaken. However, her argument has powerful force if one includes those positions which are adjacent to Bonoheffer’s. So, for example, if one integrates others’ views of a state of exception, it becomes much simpler to justify violence. If one ignores or is ignorant of Bonhoeffer’s insistence upon the church-community and acting ethically alongside that, it becomes much easier to justify violence. So, is Bonhoeffer God’s conspirator, ushering in the possibility for violent acts by Christians? Yes and no. Yes, if Bonhoeffer’s ethic is read divorced from much of its context and with others’ interpretations and concepts smuggled in. No, if one takes Bonhoeffer at his own words.

There is, however, one clear exception to this. Brown presses hard on a sermon Bonhoeffer gave in Barcelona in which he clearly stated that even violent acts could be sanctified. She states, “I don’t believe that the 1929 Barcelona lecture can be dismissed as an aberration” for Bonhoeffer’s ethic. Her attempt to unify this lecture with Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Discipleship is intriguing. I also think that we ought to see Bonhoeffer’s ethic more as unified whole than as a collection of different positions. The Barcelona lecture needs to fit into that somewhere. Of course, Bonhoeffer himself wrote of having some regrets about what he’d written before, so one wonders if it’s possible that, due to the influence of pacifism on his views, he would have wholly rejected what he said in Barcelona. That, or, as others have argued, perhaps Bonhoeffer was moving along a continuum of a Lutheran view of ethics, and one can unify the whole through that. Whatever the case, more work needs to be developed to discover what was meant by Bonhoeffer in Barcelona, or whether Brown’s case succeeds at this point.

Petra Brown’s Bonhoeffer: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception presents a significant challenge for Bonhoeffer scholarship. Those who wish to engage with Bonhoeffer’s ethics–particularly those of resistance–ought to engage carefully with Brown’s critique.

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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: “Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship” by Derek W. Taylor

Derek W. Taylor’s Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship explores Bonhoeffer’s rich theology to answer questions about ecclesiology, hermeneutics, and missions.

Taylor first uses the introduction to present a central thesis: that hermeneutics is an ecclesial practice. We read texts in and for community. Bonhoeffer dedicated much of his theological energy and output to this notion, and Taylor brings it front and center throughout the book. For example, Taylor starts with discussion of Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being that reads it as part of the task of reading the church as under, in, and of Christ. Contrary to some, who shoehorn Bonhoeffer wholly into the role of a follower or disciple of Barth, Taylor notes that with Act and Being, Bonhoeffer identified as problematical Barth’s tendency towards anti-ecclesiology (35). Taylor brings Hans Urs von Balthasar into the conversation as well, noting that Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic avoids passivity while also showing the word as a way to encounter Christ (33-36).

The church, however, must be wary of seeing itself merely as caretaker or ultimate interpreter of scripture. Instead, it is important to read scripture against ourselves. If we lose that ability, “Bonhoeffer warns, we end up remaking a God in the imago hominis” (49). It’s all too easy for the church or the individual to become comfortable with the text instead of letting it speak to and even, again, against us. Our desire to contemporize the text becomes dangerous as we tend to “echo interpretive interests brought to the text” instead of allowing the text to speak to us (50-51).

Reading scripture leads us to Christ, but Christ is present now. Bonhoeffer was powerfully aligned with seeing Christ as truly present among us in the church. This, moreover, leads to discussion of Christology, one which sees Christ as truly fully human and fully divine (73-75)–able to be with us now, truly present in sacrament (114-115). As an aside, Taylor’s discussion of meeting the risen Christ at the eucharistic table is powerful, but he seems reluctant to fully embrace the meaning of that presence–ending on the note that objective presence is ambiguous (though I may be misreading him here). One wonders how, if that present is ambiguous in an objective sense, the foregoing discussion of Christ being truly Christ today and in history and present makes sense. For Bonhoeffer, throughout his theology, remained a committed Lutheran, and would absolutely have affirmed the real presence of Christ in the Supper. Moreover, the point made earlier (73) about Christ being fully human and divine seems to obviate any supposed problems with that Lutheran doctrine.

Later, Taylor’s discussion of Bonhoeffer’s “religion come of age” is especially insightful. Instead of being a fully humanist or non-religious standpoint, Bonhoeffer seemed to see some of the “trappings” that others have enlisted his concepts in getting rid of as absolutely essential. Things like the Eucharist and Baptism remained central to Bonhoeffer’s theology (129ff). However, what Bonhoeffer was warning against was two problems: the first, a total retreat of the church to hide from the problems of the world; the second, a transformation of the church into one constantly chasing “relevance” and an apologetic agenda (128). These are what Bonhoeffer hoped to strip away in the church come of age. Some traditions of the church “lose their social credibility” but nevertheless, some “must be retained and sheltered against profanation” (130). We must “at all times ask, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today?'” while recognizing our cultural context may dominate and change–for the worse–our answers to that question (131). Only a well-formed church community can help guard against these difficulties. The reductionist tendency to see Bonhoeffer’s theology as reducing Christ to the church is badly mistaken; instead, Taylor argues “Bonhoeffer’s imagination remains dexterous… [he] refuses to settle for an answer [to the question of “Where is the risen one now?”] that would restrict Christ’s movement. While some theologians proffer the ascension as a means of securing Christ’s location, Bonhoeffer recognizes that even though he has ascended, Jesus has not vanished into the heavenly realms. He continues to stride through history, fulfilling his promise to be with his disciples until the end of the age… So, where is Jesus? He is leading the church toward the kingdom. Bonhoeffer would answer, in other words, by pointing to the church while simultaneously pointing ahead of it” (132).

Bonhoeffer is not frequently considered as a theologian of missions, but Taylor argues that his hermeneutics must presuppose ecclesiology and that we have to seriously take the claim by some that “mission is the mother of theology” (200). Here, Taylor sees Bonhoeffer’s warnings against two kidns of churches as especially powerful. The dangers presented are a church that turns itself in and sets itself as a unique culture (the “culturalist option”) contrasted with the church that downplays its distinctiveness from the world for the sake of mission (the “secularist option”) (201ff). Bonhoeffer himself saw the church in the United States of his time as being guilty of the secularist option, but then saw it in his own church in Germany, something he worked against for the rest of his life (213ff).

Scriptural hermeneutics is difficult, anyone who tells you different is selling you something. (Forgive the reference to a great movie.) Bonhoeffer’s theological work constantly shows this as a difficulty. Poignantly, Bonhoeffer himself noted that even the things that seem easiest–like the command to love your neighbor–quickly become quite complex when it comes to asking what exactly is meant by that (must we change our neighbor? do we care for them bodily? etc.). A command to “love your neighbor,” as Bonhoeffer puts it, “does not say to us unequivocally: You should do this” (quoted on p. 257). This is, in part, why Christ has gifted us the church: as a community existing in and for Christ, we can work to understand the word of God. Then, we become disciples.

Reading Scripture as the Church is an insightful journey into Bonhoeffer’s theology that both readers new to Bonhoeffer and those who have studied his works for years will glean much of interest from. A careful, close reading of the text will yield much worth pursuing for any reader. 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.

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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.

Finding Humor and Delight in Reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940-1945 and came upon, again, a moment that gave startling insight into Bonhoeffer’s character. It also raised questions. The passage was from a letter he wrote to his dear friend, Eberhard Bethge on Jaunaury 25, 1941:

The Schiller film [a reference to Friedrich Schiller, directed by Herbert Maisch (1940)] that I recently saw, was terrible: pathetic, clichéd, phony, unreal, unhistorical, badly acted, kitsch! Go see it yourself. [DBWE16:128]

I laughed out loud reading this passage. After a string of invective against this film (about which I know nothing), Bonhoeffer tells his friend to “Go see it yourself.” It made me sit back and wonder–why is it that Bonhoeffer thinks the film is still worth seeing? He doesn’t explain further; merely writes “This is the way I imagined Schiller as a junior in high school” (ibid). But it’s clear something about it struck him as an aspect of the film that his friend would enjoy. It’s a private, shared moment that we as readers get insight into.

It also made me think of how much humor and delight–and speculation!–there is in reading the collected works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Moments like this are found in abundance. They’re insights into private, shared ideas, funny asides, and stirring insights that can be appreciated more the more one reads Bonhoeffer (and about him). Another example that has had long term impact on me is the realization that Bonhoeffer was dedicated to reading the Moravian Daily Texts and discussing them. This is an insight that I came upon reading Laura Fabrycky’s excellent Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus (my review here). 

But only by reading these lengthy volumes in detail will one stumble upon these wonderful morsels of wisdom, humor, and delight. Readers will also come upon so many more questions, like the one I mentioned above–why does Bonhoeffer want his friend to watch a movie he clearly hated? But it is this kind of thing that spurs scholarship, and indeed curiosity, forward. 

So let me encourage you–if you’re interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, go get the collected works. Pick a volume that strikes your interest, pore over its text and notes, and join me in a journey of delight, humor, questions, and insights.

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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.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Succinct Question on American Nationalism

Living in the United States today, one may wonder about what seems to be a rising surge of national pushback against anything that seems to be “Unpatriotic.” The most obvious example is the outrage against Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the national anthem at games played by the National Football League.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in New York City at Union Theological Seminary in 1930-1931. He saw his own version of nationalism rising in the United States. As he took notes during his class “Ethical Interpretation of Current Events,” he jotted down “Nationalism militant + economic.” Those words certainly ring true for the United States now. But what are we to do about it? Right after that brief line, Bonhoeffer wrote a question that still somehow answers what we ought to do. And with six words he undermined all attempts to unite nationalism and Christianity together:

What is the flag to God?

DBWE 10:429

And we must ask ourselves the same question. If we are enraged by those kneeling to the flag, we must reset. “What is the flag to God?” It is nothing. And we ought not to elevate it–or our nation–more than we ought.

Moreover, if we turn our hopes and trust towards the flag–towards the nation–we replace God with the flag and the nation. It becomes idolatrous. Our hope is not in the nation, which rises and falls. God stands forever. God is our hope. In God we trust, but we cannot say that while truly meaning “our country.”

What is the flag to God?

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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: “Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Laura M. Fabrycky

The intersection of the scholarly and the intimate is a rare gift. At first, some readers may think that scholarly works simply cannot be intimate. How can someone be so closely associated with a topic while also writing in a serious, academic way? Laura M. Fabrycky’s work, Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer shows how that can be done related to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By integrating her personal experiences of leading tours at the Bonhoeffer Haus and in Germany with insights into the background of Bonhoeffer’s life, Fabrycky manages to create a unique read in the field of Bonhoeffer scholarship.

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is a kind of memoir, exploring Fabrycky’s own interaction with Bonhoeffer through her time in Germany. Because of this, it offers a deeply personal look at many aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life. But alongside that, Fabrycky also offers scholarly details to go along with her reflections such that a compelling narrative-driven exploration of Bonhoeffer. But the book provides more than that–it is much more a kind of look at Bonhoeffer’s place and how that impacted his life and decisions. Seeing how locations in Germany were set up helped to understand certain points in Bonhoeffer’s life more thoroughly. 

Fabrycky’s style is excellent. The chapter on learning to ride bikes and finding locations related to Bonhoeffer’s life while navigating the strange world (to Americans) of European rules regarding bikes was an absolutely fascinating read. Time and again, Fabrycky’s style drew this reader in to the extent that it truly felt like riding along the streets with her while exploring the interior of Bonhoeffer’s life through buildings and places. Another example of this was her note of the roadside crucifixions, which, contextually, were used by the Nazis to bolster anti-Semitism in portraying the Jews as those to fully blame for killing Christ. 

But a strong sense of place and personal reflection are not all that is offered in this fascinating work. Fabrycky continually draws readers’ eyes and imaginations to reading alongside and experiencing alongside Bonhoeffer, examining concepts of friendship, how Bonhoeffer read Scripture, and concepts of loyalty and nationalism. Because these are integrated into a broader, personal narrative, it once again presents readers with a feeling of sitting next to Fabrycky and exploring and experiencing these things oneself. One example is related to Bonhoeffer’s use of Moravian watchwords, called Die Losungen (see Kindle locations 1718ff). Fabrycky writes, “These were, and are, daily Scripture meditations published every year by the Moravian Brethern, a Protestant group that traces its religious heritage to a pre-Reformation movement of pietists who were committed to Scripture, prayer, an evangelism… Bonhoeffer and many others used their so-called watchwords… as a daily devotional practice, and it was one he commended to others as well” (ibid). After reading this, this reviewer looked it up, and it turns out one can subscribe to these to this day via email, and it has been edifying practicing a religious discipline Bonhoeffer himself commended. After reading this from Fabrycky, moreover, this reviewer was reading in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works and noticed several times these very watchwords were mentioned in letters and elsewhere. It was a fascinating insight that let this reader focus more on aspects of Bonhoeffer’s works that had been missed before. These kind of insights are found in abundance throughout Keys… and make it an invaluable look at Bonhoeffer’s thought life.

One critique I have is of the portrayal of church and state in Lutheran theology. Fabrycky writes, for example, that Bonhoeffer’s pacifism challenged Lutheran ideals in German society. She also writes that “Being a good Lutheran and a good German meant inhabiting two worlds at the same time… the spiritual… and the secular…but these worlds were fully compartmentalized from one another” (Kindle Location 3922). Much debate has gone into Bonhoeffer scholarship regarding Two Kingdoms theology, and Fabrycky here aligns herself with those who read as Lutheran what others read as distortions of Luther. This may be semantics, but many (such as Trey Palmisano in Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, review here) have argued that Bonhoeffer’s stance on church and state is the genuine Lutheran position. Further, several have argued that Bonhoeffer’s position is both consistent and draws directly from Luther to offer a corrective to the notion of Volk that turned the Two Kingdoms doctrine into a justification of essentially any state action (see Michael P. DeJonge’s Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther, review here). I also favor an approach that sees Bonhoeffer’s theology of church and state–the Two Kingdoms doctrine–both as genuinely Lutheran and consistent, such that his view of pacifism would have challenged those Lutherans who had effectively ceded the Two Kingdoms doctrine to a carte blanche for the state. 

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is an enthralling, captivating read. It reads as though one is exploring Bonhoeffer’s world through the mind of one who has been deeply impacted by close connection with his physical world, even decades removed. It will give readers insights into Bonhoeffer that this reader, at least, hasn’t found elsewhere. It’s the kind of unique work that even the most thorough reader of Bonhoeffer’s life and related works will likely find fresh and insightful. 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.

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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: “Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross” by J. I. de Keijzer

Act and Being is perhaps Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most opaque and difficult book. J. I. de Keijzer seeks, in Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross, to show that Bonhoeffer’s book was, in fact, constructing a theology of the cross in conversation with Karl Barth, Martin Heidegger, and, most importantly, Martin Luther.

The introduction lays out de Keijzer’s project, including an emphasis on seeing Bonhoeffer in his context and, specifically, as a Lutheran theologian. This latter point is important, because de Keijzer goes on to emphasize the need to avoid starting with a defined theology of the cross in order to read that back onto Bonheoffer (and Barth–more on that soon) but instead to draw on the work of the individual to allow them to outline their theology of the cross (31). He then goes on to outline Barth’s theology of the cross and argue that Bonhoeffer is, himself, intentionally arguing for an alternative. Evidence for this is derived from Act and Being, Bonhoeffer’s second dissertation, and how it argues in a parallel structure to Karl Barth’s “Fate and Idea.”  

After showing that Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being is intended as a parallel and contrasting project to Barth’s own theology of the cross, de Keizjer notes several points of divergence Bonhoeffer takes over and against Barth. One of these is the argument over whether the finite can contain the infinite (Bonhoeffer sides with Lutheran theology here, and de Keijzer shows that the Lutheran view does not stumble in the ways Reformed/Calvinist theologians often charge it with). (He expands on this both on 42-43 and 109-111, the latter of which shows how this is a major dividing line between the two Reformation branches of theology.) Another is a series of problems Bonhoeffer–explicitly or not–shows in Barth’s theology, such as how Barth’s theology is individualistic rather than comunal, that he (Barth) essentially made Christianity into a branch of idealism (47-49), and most famously, Bonhoeffer’s charge that Barth’s theology is a negativism of revelation. The latter receives quite a bit of space in de Keizjer’s work, as he argues that Bonhoeffer sees Barth’s work as failing to fully create a Christian theology. The negativism (or positivism) in Barth’s thought regarding theology receives an answer, according to de Keijzer, in Bonhoeffer’s use of the theology of the cross because Bonhoeffer’s own theology offers 3 things that Barth’s does not: 1. it offers helpful insight to the nonreligious person; 2. it does not undercut grace as a gift; 3. it provides guidance in nonreligious interpretations of theological concepts (52-54). 

Martin Luther also looms large in de Keijzer’s discussion, as he notes that Luther cannot simply be reduced to one along a continuum of theologians who argued for a theology of the cross (55ff). Instead, Luther’s insights were essential for Bonhoeffer and, argues de Keijzer, for rightly understanding the theology of the cross in general. God’s real presence in and for the world is absolutely central to a right understanding of the incarnation and how God is present in Jesus’s flesh (57-58). Moving ahead, de Keijzer argues that Bonhoeffer’s theology of the cross provides a strong basis for just such a theology, giving several essential elements toward that end, such as the ambiguous relationship between revelation/faith and reason, the ability to use spacial metaphors fruitfully in theology, movement from the cross to the world, Christ on the cross as God acting in behalf of humanity, and a radically sacramental understanding of the body of Christ. 

Luther’s influence continues as de Keijzer notes that while it may look as though Bonhoeffer and Luther diverged regarding epistemology and faith, that is far from the case. Luther’s epistemological project was to make room for grace in his own context, while Bonhoeffer’s project was to break the epistemological barrier created by idealism in order to retrieve grace (115ff). Luther continues to be central to Bonoheffer in the latter’s reading of Heidegger. Heidegger himself was heavily influenced by Luther, and Bonhoeffer utilized Heidegger’s philosophy in Act and Being to deconstruct rationalistic schemes (127ff, esp. 138-140). Ultimately, of course, Bonhoeffer’s project is heavily focused on ecclesiology and how through the church, Christ truly is present with God’s people (162ff). 

Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross is a fascinating look at a specific aspect of Bonhoeffer’s theology, and, more specifically, the points he was elucidating in his complex Act and Being. De Keizjer does a fantastic job of both explaining the finer points of Bonhoeffer’s view in contrast to his contemporaries and interlocutors while also showing how Bonhoeffer’s work may be applied to Christian life today. 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.

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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: “Attacks on Christendom in a World Come of Age: Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, and the Question of ‘Religionless Christianity'” by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick

Søren Kierkegaard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were both Lutherans who lived in a time of tremendous pressure on the church from outside forces to conform to their culture. Each developed a theology that called into question the nature of the church and of Christianity itself. Matthew D. Kirkpatrick, in Attacks on Christendom in a World Come of Age, explores the theological strands and trends of these two theologians. He shows how influential Kierkegaard was on Bonhoeffer’s thought, but he also draws out applications from both thinkers to today.

Kirkpatrick begins by drawing out Kierkegaard’s attack on Christendom. Then, he outlines Bonhoeffer’s pushing back against the German concept of volk. Idealism is a major factor for both Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard. Three chapters that make up the bulk of the book are dedicated to the attacks from each theologian on idealism. Before a conclusion, Kirkpatrick turns to the theologians’ attacks on Christendom and how they drew out what was plaguing Christianity in their own times.

Kierkegaard’s own theology developed against a kind of lackadaisical approach to Christianity in which people did not truly practice their faith. It had been incorporated into the culture in ways that made it a servant of the state rather than something to invigorate the populace and awaken faith. For Bonoheffer, it was a growing awareness of how the concept of the Volk had become an idol that led him to question the people’s use of Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms to demand loyalty to the Nazi regime (49ff). Bonhoeffer strongly pushed back against this use of the two kingdoms and developed his own theology, in part, against this. This does not, however, mean that Bonhoeffer was immune to his cultural upbringing or the Volkish nationalism. Early on, he flirted with some of the questions of Christian ethics in regard to the Volk when he was in Barcelona (63ff). However, he ultimately rejected this, along with nationalism (64ff).

The attack on idealism occupies a major portion of the book. Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer feature prominently throughout this section. Each saw idealism as an elimination of the individual and reality, a kind of fleeing from reality (90-91). Bonhoeffer’s attack on idealism is developed directly along Kierkegaardian lines, and Kirkpatrick argues that Bonhoeffer demonstrates his continuity and reliance upon Kierkegaard’s thought throughout this section (95ff).

Bonhoeffer’s development of discipleship uses Kierkegaard, Luther, and theologians of the Middle Ages (166). It is also developed alongside a rejection of an idealist view of discipleship. Idealism leads to a kind of deification of reason that is detrimental to faith.

Kierkegaard’s attack on Christianity has been criticized by some as aristocractic pride or a demonstration of a deeply unsettled, angry mind. Kirkpatrick argues that, by contrast, the attack on Christendom from Kierkegaard is a logical development of his previous theological stages (175ff). Drawing from numerous works of Kierkegaard, Kirkpatrick shows that Kierkegaard’s attack was a call to genuine Christianity and an attack on a kind of cultural, comfortable “faith” that failed to live up to the need to set aside all for Christ. Bonhoeffer’s own attack on Christendom was influenced heavily by Barth, but he goes well beyond Barth as he shows how the Christian develops from religion and in faith (186ff). Bonhoeffer’s attack is against a kind of detached Christianity that sees God as a working hypothesis for life (192); instead, Christian faith must allow God into life in such a way that God is not a principle or belief but rather God become human in the form of Christ as a challenge to all ages (193, 194). This sets Bonhoeffer apart from Bultmann and others who tried to demythologize Christianity. That is not Bonhoeffer’s project; Bonhoeffer’s project is to reinvigorate Christianity and throw off the chains that various cultural worldviews placed upon it, but specifically the notion of deus ex machina that is so pervasive (see, for example, 206).

Attacks on Christendom in a World Come of Age draws readers into a dialogue with two of the most important modern theologians. It calls readers to realize that Christianity is in a dialogue with events in the world, all while able to truly bring truth and Gospel to the world. I 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: “For the Life of the World: Jesus Christ and the Church in the Theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas” by Robert J. Dean

The question of what the church is supposed to do–what exactly is it supposed to be in the here and now of this world–is absolutely central to both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas. In For the Life of the World, Robert J. Dean analyzes these two major theologians’ views of the church and puts them into dialogue with each other.

First, Dean introduces both Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas and argues that each was deeply influenced by Barth and also saw the question of the nature of church in the world as of primary importance. Then, Dean moves into three primary topics that occupy the majority of the book. First, “This man is God”- the person of Jesus Christ in Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. After noting the background for Bonhoeffer’s lectures in Christology–a background in which the Nazi Party was rising to total power–Dean notes that Bonhoeffer’s Christology was a challenge to any human attempt at sovereignty over the human person. Christ, according to Bonhoeffer, is radically “for me” and directs us towards being “for others.” Christ is truly present in the church now, not just as an abstract entity. Christ is concrete and this-worldly, such that theologies that try to abstract Christ or make him not present are deeply mistaken. For Hauerwas, Christ’s humanity is emphasized. Hauerwas’s central concern is very often ethics, and his Christology emphasizes that as well. Hauerwas also sees the importance of Christ as being uniquely present to and for us.

The second major topic in For the Life of the World is the church itself. Specifically, Dean introduces readers to the ecclesiology of Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas in turn. Bonhoeffer’s context is once more important, as he wrote about the church and its definition while he was involved in the struggle for the church’s soul as the Nazis took over Christianity with the German Christian movement. Bonhoeffer helped operate an illegal seminary, seeking to train pastors in a confessing church. As such, Bonhoeffer’s theology of church deeply emphasized community and the being there “for others” as Christ to them. Dean addresses some of the objections to Bonhoeffer’s theology of community, including from Bonhoeffer’s seminal work, Discipleship. Bonhoeffer himself saw some dangers in his own writings on discipleship, but stood by what he had written because of its use as a protest against comfortable, cultural Christianity (83). Bonhoeffer emphasized the church as central to the economy of salvation–he would not have been someone who would agree with sentiments like “I commune with God by mountain climbing” (assuming the sentiment, as it and similar ones often are, is suggesting one can/should do such things instead of being part of a church community). Instead, Christ comes to us in the church community and calls us to be part of that same community. Additionally, Bonhoeffer offered a critique of Barth in his ecclesiology, for Bonhoeffer’s notion of the true church being absolutely necessary for ourselves and for the other contrasts with Barth’s dictum that the world would not be necessarily lost with no church (92ff).

Hauerwas’s ecclesiology sees the church as a “colony of resident aliens” (108ff). The church, as such, is “an identifiable people in the world… formed in their faith and develop[ed]… as embodied, timeful human beings” (109). Hauerwas’s own ecclesiology has come under fire as being a kind of colonialism, due to his emphasis on the church as “a visible community distinguished from the world” (112ff). Some of this critique ought to be granted, such as the need to recognize the danger of defining church merely by opposition to some aspect of reality. Hauerwas’s ecclesiology also emphasizes sanctification and ethics. He, too, critique’s Barth’s ecclesiology, but Hauerwas does so because he sees Barth as being too over-determined by his attack on theological liberalism (123-126).

The third major theme Dean addresses is the question of the church and world in the theologies of Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. Dean argues that this is a such a major theme in Bonhoeffer that “Bonhoeffer’s entire corpus could profitably be read as an indirect theological commentary on the relationship between church and state” (157). For Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran view of Two Kingdoms has become corrupted by those who suggest that Christians cannot offer a real critique of the state as well as the means to effectively absorb the church by the state. Thus, Bonhoeffer reacted against the Hegelian view of church and state and saw the talk of orders of creation for what it was–a way to fail to seriously interact with the fallen nature of the world and justify state violence and overreach (159). Bonhoeffer instead attacks any notion that the state can exist apart from the revelation of God in Christ (161) and thus Christians cannot simply flee behind an imagined barrier of church and state to avoid accountability for the other. Dean works this all through Bonhoeffer’s own nuanced use of “mandates” to understand church-state relationships.

Hauerwas’s view of church and state is intriguing because Dean argues Hauerwas’s theology of the state is omission by design. Additionally, Hauerwas remains agnostic about things like the ideal form of government (191, 193). Hauerwas does, however, see the dangers that states can devolve into and the threat they can be to humanity. He also sees that hope cannot be found in placing leaders in positions of power in a political system; rather, hope is found in “concrete communities which live out in their ordinary day-to-day lives a true politics” that helps the other and avoids politics of death (197).

After drawing out some conclusions about the nature of the church in the world, Dean has a brief appendix on Tyrannicide and Bonhoeffer’s own thought in relation to it. It provides a fairly balanced view that does justice to Bonhoeffer’s own nuance and struggle with questions of violence and the state.

The overview provided here doesn’t fully do justice to what Dean accomplishes in For the Life of the World. Though he often presents Bonhoeffer/Hauerwas’s views in parallel, he also draws out where they intersect, agree, and disagree. Additionally, he gives his own brief analysis of what insights Christians can draw from these two important theologians. I recommend the book highly for those interested in either one of the theologians discusses, but also for those interested in questions of church and state in the Christian life.

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.

Sunday Quote!- Christ’s Name Obligates Justice

Occasionally, on Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Christ’s Name Obligates Justice

I’ve been trying to ensure I do a daily devotion, which includes a brief liturgy, some Scripture reading, prayer, and a brief writing from a devotion. For this year, I chose I want to Live These Days with You, a collection of excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works for daily reading. I was struck by the reading from March 9, which features a quote from Ethics:

Wherever the name of Jesus Christ is named, he is there as protection and obligation. That is true of all people who in their battle for justice, truth, humanity, and freedom have again learned to name the name of Jesus Christ… It is not a ‘Christian Culture’ that must make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; rather, the crucified Christ has become the refuge, justification, protection, and obligation for those higher ideals that have begun to suffer and for their defenders. (DBWE 6:345, 347-348)

In our own time, we continue to see those who work not for justice, truth, humanity, and freedom, but instead for a “Christian culture,” itself allegedly based upon some broader worldview that, if only it would be embraced, would bring the former ideals along with it. But Bonhoeffer will have none of that. It is the very act of battling for those ideals that are obligated through the name of Jesus Christ himself. Moreover, those who do that battle are doing so in the name of Jesus, and as they do so, will find their refuge in the crucified Lord.

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!

On Christian Music– I wrote a post about the label “Christian music” and how that can lead to a number of difficulties with discernment.

Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A Reflection and Response– I reflect in depth on how we can use our discernment properly when it comes to music.

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

Today in History: German Foreign Office Warns about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

February 29, 1936: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would later be executed by the Nazis for his involvement in the resistance, had already made a name for himself, stirring up trouble with his actions alongside the Confessing Church. He had broken with the (much) larger German Christians and already declared that they represented a false Christ to the world, in part due to their allegiance to the Nazi state.

Bonhoeffer was heavily involved in ecumenical movements, and had informed the Foreign Office that he would be traveling as the director of the Preacher’s Seminary at Finkenwalde to support ecumenical work in Sweden. Today in history, the Foreign Office sent a letter to the German Legation in Stockholm warning them about Pastor Bonhoeffer’s actions:

The Reich and Prussian Ministry for Church Affairs as well as the Church Foreign Office would like to warn you about Pastor Bonhoeffer because his activities are not conducive to German interests. State and church officials have serious objections to his trip abroad, which has only now become known.
I respectfully ask that you report back concerning his public activities and concerning possible reactions in the Swedish press.

(From Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14: Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937 [DBWE 14:146])

This message’s import should not be understated. It shows that Bonhoeffer was already being monitored both at home and abroad. It also shows the close relations the Reich leadership had established with the German Christian church, for it was not just secular authorities who rejected Bonhoeffer’s resistance, it was also the church. May we, in our own time, never allow such evil to be united with the church. May we call out such evil wherever it stands. May we resist, even to death, the attempts of the world to thwart Christ’s church.

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