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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This tag is associated with 32 posts

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance” by Reggie L. Williams

Reggie L. Williams’s Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is a deep look at how Bonhoeffer’s experience in New York, and more specifically in Harlem, shaped him as a theologian of resistance against Hitler. It’s not just that, though, as it also traces Bonhoeffer’s intellectual development, specifically about racism, both before and after this epochal change.

First, Williams outlines the early theological development of Bonhoeffer, tracing his early intellectual development as well as his struggles to find a church home while visiting the United States. Here, in the United States, Bonhoeffer first encountered white racial terrorism in the form of lynching. Later, he would appeal to a German theologian to speak out against the charade of trials against in Scottsboro, in which nine black men were falsely accused of raping two white women. Eight of them were sentenced to death and killed. This caused something of an awakening for Bonhoeffer to racial violence, though he still had to become aware of his own biases.

The movement of Bonhoeffer from a proponent of volk (the German word for “Folk) type nationalism to a race-conscious and anti-racist perspective is one of the most fascinating portions of Williams’s research. While Bonhoeffer retained several core convictions throughout his life, his thought about race was directly impacted by his time in Harlem. Germany had been a colonial power until the Treaty of Versailles assigned the nation’s colonies to the winning powers, and many German people longed for that Imperial power once again. Williams demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s own thought was impacted by this, particularly when he surveys Bonhoeffer’s early sermons and discussions of the concept of volk.

Williams then draws an outline of the Harlem Renaissance, including major thinkers and themes, as well as how some of these thinkers and themes explicitly or implicitly show up in Bonhoeffer’s works. Unfortunately, at least one of the works that would provide more insight into this has been lost (a paper Bonhoeffer wrote on black thinkers while in the United States). Nevertheless, Williams demonstrates that the themes of the Harlem Renaissance, along with Bonhoeffer’s own time in Harlem, became deeply influential on his later life. It is in this section that Williams does the most to bring to light strands of thought in Bonhoeffer that might otherwise be missed. Specifically, he traces the constant theme of Jesus identifying with the marginalized as something that would lead to active theology of resistance in Bonhoeffer’s thought. This theme is highlighted both in the thought of W.E.B. Du Bois and the poem “Black Christ” by Countee Cullen, which Bonhoeffer was aware of. The latter is lain out in detail, and shows both how Harlem Renaissance theology could be linked to liberation theology and how Bonhoeffer’s thought developed along that direction as well. It was black thinkers who helped awaken in Bonhoeffer a truly great desire for resistance against racism.

Another major theme of Williams’s work is that of empathy. He argues throughout that Bonhoeffer’s move towards empathy was something that he found through observing segregation in the United States and the resistance to it in Harlem. This, Williams argues, developed into a “Christ-Centered Empathic Resistance,” which is the last part of Bonhoeffer’s life as he actively worked against the Nazis in Germany.

The bulk of Williams’s work focuses on Bonhoeffer’s time in the United States, supporting his theses with meticulous notes and documentary evidence. The endnotes are full of additional argumentation as well as sources and reading.

Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is an essential read for those interested in Bonhoeffer’s theology of resistance. More than that, Williams provides here both an historic overview of Bonhoeffer’s thought and the ways in which one might develop him further. The unity of Bonhoeffer’s thought with Harlem Renaissance thinking and the movement of that into modern movements for societal justice is another major theme in the book. It’s a rare work that surveys the thought of a thinker while also offering insight into how modern thought might move forward along the same lines or go beyond its subject. Highly recommended.

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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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Book Review: “Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrannicide: Bonhoeffer’s Church-World Theology and His Changing Forms of Political Thinking and Involvement” by David M. Gides

The question of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s view on subjects related to war: Just War, Pacifism, Tyrranicide, and related issues is one that is hotly contested in Bonhoeffer scholarship. David M. Gides’s Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrranicide: Bonhoeffer’s Church-World Theology and His Changing Forms of Political Thinking and Involvement makes the case that Bonhoeffer did not experience a unity of thought on the subject and instead changed over time. Gides argues that Bonhoeffer ultimately developed a church-world theology that went beyond a conservative Lutheran Two Kingdoms position as well as against a time in his life in which he held to pacifism.

Gides separates Bonhoeffer’s thought on church-world relations into four phases, in contrast with what he says is the majority opinion that separates his thought into three stages. These phases are the church and world in mild tension, the church and world in heightened tension, the church against or apart from the world, and the church as the world. Gides argues that, too often, interpreters of Bonhoeffer’s thought have taken quotes from different parts of his life in order to try to form a cohesive picture, when instead Bonhoeffer’s thought had significant development through these phases (xii-xiii).

In the earliest phase, Bonhoeffer was decidedly not a pacifist and saw violence as potentially being sanctified through certain actions like laying down one’s life for the neighbor or to take up arms to defend the Volk (folk = the nation/people) (112-114). Gides argues this earliest statement and those like it were driven by a conservative or traditional Lutheran understanding of the Two Kingdoms theology which allowed for this lack of engagement with the state by Christians. Heightened tension in the world led Bonhoeffer to back off these early statements. Later in his life, Bonhoeffer felt a drive for ecumenism and pacifism, but this movement included engagement in the world directly. Here we see Bonhoeffer’s three stages of church-state engagement: questioning the state’s actions, providing service to victims of the state, and ultimately seizing the wheel itself from the state (also known as the famous “drive a spoke through the wheel” statement) to direct it away from evil (185). Later, Bonhoeffer makes some extremely strong statements about peace, including a powerful statement about the differences between peace and security. These show that he had moved into a pacifistic view, but his pacifism in this phase of his life, according to Gides, was one that separated the church from the state almost entirely, to the point where the church had to move away from or against the state (220-224; 230ff; see also his discussion of Discipleship in this context). Finally, Gides argues Bonhoeffer developed a church-world theology that allowed for direct action in which the church is the world and tyrannicide is possible. This phase included Bonhoeffer’s own involvement in the Abwehr and in part of a plot to kill Hitler (328-332).

Gides’s work is challenging and well-thought out. He presents serious challenges for several views, especially those that argue that Bonhoeffer remained explicitly pacifist (or that he was pacifistic throughout his life) as well as views that see Bonhoeffer’s thought as entirely cohesive. It does seem clear that Bonhoeffer’s thought developed on these questions, particularly comparing his pacifistic stage (phase 3) to his earliest thoughts on peace and war (phase 1).

There are some challenges to Gides’s theses, as well. One is the challenge offered by a minority of Bonhoeffer scholars that Bonhoeffer was not involved in the plot to kill Hitler at all (eg. in Bonhoeffer the Assassin?). Gides’s work was written before this other work, so it’s difficult to know what his defense would be, but it seems Gides would answer that Bonhoeffer does seem to be clearly involved in this plot, or at least, minimally, in actions that set him against the state in ways that could lead to such plots. That alone would undermine a fully pacifist view. Gides does acknowledge the diversity of pacifistic views (too often, pacifism is seen as a unified thought), and it would be interesting to see a full engagement with his work from the side of a pacifist developing a view from Bonhoeffer’s thought. It does seem to me Bonhoeffer made contributions to pacifistic thought, but that he could not be included in any pacifist position that holds to absolute non-violence.

Another challenge is that of Lutheran Two Kingdoms theology itself. Gides mentions this theology at multiple points in the work, but doesn’t do much legwork to define how he’s using it. Most often, Gides uses it alongside the word “conservative,” making it a narrower referent than the broader notion of Two Kingdoms thinking. Specifically, Gides seems to denote by “Two Kingdoms” the later developed Lutheran position that held to a kind of pseudo separation of church and state that enabled many in Germany to simply look the other way with what the secular authorities were doing, thus excusing or even participating in atrocities. However, such a theory of Two Kingdoms is one that, while “conservative” in the sense of being what seemed to be the traditional view in Germany at the time of Bonhoeffer’s life, does not fully show the breadth of thought on the Two Kingdoms theology of Luther. Indeed, Gides’s view of Bonhoeffer’s final position seems to be one that may actually be more fully in line with Luther’s Two Kingdoms theology than was the “conservative” position of the same during his life (see, for example, DeJonge’s Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther). In fact, one could make the argument that we could read Bonhoeffer cohesively within the bounds of Lutheran Two Kingdoms thought. Thus, Gides’s phases would be different interpretations of the Two Kingdoms theology, and the final phase especially may be closest to Luther’s own thinking on the topic. His phases in thought could then be seen to be sliding along the possible interpretations of Two Kingdoms theology. Gides does make the distinction that he is speaking of this “conservative” Two Kingdoms thought, but when he stresses that Bonhoeffer apparently rejected Two Kingdoms thinking, I believe he goes too far, because it seems more accurate to say that Bonhoeffer’s ultimate church-world theology was that of a fully realized Two Kingdoms.

Gides’s Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrranicide is a thoughtful reflection and interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s theology of church-world relations. His unique division of Bonhoeffer’s thought is reason for reflection, while his ultimate thesis will surely spark debate among those interested in Bonhoeffer’s theology. More importantly, he provides a way forward in reading Bonhoeffer’s ultimate theology, though not one that sees it as cohesive throughout his 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!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– read more posts I’ve written on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and thought. There are also several Bonoheffer-specific book reviews here.

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.

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.

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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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.

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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 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.

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: “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.

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.

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.

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!

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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