Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Book Review: “The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Volume 2” edited by Victoria J. Barnett

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the most influential theological voices of the 20th century, whose words resonate into the 21st century in wonderful and sometimes challenging and surprising way. Victoria J. Barnett, editor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works in English, has, with The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 2, put together a collection of his sermons that is both relevant and insightful into his life.

Barnett introduces each sermon so that readers have a context in which to place it. Often, this demonstrates the radical nature of his sermons as well as other biographical details about Bonhoeffer that shine through in his preaching. For example, when the German church experienced a takeover by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer preached sermons that went against the grain of going along with the state.

It is difficult to find a place to begin to understand a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Each word he wrote seems so carefully considered, each quote needs to be placed within its broader context. It is easy to misquote him or to twist what he said. As such, a collection of sermons like this is almost an ideal entry point into his theology. Not only does a sermon contain whole theological points, but it also does so in a somewhat condensed form. One could argue–rightfully, I think–that drawing individual quotes from Discipleship may actually do damage to understanding the whole. But with sermons, one can listen, analyze, and parse wholly contained thoughts in a more condensed form.

Another thing that the collection does well is display the whole range of Bonhoeffer’s talent for sermons. Yes, his sermons tended on the scholarly side, but he tailored his sermon to the audience, and some of them are deeply personal. Others explore heavy theological concepts like the communication of attributes.

A few quotes from Bonhoeffer’s sermons seem in order to demonstrate the depth of this text:

We have become accustomed to seeing religion as something that corresponds to a need of the human soul and satisfies this need… But we forget the one most important question: whether religion is also something true, whether it is the truth.

Bonhoeffer, preaching from Finkenwalde after the Confessing Church refused to publicly come out condemning antisemitism:
“Babylon, which on its own power defies Christ, the crucified Lord… Babylon.. demands nothing of its subjects except blind love and intoxication… who would dare say that this Babylon is not eternal?–it will take a bad fall–woe to it!–how anxiously the Christian community… must… have yearned for its fall!”
Bonhoeffer makes a direct link between the hatred and action against a group of people (Jews) and defiance of Christ and acting as the apocalyptic Babylon.

Time and again stirring insights like these pour from the pages of Bonhoeffer’s sermons.

The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 2 is a valuable addition to any theological library. Even if one already owns his entire collected works, this collection puts together a number of impactful sermons with important contextual details that make it a necessary part of a Bonhoeffer collection.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

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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.

Book Review: “Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World” by Wolf Krötke

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World by Wolf Krötke is a formidable interpretation of both Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Specifically, this collection focuses on how each of these theologians sought to relate to what they viewed as a post-Christian world.

Karl Barth is the subject of the first half of the book, and Krötke offers a range of topics engaging with Barth’s theology at multiple points. Krötke begins with an essay that highlights the challenges of engaging with Karl Barth to begin with. Then, he moves into Barth’s attack on “religion” itself as unbelief. Of course, what is meant by “religion” is key in this and many other essays, and the exact meaning of the term is notoriously difficult to pin down. Thus, much of the discussion here and elsewhere is spent drawing out what is being critiqued as “religion” vs. how Christianity can offer a better way forward.

Election, for Barth, is the “sum of the gospel,” and Krötke spends one essay discussing what is meant by Barth’s doctrine of election. In this doctrine, Barth sees that many major theological problems can be reconciled through Christ’s “Yes” to humanity (86).

Krötke’s interactions with Bonhoeffer are insightful and sometimes surprising, even to the point of being stunning (a word this reviewer used when taking notes on a few of the pages). In particular, the final essay on Bonhoeffer about Bonhoeffer’s “Nonreligious Interpretation of Biblical Concepts” alongside the “Missionary Challenge of the Church” was fascinating. Therein, Krötke notes that Bonhoeffer was extremely against any concept of God as a God available to us at our whim. God is not the kind of being who is available at the push of a button. Additionally, Krötke interprets Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity as putting forth the idea that God in Christ chooses to become powerless for us, such that in Christ, God leads us to the suffering of the cross (242-244). Rather than a God who could right all wrongs and does not, or one who cannot do so, the God of religionless Christianity, as Krötke reads it, is God in Christ who enters the world and, in doing so, intentionally gives up power in order to lead humanity to God. It’s a fascinating look at Bonhoeffer’s work, and a somewhat alarming interpretation in some ways, but also one that takes the notion of deity and makes it squarely within Christian theology.

Other essays on Bonhoeffer are equally fascinating, whether its when Krötke notes that Bonhoeffer’s life itself has become a theological resources for his interpreters or when he turns to the question of Bonhoeffer’s letters to his fiancee. On the latter point, Krötke reflects on his own attempts to look at Bonhoeffer’s letters to Maria von Wedermeyer. Ultimately, he found himself deciding that it was a kind of voyeurism–the theologian moving into an intensely personal scene in order to try to find any resource. It was a kind of question about biography and finding the past that this reader hadn’t considered before.

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World is a fascinating, engaging, and challenging read. I highly recommend it to those interested in the legacy of either one (or both) of these fascinating individuals. Krötke consistently presents startling insights and fascinating ways to move research forward. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church” by James E. Beitler III

Rhetoric is a discipline that is rarely taught or even discussed anymore, even in scholarly circles. James E. Beitler III attempts to show the importance of rhetoric not just to Christian witness but to a full Christian life in Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. He does this by outlining how five major Christian voices used rhetoric in their lives: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.

C.S. Lewis is discussed in light of how he used rhetoric and worship to see the goodwill of Advent. His persuasive style and study of rhetoric helped him to become one of the most revered thinkers of the 20th century. C.S. Lewis addresses audiences on their own terms, adopted a humble stance, and cultivated communities. Again, this was centered around goodwill–the ultimate well-being of humanity through resurrection life with God (36-37). Dorothy Sayers used rhetoric and credal worship to emphasize the “energy of Christmastide” as Beitler puts it. Through vivid depictions and tranquil scenes, she made a rhetoric-filled argument for Christianity. Sayers’s He That Should come stirred up controversy in her own time, and Beitler quotes a remarkable defense Sayers offered of her portrayal of Christmas in which she talks about Christ being born “into this confused, coarse, and indifferent world… He was a real person, born in blood and pain like any other child, and dying in blood and pain, like the commonest thief…” The lifelike depictions of Sayers language comes through in the chapter dedicated to her, and shows how the persuasive rhetoric of her Christian witness played out.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is used by Beitler to exemplify the use of preaching the Word and epiphanic identification–the hiddenness and reality of Christ the God-man. The “strange glory” of epiphany is that Christ comes to be identified with us–to be a human person. Even more radically, Bonhoeffer’s rhetoric led to the identification with Jewish Christians and taking a stand against those who would refuse to do so in Nazi Germany. Preaching, for Bonhoeffer, involved bringing the Word to the hearers ears, which would itself lead to identification with the Word. The word of God itself “is the exclamation point that we do not need to add,” said Bonhoeffer (115-116).

The chapter on Desmond Tutu was particularly fascinating, both in noting how Tutu’s wholly religious rhetoric led to calls for repentance and reconciliation and also how that same religious fervor led to accusations of divisiveness and triumphalism during the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Tutu’s prophetic rhetoric issued a stirring call for repentance from racial division and unity of the body of Christ. Marilynne Robinson has become a significant voice in Christianity through her fiction, which, through the Gilead Trilogy, uses rhetoric to make “faith’s unseen realities more believable and faith’s central questions more significant for unbelievers” and believers (162-163). Beitler notes the use of themes in the trilogy that help usher in a sense of ethos of Easter that makes sense of Christianity in real-world ways.

Throughout the book, Beitler does a good job of putting forward the ideas of those speakers/writers he wishes to highlight while allowing his own narrative and writing to take a back seat. Seasoned Speech is itself an execise in rhetoric, calling readers to a better appreciation of and for both the content of the writings and speeches of the people highlighted but also to go forth and learn more. I, for one, ended up putting holds on a number of works about and by several of the authors discussed, and I look forward to continuing to learn about their “seasoned speech” (a reference to Colossians 4:6).

Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is a remarkable call to enjoy and learn from several fascinating thinkers in recent Christian history. It is the kind of book that calls for reading and re-reading and absorbing. 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.

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: “Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition” by Justin Mandela Roberts

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s influence stretches far and wide, and his concept of “worldly” or “religionless” Christianity is one of his most enduring traditions. That notion of the concreteness of his theology has led some to think that he rejected metaphysical aspects of the faith altogether. In Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition, Justin Mandela Roberts pushes back against that thinking and argues that Bonhoeffer’s theology is, instead, one that stands alongside that of doxology, sacrament, and metaphysics.

The book is slim, but offers a wealth of detailed analysis of Bonhoeffer’s works from a number of angles that seem less common in Bonhoeffer scholarship. Bonhoeffer’s view of worship is analyzed, for example, as going beyond Barth while also integrating much of sacred tradition. Roberts’ analysis of Bonhoeffer’s thought on metanoia–the conversion or dark night of the soul–was a fascinating, personable read. The “Sacramental Interpretation” integrates Bonhoeffer’s sacramental theology with a view of the Word of God. Indeed, if there is a downside to reading the book, it may be found in the flurry of citations, musings, quotes, and ideas thrust at the reader in quick succession, making it difficult to absorb any one idea before moving swiftly onto the next. That said, Roberts’ analysis is helpful in many ways, both opening new interpretive lenses and new paths to explore for those interested in seeing how Bonhoeffer’s work may have opened up had he developed it further.

It was strange that Roberts opted to begin the book with a slight of Bonhoeffer. The second sentence of the introduction states “His academic pieces, including Sanctorum Communio, Act and Being, and Creation and Fall, offer nothing particularly remarkable as scholarly resources for the theological and philosophical traditions” (1). Given the fact that Creation and Fall is essentially the bulk of chapter 5’s focus is largely on Creation and Fall and each of the other works is cited as well, it seems Roberts would disagree with himself here, as he evidently finds these works quite remarkable indeed! Contextually, Roberts is opining on what it is that has made Bonhoeffer such an impactful figure on modern thought, possibly as an attempt to make him more real or down to earth for the average reader, but reading it was jarring in a book dedicated entirely to an interpretation of this apparently unremarkable figure.

Roberts’s work helps integrate Bonhoeffer’s thought into a broader Christian theology and practice. Sacred Rhetoric is an interesting, challenging read recommended for those looking to dig deeply into Bonhoeffer’s theological practices and metaphysics.

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– many more posts, book reviews, and discussions of and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his life, theology, and thought (scroll down for more).

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!- “Death is Hell… if not…” – Bonhoeffer

[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!

Death is Hell… if not

I was really blown away by this passage from Bonhoeffer’s works as I was reading through today. Have had a lot of reason to reflect on death/dying recently, and this message was just so powerful to me:

Death is Hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death. When the fierce apparition of the death’s head, which frightens us so, is touched by our faith in God, it becomes our friend, God’s messenger; death becomes Christ himself.- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, DBWE 13, 3/3 p. 335, “Sermon on Wisdom 3:3.”

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.

Book Review: “Christ and Revelatory Community in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Hegel” by David S. Robinson

Robinson shows in Christ and Revelatory Community in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Hegel that Bonhoeffer was influenced by, but also departed from GWF Hegel’s philosophy and theology on a number of key points. The book serves as a way to see Bonhoeffer through a Hegelian lens, and also note how Bonhoeffer developed Hegel’s thoughts in some key ways, particularly related to the community of the church.

Robinson begins with outlining some of Hegel’s thought related to the community and the somewhat elusive Geist (Spirit) in his thought. Then, he turns to Hegel’s incorporation of those ideas into the unfolding of Revelation in history and how Bonhoeffer specifically also incorporated revelation into history. The coming of Christ leads to a new community and the creator-human (Jesus Christ) opens new possibilities for the one and the many to come into conversation with each other. More explicitly, Robinson then turns to Christology in both Bonhoeffer and Hegel. Robinson argues Hegel’s Trinitarian theology–including the  was not pantheistic but instead understood relationship as a central aspect of community. Bonhoeffer utilized similar themes in writing about Christ as existing in the community of the church.

One particularly fascinating chapter focused in on Bonhoeffer’s sacramental theology, contrasting it with how Hegel viewed the Eucharist. Bonhoeffer explicitly aligned himself against the Reformed objections to the Lutheran understanding of real presence of Christ in the bread and wine. Franz Hildebrandt, a friend of Bonhoeffer’s, utilized Hegelian thought to counter Karl Barth’s Reformed understanding of “this is my body” (132-134). Bonhoeffer himself incorporated Hegel’s concepts of seeing doctrine ad integral to the community to see Christ present in the Word preached as well as in the sacrament–the est of the sermon and sacrament (142). Hegel’s vision of the Eucharist sees union of objective and subjective into one through Christ, and he sees the Sacrament as the place where the Geist may become indwelling in the human person (146). Such a Lutheran understanding is reaffirmed and even made stronger in Bonhoeffer’s position, as he argues that one cannot distinguish idea from history/nature (though Robinson argues this was not necessarily Hegel’s position; see p. 147ff).

Community continues to be important as the concepts of freedom and revolution arise in Hegel and Bonhoeffer. These are questions of community that must be asked, and the thinkers diverge on this point. Hegel has been seen as an “apologist for Prussia” (169ff), though Robinson argues that he would better be understood as someone seeking Reform within existing institutions (172). Bonhoeffer addresses these questions through confessional space and seeing the church as the body of Christ–Christ existing as community in the church (177ff).

The concept of the Volk–folk–a kind of nationalist precursor to the Nazi ideology in Germany, is one that looms large in Hegel and Bonhoeffer in different ways. Robinson argues that Hegel’s Volkish tendencies were exacerbated and expanded by later Neo-Hegelian thinkers who sought exclusion based upon bloodlines and race, turning Hegel’s concepts of Geist into blood and “racialism” (197-198). Nevertheless, the dominant strand of Hegelian thought that arose in Bonhoeffer’s time was highly tied to Volk and bloodlines, an intensely racist theme that was used by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer, however, was exposed to thinkers apart from Hegel and one of those who helped shape his thought was W.E.B. Du Bois, whose The Souls of Black Folk, Robinson argues, was at least intrinsically influential for Bonhoeffer’s thinking. Both Hegel and Bonhoeffer criticized the state for its treatment of Jews and emphasized their humanity (204-206; 207-09). Hegel’s thought was Eurocentric, despite some aspects of criticizing the nationalism of his peers. Bonhoeffer’s thinking, Robinson argues, became transnational and ecumenical.

Robinson clearly carries the argument that Bonhoeffer was deeply influenced by Hegel’s thought. Whether it was by way of contrast or utilizing similar structure of arguments, Bonhoeffer’s training made him cognizant of Hegelian philosophy and interacted with it at many points.

Christ and Revelatory Community in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Hegel is a fascinating look at Bonhoeffer’s reception of Hegelian thought. Robinson demonstrates that Bonhoeffer developed some ideas along Hegelian lines, while also sharply breaking from them in some respects. I highly recommend it for those looking to delve deeply into Bonhoeffer’s thought.

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: “Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Trey Palmisano

The question of Bonhoeffer’s views on pacifism and related issues like just war or tyrannicide is one that has been controversial almost since the beginning of Bonhoeffer scholarship. Trey Palmisano argues in Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that such questions are needlessly reductionistic. Instead, Palmisano suggests that instead taking seriously Bonhoeffer’s own claim of consistency means we need to read him in light of how peace and violence might intermix or even be called for in different situations.

After a brief introduction including a timeline of Bonhoeffer’s life, Palmisano begins with a survey of major influences on Bonhoeffer’s thought. Martin Luther’s influence can’t be understated, and Palmisano thankfully notes the distinct impact Luther had on Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor. Specifically, Luther’s impact on Bonhoeffer’s sacramental theology as well as the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms are highlighted here. Regarding the latter, Palmisano reflects more nuance than several other writers, noting that Bonhoeffer did not reject Two Kingdoms theology as many have suggested. Instead, Bonhoeffer saw the Nazi attempt to separate public and private life, and the success they had in foisting this false dichotomy on the German Christian church, as a threat to sound doctrine. Instead, Bonhoeffer accepted a separation between church and state while rejecting the Reich’s attempts to subordinate the church, particularly to racial injustice. Other thinkers who influenced Bonhoeffer surveyed are Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Reinhold Seeberg, and Barth.

The next chapter looks at Bonhoeffer’s ethical method. This is Palmisano’s central contribution to Bonhoeffer scholarship and ties into the other chapters. First, he notes that Bonhoeffer faced questions of individuality vs. community; formal and material cause and effect, and a world-church relationship that was fracturing in new and challenging ways with the threat from the Nazis. He surveys other ethical systems, noting where Bonhoeffer may reflect them while also going beyond or against them. For example, regarding deontological ethics, it is clear that Bonhoeffer felt it failed to adequately account for abstraction in ethical questions. More plausible for impacts on Bonhoeffer are situational ethics–something that largely developed after him in philosophical circles–and a kind of utilitarianism. But neither of these captures what Bonhoeffer thought for ethical grounding. After this survey of different views, Palmisano goes over Bonhoeffer’s own ethical development through his early career and into late in his life. Then, Bonhoeffer’s Christology is clearly central to his thought, and this continues throughout his career. Palmisano argues that it is this Christological grounding in ethics that makes it possible to see the individual and other as dual grounds for ethical relationships, with Christ as the central, objective grounds. Thus, Bonhoeffer’s ethic has an objective criterion in Christ while largely being capable of contextual/subjective application of moral norms. Revelation, for Bonhoeffer, in the form of Christ, is to encounter oneself and reshape one’s ethical standards and boundaries (51-52; 53ff). The way this plays out in the real world–something that was particularly concerning to Bonhoeffer–is that “Obedience understood as the dutiful observance of commandments is never simple because too many moving parts exist… obedience… is oriented to a relationship with Christ…” and this relationship with Christ ultimately yields an almost “creative” ethical stance in which questions are approached on an individual basis following the question of who Christ is for us and for the other (64-65).

The third chapter explores Bonhoeffer’s “Quest for Peace” and argues that Bonhoeffer did not “discover” pacifism in New York, but rather had experiences that brought those ideas to the forefront (see, for example, 78ff). Drawing from Discipleship, Palmisano notes that for Bonhoeffer violence has no place in the gospel message (90) while also nuancing it as a contextual ethical response to relationship (91). Bonhoeffer’s own responses to those in military service as well as to questions of war show a more complex response than a perfect pacifism. Thus, Palmisano concludes that Bonhoeffer’s alleged pacifism is instead “bound to a dynamic notion of ethical relationship through which its very expression was subject to change…” Moreover, “Bonhoeffer’s pacifism is situationally diffuse, located at one and the same time in both the sacred and the secular…” (106).

We especially see this contextuality in Bonhoeffer’s response to the question of murder. Palmisano uses this stronger word because Bonhoeffer does not himself put words like tyrannicide in between himself and the question of killing, and one which Bonhoeffer saw as guilt-laden regardless (120, note 36). The question of killing Hitler, then, is able to be located not in an outside perspective of tyrannicide and the ethical justification thereof, but rather within Bonhoeffer’s own strands of thought and ethical method (125ff). Thus, for Bonhoeffer, taking on sin and guilt for the sake of the other is itself capable of being sanctified, or, at least, forgiven through the “deep waters of relationship with Christ” (143).

Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers a bold, refreshing interpretation of Bonhoeffer in regards to the ethics involved in pacifism, just war, and murder/tyrannicide. The greatest strength is that Palmisano is able to offer a cohesive account of Bonhoeffer’s ethics, rather than chopping his thought into distinct and sometimes opposed periods. Moreover, he is able to ground it (thought not explicitly) in the concept of Lutheran thinking and development of those doctrines. He thus offers a compelling, and, to my mind, convincing way of reading Bonhoeffer on pacifism and related questions. Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s 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.

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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: “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.

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– 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.

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