Matthew D. Kirkpatrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attacks on Christendom in a World Come of Age draws readers into a dialogue with two of the most important modern theologians. It calls readers to realize that Christianity is in a dialogue with events in the world, all while able to truly bring truth and Gospel to the world. I highly recommend it.

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

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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.

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