Posts Tagged ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer’

Anna and SimeonI am late to the game, but Joel Willitts has been posting Advent reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

So Was Fulfilled


At One with the Suffering and Joy of His People

The Message of Advent…Repentance

In the Face of the Manger

My own reflection on this season came as I discovered that indeed Advent has historically functioned as a season of self-reflection and repentance. Where one gives themselves to restraint, self-control, and seeking the holiness of God. It is preparatory. Our modern participation in this season has tended towards excess, self-pleasure, parties, and shopping.

The Lord has continued to challenge me that I would live in a manner ready for his soon coming. This is a call to holiness, self-control, and indeed, a life yielded to the Holy Spirit. After all, it was those saints of old (Simeon and Anna in Luke 2) who, led by the Spirit, were prepared in holiness to see the first coming of our Lord. They were righteous. They were patient. They were continually given to the work of the Lord. They were endowed by the Spirit. May it be so for us.

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A welcome volume on the development of Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics with an eye toward the interrelations with Karl Barth. This will add to the glaring lacuna of Barth and Bonhoeffer’s dialectical relationship.

For Christ and His Kingdom

Michael P. DeJonge, Bonhoeffer’s Theological Formation: Berlin, Barth, & Protestant Theology. Oxford UP, 2012. vii–158 pp.

Oxford UP | Amazon9780199639786

There is clearly  no shortage of writings on Bonhoeffer and his thinking. Another volume of the 16-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works was just released a few weeks ago. In 2012 Bonhoeffer was the focus of the Wheaton Theology Conference (video can be found here; published essays can be found here), and a basic search on Amazon reveals a growing number of monographs, collection of essays, a new forthcoming reader and even a new biography. In contrast, books on the relationship between Bonhoeffer and Barth have been limited. One of the few is Pangritz’s Karl Barth in der Theologie Deitrich Bonhoeffers: eine notwendige Klarstellung (ALektor Verlag, 1989), later translated into English in an expanded and revised edition as Karl Barth in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Eerdmans, 2000).

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Bonhoeffer the AssassinThere is newly published volume by Baker Academic that is worth checking out for those interested in the theology and life of Bonhoeffer and particularly how he steered the waters of his pacifist declarations (found most clearly in his 1937 Discipleship) and his involvement with the Abwehr‘s conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel’s contribution to Bonhoeffer studies looks to be promising: Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking (Baker Academic 2013). HERE  is the news release and HERE is a brief excerpt.

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English: The title for Being Human.

English: The title for Being Human. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here I was preparing to blog some trite thoughts about “being human” and Joel goes and blogs his whole Master’s thesis. 🙂 Nice.

So, despite my inadequacy to speak to this subject (I’m hoping Joel will correct me if I’m whacked out), I was meditating further on the topic of “being human” because of my congregation’s adult Sunday school class this week.

The discussion of holiness was brought up. Someone mentioned that “we know we will sin, because we are all humans after all”. This struck me in light of Bonhoeffer’s statement that popped into my mind at that moment (which Joel helpfully saved me from having to look up because he opens his thesis with it): “While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings” (Ethics p.84, emphasis added).

We blame our humanity for our sinfulness. It struck me that Paul never does this, John never does this, and Peter never does this. The Scriptures blame our sinful or “fleshly” nature. And, perhaps surprisingly, this should not be confused with being human, truly human. The reason being that Jesus is True Man and all else is but a pale image of the true, being marred by sin. Our sinfulness deprives us of our humanity, because it is only in obedience to the Father that one is truly human in the fullest sense. And this can only come about by the regenerating work of God’s Spirit (the spirit of adoption crying “Abba, Father!”) conforming us into the image of the Son, who Himself is the true image of God.

So what are some potential outcomes of this change of perspective:

(1) To be human is to be taken up into Christ. It is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God which are acceptable and pleasing. It is the humanity of God in Christ taking up our sinful humanity and glorifying God through the obedience of redemption. To be truly human is to be counted as those who are in Christ: the righteousness of God and the First Adam.

(2) To be human is to set aside excuses for sinning. We can no longer say that we will continue to sin because “we are just human after all”. NO! We have been delivered from death to life. The Spirit of Christ Jesus now lives in us. We have been baptized with Christ and our sins have been once for all dealt with. We are not the children of the devil, but the children of God who no longer are slaves to sin and death. We are slaves of Christ Jesus our Lord and have been delivered from death to life! Therefore, to be “real human beings” is to live by the power of the Spirit! To live free! Free of the bonds of sin.

(3) To be human is to live free for the other and free for God. There is no constraint, but the one to love. This is the greatest commandment and all it entails: humanity unleashed from the bonds of self-serving, self-loving rebellion against God and God’s will for creation. The true human is the one who lives for the other because of being made in God’s image. Therefore, the other who is made in God’s image becomes the one by which we grow into the image of God in communion as those created and purchased by God.  As those bearing God’s image, by God’s Spirit we reflect ineffable God in Christ. Unbounded love for God and for the other: this is being truly human.

So I would charge you fully to embrace your humanity; God did!

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BonhoefferAs I’ve begun re-tweeting Bonhoeffer tweets (when did he get a Twitter account? Is that an iPad I see in his hand?), I’m wondering how beneficial it is to tweet thoughts of great theologians like him? Is it advantageous to extract from the context and simply post a snippet? Is there a disservice or a re-appropriation which occurs in doing so?

For that matter, is it right to do so with a snippet of Scripture? Do “sound-bytes” do justice to the complexity of thought involved or is there an altogether new sense suggested by extracting statements from their original context?

For me, it is an insight into the quandary of authorial intent and honoring the author with their own sense while still offering (perhaps) a new sense with the abbreviated quote (putting aside for the moment that such “quotes” are actually taken from an English translation of Bonhoeffer or the Bible). What are your thoughts on the tweeting of passages of insight?

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I have found the week of blog posts written by friend, blogger, and fellow neophyte theologian Jeff Wheeldon to be very helpful in discerning a number of the contours and emphases of Bonhoeffer’s writings. Jeff’s contributions are insightful and provocative. Here is the run-down of his “Reading Bonhoeffer” series:

Being Human Together


An Ecumenical Pacifist

The Necessity of Ethics

The New Christianity

A Missional Ecclesiology

Politics and the Aryan Paragraph

The End!: (of Religion)

As you can see, he has been a VERY busy writer this week. While I wish I had been able to attend the course (of which I was prohibited due to a family funeral), I am appreciative of Jeff’s interactions with the daily readings so that I might vicariously share in the fun of living with Bonhoeffer (though my wife thinks I do that sufficiently on my own already). Thanks Jeff!

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Cover of "Les Misérables (Signet Classics...

Cover of Les Misérables (Signet Classics)

“To love another person is to see the face of God” (Victor Hugo, Les Misérables)

These words echo out at the conclusion of Les Misérables (2012; film). While I am unfamiliar with Victor Hugo’s own understanding of this phrase it rings true when understood aright. This is the testimony of Scripture: to love your neighbor as yourself.  To know God’s love for this world (even in its rebellion) and to live in kind. The way in which one defines “love” must not be left to abstractions or simply any concrete application.  It belongs ONLY properly to Christ as the love of God. Christ Jesus is the definition of “love” and there is no other which may rightly be called such.  He is God for us and for one another.

In the words of Bonhoeffer, Jesus is the one “for others” (DBWE  8: 501). Thus, a term that carries tremendous weight in the writings of Bonhoeffer is the German Stellvertretung meaning something like “responsible action toward the other.”  He is preceded by Luther who wrote “For human beings do not live for themselves in this, their mortal body, to operate in it, but for all people on earth; indeed they live only for others and not for themselves” (DBWE 8:501fn11, citing LW 31:364 “Tractatus de libertate Christiana“, translated in DBWE with emphasis). Clifford Green (“Human sociality and Christian community” in CCDB p.130) writes, “relation to the transcendent God is not a relation to an imagined most powerful Supreme Being — ‘ that is not authentic transcendence…The transcendent is…the neighbor who is within reach in any given situation'” (citing Letters and Papers from Prison: Enlarged Edition [New York: Macmillan, 1972], 381).

In our neighbor we encounter God in Christ…we encounter our neighbor always through the mediation of Christ if we truly encounter our neighbor with and through love. “Spiritual love [in contrast to “self-centered love” for Bonhoeffer]…comes from Jesus Christ; it serves him alone. It knows that it has no direct access to other persons. Christ stands between me and others. I do not know in advance what love of others means on the basis of the general idea of love that grows out of my emotional desires. All this may instead be hatred and the worst kind of selfishness in the eyes of Christ. Only Christ in his Word tells me what love is. Contrary to all my own opinions and convictions, Jesus Christ will tell me what love for my brothers and sisters really looks like” (DBWE 5:43).

This is how I would understand the statement made by Victor Hugo to ring true…though I doubt his intentions (or more particularly those of the film adaptation) to speak in this manner. My guess is they speak as those who would self-define “love” and therefore not understand what they speak. It is in Christ we love our neighbor and behold the face of God.


CCDB = The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. John W. de Gruchy (Cambridge University Press, 1999)

DBWE 5 = Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition, “Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996)

DBWE 8 = Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition, “Letters and Papers from Prison” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009)

LW = “Luther’s Works” English edition (complete works on CD-rom; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002)

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